The Headless Horse

Godfather horse head sceneOne of my colleagues at work told me the story of how Western Equine Encephalitis was discovered and later he sent me the source article, which is a biography of Karl Friedrich Meyer by Albert Sabin, of all people. Meyer was keen to find the cause of a strange encephalitis which had struck horses in the San Joaquin Valley of California, USA; however he had only been able to get long-dead horse brains which they were not able to isolate the pathogen from. Someone told him of a live horse which appeared to be sick, but when the scientists asked the farmer said…

“I won’t sell the horse, and if you ever do anything to the horse, I shoot you.” .. . I went down and I had a $20 bill in my pocket. This was a depression year and I was sure they would be glad to get rid of the horse for $20. [KF was warned not to talk to the farmer, and he said:] “I’m not going to talk to him. I’m going to talk to his wife.” I said, “Look here, this horse is going to die anyhow, and when it’s dead you haven’t anything. It just goes to the rendering plant and you get a couple of dollars. On the other hand, you see, you could contribute to the knowledge of what this is and perhaps to its prevention.” “Well,” she said, “My husband is just irate about this.” I said, “Yes, I can readily understand, but look here, suppose I trust you, and I give you $20 and the next morning you will find in the backyard the horse without a head?” “How are you going to do this?” “Look here, about nine o’clock at night when it is dark, I’ll be over here behind some bushes . . . [where] I can see the window of your house. When your husband is sound asleep you lift up the shade.” .. . I had a syringe with strychnine, I had a good sharp knife, and I sat around there and smoked a pipe, and sure enough about twenty minutes past nine the shade went up. Within about two minutes I was over the fence and in another two minutes the strychnine was under the skin of the horse and in another two or three minutes, the horse went down, and in another five minutes the head was off.
It was a heavy head, but I threw it over the fence and wrapped it up in burlap and we vanished as fast as we could…

My first thought on hearing the story was that it’s like that infamous scene in “The Godfather” backwards. This is the kind of virology they don’t train you for in school.


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