For well over a year, two mysteries consumed a peaceful New Jersey community. There were the strange letters that showed up in the mailboxes of local barns, asking about the possibility of forming a “sexual relationship” with horses, cows or other large animals. And then, there were the homemade tire-slashing devices that farmers kept finding in their driveways, or near the entrances to rural farm roads.

n recent months, members of New Jersey’s equestrian community reported receiving disturbing emails from a self-described “animal lover.” They may be linked to the homemade tire-slashing devices that were found on local farms. Vernon Township Police Department photos

Now, authorities in Sussex County, New Jersey, are saying that both were the work of the same man, Richard Decker, who lashed out by harassing people who refused to let him have sex with their farm animals.

The 31-year-old was arrested Oct. 3, according to the New Jersey Herald. Prosecutors said at a Wednesday detention hearing that since August 2018, he had been sending letters and emails detailing his request to farms, stables and horse boarding facilities throughout Sussex County, located in the northernmost point of the state. Unsurprisingly, many of the recipients were not thrilled to learn than an adult man was interested in having a sexual relationship with their livestock.

Decker didn’t take the rejection well, authorities said on Wednesday. He left messages harassing the property owners who had turned him down – in one instance threatening to beat a man’s wife with a wooden stick – and wrote negative online reviews of their businesses. The 31-year-old also allegedly kept a stash of homemade metal tire deflation spikes in his bedroom, and would plant them in the driveways of farmers who angered him.

In January, police in Decker’s hometown of Vernon Township, New Jersey, issued a warning to “anyone who has farm-like property” after several residents found that their tires had been destroyed by homemade spikes, which are also known as caltrops. The department’s Facebook post was deluged with comments from people in the surrounding area, and one man claimed that his family had gotten six flat tires in the past month alone. While some joked about a nefarious scheme to sell tires, others speculated that animal rights activists were behind the vandalism.

As authorities investigated over the summer, a different kind of conversation began bubbling up in Facebook groups where people typically discussed upcoming equestrian events, or buying and selling livestock.

In August, Caitlyn McCurdy, who occasionally leases out horses to fund her work with rescue animals in Jackson, New Jersey, received several disturbing emails in response to ads that she had placed on Craigslist. All three appeared to come from the same sender, who went by the alias, “TackyChaps.”

“I know you are trying to sell your mare but the reason I am contacting you today is because I am attracted to equine and wanted to ask . . . would you please give me the permission to meet and possibly have a sexual relationship with one of your horses?” said one of the messages. “Im sorry if my request appears insulting. I am honestly attracted to horses and Im looking for a longer term relationship with one, but I have no place to home one myself. I am a man in north jersey and I would be very grateful if you would consider me for your horses. Thank you.”

The other two emails were nearly identical, though one asked “to stud for your horses,” which indicated to McCurdy that the sender was familiar with equine terminology. The trainer told The Washington Post in a Facebook message early Friday morning that she found the messages “sickening” and didn’t respond. Though she didn’t report the messages to the police, figuring that they wouldn’t be able to trace the sender from Craigslist, she posted screen shots on Facebook and warned others in the animal rescue community to be on the lookout.

Around the same time, McCurdy told The Post, she discovered that the oil filter had been unscrewed from her car’s motor and all of the oil had leaked out, which caused her engine to seize. “I don’t know if it has anything to do with him but it is coincidental that it happened shortly after receiving those messages, and not responding back to him,” she said.

As McCurdy’s warning made the rounds, she learned that she wasn’t alone. At least five people in a Facebook group for the New Jersey equestrian community had received similar messages. Though the emails came from a variety of different aliases, they all made the same request. In one, the sender, who self-identified as “an animal lover who is open to experimental dating,” offered to pay for the animal’s care “in exchange for an expectation of privacy for the relationship.”

Another, which had been printed out and left in a farm’s mailbox, expressed an interest in “forming an intimate relationship with large farm animals such as horses ponies cows or similar,” and asked the owners to “introduce me to the partner of my dreams.”

Many of the recipients said they were turning the messages over to the police, and some said that ignoring the requests had led to retaliation. The self-described animal lover “reviewed over 50 barns with 1 star reviews because we ‘did not answer his email,'” one woman wrote. “Some real sickos. Luckily the reviews are down and we haven’t heard from him/her since.”

It’s unclear if Decker was behind the alarming requests, since police haven’t released any of the emails and letters that he is accused of sending. Charging documents obtained by NJ.com didn’t explain how he became a suspect, but detailed how police had searched his home and found tire spikes identical to the ones found at the crime scene.

The investigators also wrote that they found two arrows with explosives attached, a .22-caliber gun that he had made himself, and jars of flash powder and other potentially explosive materials, which he said came from fireworks that he had dismantled. When questioned by police, Decker allegedly admitted to contacting the farms and asking to have sex with their animals.

During Wednesday’s detention hearing, Decker’s attorney, Daniel Palazzo, said that the 31-year-old had never been in trouble with the law before, and had a full-time job waiting for him, the Herald reported. He argued that the explosives were “basically firecrackers” that his client didn’t plan to use against anyone else, and that it wasn’t clear if the homemade gun even worked. But the judge was unconvinced, ordering Decker to be held in jail without bail until his next court appearance in November on the grounds that he presented a danger to the community.

The list of charges that Decker faces includes second-degree possession of explosives; second-degree possession of a destructive device to use unlawfully; fourth-degree procuring an animal in any kind of sexual manner or initiate any sexual conduct with an animal; fourth-degree threatening to commit aggravated assault; fourth-degree knowingly manufacturing firearms; and multiple cyber harassment charges, the Herald reported. Prosecutors said on Wednesday that the investigation is still ongoing.

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