Stupid Pet Tricks

A retired judge wanted to rid his lakefront home of raccoons. But bowls of meat swimming in antifreeze take care of a lot more than those pesky animals.

But the simple truth is, Ledwell is very comfortable around his dogs and he likes being with them. It makes no sense to him not to take the females out to a job site in his truck that says "Corey's Concrete" on the side, to give them the chance to swim in the lakes, to rove the countryside, because they'll return with a simple quick call. He sees them as innocent creatures that no one would ever want to hurt.

So after finding the antifreeze, he didn't hesitate to call the chief of Cedar Point security, who took pictures and videotaped Ledwell telling his story.

Next, Ledwell called the Polk County sheriff's office, which sent out Sergeant Tom Sheffield. "He walked up and said, 'That's antifreeze all right,' " Ledwell says. They searched together and found three other plastic butter bowls filled with the poisonous mixture, as well as a little cup with dry poison in it. Sheffield poured it all into a bucket to dispose of it. Ledwell says he asked him if they shouldn't save some for evidence, but the deputy told him no, he'd seen it. The deputy told him he didn't need anything else, that he was on the case, Ledwell says.

Corey Ledwell took Hilda with him on Gerda's final trip.
Margaret Downing
Corey Ledwell took Hilda with him on Gerda's final trip.

Still, that wasn't enough for Ledwell. He didn't know anything about the owner of the property, but there was a for-sale sign in front of the brown-and-beige lakefront home with a name on it. So he called one J.D. Wiggins in Splendora at the number listed.

"I asked him, 'Do you have a house for sale?' He said, 'Yeah, yeah.' I said, 'What are those bowls down there for?' He said, 'It's meat and antifreeze.' I said, 'Why do you do that?' He said, 'I do that to kill the coons tearing the paper off my house.'

"I asked, 'Do you realize you killed something very precious to me?' He said, 'I didn't mean to. Sorry.' And I said, 'Well, I filed charges against you, and I hope they come and pick you up.' "

Except that Ledwell didn't hear back from Sheffield. So he looked him up in the phone book and called him at home. He says Sheffield told him he'd filed his report with the district attorney's office and it was up to its prosecutors to accept or reject it. And Ledwell thanked him for doing his best.

A couple of days later, though, Ledwell found out that wasn't so. Ledwell found out that Bob Lavery, who lives next to Wiggins's weekend home, had heard about Ledwell's case and suspected that his five young cats who'd died recently might have been poisoned as well. Ledwell urged Lavery to make a report; the sheriff's department sent out a car as a courtesy, and that's when Lavery found out the case was dead. Lavery told Ledwell he'd talked to Sheffield and he hadn't filed a report; that there was nothing he could do about it. He hadn't actually seen the dog being poisoned from that dish; no one had. "Sheffield knows you love Gerda. I think he's afraid to tell you," Lavery told Ledwell.

Ledwell confronted Sheffield, who he says confirmed that there was nothing he could do and had meant to say that he'd gone by the D.A.'s office and talked to some people there -- not that he'd filed charges. "He did not have the intent to kill your dog. His intent was to kill coons," Ledwell says Sheffield told him.

Contacted at his office, Sheffield says he thought he could file a reckless endangerment charge, but there is no such thing. "I'm sorry it happened," he says. "I done the best I could for him."

Feeling betrayed by law enforcement, Ledwell decided right then to go another route. "If I can't get that man arrested to face his trial, then I'm going to try to get him exposed so everyone knows what he is."

J.D. Wiggins is a retired judge living in Splendora with an Onalaska weekend home. Contacted at his home, he is clearly exhausted by the whole incident and alternates between saying he's sorry for Ledwell and insisting that no one can prove it was his antifreeze. The 79-year-old man has a certain standing in the community -- a 30-year career with Brown & Root followed by 11 years as a Splendora municipal judge. The Sunday school teacher has been publicly embarrassed, and he doesn't like it.

In fact, Ledwell tracked down Wiggins at his Splendora Assembly of God Church one Sunday. "He followed me to church one morning. He just walked right up to me and started taking my picture. I was getting my coat on and Bible out. That's when he snapped my picture. He said, 'You're the man who killed my dog,' " Wiggins says.

Ledwell told Wiggins he was going to use the pictures in flyers he was having made up to let people know what he'd done.

This exasperates Wiggins, who insists: "I don't feel like I'm guilty." Within a few moments, though, Wiggins muses that the dog "must have been thirsty and gone underneath" his deck and found the poison there. Later, though, he says he doesn't understand why the dog would be thirsty after swimming in the lake.

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