The Goatslayers

Head south out of Dallas, drive about an hour down I-35, and take a right once you get to Hillsboro. About 14 miles out of town on the pristine shores of Lake Whitney at the edge of the Hill Country sits the White Bluff Resort, a sanctuary of sorts for retired couples hoping to live out their autumn years in peace and work-absorbed executives hoping to escape their frenetic lives, if only for the weekend. Corporate owner Double Diamond Inc., prides itself on the resort's lavish extravagances. "Whether conducting a business meeting, vacationing or establishing a residence," proclaims the resort's Web site, "you will enjoy the remarkable setting and abundant amenities at White Bluff Resort."

A luxurious, 3,450-acre wooded hideaway, White Bluff is best known for its two championship golf courses. Adding to the allure are a pro shop, a couple of restaurants, tennis courts, a fitness center, and several swimming pools. From a marina off tranquil Lake Whitney, water enthusiasts hoist their sails for a leisurely day of boating, swimming, and fishing. Rising up from Lake Whitney's clear blue waters are the steep limestone cliffs that offer residents of White Bluff a panoramic view of the lake.

Built in the early '90s, when Mike Ward, president of Double Diamond, began the development, homes at White Bluff are priced from $85,000 to $300,000. Those overlooking the lake are the most sought-after and the most expensive. Edwina Gibson works in Carrollton, but every chance she gets, both she and her husband head for White Bluff, where they have built a second home. "I call it my de-fertilizer," she says of their retreats to the countryside, "because it helps me get rid of the shit of the city."

Deer and wild turkeys; rabbits and raccoons; and quail, doves, and other fowl inhabit the tree-studded shoreline and roam about the resort without restraint. Gibson and other homeowners consider these animals delightful additions to the area's atmosphere. In particular, they get a kick out of watching the wild goats scamper along the lake's towering bluffs and cliffs. "It's kind of like being at the zoo," says one resident, "watching the goats scurry around." Considered poor man's cattle, the goats are remnants from times past, abandoned by previous landowners to fend for themselves.

Not everyone at White Bluff was pleased with goats running wild through their property. Some goats would wander onto lush yards and dine on expensive shrubbery; others posed a threat to young children who were frightened by their unpredictability; and the stench that wafted over barbecue grills when billy goats were in rut was enough to drive some residents back to the city. Complaints brought a limited response from authorities who considered the goats part of the charm of the place.

Yet other than an occasional goat incident, all seemed idyllic at White Bluff--man in harmony with nature, animals in peaceful co-existence with man--that is, until recently.

Last January residents grew alarmed as the sound of gunshots rang out. Goats had been herded against the cliffs and slaughtered at close range, dropping over the edge and falling to their deaths. Some 20 to 25 goats had met their end in this manner, the dead carcasses landing in a huge pile near the lake. Apparently, two property owners had taken matters into their own hands, wielding shotguns and hunting down the goats to rid themselves of the perceived nuisance. One of the accused goatslayers was Jerry P. Jones, a retired trial attorney at the prestigious Dallas firm of Thompson & Knight; the other was Bryant Aiken, a dentist from Cleburne.

Like many of her neighbors, Gibson was upset when she heard that the goats had been killed. Outraged, she wondered, "If you don't like being around critters, why the hell would you move to the country? Why do you choose to change my world for what you want?"

Although goats crossed over to America on the Mayflower, by the 18th century, western goat herders were regarded as somewhat eccentric. Raising goats never became big agri-business as Americans developed a taste for T-bone steaks and filet mignon, custom-made leather goods, and cow's milk. In Texas, where cattle rule, goat-herding never stood a chance. White Bluff's goats were descendants of the Spanish variety common to this area, and were probably brought there to clear the land of the weeds and small brush they enjoyed eating.

Agile climbers of boulder-strewn mountains and precipitous cliffs, goats are invaluable to many people around the world. Nomads, in particular, consider them less cumbersome than cattle and an invaluable source of milk, cheese, and meat. In Greek mythology, Pan--the god of flocks and pastures--was half-man, half-goat, and still today, in many Eastern cultures, the number of goats a man owns is often the measure of his wealth.  

The wild goats of White Bluff could have used some help from Pan when the resort's management began receiving a number of complaints about them last year. There were two herds, about 50 total, which included at least two billies, several nannies and quite a few kids. Larry Harmon of Azle has four domesticated goats and has owned as many as seven. "The little nanny," he says, "she's like a little dog. She'll come up and be right there with you and follow you around the yard. She's about the size of a German shepherd." And yet he understands the lament of some homeowners about the billies in White Bluff's herds. "Most of the time, they give off a really bad odor," he says. "They have a tendency to urinate on themselves."

Led by the two billies, White Bluffs goats were much bigger than any German shepherd. Mostly black with occasional spots of white, adults of both sexes had a rack of horns. But billies could be identified by the width of their rack--two feet, and somewhat similar in spread to Longhorn cattle. These goats were obviously making a nuisance of themselves, yet homeowners were split about how to handle the problem. "Part of them wanted to look at [the goats]," says Kenneth Holder, a game warden for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, "and part of them wanted to kill them."

The goats seldom wandered farther than 500 to 600 feet from the cliffs, so White Bluff's rolling green fairways were safe, as were the homes surrounding the golf courses. Despite their reputation, goats have no appetite for grass anyway. Instead, they prefer the woody, broadleaf, low-lying plants that gardeners use to decorate extravagantly landscaped lawns. Fruit trees and berries are a grazing delicacy. A herd of hungry goats can strip a yard clean before lunch; White Bluff's goats had damaged or destroyed thousands of dollars' worth of lakefront landscaping.

But Kenneth Goldfuss, White Bluff's former security chief and now its volunteer fire chief, says it took time to convince Double Diamond that the goats posed a serious problem. "Ward [president of the development] didn't want to get rid of the goats," he says. "He felt they were part of the ambiance." When it was finally decided that something needed to be done, a young man in the maintenance department volunteered to adopt the animals. The plan was to lure the goats into feeding pens so they could be caged, loaded onto trucks, and transported to his farm. But last September, after the feeding pens were set out, the goats didn't take the bait. "They were a lot smarter than we gave them credit for. They would go right up to them without going into the pens," says Goldfuss

When the pens didn't work, some at the resort began looking for other possible solutions. Fences were proposed and rejected, as the homeowners' covenant doesn't allow them. Because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has jurisdiction over Lake Whitney, it, too, was consulted. But the Corps, says Goldfuss, told Double Diamond it wasn't in "the goat business." Goldfuss did, however, discover one possible option to keep the goats at bay. But "coyote urine is expensive and rare," he says, "and we didn't want to spray the shrubbery with coyote urine."

Resort representatives spoke with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which has jurisdiction over nearby Lake Whitney State Park. But unlike deer and other wild game in the area, the goats were not protected by any governmental agency, and Double Diamond was informed the goats were its responsibility. "I told Mike Ward to get rid of those goats before he developed the land," says game warden Holder. "But he felt they were impressive and wanted people to see them."

"White Bluff's management should have anticipated that the goats were causing a problem long before they ever got to this point," says Lake Whitney real estate agent Linda Alesi-Miller. "The most beautiful lots on the entire property were the lots where the goats were--on the water, on the cliffs." White Bluff's management refused to be interviewed for this story.

By last January, one thing seemed apparent, even to those who ran the resort: Whether man or beast, something had to give.

Attorney Jerry Jones, once a respected litigator at Thompson & Knight, had recently retired, and just last fall he completed the construction of his White Bluff home. Bryant Aiken, however, has had a home at the resort for several years and, according to his neighbors, has replaced his shrubbery several times. He often complained about the goats, says Kenneth Goldfuss, but no one suspected he was angry enough to kill them. Both Aiken and Jones refused to be interviewed for this story.  

"[Aiken] told me he put out $10,000 worth of landscaping" says Dick Van Tyne, one of Aiken's lakefront neighbors. "Then he decided he'd go spread food around for the wild turkeys. He got upset because the wild goats were eating the food. He put out food four different times. He just didn't like the goats eating it and got mad."

Van Tyne admits that the goats had wrecked his property as well, but he did some research and replanted his yard with the kind of vegetation that goats found unpalatable. "When you move to the country," he says, "you kind of expect wildlife--deer, goat, armadillo. We've got everything you can think of out here. If you want to put in a Highland Park-style yard, I think that's not exactly intelligent."

Van Tyne recalls that on Friday, January 16, he saw several goats crossing through his yard, noticeably hobbled by what appeared to be wounds to their hindquarters. Van Tyne had heard gunshots earlier in the week, but figured they came from deer hunters outside the resort property, because White Bluff's residents are prohibited from discharging firearms within the gated community.

The next day, says Van Tyne, he was entertaining guests when he noticed four goats behind his house. Dead. "My first concern was, why were they dying?" he recalls. "Was it some kind of disease? It just didn't occur to me that somebody would just shoot them."

The next morning around 9:30, Van Tyne says, he heard more gunfire, this time directly behind his house. When he went outside to investigate, he found two more carcasses and called security. Jones and Aiken were standing nearby, says Van Tyne, and were soon confronted by security. "They were just very matter-of-fact, acting like: We eliminated them, and what are you going to do?"

Fire chief Goldfuss got wind of the shootings while listening to security guards discussing the incident over the resort's radio band. "When security went out," he says, "[Jones and Aiken] had just finished the shooting. I was told there were goats lying everywhere. They had been shooting since early morning."

No one is sure exactly how long the slaughter lasted or how many goats were killed. Apparently, some were hunted down, while others were trapped against the cliffs, then either shot, chased, or pushed off the edge and onto the jagged rocks and tall trees some 80 feet below. Van Tyne later counted 27 dead, including those around his house and in the pile of carnage at the base of the bluff. When White Bluff's maintenance crew lowered themselves down the steep drop, they found some of the animals still alive, dying slowly either from the fall, their wounds, or both.

"That Sunday morning they shot the mother of the two twin kids," says Van Tyne. "I thought it was pretty heartless to shoot a mother with her two little ones right there with her." The kids, too young to survive without their mother's milk, died soon after that, he says. Eventually maintenance crews used ropes to hoist the goats to the top of the cliff and burned all the carcasses in a deep pit.

Why no one sought the involvement of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is still a mystery. According to Bobby French, the Texas SPCA's chief investigator, "We could have gone out and tried to round them up and find someone to take them. If we couldn't do that, we'd try to put them through an auction." As a final solution, the SPCA would have euthanized the animals in a more humane manner than shooting them off a cliff. "That would have been better than killing them, and having the animals falling and possibly still living and suffering."

Game warden Kenneth Holder, however, empathizes with Jones and Aiken--saying that if he had been in their situation, he might have shot the goats as well. "You have bunny huggers and tree huggers," he explains derisively. "They want to protect everything that's out there."

But many of the homeowners were furious with what they believed was a senseless and sadistic slaughter. "This is just unreal," says one neighbor. "It's all for the ornamental cabbage and pansies they wanted to plant in their back yards...I wouldn't expect these supposedly well-educated people to do this kind of thing. But they're apparently well-off and felt they could get away with it."

Not content with just filing a formal complaint with White Bluff management, Van Tyne pressed his grievance with the Hill County Sheriff's department and the Army Corps of Engineers. But the sheriff told him no criminal laws had been broken, and the Army Corps of Engineers again wanted no part of the feud. "Quite a few people have tried to get us involved," says Bert Brunett, reservoir manager of the corps. "But we have no involvement with it. We don't know any place that we fit into this."  

Frustrated, Van Tyne confronted Bryant Aiken himself. "I told [Aiken] he'd better not discharge any more firearms in my back yard," says Van Tyne. "He told me he didn't fire anything. It was all Mr. Jones. Now, whether that's true, I don't know."

Although Jones has refused to publicly comment on his motive for the killings, at least one of his former colleagues at Thompson & Knight claims he must have felt justified before taking such drastic action. "Jones is a really fine, fine person and a man of really good judgment," says Ben West, his former law partner. "He is not a man to jump and do rash things."

Others at White Bluff see Jones in a different light, signing a letter of protest and demanding that something be done to discipline both neighbors who had acted as if they were above reproach. "I guess people with the name Jerry Jones are just arrogant," says Goldfuss. "I know a couple of them."

White Bluff's security conducted its own internal investigation and recently issued its findings: Since wild goats are not a protected species, their slaying was not an infraction and would go unpunished. However, for the willful discharge of a firearm on the resort property, both Jones and Aiken were assessed a fine equal to the cost of cleaning up the carnage. Moreover, their rights and privileges to the amenities of White Bluff were temporarily suspended: Both men were banished from the resort's tennis courts, its swimming pools, and its two championship golf courses for a period of one year.

Whether this brand of country-club justice fits the crime depends on whom you speak with at White Bluff. But most will lament that things should have never gotten out of control the way they did. "There are plenty of places around the Hill Country where they could have found a place for those goats," says real estate agent Linda Alesi-Miller. "But that needed to happen a long time ago.

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