Occasionally the drama of horse racing spills over from the racetrack. In 1977 it splashed onto a mare called Fanfreluche, who was stolen from Claiborne Farm near Paris, Kentucky, and was missing without a trace for several months. This tale of intrigue was covered by many news outlets but for all things Thoroughbred, The Blood-Horse Weekly magazine is the ideal resource. Fortunately the Library holds nearly a complete run of this essential Thoroughbred horse periodical and I was able to get all the details of this odd incident.
Born in 1967, and owned by Jean-Louis Levesque, Fanfreluche had an excellent record on the track, earning $238,688 and being named 1970 Canadian Horse of the Year. An injury during her fourth year ended her racing career and she embarked on a new career as a broodmare in which she would prove equally successful. In 1977 she journeyed south to Claiborne Farm in Kentucky to be bred to Secretariat and was soon confirmed as in foal to the famous Triple Crown winner.
On June 26th Fanfreluche vanished from a grazing field she shared with several other broodmares. She was last seen late in the afternoon by farm staff. Later in the evening when the head count came up one short it was assumed that the missing mare was simply out of view. The next morning the stunning truth was revealed, Fanfreluche was missing.
The State police and the FBI were called in. Investigation of the area turned up two cut fences…
and a trail that led along a stone wall to a wooded area near the road, where the hoof prints stopped. Presumably the thief had a van waiting, loaded Fanfreluche into it, and made his get away.
The authorities, indeed everyone, expected a ransom call. Although she was valuable, due to strict registration rules Fanfreluche wouldn’t be worth much to the thief. In much the same way that a stolen artwork is difficult if not impossible to sell, a famous horse with registration lip tattoo would be impossible to pass off as another horse. Inexplicably no phone call came.
After a week or two the State Police released these photos to the public hoping that someone had seen the missing mare.
In an attempt to drum up leads, a false story was circulated that Fanfreluche required medication. Also a $25,000 reward was offered for information leading to a conviction. In July an arrest warrant was issued for William Michael McCandless. He voluntarily turned himself in and denied any connection with the crime. He was arraigned on July 29th, but there was still no sign of the missing horse.
It wasn’t until December 8th that a tip led investigators to the rural town of Tompkinsville, Kentucky. At the home of Larry McPherson a mare matching the description of Fanfreluche is discovered and her identity is confirmed from her lip tattoo. McPherson had been in possession of the horse since shortly after her kidnapping. One morning his neighbor had spotted a stray horse and assumed that it belonged to McPherson. They called to alert him and he went out expecting to find one of his horses.
Instead it was an unknown horse. He retrieved the horse and told the neighbor it wasn’t his and to pass the word around that there was a stray horse at his place. He expected the owner to turn up shortly to claim their animal. When no one did he reported it to the local police. No one made the connection to the race horse that had been stolen about 150 miles away. Eventually McPherson named the stray Brandy and occasionally used her for pleasure riding. He reported that she was very gentle but was difficult to catch, and that she never seemed to like the name he had given her and had never responded when he used it.
The McPhersons were cleared of any connection to the theft. Although Fanfreluche was in need of a brushing and having her hooves trimmed, she was none the worse for wear from her time as an ordinary horse. She returned to the luxury of Claiborne Farm and in February gave birth to a healthy colt named Sain Et Sauf, or Safe and Sound.
Fanfreluche had a long and productive life before passing away in 1999 at the age of 32. She is a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and also won the Sovereign Award for outstanding broodmare. She had 18 foals. 14 of them were winners, five were stakes winners, and three were champions.
William Michael McCandless was convicted of the theft and sentenced to four years in prison. It wasn’t his first run in the with law and it wouldn’t be his last.
The Library has a large collection of periodicals dating from the late 1700’s to the present day. Only our active subscriptions are available without an appointment in the Main Reading Room. The bulk of the collection is in the Lower Level Reading Room which requires an appointment to visit. I am currently working on cataloging the periodicals collection so in the near future it will be easy to see what we have available by using our online catalog.
Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail.