What happens when a man’s insatiable lust comes face to face with the law, over and over again? Ask Sterling Rachwal.
Rachwal has been convicted of mistreating horses, resulting in the deaths of several, numerous times in Waupaca County in 1982, 1984 and 1988. One was a pony, found dead and tied by the front legs over a fence post, with a broom handle shoved up its rectum. He has also rectally torn and cut the nipples off broodmares in foal.
Rachwal’s actions this time included inserting one arm into a horse’s anus and simultaneously masturbating himself.
On December 23, 1993, Rachwal was sentenced in Monroe County Circuit Court to prison on counts of mistreatment of animals/cause death, intentional mistreatment of animals and sexual gratification with an animal. He had assaulted horses in Tomah, and the injuries were so bad the horses had to be killed.
That conviction was overturned by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1995. Partially, this was due to a prior case, Jones v. State, where the statute reading “an act of sexual gratification involving his or her sex organ and the sex organ, mouth or anus of an animal” was limited by the court, who declared “[i]t is clear that oral and anal intercourse is prohibited and nothing more.” Hence, as Rachwal’s penis never touched the horse’s anus, it was not a crime under the statute as understood.
On June 1, 1996 Rachwal was arrested after a couple, who lived next door to Rachwal’s parents, reported that their pregnant Arabian mare had been sexually assaulted. The horse survived the attack.
In May 1997, Rachwal was found guilty, but not guilty due to mental disease or defect, in a case of animal mistreatment, felony bail jumping and criminal damage to property in Waupaca County.
Capt. Don Conat of the Waupaca County Sheriff’s Department was the lead investigator in the case that took Rachwal off the streets for more than 10 years. “He molested a horse in a neighbor’s barn and molested a second horse in a different neighbor’s barn,” Conat said. While Rachwal never confessed, police used boot prints and DNA evidence to link him to the crimes, said Conat. “I definitely think he is a danger to horses,” Conat said.
He was sentenced to 18 years, eight months in a mental institution in that case, and a Monroe County judge later added 19 years to that commitment from similar charges.
A judge ordered Rachwal’s conditional release in 2008. “I was surprised he was released at all into society,” Conat said. “I thought he would be off the streets for many years.”
At 6:50 p.m. on Nov. 1, 2008, a Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Department deputy responded to the farm of Cindy Heuer at N5072 Hickory Road in the town of Fond du Lac for a report of a man with a handlebar mustache entering a barn. The man who called police reported that the intruder said he had a “fascination with horses” and that he was new to the area, according to the criminal complaint. The horse owner, neighbor Mike Wellnitz, told authorities Rachwal was wearing a cap with a red laser light on it, along with blue latex gloves and dark-rimmed glasses. When asked, Rachwal told Wellnitz he didn’t want any trouble and had a fascination with horses. He gave a fake name and left.
Cynthia Wellnitz says that she does not believe this was the first time Rachwal stopped by. She says that her horse had been very sick, and has five pages of veterinarian statements from October 19 through November 2 to verify the sickness.
According to Cindy Heuer, her horses had been acting strange and she didn’t believe this was the first time Rachwal had stopped by. “My husband came out in the morning and the horses that are kept in the arena, we found them loose and I chain their gates at night,” said Heuer. “We found a strange footprint outside the barn… we think he was here several times, we caught him the once.”
2010 and Beyond
In early February, police were tipped off via an e-mail that Rachwal was a suspect in the Nov. 1, 2008, incident, said Chief Deputy Mark Strand of the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Department. Two sheriff’s detectives conducted an interview in which Rachwal allegedly admitted entering the barn wearing latex gloves, according to the complaint. Rachwal said he stopped himself before doing anything but told investigators what he would have done to the animal.
Sterling Rachwal, 46, now of 26 Amory Street, Fond du Lac, was charged Monday, February 8, with disorderly conduct after he allegedly confessed to entering the Fond du Lac County barn in 2008 with the intent of committing an indecent act with a horse.
Strand said he contacted Rachwal’s probation agent Tuesday morning, February 9. Because of his confession, Rachwal likely will be transported from the Fond du Lac County Jail, where he is being held on a probation hold, to an institution when a bed is available.
Lt. Bill Flood, head of the Fond du Lac County Sheriff’s Department Detective Bureau, said he cannot recall a case like this since the 1970s. Horse enthusiasts have expressed their concern to the Sheriff’s Department, and Flood said they are right to be worried.
“His background, based on his criminal history and past convictions, is that he has a sexual deviation when it comes to horses,” Flood said. “If he is out and free, depending if he is on a medication regimen or therapy regimen, he may lapse and he could find himself possibly reoffending.”
Rachwal, who was sent back to Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison, was expected on Friday, January 28, 2011 to enter a plea agreement but it was dropped at the last minute and he was bound over for trial. On Monday, March 12, 2012, he pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to 90 days in jail by Fond du Lac County Judge Gary Sharpe. (The charge was disorderly conduct because Rachwal was discovered in the barn, but there was no evidence he had actually touched a horse there.)