SUMMITVILLE, Ind. — "It was almost easier to look at the dead bodies than the living."
Maleah Stringer said she is still horrified every time she recalls visiting the Ault farm in Boone Township where 171 dead and rotting animals were discovered on April 9. Several barns entombed horses, sheep, goats, cows, rabbits and other animals that rested where they had fallen dead. Some birds had been thrown into a bucket and were festering. Feces was everywhere.
But living among the dead were 165 other animals. Barely living, in some cases. Many were described as "walking skeletons" by investigators. The living animals were literally sleeping and eating on top of carcasses, and there was no clean water in the barns.
"It was a nightmare," said Stringer, the executive director of the Animal Protection League. "I remember when I walked in, it was hard to see the living animals. They were tracking us with their eyes as we walked around."
Discovery of the farm
Authorities found the carcasses on the farm belonging to Daniel and Carrie Ault, on County Road 1700 North near 350 West near Summitville. Daniel Ault told police he'd become "overwhelmed" with trying to care for the animals, helping with the Strawtown Auction and running a meat-packing business he owned in Grant County.
Ault told detectives he believed the animals had been dying since November 2012. Investigators believe the frigid winter masked the odor of decay, but as the weather warmed in the spring, the stench of death could be detected far from the property.
"It was disgusting. I've never seen anything like it," said Madison County Sheriff's Department Major Brian Bell, who was the lead investigator at the scene.
A probable cause affidavit of the investigation described some animals that couldn't be identified because they had been decomposing for so long. Investigators and cleanup crews were required to wear Hazmat suits just to enter the barns. A veterinarian described only a few of the remaining living animals as having a healthy weight. Most were labeled in varying degrees of emaciation.