BUTLER, Ky. -- A Northern Kentucky family says an unknown environmental pollutant has poisoned and killed two dozen of their animals and sickened children and adults who spend time on their farm. But private scientists and county and state experts can’t find any cause for whatever may be happening at the Butler homestead.
The couple who lived on what they called their dream property walked away from the home and bankrupted themselves rather than selling it. They say they couldn’t in good conscience subject anyone else to what they experienced.
A visit to the house on Hissem Road in Campbell County starts with an intoxicating drive up a rolling hill blazing with wild flowers. Then you pass the barbed wire and the “Private Property” sign to find a house that’s seen better days. Photos from just two years ago show a lovely farmhouse, with a stately barn and a stand of trees the five children who lived here called their park. They had horses, goats, dogs and cats.
“It had everything that we needed,” said Bill Johnson, a police officer who bought the property with his wife Angie, a therapist. “A country setting, plenty of land… It was definitely our final place to go to.”
The Mystery Unfolds
But Johnson says it became the last place they wanted to live after two-and-a-half years of continuing, unexplained medical maladies. Angie says puppies born on the farm had strangely tilting heads. Animals developed neurological disorders, seizures, respiratory problems and digestive issues that left them skinny despite what she says was plenty of feed.
A heartbreaking home video captured on a cell phone shows one animal, Ellie, their oldest son Dylan’s puppy, convulsing in pain as a family member calls her name. Other photos show various dogs foaming at the mouth, lying contorted, some extremely thin. Angie says, “They would start getting wobbly. They would fall over, and they would go into respiratory distress and then they would foam at the mouth.”
The horses fared no better. Angie produced documentation to show the thousands of dollars she spent trying to save her “black beauty”, a horse she acquired as a young pony. Darcie died despite extreme measures by veterinarians in Lexington to save her. Angie cries as she flips through an album of the pets she loved, pointing to one after another, “Dead. Dead. Dead.” In all, she says the family lost 28 domestic and farm animals.
But the worst was yet to come.
The Johnsons have six children. Dylan was the oldest, followed by Kaylie, Aidan, Allysa and Jagger. Their last child, Gabe, was born after they left the farm. Angie says, “We didn’t realize there was a problem until multiple animals kept going down, and then my kid collapsed.”
She’s talking about 5-year-old Aidan, a quiet boy who never said a word as he sat coloring at the kitchen table of their new home. Angie says he has selective mutism and an anxiety disorder, all developed after that day when, “He was playing and he just went down. He couldn’t hold his head up.”
She says she rushed him to Children’s Hospital. Medical records she provided the I-Team show doctors ran a gamut of tests trying to find the cause.
“They tested for drugs, botulism, anything over-the-counter," Johnson said. "Four days later he was able to walk and regain his coordination and (the doctors’) diagnosis? ‘Unknown.’”
Angie says all the kids have various disorders, from ADHD to lymphatic masses, to muscular problems to cognitive and behavioral issues. All, she says, except for Gabe, now 10 months old. He never lived on the property.
Bill Johnson’s mother, Julie Horan, babysat at the farm three or more days a week.
“The kids, I noticed a difference in their behavior, always sick.” She says it ran beyond the typical childhood colds and sniffles, and that the children weren’t the only ones to become ill. “I would be in their house maybe five, six hours watching the children, I would have headaches,” Horan said.
Angie also supplied extensive medical records showing she was tested for various conditions. All her tests, like Aidan’s, came back inconclusive.
Beyond the family, the I-Team also talked to two contractors who spent three months on the farm building heated and air conditioned dog kennels for the breeding business the Johnsons had hoped to run out of the farm. Ottis Gibson and Ed Mesman say they got a first-hand look at the family and how they treated their animals during their months on the job. Gibson says the dogs, “seemed ok and then just started dying.”
Then Gibson got sick too, catching a staph infection he believes came from the soil, that led to medical complications and six weeks when he became temporarily blind. Gibson chokes up when he talks about his continuing medical problems ever since. Mesman says he’s been working with Gibson 30 years.
“He’s never really been sick, always been healthy and worked 12 hours a day, and right now, he’s kind of limited,” Mesman said.
Mesman says he also started feeling weaker and weaker