Early in the morning of July 2, 2005, an unknown person abandoned a man in the emergency room of the Enumclaw Community Hospital. The man who'd been dropped off did not have a pulse. Attempts to revive him failed. The police were called to investigate the mystery. Video footage revealed the license-plate number of the vehicle that brought the dead man to the hospital. The number led authorities to a farm on a street I am not going to name, a street that ends at the gate of a home. On the other side of the gate is a private road shaded by towering poplars. South of the farm is a field of grass and scrub. In the distance is a flowing glacial river whose course marks the end of King County and the beginning of Pierce County—the White River. Beyond that, the base of the great volcano.
Police soon figured out that the man at the hospital had died after having anal sex with a horse.
Two weeks later, on July 15, 2005, a reporter at the Seattle Times, Jennifer Sullivan, broke the story: "Enumclaw-area animal-sex case investigated."
As Sullivan remembers it now, the spokesperson for the King County Sheriff's Office at the time, John Urquhart, released a "vague press release" about a recent death. "I don't believe the news release said anything about bestiality," Sullivan recalls. So she called Urquhart, and he told her that "a man died while having sex with a horse."
The next day, Sullivan's readers learned about the circumstances of the death, that the King County Medical Examiner's Office had ruled it as accidental, and that the police could not charge anyone involved in the incident because bestiality wasn't illegal in Washington State. Animal abuse was illegal, but it didn't seem to be the case that the horse had been abused. (The goats, chickens, and sheep on the farm were being checked for abuse.) Seattle Times readers also learned that the farm had a reputation on the web as a destination for people whose sexual needs are mostly or only satisfied by livestock. On July 16, Sullivan reported that the police had not only watched multiple videotapes of men fucking horses in a barn, but also a video of the fatal encounter: the unnamed man being mounted and destroyed. Also reported was his age, 45 years old, and the official description of his death: "acute peritonitis due to perforation of the colon."
Eventually, the name of the dead man surfaced, Kenneth Pinyan. As Sullivan tells me, his relatives had tried to suppress it. "I recall meeting with Mr. Pinyan's relatives in a parking lot south of Tacoma one or two days after the initial story ran, and they asked me not to run Pinyan's name in the paper." Sullivan didn't run it, but everyone else did. Also revealed was Pinyan's recent move from Seattle to Oak Harbor, his occupation (an engineer at Boeing), and details about his family life (he was once married and was a father).
Much has changed in the world since Pinyan's painful departure (peritonitis is no picnic), and since my first-ever visit to Enumclaw, which was in 2006, to write about what had happened. We now have laws against bestiality in Washington State. We now have a black president. Our troops in Iraq have come home. We have been through the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. A tsunami resulted in the meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Japan. Bill Cosby is no longer America's father but an alleged serial rapist. The climate is really changing.
Indeed, that was the first thing that struck me when I reentered Enumclaw last week, after nearly a decade, and drove down the street to the notorious barn. The lush green grass of the past was mostly gone. Much of the fields and lawns and the farm where Pinyan was fatally penetrated are brittle, brown, desiccated.
The highest temperature in Enumclaw on Pinyan's last full day on earth was a very pleasant 64.9 degrees, with a low of 48 degrees. Ten years later, the same date in Enumclaw was a scorching 90 degrees—26 degrees above the historic average for that day—and temperatures remained that high (in the 90s) for days. Had the temperature been as hot on the day Pinyan visited the farm as it was exactly 10 years later, he might not have messed with that deadly horse, known to his sexual admirers as Big Dick. Sex with another human is bad enough in 90-degree heat, but the idea of a whole horse—with its hot hair, steaming sweat, and blasting body heat beating down on your back relentlessly—might have been enough for him to consider another, less thermal distraction that fateful night.
After admiring for a moment the great clouds that had gathered around the peak of Mount Rainier—the barn where the fucking happened also had a view of this kind of natural beauty—I noticed that Kelly O, the photographer with me, was, in an effort to get better and better pictures, standing on the property once owned by Big Dick's former owners. This made me nervous not because there were warnings about trespassing on this property, but because I fear country people and their guns. Whenever I go to rural America, or places close to it, like Enumclaw, I can't help but feel and fear that every home is owned by a God-loving, tax-hating citizen with an AR-15. For these types of people, the United States only begins where their lawns end. And you best believe that. Registering my concern, Kelly O took a few steps back and resumed taking pictures from the border of the United States of America.
On the property, there used to be a sign with a drawing of a proud and handsome stallion. This is another thing that had changed: Now the sign was white and blank. Someone had painted over it.
Despite that change, and the changes in climate, and the replacement of the old hospital Pinyan was dumped at (Enumclaw Community Hospital) with the newer Franciscan St. Elizabeth Hospital, for the most part, the town was much the same as the last time I saw it. Horses are still very popular here. You find them in fields, lawns, and also art—painted on barn doors, drawn on garages, printed on posters. If you want to really love horses, Enumclaw is still the best of places to go. Indeed, that is the reason I believe the whole town failed to detect the deviations of Pinyan and his friends. Horse fuckers are not easy to detect in a community of horse lovers. Even the owner of the animal that decimated Pinyan's insides had not the faintest idea of what Pinyan and his circle were up to. The neighbors were also as clueless, as I was told by an elderly man in an Enumclaw dive bar.
He was playing a touch-screen game and enjoying a cold beer on the day Kelly O and I arrived last week. He was 78 but looked not a day over 65. He retired years ago. He offered advice about how much money you needed to retire comfortably in Enumclaw. He said his sister lived next to the sex-death barn. "She couldn't believe when she heard it on the news. They were doing that right next to her house and she never saw a thing," he said.
The shock the citizens of Enumclaw experienced upon learning of the horrible things that had been happening right under their noses was of the magnitude you'd expect from people who had been informed that the cows they passed by every day (cows are also in abundance in Enumclaw) were in fact not cows but area grandparents who had been transformed into that appearance by the spell of some wicked witch.
Also still open in Enumclaw after all of these years: Mike's Western Suppliers and CL Western Apparel on 436th Street (family owned since 1983) and the Branding Iron Cafe, also on 436th Street, which serves coffee and hearty dishes to the men and women buying and selling cows and horses in the Enumclaw Sales Pavilion. Pinyan came here numerous times with his circle on Saturdays, when the place was open between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., and on Horse Sale Sundays, when the cafe closed only when the last horse sale was over. When I visited the place in 2006, it was busy with people eating American foods, whose fried smells mingled with the pungent smell of horse piss. I talked with the waitress about Pinyan and the alleged leader of the barn crew, and she told me people were mighty angry at them. They brought a bad light to the close relationship many had with their animals.
When I walked into the Branding Iron Cafe 10 years later, I was surprised to find that the place was closed and no one was working (I'd forgotten it's open only on Saturdays and some Sundays), but its doors were not locked. Bright summer light streamed through the windows and illuminated the drawings of horses and pictures of John Wayne on the wood-panel walls. The models of horse-drawn carriages on wall shelves seemed ghostly in this midafternoon emptiness. I could not help but feel the decade-old after-presence of those horse fuckers in the midst of this horse heaven for horse dealers.
I later called the Branding Iron Cafe on one of the five days it is open during the month. The phone rang until a message machine informed me it was full and that I should have a nice day. Was the business dead? I called the main office of the Enumclaw Sales Pavilion, which houses the Branding Iron, and this time a person answered. It was a young woman.
I explained that I had first visited the place not long after the horse-fucking incident in 2005 and had also stopped by there a few days ago in the hope of learning how the town was coping after all of this time. The most accurate temperature of the town, I believe, is to be taken at Branding Iron Cafe. Had Enumclaw recovered? Was the dirty death still a big deal? Had the anger of the equestrians not cooled? To my surprise, the young woman did not know what I was talking about. "What do you mean?" she said.
I jogged her young memory: Pinyan was the man who got fucked to death by a horse at a farm not far from the cafe.
"Yes, right. That guy."
I asked if the town still talked about him.
"No. It doesn't."
"Are you certain?"
"Yes, I am."
"No one mentions it?"
"No one talks about it, yes."
"So the town has moved on?"
"You have never heard anyone discussing it in the cafe?"
"The horse dealers, while buying horses at the auction?"
"You do not talk about it?"
"I don't. I have never talked about it with anyone."
"Is the breakfast good at the cafe?"
"Yes, it is."
What surprised me was how calm and unmoved the Pavilion employee sounded. My interest in the lurid matter had no effect. Her wall of defense was so secure and uniform. She kept the same tone and was of one mind.
This hard attitude, this implacability, was not exceptional. I also noticed it in the hospital administrator I spoke with last week. I was trying to confirm if the hospital was the place Pinyan was dumped in 2005—I could see that something about the building was different. The administrator told me she had never heard of Pinyan. I also jogged her memory: "He is the guy who died because a horse penetrated his anus." The jogging went nowhere. She refused to recognize the world-famous incident. All she would tell me is that anyone who died in 2005 did not do so in this hospital. St. Elizabeth Hospital, she informed me, opened in 2011. The other one, Enumclaw Community Hospital, closed the same year and used to be across the street. Anyone who died in a hospital in 2005 died there. As for Pinyan's records, I could not obtain them because he was not a criminal. He obeyed the laws of the state as they existed then.
While leaving the Branding Iron Cafe, I passed the notice board outside, where I was informed that a horse was missing. Back in Seattle, cats and dogs are the kind of pets that appear on missing flyers. And with good reason: They are not big, but the city they live in is. An entire lifetime can be spent in Seattle without ever seeing a flyer for a missing horse, but out here on the perimeter, it takes only a day's stroll to come across one. Yes, a whole horse had vanished without a trace. The owner, a woman who lives in Elbe, said on the flyer that the animal, which was 5 years old when Pinyan died, disappeared in the wilderness. The owner is hoping that someone in Enumclaw, a horse-loving town, has seen the massive thing. His name is Dino. He has four white socks.
With the region's economy heating up again, hints of gentrification can be found in Enumclaw's main street area, such as a "modern-day general store and coffee house," Plateau Wines, and so on. And there are lots of developments in the pipeline. But for the most part, the main street has remained intact and would be instantly recognized by Pinyan if he returned to haunt the place. The traffic is still sleepy. The occasional cowboy crosses Railroad Street with the old folks who moved here to make financial sense of their retirement packages. One of these fine Enumclawians must once in a while think about Pinyan. He was a big deal.
"The town wants to forget all that," said the elderly man I met in the dive bar. And even he had forgotten about the incident. He was completely confused when I first brought it up. I had to jog his memory also: "You know, the guy who died getting fucked in the ass by a horse."
This time there was success: "Ahh, right. That guy. Wow."
The conversation along these lines was not long. The old man wanted to talk about other things, about the increasing number of Microsoft retirees settling in town and his hope that developers would build a huge apartment complex just east of Enumclaw.
If the ghost of Pinyan were to haunt any part of his last world, I'm sure it would be the street where the barn still stands. I can easily picture him at night drifting up and down the street and also circling the sign that's now painted ghostly white but once had a drawing of a proud-headed stallion. As Pinyan circled the empty sign, his barely perceptible presence might be detected by a super-sensitive dog in a nearby yard that flies the American flag. The dog erupts in barks. Its alarmed owner looks out of a home window and finds nothing but summer air. The hound is ordered to quiet down. The curtains are closed.