A shocking murder mystery is playing out in a small Maryland town, pulling in a former Republican state senator and a Hollywood true crime producer along the way. But many say the prime suspects—who are now awaiting their executions—have been wrongfully accused.
Nola Lowman’s beloved pet dogs will soon be euthanized, pending a last-ditch request for a judge to spare them, after she says local animal control officials improperly charged the pair with a cat-killing she believes was actually committed by a hungry coyote.
The execution order is based solely on the testimony of a lone eyewitness, the late feline’s owner, whose story changed significantly before he skipped town and abandoned his remaining cats without food or water, court documents allege.
Now, an intense court battle to spare Odin, 2, and Lucy, 6, who have never before been accused of any sort of violence, according to authorities, is entering its final stretch.
Since the two dogs were seized from their Millersville, Maryland home in early 2021 by animal control officials and placed in isolation on the county kill shelter’s “death row,” Odin and Lucy have not once been allowed outside for exercise or to relieve themselves, according to the attorney representing Lowman.
What’s more, in the year following Odin and Lucy’s detention, numerous other neighborhood cats have allegedly turned up dead.
“I don’t understand what they’re doing,” Lowman, 67, told The Daily Beast. “I think they’re just saying, ‘Well, these people are poor. They’re renters.’ You know, ‘Just kill their dogs and get it over with.’”
The grim saga began on Jan. 29, when Lowman’s neighbor, Daniel Stinchcomb, called Anne Arundel County Animal Care & Control (ACC) to report that one of his cats, Big Boy, had been attacked. Stinchcomb told the animal control officer who responded that he had been in his shed “when he heard and responded to the sound of growling,” according to a summary of evidence obtained by The Daily Beast.
Stinchcomb claimed he discovered Odin, a pit bull, and Lucy, an akita mix, “attacking Big Boy,” after which the dogs ran away. The officer inspected Big Boy’s remains, and “observed several puncture wounds and an apparent broken neck,” the filing states.
A few minutes later, Lowman’s son, William Dillon, arrived on the scene and “was informed that his dogs had killed Mr. Stinchcomb’s cat,” the filing continues. Dillon said he was out looking for Odin and Lucy because they hadn’t come home as usual. The officer told Dillon that his dogs needed to be impounded for being “vicious or dangerous” and ordered him to bring them to (ACC) when he found them.
The next day, Dillon turned over Odin and Lucy to ACC, where officials reviewed county records to find any past history of incidents or attacks. They found none, according to the filing.
Lowman, who works the deli counter at a nearby Giant supermarket, told animal control that the dogs got out accidentally while she was vacuuming the porch. Dillon said they had gotten loose two or three times in the past, but always returned home right away. He also explained that he and his mother kept chickens, goats, and other dogs, including a Chihuahua, on the property, and that Odin and Lucy had never growled at, or ever tried to bite, any of them. Dillon’s son said he’d taken Odin and Lucy to visit his girlfriend’s three golden retrievers and small cat, and the two had never shown any aggression toward them whatsoever.
Odin and Lucy didn’t kill Big Boy, Lowman insists. When they came home that day, neither of them had any blood on them and none of the cuts or scratches they would likely have suffered during a catfight.
In the meantime, Dillon constructed a 20-foot-by-15-foot outdoor kennel for the dogs, and began pricing out an eight-foot chain link fence. Lowman’s landlord said it would be OK for Odin and Lucy to come back.
But on Feb. 11, less than two weeks after Big Boy was killed, animal control officials issued an administrative order formally declaring Odin and Lucy to be “vicious,” which meant they would have to be put down.
Lowman and her son appealed the ruling to the Animal Matters Commission (AMC), which recommended downgrading the order from “vicious” to “dangerous,” which would place Odin and Lucy on a county registry but keep them alive and allow them to return home. The two would also have to abide by certain conditions, such as installing a solid “privacy fence,” without any gaps between the panels.
That fencing would cost as much as $30,000 to buy and put up, Lowman told The Daily Beast. The least expensive privacy fence she could find ran $8,000—still too much to spend “for a piece of property I don’t even own,” Lowman said. Besides, Dillon told the commission, the landlord didn’t want a privacy fence.
On April 19, the Anne Arundel chief of police “overturned the recommendation of the AMC and upheld the Vicious Orders in their entirety,” according to a legal memorandum issued by the appeals board. No reason for the reversal was included in the board’s ruling.
Lowman and Dillon tried to contest the ruling, and were informed by animal control administrators that a chain link wasn’t acceptable because dogs can climb them and people can stick their fingers through the openings. Animal control also said that a kennel wouldn’t have prevented Big Boy’s death because “the dogs running at large indicate irresponsible dog ownership,” the appeals board decision states.
“We find that Odin and Lucy cannot be safely maintained without threatening members of the public or other animals,” the decision concludes. “This attack was particularly brutal and resulted in the death of a beloved pet cat in that pet’s front yard and in front of his owner.”
However, Daniel Stinchcomb wasn’t actually Big Boy’s owner, according to a filing by Lowman’s attorney, C. Edward Middlebrooks, who said the cat in fact belonged to Stinchcomb’s niece.
Stinchcomb also gave conflicting accounts about what happened the day Big Boy died, according to a passage from the county’s “bite investigation report” cited in one of Lowman’s court filings.
“He [first] said he saw it happen, where the dogs took the cat from a tree and got the cat. And then he changed his story totally—he said, ‘I heard something, so I came outside and I saw the cat in the dog’s mouth,’” Middlebrooks, who served as a Maryland state senator from 1995 to 1999, told The Daily Beast. “Totally different stories he told.”
If Stinchcomb didn’t witness the supposed attack firsthand, Big Boy could have already been dead when Odin and Lucy came upon his remains, Middlebrooks said, adding that a nearby resident’s trail-cam captured a photo of a roving coyote in the vicinity during the same time period. Coyotes have gradually spread across the entire state, and can weigh as much as 60 pounds, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. While attacks on humans are rare, it is not uncommon for coyotes to kill cats and dogs walking outdoors.
“They’re known to kill, and if they’re not hungry, they come back for their prey,” Lowman told The Daily Beast.
Speaking before the Board of Appeals in June, Dillon noted that four other cats had been killed since Odin and Lucy were taken into custody by authorities.
“Neighbors have all reported that cats are being killed,” Dillon testified. “There’s a serial cat killer on the loose and my dogs are taking the rap for it. Odin was just a puppy when this supposedly took place.”
Stinchcomb never told his side of the story that day—because he had suddenly disappeared. He left no forwarding address and no phone number, and no one has since been able to get in touch with him, according to Middlebrooks. (The Daily Beast was unable to reach Stinchcomb at any of the numbers and emails listed in public records.)
Stinchcomb left behind a number of other cats on his property when he vanished, Middlebrooks told The Daily Beast. Lowman said she’s been the one feeding and taking care of the animals Stinchcomb stranded after successfully getting Lowman’s dogs condemned.
When a friend told Hollywood filmmaker and former New Jersey assistant state prosecutor Glen Zipper about the situation, Zipper at first thought it might make a good true crime documentary.
“What if, instead of the wrongfully accused murderer being a human being, the wrongfully accused happens to be two dogs? And so that got my attention,” Zipper, executive producer of the Netflix docuseries Dogs and Cat People, told The Daily Beast. “But I think within 10 minutes of having our conversation about a potential doc, we both concluded, Forget about the doc, let’s do whatever we can to save these dogs.”
Now, Zipper is helping to bring attention to the case, which he sees as “fundamentally unfair.”
“You know, these dogs aren’t in the criminal justice system,” said Zipper. “They’re essentially in an administrative setting. So the rules for criminal procedure aren’t going to apply. That being said, from day one in law school, we’re taught about fundamental fairness. And one of the most standard precepts of an understanding of fundamental fairness is being able to directly confront your accuser. Now, obviously, Odin and Lucy aren’t going to be able to confront their accuser directly, because they’re dogs. But their owners certainly should have had that opportunity [to question Stinchcomb]… And when that cat owner disappeared, they abandoned the rest of their cats. So that really goes to the credibility of that witness to begin with.”
As they await their fate, Odin and Lucy have been isolated from each other in separate cages, according to Lowman. When she showed up to see them, she was forbidden from petting or touching Odin or Lucy, who she said were barking and crying the entire time, and forbidden from taking photos or videos of her dogs.
Neither of them have been allowed outdoors in nearly a year, and are forced to eat and sleep amid their own excrement, Middlebrooks said.
Shellshocked, Lowman has been unable to bring herself to return to the facility.
Earlier this month, Middlebrooks and his co-counsel, Stephanie C. Kimbrell, tried to arrange a visit to the shelter for a wellness check on Odin and Lucy. However, their attempt to get inside was rebuffed by the county, which has also refused to provide further policy details without a FOIA request.
Kimbrell said that a field supervisor named John Canning, along with an officer by the name of Simpson who is reportedly responsible for Odin and Lucy’s care, informed her that the pair, having been designated “vicious,” are forbidden to go out for any reason as they are “public safety hazards.”
“They said they have to worry about liability,” Kimbrell told The Daily Beast.
A subsequent attempt to check on Odin and Lucy by Wendy Cozzone, an animal advocate and former president of the Anne Arundel County Animal Welfare Council, was also unsuccessful.
“I’m just disgusted,” said Kimbrell. “I’m speechless at how sick that is. There’s no excuse for it.”
Canning and Simpson did not immediately respond to voicemail messages The Daily Beast left on Wednesday seeking comment. Anne Arundel Animal Care & Control referred The Daily Beast’s inquiries to the Anne Arundel County Police Department. Lt. Jacklyn Davis, a spokesperson for the Anne Arundel County PD, told The Daily Beast that she couldn’t comment on the situation because the case is still being litigated in court.
On Dec. 15, Lowman and her son filed a motion to stay the decision to euthanize Odin and Lucy. Middlebrooks said he expects a ruling to come sometime in late January.
In a public statement Middlebrooks and Kimbrell released this week, they said, “This is an example of tone-deaf heartless bureaucracies running roughshod over the people (and in this case also the dogs). We will not sit idly by while this injustice is done to these animals. Lucy and Odin are good dogs. They have no history of ever attacking or threatening any person or any of the multiple animals that they lived with. The ‘evidence’ against them regarding Big Boy, the cat, is totally unreliable, contradictory, and frankly, unbelievable. Animal Control must do the right thing and return these beautiful animals to their family for Christmas where they belong.”
At this point, Lowman wonders if Odin and Lucy—whom no one other than county officials have seen in months—are even still alive.
“My son is an alcoholic. He’s been sober for eight years,” said Lowman. “He just started drinking again because he thinks his dogs are dead.”
As the legal bills mount, Lowman is almost out of money. Last week, Cozzone launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money so Lowman and Dillon can keep fighting for their dogs. To date, it has raised $270 of its $15,000 goal.