The bull calf known as V02 was just five weeks old -- still wobbly on his gangly legs and still drinking milk from his mother, L112. With 19 other cow-calf pairs, they lived in a paddock in rural western Loudoun County amid rolling hills now dotted with patches of snow.
But V02 was different from the other calves. He was bred from a grand champion heifer named Gigi, whose fertilized egg was transplanted into L112. When he was born at Waterford Angus Farm north of Leesburg, his lineage made him worth $20,000 to $40,000.
Still, he lived an unremarkable existence -- until Jan 21. That chilly morning, his caretakers went to the paddock and came upon a crime scene. The little bull's surrogate mother lay dead. And V02 had vanished.
It certainly was mysterious -- the dead cow showed "no sign of trauma," said sheriff's spokesman Kraig Troxell, and no other animals appeared to have been harmed. But it also looked like a typical case of cow rustling, perhaps an inside job. V02's value seemed motive enough.
Then came a twist: That night, the bull calf was found dead on the property. Now what looked to be a killing-cownapping is being treated as a double slaying.
Necropsy results might reveal the pair died of natural causes, but authorities are doubtful. If the calf and its mother had contracted a virus or ingested poison, it's unlikely they would have been the only victims on the farm of 300 cattle, said Jamie Hanna, an investigator.
"We believe they were targeted," Troxell said.
Why is the stumper.
"My mind would wander if they were stolen or something like that," Hanna said. "But we're talking dead."
David Talton, whose family owns the farm, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
And so the investigation continues into a crime that might be considered quintessentially Loudoun, where farms and vineyards blanket the hills, and sheriff's deputies have experience with bovine mysteries. In 1997, a 2,800-pound champion Angus bull named RJ Expresso disappeared from a farm south of Leesburg. Investigators suspected cattle rustling, then, too. After all, Expresso was an esteemed breeder whose legendary seed had been implanted in cows around the world. Even in his sunset years, he was worth $150,000.
Expresso showed up at a neighboring farm six weeks later, offering no explanation about his absence. Perhaps the grass was greener somewhere else, his handlers figured.
But times are changing in the nation's fastest-growing county, and so are crimes.
A couple of dozen miles east of Waterford Angus Farm, strip malls and condominiums have taken over the countryside, and authorities more often track gang members than livestock poachers.
The cows' deaths came about the same time as the slaying of Sterling resident Sherine Williams, 24.
Williams, a data clerk, was found dead Jan. 23 on the bathroom floor of her apartment north of Dulles Town Center.
Last week, investigators combed the apartment for DNA evidence. They joined forces with federal authorities in a search for suspect Daunteril M. Hall, 28, who was taken into custody in Ohio.
That is what the sheriff's office must be ready to do today, Troxell said.
"These two types of crimes show the transition that Loudoun County is in, still having its rural background while working with urban growth," he said.