The horse lover who robbed Dixon
If there’s an HBO movie or a Netflix film putting a dramatic fictional spin on the story of Rita Crundwell, the Dixon, Illinois, comptroller who perpetrated the largest municipal fraud in American history, I could see Michelle Pfeiffer or Meryl Streep knocking it out of the park.
In the meantime, we have the documentary “All the Queen’s Horses,” and kudos to director Kelly Richmond Pope for applying just the right mix of “What the Heck?” whimsy and respectful, serious reporting to this incredible tale.
Sitting about 100 miles due west of Chicago, Dixon ( population about 16,000) was a quiet town best known as the boyhood home of Ronald Reagan — until 2011, when a Dixon government employee noticed a years- long pattern of inexplicable banking paperwork, all of it leading to one Rita Crundwell, the town comptroller who by that time had established an international reputation as one of the world’s leading breeders and trainers of quarter horses.
Director Pope uses deliberately simple graphics to connect the dots and explain how such a massive con could occur in a tightly knit, small community. She also ( and quite admirably) resists the temptation to romanticize the admittedly fascinating Crundwell, pointing out how Crundwell laid off honest, hardworking employees and cut the town’s essential services budget while funding her own extravagant lifestyle.
Rita Crundwell poses with a horse in 2011, the same year a colleague discovered her con. AMERICAN QUARTER HORSE JOURNAL