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The Mutilation Mystery
(Thought I’d offer up a midweek mystery after the news about dead cattle in East Texas. I was exposed to this phenomenon as a young man in Colorado, and have been unable to completely avert my eyes ever since being dumbfounded by what I saw that fine spring day. I suspect you will also be intrigued. And asking again, if you like what you read, please share and subscribe. Makes a body happy to get new readers; and it is especially flattering when they are compelled to pay. - JM)
The first news story I covered as a neophyte broadcast journalist was disturbingly unusual. My goal had been to get away from being a disc jockey in radio and move into a job doing full-time reporting. In the White Mountains of Eastern Arizona, which was the location of my first gainful employment, (though not very gainful at $100 a week), the only news I encountered was what I read on the air after tearing copy off a wire machine.
When I was later offered a job at a radio station on the High Plains of Eastern Colorado, I was encouraged to do as much journalism as I desired, though my on-air schedule was such that any story I pursued was chased on my time and was uncompensated. Nonetheless, I was not content to sit in a spinning chair with wheels, announce time and temperature, and introduce records for the hundreds of listeners in the little town out near the Kansas line.
The mystery I confronted that day in the spring of 1974 has never been resolved, and the phenomenon has proliferated across the country in the subsequent decades. Rarely, however, do cattle mutilations make news. They are the stuff of UFO stories and ghost shows that are taken seriously only by ranchers and certain types of law enforcement. When cases get public attention, investigators hope it goes away and interest in the subject dies down because they know the mystery is unlikely to be solved.
Although cattle mutilations are happening with great regularity across the plains states and the Intermountain West, they rarely get news coverage, unless it cannot be avoided or the characteristics of the incident appear more unsettling than normal. A case earlier this week along the Old San Antonio Road in East Texas appears to have aroused as much apprehension as anger. According to the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, six head of cattle in Madison, Brazos, and Robertson Counties had been killed and mutilated, and there are no suspects or explanations or even theories about how or why, which is always the case.
The pathology of the crime fits what has been reported since the phenomenon became public in the mid seventies. There is no blood on the ground or the animal, no trace of a struggle or footprints, tongues were removed, skin excised from around the jawlines, and precision cuts were made to take the animal’s genitalia and even core out the anus. Police called to the scene of the death of a longhorn-crossbreed cow later discovered five other cattle from five different herds that had been similarly mutilated.
A Typical Mutilation
In the decades since this phenomenon first leaked into the public’s awareness, there have been, according to various ranching and cattle association group estimates, tens of thousands of similar mutilations in North America. Not a single suspect has been arrested, nor does evidence point in any particular direction. Theoretical explanations have ranged from cults to aliens in UFOs experimenting on this planet’s life forms, to secret government programs. I had no idea about any of this until the phone rang at the local radio station where I worked in Burlington, Colorado.
“Are you the one who does the news there?” a male voice asked.
“Yes, sir. Who’s calling?”
“I’m the Kit Carson County Sheriff, and I got a news story you ain’t gonna believe.” He paused. “And I think I need your help.”
“Sure. What’s it about, Sheriff?”
“Just a dead cow.”
“A dead cow is news? A cattle thief kill it or ranchers fighting with each other or….?”
“It’s nothing that simple, and I can’t explain it to you on the phone.”
“Well, okay, Sheriff. Where do I meet up with you?”
I was living and working in a part of the country that felt like it was the Great Out Yonder. I did not expect any big news stories to materialize in my nascent journalistic efforts, but I was certainly intrigued. The directions he gave took me to a ranch gate up in the northwest part of the county, heading toward Brush and Fort Morgan. The sheriff, standing next to his cruiser, looked very much like a cowboy who had drank too much beer and had not ever ridden the range. We were within squinting distance of the front range of the Rocky Mountains. He wasted no time with introductions.
“Come on this way,” he said. “It ain’t but a hundred yards from this cattle guard.”
“Cows die a lot out on the plains, don’t they sheriff?”
“They sure do, son, but more of ‘em are dying this way and something ain’t right.”
We came upon a very large animal lying on its side, motionless. I looked at the cow and then back at the sheriff and shrugged. I had my microphone out and recorder strapped over my shoulder, but I had not turned it on because I did not expect a cow to be worthy of the newscast.
“I’m not sure a dead cow is news, Sheriff. Is it?”
“Take a better look,” he said. “This keeps happening. We don’t know what to make of it but think if it’s on the news, maybe we’ll scare off whoever’s doing this.”
“Just killing cows?” I asked. “Why would someone kill cattle?”
“It’s a bit more than that. Get up there and look real close.”
The deputy pointed to the underside of the cow and there was what appeared to be a perfect circle of flesh excised from the region where the udder would have been located. I knelt and was able to look through the animal’s body. About a two-foot in diameter chunk of the cow appeared to have been removed through some sort of massive vivisection.
Tissue Removed from Mouth Occurs on Almost Every Mutilation
“Well, that’s pretty weird,” I said. “Who the hell would do that?”
“What’s weirder is there ain’t no blood, nowhere. There’s more than ten gallons of blood in a cow that size and if you’ve ever been to a slaughterhouse, you know these animals can’t get cut any way without blood everywhere.”
“How could there be no blood?” I scanned the area where it lay. Dry pasture, dirt, no trampled growth of grass.
“You tell me.”
“And who the hell needs a cow’s udder? That’s what’s missing in that section, isn’t it?”
“We figure it’s some kind of cultists coming out from Denver, but weird thing is we never see any footprints or tire tracks or prop wash, which we would see if they were a cult that had a damn helicopter, and that don’t make much sense. We just need it on the news and hope to scare them off. We’re getting a lot of pressure from local ranchers. This is scaring people and costing them some big money.”
“Seems like me doing a broadcast is going to scare even more people, isn’t it?” I had already begun recording our conversation, though, and held the microphone in his direction when he spoke. The sheriff did not protest.
I walked around the carcass to get a complete view of the injuries. The animal had been additionally disfigured on its head and rear. One eye was missing, though there was no damage to tissue around the socket, and a section of muscle along the jaw line had been cut off with what had to have been a very sharp, precision instrument to expose the teeth. I leaned over, a bit baffled why anyone would remove tissue as obscure as the flesh around the mouth and teeth, but only on one side.
“The tail’s gone, too,” he said. “But that ain’t all. Come here.”
He stepped to the rear and pointed. The anus appeared to have been cored out somehow and the tail was missing from the rear bone structure. None of it made any sense.
“Jesus. I just don’t get it.”
“Yeah, I know. Nobody around here does. No idea. When we see the males killed like this, the penis and scrotum are removed along with the tail and anus. I’m sick of looking at it. Makes us think it’s a sex cult of some kind. But we get no clues and no idea how to stop this.”
“Not a damned one. We’ve had a few ranchers tell us they’ve seen lights the night before in the area where the animals are found, but there are never any tracks of any kind even when it’s been wet. Some of them say they see lights in the sky so that’s what got us to thinking about helicopters but no prop wash ever or marks where landing skids would’ve touched down or any sign the animals were dragged. And never a damned footprint.”
“Pretty sophisticated for a cult, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, but what the hell else could it be? And here’s another durned thing we can’t figure. No critters come around to eat the body. In this country, an animal goes down, and it ain’t but a few hours before coyotes or wolves or whatever comes around and starts pulling at the soft flesh to eat it. Nothing comes near these carcasses. We can come out here in two weeks and it’ll just lying here dried up and untouched by predators. Seen dozens of ‘em that way.”
I moved away for a wider look at the scene, hoping to see something the sheriff might have missed. A drop of blood, a footprint, anything that might signify human presence but there was nothing after I encircled the body with an expanding radius. Blood ought to have been everywhere on the ground. When I got down on my hands and knees to get a tighter view where the flesh had been cut, there did not even appear to be blood in the cells of the remaining tissue. It was white.
We recorded an interview and I cut excerpts into a long news piece I ran the next morning. The phone rang all day from people with theories ranging from UFOs to vampire cults. Several people said they had lost animals to the strange mutilations but had not reported the incidences to the police for fear of being ridiculed. Not a single lead was ever established to help solve the cattle country mystery in Eastern Colorado during the seventies.
Inexplicable and Unresolved
Between April and October of 1975, a time that coincided with when I was a young radio reporter, more than 200 cattle mutilations were reported in Colorado. Four years later, the number had risen to thousands in one calendar year, and the FBI opened an investigation, which, ultimately concluded they were natural deaths or caused by predators. I could not understand the conclusion based upon what I had witnessed, and I never heard of a rancher accepting the agency’s findings.
The modern wave of these strange occurrences began in the 1970s and spread from west of the Mississippi River through the Intermountain West. Ranchers often blamed the government for conducting biological experiments because unmarked helicopters were frequently seen near where the cattle had fallen. The antipathy between ranchers and the government became so great that the Nebraska National Guard issued orders for its helicopters to fly at 2000 feet for training exercises instead of the normal 1000 feet because cattle raisers had taken to shooting at helicopters over their land.
The phenomenon has not abated. In 2021, a series of unexplained cattle deaths and mutilations enraged ranchers in Oregon. Sex organs, tongues, eyes, and other body parts were removed with what one witness described as “surgical-like precision.” Never has blood been found at any scene. The prosaic explanation for the mystery is that the animals are dying of natural causes and predation, blowflies, and decomposing flesh are supposed to be an accepted solution to what appears to be the act of an intelligent creature that might have committed the mutilations. Ranchers are quick to point out they have seen many animals that are victims of predation, and the flesh is almost universally torn and ragged, not cut with straight edges.
Stanford educated researcher and journalist Linda Moulton Howe began investigating the mutilation mystery as a reporter for a Denver television station in 1979. She was initially intrigued by the 1967 case of a horse named, “Lady,” which had been partly skinned and had its lungs, heart, brain, and thyroid carefully excised. There was no blood, and a Geiger counter recorded radioactivity around the carcass and in an area of flattened long grass not far from where the animal had been found.
No trace of human involvement was ever discovered, and a county judge said less than 24 hours later he and his wife witnessed three orange objects flying in formation over the county. Two deputy sheriffs, who insisted they were followed in their car by an orange ball, were threatened with their jobs if they spoke publicly about what they witnessed. Howe, after spending decades investigating the phenomenon and examining a few thousand dead animals, has zero doubt that cattle mutilations and mysterious human abductions are being performed by alien life forms.
In her 1989 book and documentary, An Alien Harvest, Howe provided narrative evidence she believes proves the presence of another intelligence in the cattle mutilation phenomena. She writes of a rancher near Waco who had been looking for a cow that was ready to calve. The man had been ranching in the area for forty years and was not given to exaggeration. He told Howe he had left his truck and was climbing a hill on foot when he looked up and saw, about one hundred yards distant, what he described as “two, four-foot high creatures.”
“They was wearin’ some kind of tight fittin’ green clothes like the color of mesquite leaves in the spring,” he told Howe in a phone conversation.
“Like a leotard?” she asked.
“I guess so. Even the feet was covered. The heads was shaped like eggs with the pointy end down toward the ground. Between them they was carryin’ a calf. Their arms swung back and forth right together. The hands was the same color as everything else, all sort of greenish. No other color on them.”
The unnamed man described the beings as small adults, but muscular in appearance, neither fat nor skinny, and he was unable to see noses or hair. He said they turned together in his direction and he saw their eyes angled upward and pointed at the end.
“Sloe-eyed,” he told Howe, “like big, dark almonds. I was afraid of them seein’ me. I’ve read all about them abductions and I didn’t want them takin’ me away in some flyin’ saucer. I took off down the hill pretty fast to my truck.”
Howe reported the rancher was so disturbed it took him a few days to tell his wife and son what he had experienced. When they eventually returned to the scene, they found what he believed was the remains of the calf the creatures had been carrying. There was nothing left of the animal other than the hide pulled back over the skull and folded inside out on the ground. No blood or buzzards were present and nearby the empty hide was a “complete backbone without ribs.”
These stories and reports continue to repeat. The form and facts barely change, and forensic science has no clue. Humans almost certainly would leave a trace of their presence, but every investigator and rancher has looked and found nothing. There are no tire tracks, grasses depressed by helicopter prop wash, blood on the ground near the fallen animal, no footprints; nothing, just an animal drained of its blood and its body mutilated in a manner that defies explanation.
I didn’t really want to think about it as a young reporter. The scene had made me wish I could spend my career in boring city council meetings. A few weeks after my report had been broadcast on the Intermountain Radio Network, though, I received a call from a rancher down in Rocky Ford. He urged me to come down and see a cow’s carcass on his ranch, which he said he had found a day earlier about fifty feet up in the crook of branches on a cottonwood tree. He admitted to being scared and had seen lights over his herd several times the previous night.
I was, admittedly, very curious about the cow in the tree, but I decided not to go. I did not want to see a dead cow up in a cottonwood tree, but I was already to the point where I did not find the rancher’s story preposterous. I have no confidence the cattle mutilation mystery will ever be solved, and it might be one of those curiosities where we are better off not knowing the facts, which might be okay, if only the phenomenon would stop happening.
But after almost fifty years, that seems unlikely.