Fwd = Cattle mutilations leave ranchers guessing
- Forwarded by: fwestra@... (Frits Westra)
Original Date: 31 Jul 2001 11:47:24 -0000
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July 29, 2001, 11:28PM
Cattle mutilations leave ranchers guessing
By JIM HENDERSON
Copyright 2001 Houston Chronicle
CALDWELL -- The prize bulls of Burleson County are dying.
The troubling questions are how and, more importantly, why.
Some ranchers talk of a cult that drains the blood of the animals for
use in satanic rituals.
The sheriff believes most of the animals are dying of natural causes
but admits he is perplexed by some of the circumstances.
An investigator for a cattlemen's association chalks some of the
deaths up to thieves stealing body parts, rather than meat.
Whatever the cause, cattle have been turning up dead under what
ranchers consider "mysterious" circumstances at almost predictable
intervals -- once or twice a year, around the time of Halloween or a
religious holiday, such as Easter -- for nearly a decade.
"I don't know what it is," said Johnny Lyon, who lost a valuable
Charolais bull last Easter. "It could be a prankster, but if it is the
other (a cult) it could be pretty dangerous."
These kinds of stories have been told in cattle country for as long as
cattle have been dying. Sometimes the stories grow outlandish. Rarely
is there evidence to back them up.
Nevertheless, ranchers in Burleson County believe there is something
more than storytelling going on there.
When Lyon found his bull at the rear of a 300-acre pasture, its
abdomen had been split open and its genitals removed.
He said that has been a consistent pattern in previous incidents.
Another rancher, whose family has lost several head of cattle in
recent years, is so convinced that a cult is behind the deaths that he
would only speak anonymously.
There were no signs -- claw or teeth marks -- to suggest that his cow
had been killed by a coyote or other predator and "there was not a
drop of blood on the body or the ground," the rancher said.
Not all cattle deaths arouse suspicion.
In some cases, the cause is obvious.
Lyon recently found an angus cow that died after breaking a leg.
"I didn't report that one," he said.
Those in the mysterious category, however, share similarities. Like
Lyon's Charolais bull, the cause of death was not apparent; body
organs and, sometimes, tongues were removed while the valuable meat
was untouched. In most cases, the genitals were removed. And, Lyon
said, it appeared in each case that the blood had been drained from
"The buzzards don't even go up to them," he said. Scavenger birds, he
said, do not feed on bloodless carcasses.
Burleson, a hilly and wooded county about 75 miles northwest of
Houston, is home to several small ranches where cattle often graze in
thickets away from highways or other public vantage points. Often, a
carcass is not immediately discovered, which has made investigation
"I don't think it has anything to do with a cult," said Sheriff Thomas
Gene Barber. "Some are natural deaths. But, some are very unusual ...
the removal of the organs. You wonder if any animal could do that."
He said it is also "strange" that most of the cattle whose deaths
seemed unusual "were the best animals they had," not the weakest or
In the past 10 years, Barber said, the "unusual" deaths have occurred
about once a year, sometimes twice, and in one year -- 1994 -- there
were four clustered near Halloween.
He has investigated some, but the carcasses had decayed or were
partially devoured by animals.
"If you can't get to one in 24 hours, you can't learn much about what
killed it," he said.
Barber said he suspects that some of the cattle died from
overfertilized feed or toxic oleander bush that is found near water in
If any were killed by humans, he said, "I think it was some kids
getting body parts."
Evidence has been scarce, Barber said. His deputies have never found
footprints, tire tracks or other clues that would point to a suspect.
At the same time, he said, there has never been evidence of cult
activity, such as candles, pentagrams or other ritualistic
"It's a mystery to me," he said.
At the request of ranchers, Larry Gray, director of law enforcement
for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, looked into
a few incidents and, like the sheriff, said he discounts the notion of
a cult at work in the county.
"These things really get blown out of proportion," Gray said.
In 20 years of investigating cattle deaths in Texas and Oklahoma, Gray
said, "I have never seen one that was cult-related."
What the ranchers saw as an absence of blood, he said, probably was
blood pooling at the bottom of the carcass.
The split abdomens and missing genitals could have been the work of
small animals after the animal died of other causes.
"Skunks and opossums have very sharp teeth,and they usually attack the
softest tissue first," he said.
In cases where the victim was a bull, Gray said humans may have been
responsible but probably not for occult reasons.
Genitals of large bulls have been turned into grotesque walking sticks
or into bags.
Lyon said he hopes to solve the mystery by someday getting a fresh
carcass to Texas A&M, where officials at the college of veterinary
medicine have offered to perform necropsies.
"It happens so infrequently that we don't get a clue," Lyon said. "I
just want to find out what's behind it.
The unexplained deaths of four head of cattle in 1994 caused a minor
buzz even among residents, but the talk quickly faded, deputies said.
The latest deaths have attracted little attention, except among
"I haven't heard any talk about it," said Caldwell Police Chief Virgil
Hurt. "And we haven't had any cult activity in this town."
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