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Fwd = Cattle mutilations leave ranchers guessing

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  • Frits Westra
    Forwarded by: fwestra@hetnet.nl (Frits Westra) URL: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/metropolitan/983838 Original Date: 31 Jul 2001
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 31, 2001
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      Forwarded by: fwestra@... (Frits Westra)
      URL: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/story.hts/metropolitan/983838
      Original Date: 31 Jul 2001 11:47:24 -0000

      ========================== Forwarded message begins ======================

      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 bodies.

      "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
      difficult.

      "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
      sickest.

      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
      that area.

      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
      paraphernalia.

      "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
      ranchers.

      "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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