Cattle Mutilations Back - Ranchers,
Lawmen Baffled By Crime Wave
By Katie Oyan
Staff Writer
Great Falls Tribune

CONRAD, Montana - This is the kind of déja vu Everett King could do without.
About 15 years ago, he discovered the grisly remains of one of his cattle that had died mysteriously.
In October, it happened again.
King said it looked as though a surgeon had sliced into his 7-year-old Charolais, the way its right eye and ear were cut off -- not to mention the way its reproductive organs had been cored.
What King finds most unusual, however, is that two months later the carcass lies right where he found it, untouched.
"Predators won't eat it," said King, who ranches outside Valier, south of Lake Frances. "It should have been cleaned up and gone a long time ago."
Ranchers reported four mutilations between June and August. Since then, there have been 11 more, and investigators are still searching for answers.
The same bizarre circumstances haunted area ranchers and baffled law enforcement 20 years ago, sparking rumors about UFOs, cults and government conspiracies.
The mutilations went away in the '90s but began again this summer.
The most recent victim -- a 12-year-old Hereford -- turned up earlier this month on a ranch northwest of Conrad.
"They skinned off the belly from her front legs to her back legs all the way around," Pondera County Sheriff's Deputy Dan Campbell said. "The complete bag was removed."
The last few mutilations occurred within three miles of each other in the Dry Forks area, about 10 or 15 miles west of Conrad.
In October, members of the New Miami Colony, 18 miles west of Conrad, discovered two mutilated cows at the same time, about 30 yards apart.
The scenes were remarkably similar to mutilations ranchers reported here more than a decade ago, Campbell said.
Most of the cows had the skin scraped off their faces. Often, the tongue, one eye and all or part of an ear had been removed. Part of the udder usually was cut off, as well as the genitals. And in most cases, the anus had been cored.
A majority of the cows were 4 or 5; one was missing its teeth.
In the late '70s, a high volume of alleged mutilations in southwestern states prompted a federally funded investigation. The resulting 300-page report concluded that animal predators were responsible.
Although some dismiss the Pondera County deaths as a hoax or chalk them up to natural causes and predators, Campbell and fellow investigator Sheriff's Deputy Dick Dailey say they aren't convinced.
Cuts on the cows are often circular or oval and -- as with Everett King's Charolais -- seem to be made with surgical precision.
The animals seem to bloat faster than normal, and their missing hide doesn't reflect the work of predators, Campbell said.
"I've never seen an animal eat just the face off a cow when there's lots of other stuff to go after," he said.
One mutilated cow looked like it had been burned. Another seemed to have bruises around its neck as though it had been strangled. One had a long cut with a perfectly ridged edge, as though the hide had been sliced with a tool similar to pinking shears.
Also strange is that in most cases, no tracks or footprints were detected around the animals' bodies, even in mud or snow.
A misconception is that the cows have been drained of blood. Natural coagulation only makes it look like the creatures' fluids have been drained, Dailey said.
Dailey, who lives in Dupuyer, spent several nights this fall camped out in dark fields, trying to catch the culprit in the act. He has reviewed all the facts and checked out dozens of Web sites looking for answers.
Still, nothing.
"I've read everything I can read on it, and I really don't know what in the heck it is," he said.
Ranchers aren't sure what to think, either.
In September, Jim VandenBos discovered the body of one of his $850 2-year-old Angus lying dead in his pasture.
The right side of its face was skinned, and the exposed jawbone was so smooth it looked like it had been polished, VandenBos said.
Its tongue was cut off along with its right ear, eye and reproductive organs. A tennis-ball-sized patch of skin on its shoulder was hard like plastic.
Again, coyotes -- even other cattle -- steered clear.
VandenBos has been ranching southwest of Valier for more than 30 years and remembers the last wave of mutilations well.
"It's kind of a spooky thing," he said. "I haven't worried about it too much because it's something I can't control - but I'd like to find an explanation."
Toward the end of October, a neighbor found the 750-pound steer that died in Glen and Ruby Bouma's dry creek bed, three miles west of Conrad.
"There was a little trail of grass pushed up like it was shoved up underneath it," Ruby Bouma said.
The hide was missing from the calf's stomach and its reproductive organs were gone, but there were no tracks, no bullet holes and no claw marks.
The calf, No. 55, was almost a year old and was worth about $600. It was one of the friendliest animals the Boumas owned.
A local vet said it died of dust pneumonia, but Glen and Ruby have their doubts.
"That's possible, because it's so dry," Ruby Bouma said. "But I think we would have known if it was sick. We took special notice because it was one of two calves that were like pets to us. It would come up and smell your hand or your pantleg."
The whole thing is peculiar, if you ask the Boumas. When a cow dies of natural causes, for instance, predators will usually chew into its flesh.
Glen and Ruby's calf was missing only its hide. And when they checked on Thanksgiving Day, predators still were keeping their distance.
Some folks in the area think the U.S. Air Force or aliens are behind the mutilations, but not Ruby.
"I'm sorry, but I personally think it's somebody local ... that's doing it for kicks," she said.
One difficulty local investigators have encountered in cracking the case is gathering evidence.
After two or three days, collecting evidence becomes a lost cause because the cattle are so badly decomposed.
And in the summer, carcasses rot faster and often go undiscovered for weeks.
"We have to fight time," Campbell said. "We're hoping that this time of year, ranchers are gathering and feeding every day so we'll get a better jump on them and come up with some more clues."
Pondera sheriff's deputies also are hoping a Nevada laboratory will answer some of their questions.
This fall, Campbell and Dailey chopped the head off a mutilated cow, packed it in dry ice and shipped it to the National Institute for Discovery Science in Las Vegas.
The privately funded institute pays scientists and retired police officers to investigate bizarre phenomena including mutilations and UFO sightings.
A spokesman from the institute said researchers are nearly finished with their study and will be sending a copy of the report to the Pondera County sheriff's office in a couple of weeks.
"If they could come up with something, that would really help us," Dailey said.
Until investigators reach a satisfactory conclusion, theories continue to spread through local coffee shops and bars.
Some say the mutilations are a government ploy to get Montanans' minds off global issues. Others finger satanic cults or spaceships.
Most say they don't believe in all that eerie X-Files stuff. But even some of the staunchest skeptics are beginning to wonder.
"I just can't believe little men are coming from outer space," said Conrad resident Jack Rowekamp, a retired bus driver and custodian. "But I guess you never know."

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