Monday, September 1, 2008

Cattle mutilation, cults and 'copters


The fall of 1975 was a troubled one for cattlemen and livestock owners in this area. Collective nerves across the state and the rest of the western region were frayed by unexplained cattle mutilations. Speculation of the origin was rampant.
El Paso County Undersheriff Gary Gibs, whose office was coordinating the original investigation with the assistance of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, reported as many 60 mutilations had occurred in Colorado since April of that year, according to an August 10 Rocky Mountain News story by Kathy Gosliner.
U.S. Atty. Robert G. Renner had initiated a probe from his office in Minneapolis utilizing agents from the U.S. Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division and Governor Richard Lamm called the mutilations “one of the greatest outrages in the history of the western cattle industry.”
Regardless of what evidence he was able to offer, Renner attributed the phenomena to cult activity.
“I am convinced there was involvement in some areas,” he said, adding there is “some indication” that certain cultists are involved and travel from state to state, as reported in the News story at the time.
For weeks on end, bold headlines in the Tri-Lakes Tribune proclaimed the attention-grabbing possibilities. “Vigilantes? vs Satan Worshippers” and “Knifed – After Death” or “$10,000 Reward” and “Mutilated Bull Staggers – Dies.”
U.S. Senator Floyd Haskell asked the Denver office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to intervene and the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association and other livestock organizations contributed to the reward fund.
One story in the Tribune suggested that a helicopter has been used by the mutilators.
“Approximately 10 p.m., Monday (Aug. 11, 1975,) the foreman of the Newman Ranch, south and a little east of Franktown, just off Highway 83, along with the ranch owners saw a helicopter land within their 2000 (plus) acre ranch,” says the Tribune. “The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the Colorado State Patrol were notified and they converged on the Newton ranch. Private vehicles from the ranch aided in the search -- to no avail. Search called off at 11:10 p.m., approximately.”
Even Colorado State University was drawn into the controversy when a necropsy report completed by veterinary staff at the vet school in Fort Collins came to the conclusion that animals sent there for study by investigators were ‘cut with a knife” several hours after death.
Earlier mentions of such mutilations, such as the 1967 Alamosa case of “Snippy,” (the horse’s real name was Lady) reported initially in the Pueblo Chieftain, rose to the surface again and the incidents were blamed variously on UFOs, the government, cults, scavenger animals and even some of the investigating agencies. The reward package from stock growing organizations eventually climbed to $25,000.
A report in mid-September in the Cripple Creek Gold Rush said Teller County Sheriff’s Department had reportedly confirmed two more mysterious cattle mutilations.
“Sheriff Gary D. Shoemaker said Thursday three color photographs, taken by private citizens between Cripple Creek and Florissant with a 35 mm camera, clearly show an unidentified blue helicopter with an unusual V-type tail system. A plain white spot on the side of the craft appears to be some type of material to cover identification numbers.”
“The blue helicopter shown in the photographs identically fits descriptions provided by at least six different witnesses last week. A similar chopper was observed near Gillett Sunday and Cripple Creek mountain estates on Wednesday,” reported the Gold Rush and the Summit County Journal.
“The Sheriff said he is further convinced the blue helicopter visible in three photographs is somehow involved in the mutilations, and that a ground crew is also assisting the helicopter pilot.”
That same week the Pagosa Springs Sun had account of an additional incident in Hinsdale County on the Upper Piedra River and a few weeks later, a former publisher of the Brush Banner, Dane Edwards, who was working on a book about the cattle mutilations, was reported missing. He was never located but also left a substantial trail of unpaid financial obligations.
Additional mutilation reports swirled around Colorado and the rest of the West for much of the remaining decade. In 1979, under pressure from organizations and the public wanting a definitive answer to what was going on; the FBI launched an investigation led by agent Kenneth Rommel. His report, costing nearly $45,000 and encompassing 297 pages concluded, with a few unexplained exceptions, that the mutilations were the result of animals dying through conventional means and experiencing natural predation or other documented phenomena, That report was supported by other federal, state and local investigation conclusions offered by ATF and some local investigators. Others, however dispute the findings to this day.
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