The Washington Post
October 29, 1975
By Bill Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
KIOWA, Colo. - Over the range they come, moving through the High Plains darkness with all the stealth of the cattle rustlers who have traditionally stalked ranchers' livestock here for the last century.
Only this year's version seems to travel by helicopter instead of on horseback and the [unreadable] has a distinct kink to it.
Since the beginning of summer, ranchers in the surrounding county have discovered 72 heads of cattle and a few horses and pigs, all dead of undetermined causes and all missing an ear, an eye, genitalia or some other organ.
Nearly all of the dead animals had a neat circle about a foot wide cut around the rectum or udder or a narrow [unreadable] between the hind quarters.
Albert County Sheriff George Yarnell and his two deputies, who occupy a one-room basement office in the county courthouse there, are baffled. No trace of anyone responsible for the mutilations has been found.
Authorities are trying to figure out whether they are dealing with some sort of [unreadable] satan cult, killing off livestock with poison darts and plucking off parts needed for some kind of rite.
Some are wondering whether they are being spooked by a bunch of very discriminating coyotes.
"I'll be damned if I know," says the gravel-voiced sheriff, who sits behind his desk with his sweat-stained brown stetson propped back on his head and makes little red X's on a county grid map to show the location of the latest mutilation.
The mutilation reports in this county of 9,000 persons began trickling in June and swelled to almost one a night in September, dropping off slightly this month. "It's the biggest challenge of my career," said Yarnell. "We've exhausted everything we have on this thing and so far we've come up with absolutely nothing."
The peculiar livestock deaths have not been limited to this region. In recent months there have been reports of weird animal slayings from sheriffs up and down the plains states, from Idaho to Texas.
"Just this week, " said Yarnell, "I got a call from a sheriff down in Arizona who says they've had about 17 more that turned up down there. And some guy even called me from western Pennsylvania last week and said it happened to one of his dairy cows."
But it is Colorado, where there have been nearly 200 mutilation reports since June, and Elbert County - rolling 1,854 square miles of rangeland and colony [unreadable] groves about 50 miles southeast of Denver - which seem to be the focus of the mutilators.
Ranchers here have called Yarnell several times a week to tell of lights flickering from what appear to be helicopters far out on the rangeland.
To date about $17,000 worth of stock has been killed and mutilated, according to cattlemen here. The State Cattleman's Association has put up a $5,000 reward, and other cattlemen's groups and humane associations in Colorado have swelled the funds to $11,000 for information on the mutilators.
But so far there have been no solid leads, only reports of helicopters and small planes traveling low at night over the range and stories of drivers on lonely roads suddenly pinpointed by searchlights that snap off without a trace.
"It's downright eerie," said Reuben Olson, a rancher who lost two calves, one of them only a few hundred yards from his little white ranchhouse about 15 miles east of Kiowa.
"Oh, I've heard 'em out behind my corral, " said Olson. "I've seen lights come down out of the sky out there but never seen one of them. Myself, I think it's one of those devil cults that's doing it."
There is some feeling - although mostly from outside the area - that the mutilations have not been caused by humans.
When the Colorado Bureau of Investigation took samples of skin from mutilated cattle [unreadable] College of Veterinary Medicine in Fort Collins, the doctors reported all but five of the 16 samples they examined showed evidence of coyote rather than human mutilation.
However, Carl Whiteside, head of the CBI's investigation section, and his staff, have gathered a small library of books on satanism and devil worship in their Denver office to study whether the mutilations match any type of animal worship or sacrifice cult.
Whiteside does not totally discount the possibility that some sort of cult is sweeping down from helicopters, but said it seems more probable that most of the animals died from natural causes and then were attacked by coyotes or other predators.
But the veterinarians' assurances do not seem to have placated many of the ranchers here who have seen the lights in the night and have had to bear the financial loss of the mutilated livestock.
"I've been here for 79 years and I guess I know the work of a coyote when I see one," said Olson, whose hundred head of cattle are just small dots on the landscape of his 1,280 acre ranch. "One of my neighbors had a steer picked up right out of his corral and dropped five miles away before it was cut up. I've never heard of any coyote that could do something like that."