A story that has been with us for more than half a century has reemerged in the news this month. Out in Oregon, mostly centered around rural Crook County, a series of grisly cattle mutilations has been reported. As with the historical cases, these cattle were found in remote areas with various body parts (including ears, eyes, tongues and genitals) having been removed with what’s being described as “surgical precision.”
The county sheriff’s department is investigating and warning local ranchers to be on guard, but no leads in the cases are being reported. Undersheriff James Savage is quoted describing the cause of death of the animals to be “not natural and under investigation.” Since the cattle mutilation phenomenon has defied a rational explanation for so long and is frequently associated with alleged UFO reports, these stories tend to attract a lot of attention in the paranormal and ufology communities.
Unless there is a break in the case, that would probably be all there is to say about this tale, were it not for one bit of background information dropped in by a local reporter. They wrote, “The FBI has files on thousands of mysterious cattle killings and mutilations across the U.S. since the 1970s, but no reported arrests.”
“The FBI has files on thousands of mysterious cattle killings and mutilations across the U.S. since the 1970s, but no reported arrests.”
That statement is technically true, but while the FBI “has files” on many cases, that doesn’t mean they’ve actually investigated them all. Or actually hardly any of them. For those who may never have done a deep dive into this phenomenon, I wanted to share some of the actual history of the investigations into cattle mutilations that have taken place and separate the myths from reality, particularly when it comes to the involvement of the federal government and the FBI.
To get to the bottom of this, one of the best resources available is a large collection of declassified documents from the FBI that John Greenewald has published at the Black Vault. I’ve spent a significant amount of time poring through these to pick out the juicy bits for our readers. So if you come along on a trip down memory lane with me, we’ll see if we can’t put this all in context and examine some possible explanations. But if you have the time and the interest, go browse John’s entire collection. It’s really fascinating and contains many newspaper clippings from the period that were saved by the FBI.
Way back in 1974, one of the first government officials to respond to calls for help from ranchers who were losing cattle this way was Senator Carl Curtis of Nebraska. He was corresponding with the FBI for several years starting in September of that year, attempting to get them to launch and coordinate an investigation. He continually ran into brick walls.
The Senator was informed that state veterinarians had examined some of the carcasses and determined that the “surgical cuts” were probably caused by foxes “due to their sharp side teeth, which were described as shearing teeth like scissors.” This answer satisfied few of the ranchers or the law enforcement officials investigating the attacks.
The biggest stumbling block, however, was the FBI’s insistence that they lacked the jurisdiction to investigate. Unless the cattle were being transported across state lines, they told the Senator that it was a matter for state and local law enforcement.
But Curtis wasn’t the only elected official the FBI would have to deal with. Shortly after he began asking questions, Senator Floyd Haskell of Colorado began making similar requests of the agency. He also contacted Attorney General Griffin Bell, who reviewed the reports and described the mutilations as “one of the strangest phenomenons (sic) in my memory.”
Attorney General Griffin Bell described the mutilations as “one of the strangest phenomenons in my memory.”
Both of these Senators were told of the medical reports blaming foxes and other scavengers for the wounds on the cattle, but could that explain all of the killings? I’ll turn back to the documents from the Black Vault here and point out that they include hundreds of police reports of mutilations from multiple states in the collection. Interestingly, I found three where officers reported that the horns of the bulls were removed. Which predators are cutting off horns with their teeth? (Just keep that point in the back of your mind as we move forward.)
The next senior official to begin engaging the FBI on this subject was Senator Harrison Schmitt of New Mexico. When he was similarly told about the FBI’s lack of jurisdiction to investigate these cases, he didn’t give up. He eventually held a public conference on April 20, 1979, in Albuquerque, NM for ranchers, law enforcement, elected officials and the public. Hundreds attended and reports of mutilations from all across the west were provided in detail and some of the common themes we still hear in reports of these attacks were brought to the public’s attention.
One of the stranger trends that we regularly hear is the prevalence of people saying that mysterious helicopters are regularly seen near the sites of mutilations. During Schmitt’s conference, Tom Adams of Paris, Texas testified that helicopters are “almost always seen” in the vicinity of the dead cattle. He claimed that the choppers are unmarked and fly at “abnormal, unsafe or illegal altitudes.”
Dr. Richard Sigismund, a social scientist from the University of Colorado, wasn’t satisfied with blaming everything on people in black helicopters. During his testimony, he suggested that the mutilations were being performed by “extraterrestrial visitors, satanic cults, or some unknown government agency.” As you can see, the mystery was quickly moving several rungs up the paranormal ladder.
If there were helicopters flitting around picking up cattle, wouldn’t law enforcement have been able to quickly identify any choppers that were in the area?
I’ll pause here again to touch on the repeated claims that helicopters are frequently seen when mutilations take place. It’s certainly a convenient story if you’re looking for a mundane, terrestrial explanation to the phenomenon because then we can blame either secretive government agencies or wealthy satanic cultists with pilots’ licenses. But is it true? The first thing that comes to mind when I hear this is that even in the 70s, the government tracked the movement of basically all aircraft. If there were helicopters flitting around picking up cattle, wouldn’t law enforcement have been able to quickly identify any choppers that were in the area at the time of the animal’s death?
We may find an answer to that part of the puzzle in another document from Greenewald’s trove, with the testimony provided by Carl Whiteside during Schmitt’s conference. By this stage, Senator Floyd Haskell of Colorado was also contacting the FBI to ask them to investigate, but he was keeping tabs on a state-level investigation of his own. Whiteside was an investigator with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, and he told the conference that the Bureau had investigated 203 reports between April and December of 1975. Interestingly, they had monitored the movement of all helicopters, both military and civilian, during the investigation. Whiteside told the attendees, “These efforts produced no results. We were unable to place any unidentified vehicles in the air or on the ground near the carcasses that were found.”
This doesn’t cover every case of cattle mutilation, but saying that helicopters are “almost always seen” in the vicinity doesn’t seem to be accurate. Or at least not in Colorado. But what about the satanic panic theory? Was this a group of cultists on the prowl looking for sacrifices to slaughter?
Whiteside went on to say that over the course of their investigation, 35 carcasses were submitted for laboratory analysis, with 19 of those being fresh enough to produce results. Of those, nine were determined to be “willful mutilations” which they attributed to “pranksters.” I suppose we can translate prankster to cultist and call that a theory of who or what is responsible if that suits your fancy. But the lack of evidence on the scene of nearly all the mutilations has to make you wonder just how clever and cunning these satanic chopper pilots and their acolytes must have been.
Prior to that conference, the aforementioned Senator Harrison Schmitt of New Mexico had made the breakthrough that looked as if it would finally get the FBI involved. A review of police reports indicated that 15 of the cattle mutilations had taken place on Native American tribal lands. (Or “Indian Lands” as they are referred to in those reports from the 70s.) The FBI has the authority to conduct investigations on tribal lands even if there is no interstate aspect to the alleged crime.
With the jurisdictional question finally put to rest, the FBI was tasked with investigating the cattle mutilations.
With the jurisdictional question finally put to rest and following more exchanges of letters, the FBI was tasked with investigating the cattle mutilations. But the fly in the ointment was that they would only be directly investigating the 15 specific attacks on tribal lands, while possibly providing oversight and coordination of other aspects of the broader investigation into the phenomenon. On February 16, 1979, the Director of the FBI ordered the Albequerque office of the agency to begin the investigation.
Sadly, after that promising start, not much seemed to happen. On June 19 of 1979, FBI Director William Webster wrote back to Senator Schmitt saying, in part, “There have been no new cattle mutilations reported to us in Indian country, and our investigation with respect to the identities of the individuals responsible for the fifteen cattle mutilations has been negative to date.”
In August of 1979, with no other mutilations being reported on Tribal lands and no conclusions having been reached, the FBI declared that “no further investigation will be done regarding the alleged mutilation of the 15 animals previously reported.”
Then, on December 10th of the same year, the head of the Albuquerque office wrote to Director Webster, saying the following. (Emphasis added) “Since being instructed to investigate this matter, there have been no reports of mutilations on Indian lands in New Mexico. Liaison has been established with appropriate law enforcement personnel to insure (sic) that mutilations are reported to the Albuquerque FBI Office. In view of this, no investigation is currently being conducted regarding mutilations, and the Albuquerque Office is placing this matter in a closed status.”
And that’s where the trail of the FBI’s investigations into cattle mutilations goes cold.
That was pretty much the end of it. In July of the following year, the New Mexico Attorney General’s office released a report titled “Operation Animal Mutilation.” The Albuquerque FBI office reviewed it, but found that it “added nothing new” to their previous investigation. And that’s where the trail of the FBI’s investigations into cattle mutilations goes cold.
So did this little journey give us any more insight into what’s really going on and what’s happening to these animals? Are we any closer to being able to guess who or what is responsible? I leave that up to the reader. As for me, if anything, I’m even less inclined to believe this is a government coverup. The FBI seemed genuinely baffled, if not terribly interested.
Animal predation? I suppose that can’t be ruled out in all cases, as a dead cow or bull would be a tempting target for scavengers. But the occasions where horns were removed sounds far beyond the ability (or interest) of a fox. And some of the many police reports that Greenewald provides include cases where the mutilated cow was found within a few hours of the last time a rancher had seen it. That’s simply not enough time for a few foxes to do that much damage.
So what does that leave us with? Our choices are quickly narrowing to either a satanic cult full of wealthy helicopter pilots that have managed to continue undetected for more than half a century or… nope. You’re not going to make me say it. YOU SAY IT.