The cattle mutilation phenomenon had been quietly simmering in Arkansas since the fall of 1977. In May of 1979 U.S. Senator Harrison Schmitt (R. N. Mex), concerned over cattle mutilations in his home state, called a meeting of law enforcement representatives from the thirteen states in which cattle mutilations had occurred. That meeting was attended by Lt. Don Rystrom of the Bentonville Sheriff's Department and Sgt. Doug Fogley, a state police criminal investigator.
At the meeting Rystrom and Fogley presented their data concerning the presence of three drugs found in the blood of cattle ritually mutilated in the Bentonville area. The officers found PCP, mescaline and santonin, a discontinued worming agent. When these and other data were gathered, collated and analyzed by those officers present some startling coincidences came to the fore.
In almost all cases, there was little or no blood in evidence around the animals. One eye was removed, as was the tongue and as were the genitals. The anus was cored out and internal organs were missing. Occasionally the lips were sheared off, leaving a grizzly death-grin on the victim. In all cases, the work appeared to have been a "precision job," the work of an expert surgeon. "Surgical precision" is a phrase used by witness after witness. There were never any tracks, never any sign of a struggle. The scene was often near a body of water.
From that common modus operandi there were some creepy localized idiosyncrasies. Often, but not always, mercury vapor lights in the area would go out the night before mutilated cattle were found. Also, the incisions in many, but not all, mutilations would seem to have been cauterized. The tops of tall trees had occasionally been found to have been chopped off, suggesting to investigating officers a visit by one or more helicopters. One officer described finding a cow on her belly with her legs splayed out as if she had been dropped from a great height. Some officers reported hovering lights.
Rystrom and Fogley screened slides of crude stone altars (one bearing the words "Zytos wrath is upon you") found in fields, but said they weren't sure if the altars were related to the mutilations. Witchcraft experts had at one point hypothesized that the mutilations were the work of cults who were timing sacrifices to the phase of the moon, but those experts had failed to predict new spates of mutilations by matching occurrences to lunar phases.
Once the grotesque details presented in that meeting became public, every cow that died outside a slaughterhouse was written up in the papers. The cases (and newspaper articles) came hard and fast in the following weeks. The dates listed are the article dates in the Gazette, not necessarily the dates of the alleged crimes.
June 1, 1979: A mutilated bull calf was found near Heber Springs. The tongue, right eye and organs were gone. There was no evidence of blood. Local authorities described it as a "precision job."
June 2: Dr. Richard Thomas of State Poultry and Livestock Commission, after performing a thorough autopsy, reported that the bull calf had been shot.
June 3: Near Mulberry, a mutilated cow was found. Missing were the left ear, three teats and a uterus. There was no sign of a struggle.
June 8: A 375-pound heifer, minus the ears and tail, tongue, right eye and sex organs, was found on the Ozark farm of Donald Hurst. Local veterenarian Gary White pronounces it a "surgical job." In response, Seventy-five Franklin County cattlemen offered a $1250 reward for the arrest and conviction of any cattle mutilators. Sheriff Bob Pritchard cautions bounty hunters, "Anybody that would do something like that to a cow might not hesitate to hurt a human." (Personally, I have EATEN cows, and have not in my adult life so much as struck another person in anger, so the sheriff's warning should be taken with a dash of salt.)
July 25: Two 16-month-old Holstein heifer corpses were found mutilated near Morrilton three weeks apart. Same story for both. One eye, udder, tongue, sex organs gone. Blood drained. "Surgical," declares rancher and owner Tommy Davidson.
July 28: Again near Morrilton, this time a 700-pound Holstein bull was found on a logging road on Tucker Mountain with its tongue, right eye and sex organs removed. Sheriff Carl Stobaugh said the bull was apparently mutilated elsewhere and dumped on this road. Its feet were tied to a tree, and the sheriff deduced that a pickup truck had been driven out from under it.
August 2: Otto Cowling, Jr.'s 1200-pound bull was found mutilated near Ashdown. The paper reported the carcass was found one mile from the nearest road and about a hundred yards from a pond. The blood was drained and the sex organs had been removed. "Surgical," says deputy Cecil Page.
August 11: Van Buren County Sheriff Gus Anglin reports the sixth mutilation in one month. This one was missing its udder and left eye, both removed bloodlessly with, you guessed it, "surgical precision."
August 15: B. J. Kready of the Humane Society calls on then-Governor Bill Clinton to appoint a task force to study the mutilations.
August 15: State Police Sgt. Doug Fogley complains that, "Sensational headlines bring every kook out of the woodwork" and hinder his legitimate investigation. Retired F.B.I. agent Ken Rommel, who was investigating cases in New Mexico, suggested hiring "professionals" who would investigate the cases as if they were homicides. (Ya reckon he might have had some F.B.I. retiree pals who would have been interested in the gig?)
August 16: Morrilton veterinaries Norman Gray and Tom Brown declare that four recent Morrilton mutilations were the work of scavengers. Says Gray, "If a dead cow were on its side, a buzzard could only reach one eye."
August 19: The editor of the Gazette writes, "...we will adopt the policy that mutilations are no longer 'news' unless evidence develops to contradict the theory of the veterinarians (Gray and Brown)."
September 5: Lt. Carl Evans of the Criminal Intelligence Division of the State Police reported that from April of 1978 to September of 1979 there were 39 reports of unexplained cattle deaths in the state, 23 in Northwest Arkansas and 16 in the North Central.
September 5: Sgt. Fogley is frustrated that people have picked up the terminology of what he considers to be "classic" or "legitimate" mutilations, and are playing on the current hysteria just to get their names in the papers.
September 5: Dr. Charles Hatfield reports that he did two autopsies "about a year ago" that "were definitely surgical type situations." His recollection is that the cattle were missing one eye, sex organs, parts of the lip, accessory sex glands, blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. He also mentions drugs found in the carcasses were mescaline, santonin and succinyl choline chloride, which was once used to kill pigs and hogs.
At about this point, a full three months after the hysteria hit the public full in the face, reporters started asking questions from a skeptical point of view.
George D. Boswell, chief of the General Aviation District of the FAA debunked reports of treetops being sheared off by helicopter blades, citing a conspicuous absence of helicopter wreckage from mutilation sites.
The satanic angle was dismissed by Dr. Paul Hooks, Associate Professor of Anthropology at the U. of A. He knew of no organized cult groups in the state, although I'd doubt if he could name a Protestant church either that was truly organized. He proposed that Arkansans, on account of the strong fundamentalist influence on the culture, might be more likely to entertain a satanic cult explanation the way political right-wingers are likely to find commies under the bed and liberals are likely to imagine fascists in the closet.
Dr. Nancy Owen, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology pointed out that seven "witchcraft altars" were found in fields since 1978 and that in Franklin County "a king's-type scepter...with a devil's head on it" was discovered about a half-mile from a mutilation. Okay, I'll give you the one about Zytos Wrath (assuming it's not just an adolescent prank), but not every pile of rocks is a witchcraft altar. I'll be the first to admit I didn't get to check out the crime scenes firsthand, but the papers reported "crude stone altars." I think that could also be interpreted as "piles of rocks." Get off campus once in a while. Take a drive in the country and look for a field that DOESN'T have a pile of rocks in it.
The Gazette also consulted with Associate Professor of Philosophy Dr. Frank Kinney, who favored a natural explanation for the mutilations, although the relevance of his philosophical expertise was unclear. Come to think of it, the Gazette consulted two associate professors and an adjunct professor. I'm guessing that one advantage of tenure is the authority to delegate press interviews.
October 19: After months of speculation and panic and accusations and hysteria and expense and sleepless nights and diversion of law enforcement resources, it finally occurs to somebody to conduct an experiment. Rancher Jack Perry, who had lost two calves to supposed mutilations, donated a cow for the experiment. Said cow was killed with tranquilizers on the evening of September 4th. A surveilance team watched the carcass from a distance all night, and at sunrise the body was still intact. By noon, some eighteen hours after its death, flies and buzzards had eaten exposed orifices ond most of its organs were gone, the lips, the exposed eye--in short, the soft bits.
By the end of the experiment, Sgt. Rick O'Kelley of the Washington County Sheriff's Department said, "The cow was in much the same condition as those found earlier in Washington County."
Still, how do we account for the handful of events which make up Sgt. Fogley's short list of "authentic" mutilations, the ones with the cauterized wounds, the ones near water, the ones with the sheared treetops lying on the ground, the ones where mercury vapor lights blink off the night before a carcass is found?
A cow stands in an open field near a tree and near water. It couldn't be a more inviting target for a lightning strike unless it was holding a three-iron at the top of its backswing. Bang! In an instant the cow is killed and cauterized throughout. There's no sign of a struggle because there was no struggle, no blood because the cow was electrocuted. The foliage sheared from the tree was knocked down either by the lightning strike or the storm. The failure of nearby mercury vapor lights was also due to the electrical storm.
The sun rises on a mostly intact beef carcass, the condition of which is somewhere in between tartar and al dente. As we've seen in the Perry experiment, by noon the victim has lost all the organs necessary to qualify as a classic cattle mutilation.
What about the santonin, the discontinued worming medicine? It could have come from stockpiles which had not yet been exhausted. The PCP? A common animal tranquilizer which might be given to cattle by a farmer who has checked with the national weather service and is expecting violent thunderstorms. The mescaline? Well, that takes some imagination, but these cows might pick up a lot of things as they graze--mushrooms, fragments of cactus, items containing any number of natural chemicals which might resemble mescaline to a laboratory test.
As for all the bizarre occurrences reported in other states, seriously consider the source. We got that information from a convention of cops who had gathered to swap war stories. Anybody who has been to deer camp knows what happens when guys get together and start swapping war stories.
So what do we learn from all this? Past experience tells me that we learn very little for very long, and therefore the next hysterium will follow the same familiar pattern as the last hysterium. Read the Arkansas Monster stories 1, 3 and 5 back-to-back and see if they don't all follow the same pattern. Then watch for that pattern on your nightly news.