For decades a mysterious phenomenon has baffled ranchers, law enforcement officers and the general public. Somebody or something has removed selected body parts from dead livestock, leaving gruesome carcasses and troubling questions.
How do the animals die? What accounts for their missing parts? Are the mutilations a sign of some sinister plan, executed by government agents, cultists, or extraterrestrials? These theories and more have emerged in attempts to explain the fate of hacked-up horses and butchered bovines.
The origin of the mutilations saga is generally traced to September 1967, when a horse in Colorado by the name of Lady was found dead and missing suspicious amounts of skin and other body tissues. In mutilations lore, Lady is known as "Snippy," a tongue-in-cheek reference to the animal's apparently chopped-up condition.
The horse's owners said they believed there was a UFO connection, kicking off decades of allegations that aliens were to blame. The Snippy story achieved almost mythical status. Further reports of "mutes" occurred in the years that followed, and by the mid-1970s, there was a full-fledged epidemic underway, at least in terms of public attention focused on the issue. In several western states, rumors of evil agendas behind mutilations spread like a prairie fire.
The "classic mutilation," as it came to be called, usually involved the discovery of a cow corpse with some or all of the following characteristics: the absence of organs such as the tongue, the genitals, the anus and at least one eye, all of which had apparently been "surgically removed"; a body drained of all its blood; internal organs that had turned to a mushy consistency "like peanut butter"; and the presence of dead flies on the body.
Observers and investigators floated an array of explanations for the mutilations. Some "mutologists" said the strange slayings were the result of secret military biological warfare research. Often the incidents were reported in concert with UFO sightings in the area of the mutilation, giving rise to the theory that the sinister snipping was the product of alien animal abductions. In some cases, there were reports of unmarked helicopters in the region. Others believed that Satanic cults were responsible.
Waves of mutilations filled the headlines of cattle-town newspapers and gave rise to mute newsletters, books and documentaries. For the ranchers searching for an explanation of their lost livestock, the mute mystery became more maddening with every new theory. Cattle associations offered thousands of dollars in reward money for information on the perpetrators, and ranchers began forming vigilante patrols to catch a mutilator in the act. Despite these measures, no suspect was ever identified or apprehended.
Meanwhile, the mutology network coalesced and began to influence public and official speculation about mutes. The person who has done more than any other individual to popularize mute madness is Linda Moulton Howe. A former beauty queen (she once was served as Miss Idaho) turned television journalist turned mutilations aficionado, Howe has authored several books on the subject and produced a documentary, "A Strange Harvest," that is one of the seminal works of mutology. Howe is a prominent backer of the alien abduction theory, and became a regular on the UFO convention circuit due to her mute theories.
First shown on TV in 1980 and now disseminated on videotape, "A Strange Harvest" uses spooky music and lurid analysis provided by Howe and others to paint a paranormal aura around the mute phenomenon. In their authoritative book on mutilations, Mute Evidence, Daniel Kagan and Ian Summers sum up the problems with the film, which heavily favored paranormal explanations. "This wasn't research," they write, "it was the delivery of dogma."
Howe believes that there is a supernatural state cover-up at work. She has cited the fraudulent MJ-12 documents as proof that a secret group of government officials is hiding the truth about the alien issue, and recently said that "it was made clear long ago that there were people in government who didn't want me or anybody investigating animal mutilations. " In the early 1980s, she charged that "whatever's doing this has an enormous budget and incredible resources and mobility. Therefore it's got to be either the government, some fabulously wealthy international conspiracy, maybe corporate, or else it's extraterrestrials."
Howe was joined in her mute-quest by several independent investigators, many of whom had previously been involved in promoting the UFO phenomenon. But the search for answers about mutilated cows and other animals was not reserved for investigators from the fringe of society -- the mute issue drew the attention of numerous official agencies and persons in position of political authority.
One of the first and most significant official inquiries on mutes was conducted by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), following a 1975 increase in mute incidents. The CBI examined over 200 reports and concluded that most mutes are simply the work of scavenging animals that feed on the organs of dead cattle. In a few cases, there was evidence of knife cuts, but the CBI ruled that these mutilations were likely "copycats" perpetrated by people seeking to feed the hysteria over mutes.
Carl Whiteside, the CBI official who oversaw the investigation, acknowledged the difficulties of probing this bizarre phenomenon. "Getting firm evidence on these things," he said, is "like nailing jelly to a wall. " Though he was satisfied with the CBI's investigation, he remarked that "everybody who has gotten involved with the mutilations has come away more confused than they were when they went in, including us."
These efforts were complemented by investigations of varied intensity and scope by local law enforcement authorities, some of whom became engaged in personal crusades to solve the mute mystery. These curious cops -- who staged intensive but unscientific investigations -- were frequently quoted in media coverage of mutes and had a significant influence on the development of awareness (or, as some might put it, hysteria) over animal mutilations.
The official alarm over mutes spread to the United States Congress in April 1979, when New Mexico Senator Harrison Schmitt convened a special conference in Albuquerque to probe the potential causes. Schmitt, a former astronaut who has been to the moon, had become personally involved in the mute question in response to a groundswell of reports from constituents. As he opened the proceedings, Schmitt explained why the issue had taken on such importance:
"There are few activities more dangerous than an unsolved pattern of crime. There is always the potential for such crimes to escalate in frequency and severity if allowed to go unsolved and unpunished. Such a dangerous pattern of crime is the mutilation killing of thousands of cattle, horses, and other animals over the past several years throughout many states. These crimes are obviously continuing despite the excellent efforts of state and local law enforcement officials and the growing publicity the mutilations killings have received."
After Schmitt's somber statements on mute-crime, the Albuquerque audience heard from academics, law officers and mutologists who advanced the full range of explanations for the scourge of animal surgery. One rancher who spoke dubbed the controversy "Cattlegate" and said he suspected a government cover-up.
Schmitt's conference did not settle the issue, but it was nonetheless a watershed moment for the mutology movement -- finally the issue had garnered substantial attention from officialdom. It was only a matter of time, it seemed, before serious and thorough investigations would go forward under the empowering auspices of the federal government. Within days of Schmitt's mute conference, the Justice Department offered the funds for just such an investigation.
Next: Rommel Reports - The Official Mutilation Explanation
(Includes links to the Rommel Report)