HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — For ranchers Stanley and Carol Post, the recent mystery on the central Kansas prairie conjures up memories of their own bovine homicides 40 years ago.
It was October 1975. Within a short time period of each other, the couple discovered one of their cows dead - its udders and genitalia strategically removed and a hematoma on the head. Meanwhile, a calf’s eye was taken out with detailed precision — the optic nerve cauterized at the end.
“It just blew your mind,” said Carol Post, now 75, who was out feeding cattle with her husband on their Meade County ranch this week.
Call it the biggest animal cold case in the nation’s history.
Thousands of cattle and other livestock were found dead in the 1970s - so prevalent that the FBI investigated the cattle mutilations, The Hutchinson News reported.
Kansas seemed to be one of the states hit the most. In the fall of 1973 alone, the FBI news clippings showed 40 cases in the north-central part of the state, largely along Highway 81. All were seemingly killed in the same pattern on the isolated prairiescape: their ears, tongues, genitals and udders all neatly removed.
Often, the scene was bloodless and trackless as well. Post said even the veterinarian noted the several gallons of blood drained from the cow. They never found tracks.
Decades later, on the central Kansas plains, law enforcement is grappling with two similar cases.
On Dec. 18, a bull was killed and mutilated in Harvey County. The bull’s genitals were removed by precise cuts.
Then on Jan. 1, John Shearer and his wife, Carla, were out feeding cattle north of Canton in McPherson County when they found a pregnant cow dead with one of her eyes harvested, including the eyelid and both bottom and top eyelashes removed. A veterinarian said it was done with a laser.
Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton said he has talked with law enforcement across Kansas about the cases, including one former Butler County officer who was part of the 1970s investigation.
Butler County had 30 to 40 cases alone in the 1970s, he said. The Butler County sheriff told him there were a few cases reported as recently as 2005.
Meanwhile, near Inman two years ago, Walton said there were three bulls mutilated.
“It seems like it stirred up a lot of people’s memories of things that happened years ago,” Walton said. “I’m hoping it is not going to be another cycle where there is going to be a bunch of these things.”
The cases were scattered all across Kansas.
The Harvey County Sheriff’s Office reported in October 1973 “two bodies of sexually mutilated cows this week. Deputy Sheriff Ernest Harris said the cows’ sex organs and udders had been cut off with what appeared to be a very sharp instrument.”
Several reports came in July 1974. Claude Morris of rural Reno County lost four Charolais bull calves, all with their sex organs removed. Meanwhile, the same scenario occurred in Greenwood and Saline counties.
In May 1976, Glen Bolinger, in rural Cheney, found a cow with one ear, udder and rectum cut away. That same month there was a mutilation report from southwest of Kingman.
In September 1976, Emory V. Schmidt of Stafford reported that a 425-pound red Angus heifer had its udder removed with a sharp instrument and also was missing its tail.
In October 1976, Howard Gibson’s cow was found dead in a pasture near Tribune. The cow was missing lips, tongue, part of its back and its sex organs. Also in October, in Rush County, a rancher reported a mutilation, the tongue cut out, along with both ears, rectum and tail removed in a circular cut. There also was a burn mark on the forehead as if the animal had been struck with something blunt.
And then there were the helicopters, the FBI vault clippings report sometimes flying without a flight plan and sometimes flying low in the counties where reports were occurring.
Tom Adams, of Paris, Texas, kept track of the cattle mutilations, as well as the helicopter sightings, in his publication call “Stigmata.”
Vance Ehmke, who farms in Lane County, said he was in college when his parents reported two separate cattle mutilations.
Ehmke said it was the early 1970s and his parents had cattle grazing on wheat near their home.
“During the night, something scared the hell out of the cattle, and they kept running back and forth, almost like stampeding from one side of the 5-acre, fenced-in area to the other. At the same time, the family farm dog was barking like crazy like there was something out there that he was afraid of. So, in the morning, Dad goes out to check the cattle and finds a dead 500-pound Charolais steer with the characteristic mutilations of fine surgical cuts in the genital area with no blood. No footprints. No nothing. Nothing but a healthy, 500-pound steer that was now dead.
“So now Dad is thinking, I should have gone out there with a gun to see what the hell was happening.’ On the other hand, that might have been very stupid because there was absolutely somebody or something out there. And they probably wouldn’t have been real friendly. If it were people, I’ll guarantee you that they would have been weird, sick or dangerous or all of the above.”
Ehmke added that his mother refurbished furniture and used the steer’s hide to make a new calfskin seat for a chair, salvaging “something out of the situation.”
Another case involved another animal on wheat pasture. Ehmke’s father examined the body and found a long, fine surgical cut on the bottom of the belly. He didn’t know if any internal organs were removed.
It’s “just one more mystery from that same time frame,” he said. “This is just one more story from a time period in which there were a lot of similar stories going around of unexplained cattle deaths and mutilations. And to my knowledge, few, if any, of these mysteries have ever been solved.”
What exactly happened on the prairie so long ago remains unsolved.
There are plenty of theories. Some newspaper reports from the time quote experts saying predators were suspected often grabbing at soft tissue with the teeth making razor-like cuts.
Bob Henderson, retired Kansas State University Extension wildlife specialist, said some of the cases he examined were most likely caused by animals. In other cases, it appeared humans were involved.
Others have more out-of-this-world explanations, such as UFOs.
Chris O’Brien, of Arizona, who has written a book called “Stalking the Herd,” has another theory: the government.
Hence, he said, all the sightings of helicopters.
“The only theory that makes any sense is some sort of environmental monitoring, some sort of arm concerned about the food chain or mad cow disease,” he said.
Still, he said, that doesn’t explain all the cases and some could be human perpetrated. He added that a genital area is often the first thing a coyote can grab. Meanwhile, O’Brien said, Arkansas sheriff’s officials conducted an experiment in 1979, putting down a calf already sick and leaving it in the outdoor elements for 36 hours.
The animal appeared to show similar signs of surgical removal of organs and drained blood.
Chuck Zukowski, a Colorado Springs paranormal investigator who runs UFOnut.com, has been studying cases for years.
Zukowski also investigated the cases across the region, including near Trinidad, Colorado. In December, shortly before the Harvey County case, Zukowski was called to investigate another case on the Miller Ranch, which has been hit multiple times.
Yet, the cases keep him baffled, he said.
“I found no evidence of human, and I have found no evidence of alien intervention,” he said, later adding, “we’ve had 10,000 cases (in the nation) since 1967. All 10,000 cases that law enforcement investigated, not once have they been able to find human intervention. They never caught anyone doing it.”
Ehmke admits those open-minded have to look at all possibilities.
However, he added, “on a lot of things, there is no way you could explain them.
“They are cold cases, unsolved mysteries.”
Post said she hopes the ranchers with animals in the current cases find out what happened, but added, “We never did.”