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Animal mutilation baffles officials

October 02, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Sheriff's Department remains baffled by a series of gruesome animal mutilations during the spring and summer months of 1996 and this year.

"We started investigating this back in May 1996. We got a call from a cattle owner who had some weird disfigurements on some of his cows," Lt. Kenny Lemaster said Thursday. Since then the same farmer and other residents in the area of Tuscarora Pike and Boyd Orchard Road have had animals mutilated and killed without apparent motive.

In the first incident, one cow died and an autopsy determined the injuries were inflicted "by human hands," Lemaster said. A knife or pruner was the apparent weapon used to injure or cut off the snout and ears of the cows.

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Lemaster said deputies staked out property without results, but another victim in the area later reported a cow with an injured snout and ear. Then on May 19, 1996, the first victim found another cow dead with the ears cut off and other wounds.

"We're not finding any ears," Lemaster said, indicating that the people invovled are taking the parts with them. On June 16, 1996, the first victim reported another injured cow, this one with wounds to the nose.

Lemaster said those injuries "looked more like an animal could have done it ... but we're not positive either way."

That was the last attack in 1996, but on March 15, the first victim found another mutilated cow, this incident more grisly than the others. A photo showed most of the cow's neck had been removed. The wound lines were clean, not jagged, making it appear to be the work of a human.

On May 14, another victim in the same area just outside Martinsburg's city limits had several rabbits mutilated and killed.

"Some of them were missing their feet," he noted.

On the night of May 15-16, a rabbit was taken from its cage at another house. On May 22, the first person to report having rabbits mutilated found more of them dead.

"Some of the ones injured the first time were killed," Lemaster said.

The very first victim was hit again on June 23 when a newborn male calf was killed. Removed were its snout, ears and genitals.

The last incident was reported on Aug. 22, when a horse was slashed across its hindquarters.

Along with surveillances, deputies searched fields and properties looking for clues, interviewed residents and checked out suspicious vehicles. Lemaster said they even flew over the area in a helicopter trying to spot a path or other clues they might have missed from the ground.

So far the investigation has turned up no solid leads, not even a good footprint. The areas where the cattle were mutilated were around feed and water troughs well-trampled by the animals.

"As far as who is doing it or why, we don't know," Lemaster said. He said it must be a person or people that know the area well.

There's no common denominator among the victims except their proximity to each other. Lemaster said they have established no connection with other animal cruelty cases in the county.

Lemaster said the sheriff's office looked into several possible motives, although he didn't mention aliens or secret government experiments, sometimes cited by theorists of cattle mutilations in the West.

The removal of body parts could indicate their use for remedies or rituals. Bear poaching, for example, has been linked to the belief by some that gallbladders and other parts have medicinal value.

Animal parts are used in rituals, but Lemaster said investigators have found no symbols or other evidence linking the mutilations to cult activity.

He said it could be "just malicious vandals." Lemaster said the malicious wounding or killing of an animal worth more than $100 is a felony with a penalty of one to 10 years in prison.

While it has been more than a month since the last attack Lemaster said, "We're kind of anticipating it might happen again next spring."

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