Penthouse Retrospective

by David Rorvik Originally Published: September, 1980

Uncontrolled Media | 40 Years Ago This Month

Let us return to that melancholy meadow where it all allegedly began — to the carcass of Snippy the horse. What those who continually lament the late Snippy conveniently or ignorantly overlook in their ellipses of the event is the troublesome fact that the pathologist they all like to quote (out of context) found two bullet holes in the horse, indicating the possibility, you might say, of some rather mundane foul play. Whoever shot the horse may have stripped the animal’s head and shoulders of its flesh, as well, or that might possibly have been the work of predators, as we shall see.

As for the missing blood, brain fluid, and internal organs, it is of more than casual significance, I believe, to note that this horse was not necropsied until several weeks after its death, at which time it was in an advanced state of decomposition. The pathologist who performed the necropsy was not surprised to discover internal organs missing, noting that it is commonplace for weasels and other small scavengers to tunnel into the carcass through the anus — if no more inviting aperture is available — and enjoy an indoor lunch or dinner. The blood was not missing; it had merely coagulated, as is the case in most of these “mutilations.” The brain. in the normal decomposition process, had liquefied and seeped away. As for the UFO sightings which it is now said concurred with Snippy’s “slaughter,” the local press in Colorado indicates that these sightings actually took place several months before the incident. The “relationship” of the two phenomena was conveniently established ex post facto.

Accounts of livestock mutilations almost always give the impression, as the Newsweek article did, that officials have long been hopelessly “baffled” by the phenomenon. A survey of law-enforcement organizations in several states indicates this simply isn’t the case. Carl W. Whiteside, of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, conducted an inquiry into the 1975 “wave” of mutilations in that state. He quickly discovered that “authoritative” statements made by vets, police officers, and others at the scene could not be relied upon for scientific accuracy. Most vets are familiar with living animals but have little knowledge of how an animal will or should look hours, days, or weeks after death. Forensic pathologists, who do have the expertise to make authoritative pronouncements about dead animals, have time and again, in state after state, found that “mutilated” animals brought to them for examination died of natural causes and were attacked by scavengers and predators after death. This was true in Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming.

Arkansas is the site of some of the most widely publicized mutilations, most of which occurred in 1978 in Benton County. A study of all 20 cases in the files of the sheriff’s office there was conducted by Dr. Nancy Owen, an anthropologist at the University of Arkansas, working under a grant from the Arkansas Endowment for the Humanities. Dr. Owen’s findings explode a number of the myths. She found, first, that the “classic” cattle-mutilation pattern simply doesn’t exist. The idea that the same body parts are always missing, excised with surgical precision, isn’t true.

“There was really no uniformity at all. In several of the animals one eye, the tongue, and the genitals were missing — but often not entirely missing. And then even in these cases there was almost always some other parts missing, which varied from case to case — like the tail had been partly chewed off, or there was a hole in the animal and some internal organs were gone.”

The notion that female animals of reproductive age are the primary targets of the mutilators was also shot down by Dr. Owen. She discovered that two-thirds of the Benton County cases involved “young calves, many of them just a few days old — where you have a much higher mortality rate in the natural course of events.”

A few of the Arkansas cases, she believes, may have been the work of cultists attracted by all the publicity. And in isolated cases other factors may have been at work. The proponents of UFO and secret-research hypotheses, for example, have found encouragement in the report of a vet in Pea Ridge, Ark., who conducted postmortems on three Benton County “mutes.” Two were cows, one a horse. The horse in particular excited attention-and continues to do so — because its castration, according to the vet, was achieved with “much expertise.” More-over, he reported finding trace of “a powerful muscle-relaxant drug” in the dead animal.

At no time during his conversation with me did this vet give any indication that there might be a logical explanation for this death. Instead, without personally subscribing to such a viewpoint outright, he spoke of a writer who advocates a UFO explanation for the mutilations, and said, “Maybe he’s got a point.” He neglected to tell me what I later learned from a police report of the incident — that the owner of the horse in question castrated the animal. Other people I approached were equally reluctant to mention this. Many farmers and ranchers do some of their own veterinarian work with mixed results. Unfortunately, succinylcholine, a powerful muscle-relaxant drug used in the castration of horses, is dangerous even in the hands of the experienced. Maladministration can easily kill a horse, resulting not only in loss but embarrassment.

Still, some questions remain about the overall phenomenon. Some of the “cutting” does, indeed, look exceptionally clean. Studies have shown that coyotes and other predators possess teeth that can make almost scalpel like cuts, but even this fact wouldn’t account for some of those “cored” anuses. And so it was, in search of the “surgeon,” that Herb Marshall, the enterprising sheriff of Washington County, Ark., set up an experiment in which two of his men parked themselves in some bushes for 30 hours straight and observed a calf that was night the officers observed the carcass through a Starlite scope, a device utilized by military intelligence. They photographed what they saw.

“At the end of those thirty hours,” Sheriff Marshall says, “we had us a ‘classic’ case, a carcass that looked exactly like most of the others that were being reported to us. Its tongue was gone, one of its eyes was missing, its anus had been cored out, the whole thing.”

What happened? “First, we observed what any pathologist will tell you happens after an animal dies. The tongue protrudes and lies right out there on the ground; the anus inverts and sticks out three or four inches. Then the predators and scavengers come along and eat the parts that protrude, the soft, easy-to-get-at parts: the tongue, the genitals, the udder if it’s a female, and the anus. We saw all of this. Then, as the animal gets colder, the tongue, or what’s left of it, retracts back into the mouth so it looks like it was cut off way down deep. The anus retracts, too, and gives the appearance it’s been operated on, especially after the blowflies have finished with it.”

Years before even the launch of Fox and MSNBC we were talking about Uncontrolled Media. Seems like we may not have that fire contained yet.

Leave a Reply