Penthouse Retrospective

by David Rorvik Originally Published: September, 1980

Uncontrolled Media | 40 Years Ago This Month

Blowflies. Those are the “surgeons.” Swarms of them pick over the wounds made by other scavengers, cleaning off every ragged edge. “When they get done with the exposed eyeball,” Sheriff Marshall notes, “it looks like it’s been removed by an expert surgeon.” Most cattle mutilations are reported in warm months, he adds, “when the blowflies are around.” Those that are reported in the cold months, and such reports are few in number, often lack the “surgeon’s touch.”

“The media, as much as the conspiracy freaks, cultists, and UFO advocates, have their own vested interests in the non-solution of this story and have ignored the best evidence for its solution.”

Among the “mutilators” observed, in addition to the blowflies, were a skunk, some buzzards, and a stray dog, all of which enjoyed a good meal. After Marshall presented his report and slides to the local cattleman’s association, reports of mutilations in Washington County came to a screeching halt.

Meanwhile, back in New Mexico, center of all the current cattle-mutilation activity, Santé Fe District Attorney Eloy Martinez’s chief investigator in the government-funded animal-mutilation inquiry, Kenneth Rommel, Jr., states that he won’t be asking for an extension or a renewal of the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration grant. The mystery, so far as he and his coinvestigators are concerned, is solved. Though he hints there may have been isolated cases of cult involvement — or simply people occasionally hacking up carcasses they come across, as a joke-the “problem” is imaginary. The “culprits” are almost entirely of the four-footed, feathered, and winged variety — coyotes, birds, flies, etc.

Rommel, a colorful, tough investigator who was a special agent with the FBI for 28 years, bristles when he hears the term “surgical precision” used. If it shows up in a police or press report, he wants to know exactly who used the term, how they define it, and by what authority they employ it. He has been at the scene of most of the New Mexico cattle mutilations in the past year and has yet to see anything he or his experts say justifies the use of that term.

Apart from all the other evidence pointing toward predators (tracks, teeth marks, and so on). Rommel finds it of more than passing interest that, in every mutilation case he has investigated where an eye and an ear have been partially or entirely missing, the absent parts have always been taken from the accessible “up” side, never from the down side, where small predators can’t get at them. Rommel has done his homework.

He scoffs at those who say that animals could not have stripped Snippy’s flesh of all that meat in so little time, noting that eagles, ravens, buzzards, and the like can eat two to three pounds of meat at one sitting. He’s also familiar with the biophysics of bloat and the dynamics of gas buildup in the carcasses of horses and cattle. In some cases, he observes, gases build up to the point where internal organs are extruded through the vagina and/or anus. making them easy pickings for predators and scavengers and creating fright and mystery among the misinformed who discover the missing parts later.

Rommel says that he has no doubt that no matter how definitive his findings and those of others are, there will, always be people who “believe in” cattle mutilations. “What we’re dealing with here,” he says, “is something like religion.”

“A team of psychiatrists, anthropologists, and sociologists should have a field day with this,” Rommel observes, declining to speculate further on why people are so fascinated by cattle mutilations. One sociologist who has made a study of the phenomenon and has labeled it “a classic case of mild mass hysteria” is James R. Stewart of the Department of Social Behavior, University of South Dakota. Stewart has presented a study called “Cattle Mutilations: An Episode of Collective Delusion,” based on a wave of alleged mutilations that swept through Nebraska and South Dakota in through Nebraska and South Dakota in late 1974. Because early reports of the mutilations could not immediately be explained, the “wave” grew, Stewart says, and continued to build until pathologists at the two state veterinary-diagnostic laboratories began studying the animals. They issued a report stating that every animal examined had died of natural causes and had then been set upon predators

Because of initial confusion and misleading statements made by vets and sheriffs inexperienced in dealing with dead animals and “for reasons associated with strain and anxiety,” Stewart continues, “people began to interpret an everyday occurrence in a new, bizarre manner.” Cattle deaths, he adds, were occurring at the same rates they had and for all the same reason “but the widespread reporting of these incidents gave the appearance that there was a sudden, inexplicable increase in the deaths.”

He likens the situation to one that developed in the Seattle area in the mid-1950’s, when people suddenly began noticing pits and nicks in the windshields of their cars and trucks and concluded that some invisible devastation was literally raining down upon them from the heavens. The more that was said and written about it, the more people believed something unusual was happening. “In a study of that episode,” Stewart observes, “the investigators concluded that it was caused by the fact that people [alerted to the ‘phenomenon’] suddenly started looking at their windshields rather than through them,” thus discovering pits that has been there all along.

The pitted-windshield hysteria, however, is small potatoes compared with cattle mutilations, which have cost not millions of dollars in lost livestock, as is claimed, but rather millions of dollars in anxiety and lost sleep; lost law-enforcement, legislative, veterinary, and medical manhours; and millions in media hysteria (air space and white space that might better have been devoted to something else). As an added tax, we have had to put up with some of the most pre prosperous and ponderous hypothesizing imaginable. Jacques Vallee, for example, declares:

“The symbols attached to the UFO phenomenon are the primary images of life: blood, death, sex, time, space, and sky. Carl Jung could expand vastly on his archetypal hypothesis about UFOs if he came back today to study the documents that have accumulated on this subject. What are the organs taken by the mutilators? The eyes, the ears, the tongue, and the genitals: that is, the organs concerned with communication and reproduction. The culprits deserve credit not only as good surgeons, but also as good psychologists.”

Ah, yes: there is no surgeon like the blowfly, no psychologist like the coyote. You can turn over, Carl, but don’t bother to get up.

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.

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