Jan 11, 2023 I Nick Redfern

Cattle Mutilations: The Full Story of the FBI and a Creepy and Sinister Affair

Over the years I've shared with you various aspects of the FBI's investigation of cattle mutilations. But, today, I'm going to share with you just about the whole story. Here we go: Since at least 1967, reports have surfaced throughout the United States of animals – but, chiefly, cattle – slaughtered in bizarre fashion. Organs are taken and significant amounts of blood are found to be missing. In some cases, the limbs of the cattle are broken, suggesting they have been dropped to the ground from a significant height. Evidence of extreme heat, to slice into the skin of the animals, has been found at mutilation sites. Eyes are removed, tongues are sliced off, and, typically, the sexual organs are gone. While the answers to the puzzle remain frustratingly outside of the public arena, theories abound. They include extraterrestrials, engaged in nightmarish experimentation of the genetic kind; military programs involving the testing of new bio-warfare weapons; occult-based groups that sacrifice the cattle in ritualistic fashion; and government agencies secretly monitoring the food-chain, fearful that something worse than “Mad Cow Disease” may have infected the U.S. cattle herd – and, possibly, as a result, the human population, too. Cattle mutilations are a favorite topic of UFO researchers and conspiracy theorists. From the mid-1970s to the dawning of the 1980s, however, the phenomenon was of deep interest to another body: the FBI. 

From January to March 1973, the state of Iowa was hit hard by cattle mutilations. Not only that, many of the ranchers who lost animals reported seeing strange lights and black-colored helicopters in the direct vicinities of the attacks. That the FBI took keen notice of all this is demonstrated by the fact that, as the Freedom of Information Act has shown, it collected and filed numerous media reports on the cattle-mutes in Iowa. The next piece of data dates from early September 1974. That’s when the FBI’s director, Clarence M. Kelley, was contacted by Senator Carl T. Curtis, who wished to inform the Bureau of a wave of baffling attacks on livestock in Nebraska – the state in which Curtis resided and represented. At the time, the FBI declined to get involved, as Director Kelley informed the senator: “It appears that no Federal Law within the investigative jurisdiction of the FBI has been violated, inasmuch as there is no indication of interstate transportation of the maimed animals.” One year later, in August 1975, Senator Floyd K. Haskell, of Colorado, made his voice known to the FBI, on the growing cattle mutilation controversy:

(Nick Redfern) The FBI and cattle mutilations: a strange situation.

“For several months my office has been receiving reports of cattle mutilations throughout Colorado and other western states. At least 130 cases in Colorado alone have been reported to local officials and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI); the CBI has verified that the incidents have occurred for the last two years in nine states. The ranchers and rural residents of Colorado are concerned and frightened by these incidents. The bizarre mutilations are frightening in themselves: in virtually all the cases, the left ear, rectum and sex organ of each animal has been cut away and the blood drained from the carcass, but with no traces of blood left on the ground and no footprints.” The senator had much more to say, too: “In Colorado’s Morgan County area there has [sic] also been reports that a helicopter was used by those who mutilated the carcasses of the cattle, and several persons have reported being chased by a similar helicopter. Because I am gravely concerned by this situation, I am asking that the Federal Bureau of Investigation enter the case. Although the CBI has been investigating the incidents, and local officials also have been involved, the lack of a central unified direction has frustrated the investigation. It seems to have progressed little, except for the recognition at long last that the incidents must be taken seriously. Now it appears that ranchers are arming themselves to protect their livestock, as well as their families and themselves, because they are frustrated by the unsuccessful investigation. Clearly something must be done before someone gets hurt.”

Again, the FBI – some ranchers and media people thought, rather suspiciously – declined to get involved in the investigation of the phenomenon. It was a stance the FBI rigidly stuck to (despite collecting numerous, nationwide newspaper and magazine articles on the subject) until 1978. That was when the FBI learned of an astonishing number of horse and cattle mutilations in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico – mutilations which actually dated back to 1976. They had all been scrupulously investigated and documented by Police Officer Gabe Valdez of Espanola. It was when the FBI was contacted by New Mexico Senator Harrison Schmitt (also the twelfth person to set foot on the Moon – in December 1972), who implored the FBI to get involved, that action was finally taken. In March 1979, Assistant Attorney General Heymann prepared a summary on the New Mexico cases for the FBI, and – for good measure – photocopied all of Officer Valdez’s files to the Bureau’s director. Things were about to be taken to a new level. As Valdez’s voluminous records showed, from the summer of 1975 to the early fall of 1978, no less than twenty-eight cattle mutilation incidents occurred in Rio Arriba County. One of the most bizarre events occurred in June 1976, as Valdez’s files demonstrate:

(Federal Bureau of Investigation) The FBI's files on cattle mutilations are now in the public domain, as they were released under the terms of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

“Investigations around the area revealed that a suspected aircraft of some type had landed twice, leaving three pod marks positioned in a triangular shape. The diameter of each pod was 14 inches. Emanating from the two landings were smaller triangular shaped tripods 28 inches and 4 inches in diameter. Investigation at the scene showed that these small tripods had followed the cow for approximately 600 feet. Tracks of the cow showed where she had struggled and fallen. The small tripod tracks were all around the cow. Other evidence showed that grass around the tripods, as they followed the cow, had been scorched. Also a yellow oily substance was located in two places under the small tripods. This substance was submitted to the State Police Lab. The Lab was unable to detect the content of the substance. “A sample of the substance was submitted to a private lab and they were unable to analyze the substance due to the fact that it disappeared or disintegrated. Skin samples were analyzed by the State Police Lab and the Medical Examiner’s Office. It was reported that the skin had been cut with a sharp instrument.” Seventy-two hours later, Valdez liaised with Dr. Howard Burgess, of the New Mexico-based Sandia Laboratories, with a view to having the area checked for radiation. It was a wise move. The radiation level was double that which could normally be expected. Valdez’s conclusions on this issue: “It is the opinion of this writer that radiation findings are deliberately being left at the scene to confuse investigators.”

The case was not over, however. Whatever, or whoever, was responsible for the mutilation made a return visit. Once again, we need to take a look at the official files on the affair. In Valdez’s own, official words:  “There was also evidence that the tripod marks had returned and removed the left ear. Tripod marks were found over Mr. Gomez’s tire tracks of his original visit. The left ear was intact when Mr. Gomez first found the cow. The cow had a 3-month-old calf which has not been located since the incident. This appears strange since a small calf normally stays around the mother even though the cow is dead.” On the matter of whether or not the mutilations were the work of cults or natural predators, Valdez said: “Both have been ruled out due to expertise and preciseness and the cost involved to conduct such a sophisticated and secretive operation. It should also be noted that during the spring of 1974 when a tremendous amount of cattle were lost due to heavy snowfalls, the carcasses had been eaten by predators. These carcasses did not resemble the carcasses of the mutilated cows. Investigation has narrowed down to these theories which involve (1) Experimental use of Vitamin B12 and (2) The testing of the lymph node system. During this investigation an intensive study has been made of (3) What is involved in germ warfare testing, and the possible correlation of these 3 factors (germ warfare testing, use of Vitamin B12, testing of the lymph node system).” A further, very strange, report can be found in Valdez’s files, from 1978:

(Nick Redfern) Completely black helicopters are often seen where cattle mutilations occur. I took this photo myself. It was almost right above my home.

“This four year old cross Hereford and Black Angus native cow was found lying on left side with rectum, sex organs, tongue, and ears removed. Pinkish blood from [illegible] was visible, and after two days the blood still had not coagulated. Left front and left rear leg were pulled out of their sockets apparently from the weight of the cow which indicates that it was lifted and dropped back to the ground. The ground around and under the cow was soft and showed indentations where the cow had been dropped. 600 yards away from the cow were the 4-inch circular indentations similar to the ones found at the Manuel Gomez ranch on 4-24-78. “This cow had been dead approximately [illegible] hours and was too decomposed to extract samples. This is the first in a series of mutilations in which the cows’ legs are broken. Previously the animals had been lifted from the brisket with a strap. These mutilated animals all dehydrate rapidly (in one or two days).” As the summer of 1978 progressed, so did the number of reports where elevated radiation readings were found, as Valdez noted in his records:

“It is believed that this type of radiation is not harmful to humans, although approximately 7 people who visited the mutilation site complained of nausea and headaches. However, this writer has had no such symptoms after checking approximately 11 mutilations in the past 4 months. Identical mutilations have been taking place all over the Southwest. It is strange that no eye witnesses have come forward or that no accidents [have] occurred. One has to admit that whoever is responsible for the mutilations is very well organized with boundless financing and secrecy. Writer is presently getting equipment through the efforts of Mr. Howard Burgess, Albuquerque, N.M. to detect substances on the cattle which might mark them and be picked up by infra-red rays but not visible to the naked eye.” A lengthy document, prepared by Forrest S. Putman, the FBI’s Special-Agent-in-Charge at Albuquerque, New Mexico was soon thereafter sent to the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. It read:  “Information furnished to this office by Officer Valdez indicates that the animals are being shot with some type of paralyzing drug and the blood is being drawn from the animal after an injection of an anti-coagulant. It appears that in some instances the cattle’s legs have been broken and helicopters without any identifying numbers have reportedly been seen in the vicinity of these mutilations. 

“Officer Valdez theorizes that clamps are being placed on the cow’s legs and they are being lifted by helicopter to some remote area where the mutilations are taking place and then the animal is returned to its original pasture. The mutilations primarily consist of removal of the tongue, the lymph gland, lower lip and the sexual organs of the animal. Much mystery has surrounded these mutilations, but according to witnesses they give the appearance of being very professionally done with a surgical instrument, and according to Valdez, as the years progress, each surgical procedure appears to be more professional. Officer Valdez has advised that in no instance, to his knowledge, are these carcasses ever attacked by predator or scavenger animals, although there are tracks which would indicate that coyotes have been circling the carcass from a distance. Special Agent Putman then informed the Director of the outcome of Valdez’s run-ins with officials. He also advised that he has requested Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory to conduct investigation for him but until just recently has always been advised that the mutilations were done by predatory animals. Officer Valdez stated that just recently he has been told by two assistants at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory that they were able to determine the type of tranquilizer and blood anti-coagulant that have been utilized.”

(Nick Redfern) A bit too close when it's over your yard.

Putnam then demonstrated to headquarters the astonishing scale of the mutilation puzzle: “Officer Valdez stated that Colorado probably has the most mutilations occurring within their State and that over the past four years approximately 30 have occurred in New Mexico. He stated that of these 330, 15 have occurred on Indian Reservations but he did know that many mutilations have gone unreported which have occurred on the Indian reservations because the Indians, particularly in the Pueblos, are extremely superstitious and will not even allow officers in to investigate in some instances. Officer Valdez stated since the outset of these mutilations there have been an estimated 8,000 animals mutilated which would place the loss at approximately $1,000,000.” Putman additionally advised the director that: “It is obvious if mutilations are to be solved there is a need for a coordinated effort so that all material available can be gathered and analyzed and further efforts synchronized. Whether the FBI should assume this role is a matter to be decided. If we are merely to investigate and direct our efforts toward the 15 mutilated cattle on the Indian reservation we, I believe, will be in the same position as the other law enforcement agencies at this time and would be seeking to achieve an almost impossible task. 

“It is my belief that if we are to participate in any manner that we should do so fully, although this office and the USA’s office are at a loss to determine what statute our investigative jurisdiction would be in this matter. If we are to act solely as a coordinator or in any other official capacity the sooner we can place this information in the computer bank, the better off we would be and in this regard it would be my recommendation that an expert in the computer field at the Bureau travel to Albuquerque in the very near future so that we can determine what type of information will be needed so that when the invitation for the April conference is submitted from Senator Schmitt’s Office that the surrounding States will be aware of the information that is needed to place in the computer. “It should be noted that Senator Schmitt’s Office is coordinating the April conference and will submit the appropriate invitations and with the cooperation of the USA, Mr. Thompson will chair this conference. The FBI will act only as a participant.”

Putnam went on to describe the theories that had been advanced to try and explain the phenomenon: “Since this has not been investigated by the FBI in any manner we have no theories whatsoever as to why or what is responsible for these cattle mutilations. Officer Gabe Valdez is very adamant in his opinion that these mutilations are the work of the U. S. Government and that it is some clandestine operation either by the CIA or the Department of Energy and in all probability is connected with some type of research into biological warfare. His main reason for these beliefs is that he feels that he was given the ‘run around’ by Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory and they are attempting to cover up this situation. There are also theories that these are cults (religious) of some type of Indian rituals resulting in these mutilations and the wildest theory advanced is that they have some connection with unidentified flying objects.” In the closing section of his report, Putman said: “If we are to assume an investigative posture into this area, the matter of manpower, of course, becomes a consideration and I am unable to determine at this time the amount of manpower that would be needed to give this our full attention so that a rapid conclusion could be reached. The Bureau is requested to furnish its comments and guidance on this whole situation including, if desired, the Legal Counsel’s assessment of jurisdictional question. An early response would be needed, however, so that we might properly, if requested to do so, obtain the data bank information. If it appears that we are going to become involved in this matter, it is obvious that there would be a large amount of correspondence necessary and Albuquerque would suggest a code name be established of BOVMUT.”

(Nick Redfern) Are we any closer as to what, or who, is behind the mutes? "No."

As a result of the growing concern surrounding the cattle mutilations, a conference on the subject was held, on April 20, 1979, at the Albuquerque Public Library. There was a heavy concentration of FBI agents at the conference, something which resulted in the following, official document being prepared, which summarized the various theories, cases, and ideas advanced at the conference: “Forrest S. Putman, Special Agent in Charge (SAC), Albuquerque Office of the FBI, explained to the conference that the Justice Department had given the FBI authority to investigate those cattle mutilations which have occurred or might occur on Indian lands. He further explained that the Albuquerque FBI would look at such mutilations in connection with mutilations occurring off Indian lands for the purpose of comparison and control, especially where the same methods of operation are noted. SAC Putman said that in order for this matter to be resolved, the facts surrounding such mutilations should be gathered and computerized.

“District Attorney Eloy Martinez, Santa Fe, New Mexico, told the conference that his judicial district had made application for a $50,000 Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) Grant for the purpose of investigating the cattle mutilations. He explained that there is hope that with the funds from this grant, an investigative unit can be established for the sole purpose of resolving the mutilation problem. He said it is his view that such an investigative unit could serve as a headquarters for all law enforcement officials investigating the mutilations and, in particular, would serve as a repository for information developed in order that this information could be coordinated properly. He said such a unit would not only coordinate this information, but also handle submissions to a qualified lab for both evidence and photographs. Mr. Martinez said a hearing will be held on April 24, 1979, for the purpose of determining whether this grant will be approved.

“Gabe Valdez, New Mexico State Police, Dulce, New Mexico, reported he has investigated the death of 90 cattle during the past three years, as well as six horses. Officer Valdez said he is convinced that the mutilations of the animals have not been the work of predators because of the precise manner of the cuts. Officer Valdez said he had investigated mutilations of several animals which had occurred on the ranch of Manuel Gomez of Dulce, New Mexico.  “Manuel Gomez addressed the conference and explained he had lost six animals to unexplained deaths which were found in a mutilated condition within the last two years. Further, Gomez said that he and his family are experiencing fear and mental anguish because of the mutilations.”  “David Perkins, Director of the Department of Research at Libre School in Farasita, Colorado, exhibited a map of the United States which contained hundreds of colored pins identifying mutilation sites. He commented that he had been making a systematic collection of data since 1975, and has never met a greater challenge. He said, ‘The only thing that makes sense about the mutilations is that they make no sense at all.’”

(Nick Redfern) Some say the cattle mutilations are the work of secret societies, who sacrifice the poor cattle.

“Tom Adams of Paris, Texas, who has been independently examining mutilations for six years, said his investigation has shown that helicopters are almost always observed in the area of the mutilations. He said that the helicopters do not have identifying markings and they fly at abnormal, unsafe, or illegal altitudes. Dr. Peter Van Arsdale, Ph. D., Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Denver, suggested that those investigating the cattle mutilations take a systematic approach and look at all types of evidence is discounting any of the theories such as responsibility by extraterrestrial visitors or satanic cults. Richard Sigismund, Social Scientist, Boulder, Colorado, presented an argument which advanced the theory that the cattle mutilations are possibly related to activity of UFOs. Numerous other persons made similar type presentations expounding on their theories regarding the possibility that the mutilations are the responsibility of extraterrestrial visitors, members of Satanic cults, or some unknown government agency. Dr. Richard Prine, Forensic Veterinarian, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (LASL), Los Alamos, New Mexico, discounted the possibility that the mutilations had been done by anything but predators. He said he had examined six carcasses and in his opinion predators were responsible for the mutilation of all six."

“Dr. Claire Hibbs, a representative of the State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico, said he recently came to New Mexico, but that prior to that he examined some mutilation findings in Kansas and Nebraska. Dr. Hibbs said the mutilations fell into three categories: animals killed and mutilated by predators and scavengers, animals mutilated after death by ‘sharp instruments’ and animals mutilated by pranksters. Tommy Blann, Lewisville, Texas, told the conference he has been studying UFO activities for twenty-two years and mutilations for twelve years. He explained that animal mutilations date back to the early 1800’s in England and Scotland. He also pointed out that animal mutilations are not confined to cattle, but cited incidents of mutilation of horses, dogs, sheep, and rabbits. He also said the mutilations are not only nationwide, but international in scope. Chief Raleigh Tafoya, Jicarilla Apache Tribe, and Walter Dasheno, Governor, Santa Clara Pueblo, each spoke briefly to the conference. Both spoke of the cattle which had been found mutilated on their respective Indian lands. Chief Tafoya said some of his people who have lost livestock have been threatened. Carl W. Whiteside, Investigator, Colorado Bureau of Investigation, told the conference that between April and December 1975, his Bureau investigated 203 reports of cattle mutilations.”

One month later, the District Attorney’s Office for Santa Fe, New Mexico, secured $50,000 in funding, to allow a detailed study of the evidence to commence – specifically in New Mexico.  Very suspiciously, when it was announced that the program was going ahead, the FBI noted that the mutilations came to a sudden halt. This gave rise to deep suspicions that the mutilators were all too human and, having heard of the planned investigation, hastily backed away until matters calmed down – which they did, when the number of new reports trailed off to nothingness. With a distinct lack of new data to go on, the ambitious program was left to study a mere handful of cases – all of which it relegated to the work of predators and absolutely nothing else. Hardly surprisingly, this gave rise to the suspicions, among conspiracy theorists, that this was the goal all along: launch an investigation and assert that the mutes were the work of predators and nothing else, whatsoever, and then close the investigation down. If that was the case, then it worked all too well: the world of officialdom walked away from the mutilation problem, asserting that it had resolved the entire matter in down to earth terms, and assuring the public and the ranching community that there was nothing to worry about.

Evidently, however, there was something to worry about: no sooner had the project closed down, when the mutilations began again. And they still continue to this day. Whether the work of the government, the military, satanic cults, or deadly extraterrestrials, all that can be said of the cattle mutilations is that, officially, at least, they are no longer of any interest to the FBI or to any other arm of officialdom. A solid study of the investigations show that the FBI - just like us - were baffled, but did their best to find the answers. The mystery remains exactly that: a mystery. A really weird mystery. UFOs? Occult activity? Skinwalkers? Secret tests to see if new viruses might have got into the food chain? All theories are strange and usettling.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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