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Colorado’s cattle mutilation history and the journalist who wouldn’t let it go

The Mutilators

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Journalist Dane Edwards - COURTESY THE BRUSH BANNER
  • Courtesy The Brush Banner
  • Journalist Dane Edwards
During the 1970s, thousands of ranchers and farmers across America woke up to discover a bizarre and horrible thing in their fields and pastures. They found that not only had one of their cows or bulls died, but that it had been bizarrely mutilated. The lifeless body would be lying on its side completely drained of blood, the desiccated corpse staring up at them with empty eye sockets, the flesh cut away from the nose and jawbone creating a macabre grin. The anal cavity was bored out, and the sex organs completely removed. There were no signs of footprints, or any other kind of forensic evidence to point to any kind of perpetrator, human or animal. The ranchers filed reports with local brand inspectors, the sheriff’s office, and in some cases even federal investigators, but investigations resulted in no suspects, leads or explanations.

This exact scenario played out this summer in eastern Oregon. Five previously healthy bulls from the Silvies Valley Ranch were suddenly found dead, drained of blood, and with organs and pieces of their soft tissue precisely removed. There were no footprints or signs of predation, and authorities currently have no explanation. The story was covered by national news outlets like NPR and USA Today.

“The common denominator for every one of these is the lack of blood,” says Chuck Zukowski, a Colorado Springs resident and the deputy director of Animal Mutilation Investigations for MUFON (Mutual UFO Network) International, which has more than 4,000 members and has been investigating UFO phenomena since 1969. Zukowski has 35 years of experience researching paranormal phenomena, including cattle mutilations. He is also the subject of the Travel Channel’s TV show Alien Highway. “Not only that, but the lack of evidence of blood. How much blood is in a cow?” asks Zukowski. “There’s a lot of blood in a cow, and for that blood not to be there when a carcass is found is unusual.”

These kinds of cattle mutilation cases rose to national prominence in the 1970s, when thousands of carcasses across 21 states were discovered to be mutilated. By 1975, the response to the problem had reached a fever pitch amongst ranchers across the Midwest. Many were carrying guns and patrolling their fields at night. The Bureau of Land Management ran ads in eastern Colorado newspapers urging ranchers not to shoot at survey helicopters. The prevailing theory at the time was that these killings were the work of a nefarious cult. The horrific Manson family murders were recently seared into social memory in the U.S., so it seemed like a plausible explanation. When satanists were hiding in the lyrics of rock ‘n’ roll songs, in the pages of fantasy novels, and in American basements in the form of the tabletop game Dungeons and Dragons, certainly it had to be their work when it came to the cattle as well.
In August 1975, the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph (now the Gazette) reported on a study conducted by eastern Colorado law enforcement officials who were dealing with the approximately 60 mutilation cases reported so far that year. The Gazette said the study provided “a glimpse into a satanic organization with national political overtones which has grandiose plans of bringing about a 1,000-year reign of terror and darkness.”

As law enforcement officials desperately searched for proof of cult involvement, the mutilations increased in number and frequency, popping up in Crowley, El Paso, Elbert, Douglas, Las Animas, Washington and Morgan counties here in Colorado — and in 20 other states across the country.
Local Chuck Zukowski is a nationally recognized UFO investigator. - COURTESY UFONUT.COM
  • Courtesy ufonut.com
  • Local Chuck Zukowski is a nationally recognized UFO investigator.

The most comprehensive media coverage of the phenomena at the time came from an unlikely publication out of a small farming community just east of Fort Morgan. It was there that Dane Edwards, a recent Colorado transplant who had allegedly spent time in “Europe, the Middle East and Far East filing wire service reports,” acted as editor and publisher of the now-defunct Brush Banner, Brush's weekly newspaper. Information about Edwards' life prior to Colorado is limited, but a “Meet Your Editor, Publisher” column from a July, 1975 issue of the Banner boasts “17 years newspaper experience, Former member of the President’s Council on Youth Opportunities, and in August, 1972, Invited to the White House by the President.”



Edwards' first mutilation story ran on July 30, 1975. Grisly black-and-white photographs of mutilated cattle adorn the front page of the Banner with the headline, “Cattle Mutilations Hit Near County.” He documented an incident from Woodrow, where a 1,000- pound cow “had its nose, one eye, an ear and its tongue cut away.” Edwards noted that “while massive mutilations often occur, little blood is found in the area of the carcasses. In some instances, officials report that scavenger animals and birds refuse to touch the body.”

The owner of the mutilated cow, John Kalous, told Edwards, “There wasn’t a sign of a footprint in the area either.” In spite of the lack of human-generated evidence, though, the Washington County Sheriff’s Department noted that the cow’s tracks were clearly visible, thanks to a recent rain. Moreover, law enforcement officials were unable to photograph the evidence. “After several attempts, both the Morgan County and Washington County officers were unable to take a photo of the carcasses with a Polaroid camera. … The photos were consistently dark and even when the camera settings were changed to compensate for the conditions, the pictures were without contrast,” Edwards wrote.

“I can’t explain it,” Washington County Undersheriff Bob Jones was quoted as saying, “I’m not going to try.”

The following week the Banner ran another story about the first mutilation reported in Morgan County, and Edwards was one of the few journalists at the time to critically analyze the cult hypothesis. He interviewed Lorin Paull, an Episcopal priest who claimed, “in considering what is cut from the animal, the mutilations do not suggest cultism of a satanic nature. None of the items removed from the cattle are used in satanic rites.”

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Edwards also interviewed a coven of Denver witches, who provided him with a symbol, a stylized variation of the evil eye, which was supposed to “ward off the activities of satanic followers.” Displaying the symbol would supposedly stop the satanists from “further acts until the symbols have been removed.” The Banner ran the symbol with the story. “By printing the symbols in each of our 6,500 papers,” Edwards wrote, “they obviously cannot be removed.” Edwards also was able to track down the origins of the cult story, which came from federal prisoner Kenneth Bankston. Bankston had read an article about the wave of mutilations that took place in Minnesota in 1975 and wrote to the author of the article, who forwarded Bankston’s letter to an agent within the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. That agent took Bankston’s claims seriously and launched an investigation. According to Edwards, Bankston claimed that the mutilations were “the work of a cultist operations, and that the group had also drawn up a list of future human victims that included notable political figures such as Hubert Humphrey.”



The Gazette reported on the “bizarre Satanical group somewhat reminiscent of the Charles Manson ‘family’” in August 1975, quoting a “field investigator.”

“There’s a right wing, white supremacist faction to the cult which has planned the assassination of a number of prominent liberal-type political figures.”

In return for his cooperation with the investigation, Bankston was transferred to a lowersecurity facility, from which he escaped on May 31, 1975. No member of the “Sons of Satan,” the alleged name of the cult, was ever arrested. The cult theory quickly became a dead end for both law enforcement and journalists.

With satanists out of the picture, ranchers and law enforcement began looking for other explanations. The scope of the mutilations led many to believe it was the work of a vast government conspiracy, and others to look to the stars for an extraterrestrial explanation.

By the end of August and into September, Edwards was reporting on new twists in the cattle mutilation incidents: menacing aircraft and strange lights at the mutilation sites. Edwards collected reports from Elbert County, Elizabeth, Franktown and Simla of unmarked helicopters “buzzing” farmers and “chasing” people. “Several people reported having seen a flashing ‘strobe’ light,” wrote Edwards, “travelling from east to west at an extremely fast rate of speed and changing directions with a staccato effect in the sky.”

Edwards allegedly began working with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, providing them with evidence gathered during the course of his investigations, after reporting that “agencies such as the FBI stated there is no evidence of federal crimes.” Edwards was frustrated with the response, noting that “it would mean that 21 groups of mutilators have operated in 21 states. Since it is a federal offense to commit interstate crimes that would open the door for their participation in the investigation.”

It wasn’t until Edwards began receiving threats at the Banner to “lay off the investigations of the cattle mutilations,” that Colorado Senator Floyd Haskell finally sought the FBI’s assistance within the mutilation investigations.

In October of 1975, the Gazette reported that the Banner, with reporting by Edwards, was “the only newspaper in Colorado known to have conducted a full scale investigation into the matter of mysterious deaths and mutilations of livestock in Colorado.” Edwards was interviewed in the Gazette to announce that this phenomenon was actually “an outcropping of a program” that began in 1961, and that he would be writing a book that “will tell how the project was conceived, how it progressed and why.” Edwards admitted in the interview that “anger made me interested in the cattle mutilations. It disturbed me that the public would take the word of officials, that no one was willing to look into it himself.”

But in that same interview, he alleged that not everyone appreciated his investigations, saying, “my office had been broken into twice and things gone through. Blood was thrown on my glass storm door at my home.”

Edwards also criticized law enforcement officials, who were beginning to ditch the cult theory for claims that the mutilations were actually the natural result of predation, scavengers and the decomposition process. This would be the conclusion of both a CBI investigation and an FBI investigation into the matter. Edwards called the investigations “an unimaginative job” and noted that “the most popular but weakest theory is that the mutilations are caused by predators. This is a good one for law men who can’t solve cases, since they don’t have to pursue the case any further.”

Shortly after Edwards’ interview with the Gazette, he was terminated at the Brush Banner. The new publisher, Drusilla Georgsson, said it was for “poor business practices.”

Then, on Dec. 10, 1975, the Banner’s headline read: “Ex Banner Publisher Presumed Missing.” The paper reported that Edwards’ wife filed a missing person’s report five days earlier, after he failed to contact her “as was his policy while he was away.” The Banner also noted that, “While in the Banner’s employ Mr. Edwards expressed concern for his well being on various occasions.”

Edwards’ car was found abandoned at a truck stop, and no one in Brush ever heard from him again.

“There’s two ways of looking at what happened with this guy,” says MUFON’s Zukowski. “He got caught into something and he got threatened bigtime and he went underground. I can think of one other person who that happened to. They went off the grid.” Zukowski also mentions the case of Max Spiers, a UK conspiracy theorist and UFO investigator who died in Warsaw, Poland under mysterious circumstances, allegedly vomiting black goo. “There are issues with doing different types of UFO investigations that could cause you to step over the proverbial line, so to speak,” warns Zukowski. “You have to be careful what you do. When you do UFO investigations and you go too far, you will get silenced.
The team of Travel Channel's show, Alien Highway - COURTESY UFONUT.COM
  • Courtesy ufonut.com
  • The team of Travel Channel's show, Alien Highway

“Then you have the case where he just started a new life,” adds Zukowski. “There’s always the possibility he left his wife and used the conspiracy theory to cover his tracks.”

Zukowski works full-time as a microchip engineer and has served as a reserve deputy for the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. He says he applies scientific and forensic methodology to his mutilation investigations, and has also reported strange findings with mutilated remains, some similar to Edwards’ findings from decades ago, and some uniquely weird. “I’ve had a few cases where the animal is lying in a round ground depression — not a crop circle — but a ground depression, where something pressed the vegetation down, 16 to 22 feet in diameter,” he explains. “I’ve taken soil samples from inside the ground depression and compared it to a test sample outside the ground depression, and the nutrients, the soil itself, in the ground depression is less water-soluble. The cations and CECs are different.” Zukowski implies that something, presumably whatever the deceased bovine had come in contact with, was able to change some fundamental atomic aspects of the soil. Cation exchange capacity (CEC) is a measure of a soil’s ability to hold positively charged ions — it's an inherent soil characteristic and is difficult to alter significantly. “That tells me that whatever made the round ground depression that the animal is laying in the middle of might have been a high energy source," he says. "I’ve also picked up EMF, electromagnetic field, from these ground depressions.”

As for what Edwards observed in the ’70s, many of those anomalies still occur.

“Unmarked helicopters will show up after the fact,” explains Zukowski. “August 2014 in Walsenburg, I investigated eight cows that were mutilated within a couple of miles of each other. The majority of the cows were found lying in the same direction. All the animals had the same type of cuts. The dewclaws were cored out. I interviewed two ranchers who reported helicopters in the area with spotlights where the animals were mutilated. There were also reports of lasers that diverted commercial air traffic. A week after the last mutilation, the rancher’s daughter saw a UFO.”

Zukowski has collected findings that cause him to doubt the predator theory, which Edwards also thought was bogus. “One thing we’ve learned is that the animal is picked up from location A — wherever it was grazing — it’s taken to a location B and it is mutilated and drained of blood, and then it’s taken to a location C, which is in the vicinity of Location A, not exactly, but close by. There was a case in Trinidad where we actually found the tracks of the cow where it ended, and then a good 60 yards away was the cow laying on the ground. Did it jump?”

The alleged predators’ choice in prey has also caused suspicion in some of Zukowski’s cases. “There was another case in the Walsenburg area,” recounts Zukowski, “where a cow had calved. The next day the cow was found mutilated. It was void of blood and the milk sack was cut out. A good 50 or 60 feet away was the newborn calf and the half-eaten placenta. Predators don’t go after a 1,000-pound animal and leave a 100-pound calf.”
Zukowski still documents cattle mutilation cases. - CHUCK ZUKOWSKI
  • Chuck Zukowski
  • Zukowski still documents cattle mutilation cases.

Others have also questioned the predation theory. The Gazette covered a mutilation in October 1976, a year after the Banner’s initial investigations: Logan County Sheriff Harry Graves found signs that a coyote had approached the mutilated animal, but “he never got closer than 22 ½ feet from the animal. Other cattle and horses in the same pasture were spooked and wouldn’t approach the dead steer either.”

Additionally, during the few field autopsies that were able to be performed, in cases where the time of death could be estimated, veterinarians discovered various anomalies. In January, 1976, the Gazette reported that Dr. Susan Colter of the Trinidad Animal Clinic was able to examine “various parts of the animal including the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver and she sent specimens to the extension laboratory in La Junta. She was especially interested in the way the animal’s organs turned to mush in a short time.”
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Cattle mutilations have lessened in frequency since 1975, but continued. Many cattle mutilation cases allegedly go unreported. In 1975, Edwards noted that “one hundred and eleven mutilation cases held in the files of the Nebraska Brand Inspector’s office had never been turned over to law enforcement agencies.”

Zukowski attributes the under-reporting to what he calls the “giggle factor.” He notes that “ranchers don’t want to speak out and report something just to be made fun of.” Zukowski’s most recent mutilation investigation took place in Westcliffe in 2018. Since 1975, no arrests have been made in any of the over 10,000 cases involving cattle mutilations.

Forty-four years after mutilations originally terrified American ranchers, explanations of this phenomena remain controversial. The mutilators, whatever or whoever they are, have been able to keep their secrets this whole time, while conducting operations around the nation, without any defectors, leakers or whistle-blowers. UFO investigators, like Zukowski, are seen as conspiracy theorists at best. With unsatisfying official findings, and recent publicized cases, old explanations are resurfacing.

Colby Marshall, Vice President of the Silvies Valley Ranch in Oregon, which recently saw five bulls mutilated under mysterious circumstances, said in USA Today, “We think that this crime is being perpetuated by some sort of a cult.”

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