Some Jefferson County residents say horses and cattle are being mutilated, and they suspect devil worshipers.
Eastern Idaho law officers say they try to track cult activity, but they have no evidence that any recent animal deaths were done by people in order to take body parts.Dee Clark, who lives northeast of Rigby, owns one of two calves that died in Jefferson County in the past three weeks.
Her Hereford calf, just under a year old, was in a pasture near a road when found dead. An ear was gone, she said, as well as both eyes, the lips, and the front half of the tongue. Another thing bothered her.
"There's no blood. There's absolutely no blood. So they're apparently taking the blood," Clark said.
Law officers said they regularly receive reports of suspected animal mutilation, and they investigate them carefully, even though virtually all turn out to be something else.
"We're not trying to have tunnel vision on this, because if there's a group operating in this area, we'd like to know," said Capt. LaVar Summers of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department.
He and two other Jefferson County officers investigated the Clarks' calf, and he feels the body damage was done by magpies, dogs and other small animals.
"There are no signs or indications that anything was done other than by predators" in that case, he said.
Clark and Summers disagree as to whether that calf's sex organs were removed, which is a key to determining if it was cult related. Summers said cults remove only sex organs, leaving the rest of the carcass intact.
Clark said she talked with a veterinarian about the calf, but the doctor didn't see the animal.
Law officers from several eastern Idaho counties said birds typically eat eyes and ears and peck through the hide into meat in places such as the hairless area of a brand mark. They said animals such as skunks, coyotes and dogs eat all soft tissues, including sex organs, and occasionally rip stomach areas open.
Because predators could chew on a carcass after a cult killing, evidence on and around the animal is examined carefully, he said. That evidence can sometimes be misleading. For example, Summers said after magpies have eaten on a carcass, weather can dry and tighten the skin there, giving the appearance of an incision.
"We've had mutilations other years, but none as of this year," said Clark County Sheriff Craig King.
In his 10 years of law enforcement, King could remember only two cases that were mutilation by humans. One of those was last year, when a male calf was found alive with its sex organs removed.
No one was ever charged with that crime. "It's pretty tough unless somebody sees it happen," he said.
He said mutilation rumors seem to feed each other. "They hear these stories from other people, so it's on their mind" when a carcass is found, King said.
Rigby veterinarian Ferrin Kinghorn agreed. "I've heard a lot of rumors. These seem to kind of go in cycles," he said.
He said livestock owners often don't want to pay for a post-mortem examination of an animal, so many suspected mutilations aren't investigated as thoroughly as they could be.