Strange Animal Deaths in the San Luis Valley: By Alejandro Rojas

The team finds themselves knee-deep in the creepiest and most unsettling mystery they have ever investigated.

The March 2009 Colorado Cattle Mutilations. WARNING: This story contains graphic images!

I got a phone call from my good friend and MUFON investigator, Chuck Zukowski. He had seen a KOAA television news report about a heifer that had been mutilated outside of Trinidad, and the local authorities were at a loss to explain how the animal was killed. Chuck is a reserve police officer in Colorado Springs, and was able to get in contact with the Las Animas County Sheriff’s department. The deputy in charge of the case gave him the following information regarding what they had found.

Estimated age of cow, 28 years

Oldest cow in herd had new calf roughly 3 months old

Cow appeared to be lying on its left side, partially in stream near bank est. 8 to 12 inches deep

Reproduction organ removed with anal area still intact

Udder removed

Wounds appeared to be circular in fashion with noticeable cauterizing on edges of wound, no noticeable blood

No noticeable blood pooling except around animal lying in water, possibly due to saturation

Closest cow foot prints to deceased animal estimated 4 feet away towards the East

No noticeable vehicle tire prints of any model or size, no indication a vehicle was nearby

Cow appeared slightly bloated

 Tongue and eyes were still present

Flies were present but the laying of their eggs “larva” was not present

FAA was called asking if any unusual radar contacts were noticed. None reported

Local Military was contacted asking if military aircraft were flown during the weekend of March 8th. Military spokesperson stated none were flown until Monday March 9th which was routine

Deputy stated case was logged as unusual and open

Deputy requested MUFON Investigation tracking number and outcome of any lab analysis for case report

The deputy also agreed to give the rancher Chuck’s cell phone number and ask the rancher to give Chuck a call if it was OK for us to go take a look at the animal and take some samples

Preparatory Research

I knew friends who had investigated cattle mutilations, and have seen the research of investigators such as Linda Moulton-Howe, David Perkins, and Chris O’Brien. Richard Dolan, also did a great investigation on the Sci-Fi Investigates television show on the Sci-Fi channel. The whole Cattle Mutilation mystery started here in southwestern Colorado, so I was excited to be able to take a look at this animal, and see for myself if there was something to this phenomenon.

Looking for brown blood

I immediately called Nancy Talbott of BLT research to get her take. In my opinion she is one of the best when it comes to collecting evidence for scientific analysis. I have worked with her in the past. She gave me an interesting tip, and that was to look for brown flakes on the animal. This has been found on these animals before, and has turned out to be dried bovine hemoglobin. This is a blood plasma, so it is the cow’s blood, but it has been separated in a way that can only be done in a lab. Linda Mouton-Howe also covered this in a story she did on this same case. We worked with her and Chuck provided her information on his findings.
We had brought Nancy to Metro State College to speak before, so I had heard of the hemoglobin findings. But, wow! How weird, blood plasma at a cattle mutilation site? I was definitely going to look hard for some of that. Nancy has taken these findings and put two and two together with other findings to come up with some speculation as to why we might be finding this substance at these sites, but that is another story.

Setting a time to go investigate

The rancher, Mike Duran, contacted Chuck and had heard of MUFON. He was more than happy for us to come take a look. He was at a loss, and welcomed others to come take a shot at identifying what might have killed the animal. Since Chuck and I have day jobs, we decided that the soonest we could get out was the following Saturday, March 14th. It was unfortunate to have to wait that long, but Chuck is an hour and half from Denver, and the site was another two and a half hours from Chuck. We got to work assembling equipment and our team. My first pick is always my cousin, Jason Cordova. You will find that he will be along in my upcoming investigations as well. Jason is a student at Metro State College of Denver, and founded a paranormal club there called the Crypto Science Society. He did five years in the Navy and is very grounded and scientific. He does great work, and with only a slight trepidation will accompany me into paranormal investigations that would scare off many others. I also called my friend, and MUFON investigator, Stace Tussel.With our team assembled, we were ready to rock.

Investigating the Cattle Mutilation of March 2009 in Trinidad, Colorado

Stace and Chuck gear up

On March 14th, we were able to get out to Trinidad and look at the animal. On the way to meet the rancher, Mike Duran, we stopped at a gas station in Trinidad, and the local paper had a front page story on the mutilation. After a long drive, I no longer needed the Monster to get me hyped up, the story was sufficient to make me feel like a Blues Brother, we were on a mission and ready to roll.

The location

When we got to the location, the first two things that caught my attention were how close the site was to the road, and how steep the path down to the creek side was. In the first picture on the left, you can see the road on the right side. In the middle of the picture, you can see a house off in the distance. The animal was in sight of the house, and the road was only about 30 feet away from the edge of the slope leading down to the animal.

In the second picture on the left you can see the path down to the site of the animal. Duran told us that the cows rarely go down there. The lack of cow patties near the animal was a testament to that. His land was covered in them, but there was only one down below. Duran told us the cows don’t wander down there because of the difficulty. There were other places they use to get to the stream that are much easier to reach.

When we got to the site, another thing that struck me was the steep incline behind the animal. In the third picture you can see Jason at the top of this incline taking pictures of us and the animal below. The incline was probably more than 50 feet high.

The immediate question this raises is did the animal fall down this slope? She did have access to the top of it. However, as Duran pointed out, the brush on the slope was not disturbed, nor did the animal show the bruising, broken bones, or other scratches and damage that would have been made from such a fall. Although Duran did feel that the animal seemed to have been dropped from above. His reasoning was that he did not see any sign of struggle or any tracks around the animal.

 Observations of the animal itself

Upon immediate inspection, the body was remarkably untouched. The rancher believed that the animal had died about a week, plus or minus a day, before we had gotten there. However, as Duran pointed out, the animal was virtually untouched by scavengers. An ear was taken, and the side of the animal was nibbled, but it was peculiarly devoid of magpie droppings or damage. Typically magpies will be on a dead animal quickly, not only displaying the damage they leave as they eat, but also dead animals are typically covered in magpie droppings. Upon closer inspection, as noted in the police notes earlier in the story, there were no maggots. We were not able to get inside of the animal, nor did any of us have the expertise to perform a necropsy. However, by closely inspecting the parts of the animal that were open from the extraction of the vaginal area and utters, there were definitely no maggots. You may notice I am not including these more gruesome pictures. I will spare you. You should also be happy you were not subjected to the horrible smell. Luckily our respirators helped muffle the stench, mostly. Next time I am going to try a little trick I heard of, putting a drop of an essential oil in there. Stace sells some of that stuff, in hindsight, I wish I had asked her for some.

The incisions

Being dead for a week, the incisions were not as easy to distinguish as when the animal was first found. Not from scavenger damage, mind you, but from the deterioration of the skin. We still took samples in hopes that a lab would be able to determine more. We were able to confirm that the vaginal area and utters were the only areas removed. You may recall from the earlier stories that often an eyeball, or tongue is taken. Not so in this case. However, like other cases, there also was a lack of blood. Neither the animal, nor the surrounding area had any blood on it. There may have been blood in the animal, but we were unable (or perhaps unwilling) to check that.

The rancher’s thoughts

We asked Duran some questions about his thoughts and observations. His ranch hand also wandered by and answered a couple of our questions. Both of them had grown up in the area and had been involved with ranching their entire lives. They had both seen many animals die throughout the years. However, they were both baffled by what they had seen here. Normally it is easy to identify how an animal had died. In a predator death, there are signs of struggle, there are signs of ripping on the animal from the predator, and there is a lot of blood around. Any animal that is cut bleeds, and if it is killed it bleeds a lot. As we covered early, these animals are typically immediately besieged by scavengers, such as magpies. Coyotes will also have chewed off a limb or so and drug it a few feet away to gnaw on. Not so in this case. They also ruled out human intervention. They felt the animal was not killed on the site by humans, because there were no signs of struggle, a bullet wound, nor was there blood. They also didn’t feel this animal was killed elsewhere and brought here, because there were no tire tracks from a vehicle, and it was a hard place to get to. It would have been very difficult to get down there with a huge animal like this. This also didn’t account for the apparent avoidance of the carcass by the scavengers.

Duran thinks it was extraterrestrials because of UFO sightings

When we asked what they thought happened, Duran’s ranch hand said he had no idea. However, Duran said he thought it was probably extraterrestrials. We asked why he thought this, and he said it was because he didn’t think there was any way a predator or humans could have done it. He also said that he and others had seen UFOs in the area.
Duran said he was told by a local rancher that the night that the animal was probably killed, the he had seen strange lights lighting up a canyon, but he wasn’t sure if it was Duran’s land or not. When Duran asked where it was, sure enough the other rancher pointed to the valley the animal was found in. Duran also said he had his own sightings in the area. He said he had seen a silver, perfectly round object moving slowly over the ridge in the afternoon, during the day. He said the object was shiny and looked like it might have been made out of mylar. However, while he was watching it coast slowly over the ridge, it disappeared. It didn’t shoot off in any direction. It just vanished right before his eyes.

Other readings and samples

We used EMF readers, a Geiger counter, and a compass to measure for any radiation or magnetic anomalies. We didn’t find anything there. We also took soil samples to analyze later, given findings other had found in these types of cases.


So what the flip could have happened here? The ranchers and the police were obviously baffled. That accounts for a lot, because this is rancher country. These people have seen dead cattle, so they know when something strange has happened. If they felt humans were to blame, they would give it their all to figure out who did it. However, the evidence doesn’t support that. It seemed we had a true mystery on our hands. Some people will ask, why don’t the insurance agencies or the police do more work to resolve these issues? Typically it is the rancher who has to foot the bill for the investigation, and a necropsy can cost over $1000. It just isn’t financially worth it. It was great that the police were so willing to work with us. It showed just how baffled they were, and that they were open to any help. Even from the Mutual UFO Network.

So why don’t scientists get involved?

This is a great question, and the one we are here to answer. It is our belief that if we do our job well, and keep level headed and professional, we can hopefully demonstrate that a case is worth the scientific inquiry necessary to solve the mystery, enough so to motivate scientists to help us out. In the next part of the story, you will see how lead investigator, Chuck Zukowski, took our findings and was able to do just that.

The Miller Case. WARNING: Graphic images below!

We continue our story soon after our investigation on Saturday, March 14th. The following Tuesday, March 17th, Chuck received a call about another strange animal death, this time in Walsenburg.  This rancher also welcomed our investigators to take a look and help explain what may have happened. Chuck set a time for the next day and headed out.

Majority of calf’s body missing

The new victim was a one-week-old calf. Rancher, Tom Miller, had last seen his herd intact during their normal afternoon feeding time on Monday. The next morning the mutilated calf was found near the feeding tub, completely destroyed. The torso with the ribs and organs were completely gone, and the ears were cut out in circular patches. The only thing left was the head, the legs, and the spinal cord. Everything else was gone, without a trace. There was no blood in the area of the animal, and what was left looked crushed. There were no signs of struggle. The crushing of the animal looked almost like it had been done by the animal being hit by a vehicle, but it was in a fenced area and there were no tire tracks. The location was also in view of the ranch house. Miller and other local ranchers that he had asked to come take a look were baffled. The only explanation for the crushed condition of the remains they could come up with was that it was dropped from a very great height.

Chuck arrives to take samples

Chuck was able to get there Wednesday, the 18th. The day after the calf was found. The remains of the animal were now on the flatbed of a truck, ready to be hauled off. Chuck and I had discussed the importance of getting the animal to a veterinarian to have a necropsy done, but time and resources didn’t allow for it. So Chuck was going to take samples and pictures and then work on finding a lab that could look at the samples.
Upon Chuck’s arrival, one of the people at the ranch checking on the animal was a Colorado Brand Inspector. According to the Division of Brand Inspection’s website, their primary responsibility is to protect the livestock industry from loss by theft, illegal butchering, or straying of livestock. Brand Inspector, Dennis Williams, agreed with the ranchers that this death was unusual. They all told Chuck they had never seen predator damage like this. In fact, they felt that the incision around the ear appeared to be made by a laser. Once again there were wounds that looked to be cauterized.

And then a third mutilation

The fun didn’t stop there. Already overworked and stressed out from two animal investigations, and hard at work trying to find someone to look at the samples, Chuck received another call on Saturday March 21st. Brand Inspector, Dennis Williams, had received a call from ranch manager, Tim Meyers. Meyers had a strange cattle death that he asked Williams to come take a look at. Williams called Chuck, and they agree that Williams would take a look at the animal, and Chuck would come out if Williams found the death strange. Seasoned Brand Inspector, Williams, called Chuck that evening, and let him know he had another weird one. Chuck jumped in his UFO Nut (that’s the name of Chuck’s website, which he has on a sticker on his SUV) mobile, and headed out yet again. This animal also had its udders removed. Meyers said it looked as though it were surgically removed. He had noticed the animal missing during feeding time Saturday March 21st, in the afternoon. He had last seen her the previous afternoon. He went to look for her, and found her body. He also found that she had given birth sometime on Friday, and the newborn calf was not far away. This was the cow’s first time giving birth. She was about two and a half years old. Meyers was able to rescue the calf. Besides the udders which appeared to have been surgically removed, the only other damage to the animal was in the vaginal area, where predators seemed to have gotten at it. Again, there didn’t look to be any blood from the udder removal. In stark contrast to the predator damage which did produce blood.

Colorado State University able to look at samples

Trying to manage his life as a family man, a microchip engineer, and a reserve police officer, Chuck told me he didn’t know what he was going to do if there was another. He was trying to get preliminary reports out to our colleagues and to Linda Moulton-Howe, a long time cattle mutilation investigator, who wanted to report the findings. On top of that, we found that we truly were not prepared to handle these sorts of cases. We needed to find a lab that would be able to look at the animals and preferably be able to perform a necropsy within a couple days of the animal’s death. Colorado State University is one of the top veterinary schools in the country. Although they are in northern Colorado and these mutilations, and Chuck are in Southern Colorado, his first choice was to give them a call. He was able to get in touch with Colleen Duncan, Professor of Anatomic Pathology at CSU. It was a blessing when she told Chuck she was willing to take a look at his samples. Truly the break he had been looking for. He arranged to drive out there and get them the samples, so they could try to determine how the lacerations were made, and if indeed they found cauterization.

Colorado State University analyzes hide samples from recent mysterious animal deaths

The prospect of getting scientists to look at your findings and give an analysis is always exciting. It is what MUFON strives to do in its investigations. So I was ecstatic to hear that Chuck Zukowski, the lead investigator in these cattle mutilation cases happening in Southern Colorado last month, was able to get help from Colorado State University. It is one of the best veterinary schools in the region. In this field you do run across those who don’t trust conventional institutions. They feel that experts explain away their findings. This often leaves the impression that these scientists either can’t handle the truth, or are part of some sort of conspiracy that runs throughout academia. Many don’t understand that scientists fist look to prove that the conventional possibility is true. It’s standard practice to measure for what you know. If you find a variance in your findings that suggests the conventional answer is incorrect, then you look for the reason for the variance. In the case of these cattle mutilations, you would need to find the cause of death, if possible. Looking for scavenger or predator damage and the method used to cut out the udders, ears, and vaginal areas of the animals Chuck investigated. We already knew that we would be limited on what CSU would be able to discover. The animals were dead for a while before the samples were taken. Unwittingly, we also potentially damaged the samples by placing them in an alcohol solution.

This brings me to an important rule that I have learned when taking samples. Talk with the scientists doing the analyses BEFORE taking samples. This is an important rule, because the scientist or lab technician will be able to instruct you on how to best take the samples, so that it does not interfere with the type of testing they will be conducting. Unfortunately, in this case, we were not able to do so. We only had old instructions from our MUFON manual. Hopefully we will be able to update that section of the manual soon, and now we have some professionals to help us do that.

CSU findings in their words

The analysis was conducted by the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories. Here is what they found, verbatim;

“REMARKS: No histologic lesions were observed within the examined tissues. In consideration of the history, gross description, and histologic examination it may be concluded that the observed lesions occurred antemortem as there was no hemorrhage or evidence of antemortem tissue changes. Fixation with alcohol likely contributed to the poor tissue quality in these cases; however, the fragmentation of tissues may also have been the result of a process that occurred following the death of this animal. Prior to embedding, the ear was examined under dissecting scope and all layers of the haired skin through the auditory canal could be visualized suggesting there was no cautery type process occurring.

HISTOPATHOLOGY: Slide 1. Present on slide 1 are approximately five sections of tissue taken from the grossly observed lesions located within the vaginal area. Histologically all sections are composed of epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous connective tissue. In all sections, but to varying degrees there is disruption of the normal epidermal dermal architecture characterized by loss of epithelium and adjacent connective tissue stroma. Architecture of the disruption is largely superficial and devoid of associated hemorrhage or necrosis.

Slide 2. Present on slide 2 are multiple sections of tissue taken from the grossly observed ear lesions of the Tom Miller case. Slide contains only tissue from the right ear. Histologically sections are composed of skeletal muscle, adipose tissue, salivary gland, and rare islands of cartilage. There is marked artifactual distortion of the tissue architecture characterized by section fragmentation and autolysis of the tissue. Tissue is devoid of hemorrhage or other histologic changes and areas of fragmentation.

Slide 3. Present on slide 3 are multiple sections of tissue taken from the grossly observed lesions of the left ear. Findings are consistent with those described on slide 2. Also present on this slide is food material and bacterial contamination. There are no histologic lesions associated with any areas of tissue.”

That is for you vets and MDs out there who may know how to read in this language.

The results in English

Essentially they were not able to determine how the cuts were made. They also did not find evidence of cauterization, or burning. Sometimes that is found in these mysterious cattle mutilation cases, leading to the speculation that a laser scalpel is used. Due to the deterioration of the hide, and possibly because of the alcohol solution we put the samples in, it was hard for them to determine how the cuts were made. They could not rule out scavengers or predators. However, they also said that the cuts were made after the animal was dead. So the cutting to remove the organs was not the cause of death in these animals.

The cause of death is still unknown

This is interesting because there was no visible trace of predator damage that could have caused the deaths. It would make one wonder if poison was used. Without a full necropsy soon after death, that is not able to be determined. Now that we have a connection with CSU, hopefully if this happens again, we will be able to get the animal out there quickly to have this work done.

The mystery continues

This lab work is one step towards finding an answer. The relationships built with the authorities in the area, and the connections made with CSU, bring us closer to an answer. CSU’s help, and their willingness to look into this mystery with an open mind, gives us hope for the possibility of getting some answers in the future. While we may not have found proof of lasers being used to cut the flesh or a cause of death that scientifically proved scavengers or predators were not involved, we did not find proof that they were. That fact coupled with the expert opinions of the ranchers and authorities who did not find any signs that predators were the cause of death leads us to the likelihood of foul play. While local authorities also see no evidence that humans were involved in these mutilations, we will need to look further to rule out that possibility, as we search for extraordinary evidence to support a possible extraordinary conclusion. There is one more organization that has thrown their weight into the mix of this mystery. The Humane Society also seems to be under the impression that foul play was involved with the deaths of these cows. They are even offering a reward to help find the perpetrators.

This story was originally posted in the now defunct Denver Examiner. Alejandro is a member of the Crypo Science Society Advisory Committee, the host of Open Minds UFO Radio Podcast, and Co-organizer of the International UFO Congress.

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