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Kit Metzger quickly swiped through the pictures on her iPhone, trying not to linger too long on the gruesome images.

Metzger, who heads the approximately 90,000-acre Flying M Ranch had just come inside after a day spent discussing prairie dogs and grassland restoration.

Now, she was talking about a different topic entirely.

The smartphone screen showed pictures of Metzger’s cows, but some were barely recognizable with chunks of skin or other body parts removed. After being killed and mutilated, her animals had been left on the ranch.

From Internet searches of similar mutilations and discussions with the local livestock inspector, Metzger wonders whether the killings are somehow related to satanic or other sacrificial rituals.

“I can’t tie it to anything but that’s a clue,” she said.

Other ranchers in places like Colorado and Missouri have experienced similar livestock mutilations, but have been unable to come up with any sort of explanation. Theories about religious or even extraterrestrial connections were tossed around, but not proven. No arrests have been made.

“IT’S JUST REALLY STRANGE”

Metzger’s photographs show cattle with their eyeballs taken out, their ears or lips cut off and circular chunks sliced from their bodies where their inner organs were removed.

The cuts are clean and precise, as if made by a sharp scalpel, she said.

From her own research and analysis of the dead cows, Metzger said the killers appear to inject them with a painkiller, sedative or muscle relaxant-type drug that makes the animals go limp. Then they insert some sort of tube into the artery and wait until the cows’ hearts pump all of the blood out of their bodies. There is rarely any blood on the ground around the carcass, leading Metzger to believe the people are somehow collecting it. Those same techniques, including the draining of blood, have been found in cattle mutilation cases in New Mexico and Colorado.

“It’s just really strange” she said.

The killings at Flying M Ranch have been going on for years — the first happened in the early 70s — and Metzger said she has tried everything to catch the perpetrators, but to no avail. She hopes that going public with the story will finally make the killers stop and leave her ranch alone.

“This is getting to the point where it’s getting ridiculous,” she said.

The killings always seem to happen around certain dates — mid-July, October and right around Easter, Metzger said.

Flying M has tried sending out ranch staff to watch over the cattle at night and set up cameras near water tanks and entryways into pastures. But most of the time they have only gotten images of headlights and haven’t been able to trace tire tracks on the ground, Metzger said. They have contacted officials with the Forest Service, the Coconino County Sheriff and the Arizona Game and Fish Department, who are all on the lookout.

Besides the strange and creepy nature of the cow deaths, they also have dealt a financial blow to the ranch. Metzger estimated that the four or five cows that tend to be killed in this way each year are worth about $16,000 to the ranch. If the cows were pregnant, that’s thousands more that is lost. Plus, calves left alone will have problems developing without being on their mother for their first year, she said.

On top of that, it’s Flying M’s gentler cows that tend to become victims because people can more easily walk up to them and drug them, Metzger said, adding that several of their favorite cows have been killed.

So far, Flying M’s neighbor and fellow Diablo Trust member Bar T Bar Ranch hasn’t experienced any similar cow killings, said Judy Prosser, the ranch’s owner and president of the Diablo Trust. She guessed that it might be because her ranch is harder to access than Flying M.

ELK VICTIMS, TOO

Recently, the mutilations have been found among elk as well. Last August, officials with the Arizona Game and Fish Department came upon three dead elk near Flying M Ranch, northeast of Anderson Mesa. The animals’ lips and sexual organs had been cut out of them, said Larry Phoenix, Flagstaff field supervisor with the department. It looked like somebody had driven out cross country and then dumped the animals, where they were found by officials, he said.

“It was something we hadn’t seen in a really long time,” said Phoenix, who has worked for the department in this region for about 20 years.

There isn’t any evidence showing how the animals died, he said. The department looked into whether the killings could be related to Satan worship, but hasn’t found any direct connection, Phoenix said.

“It’s just one of the possibilities based on the lips and the sexual parts being missing, but there is no hard evidence that leads us down that path,” he said.

The case is still ongoing, he said.

As for what Flying M will do with Easter coming up later this month, “we’ll be on the lookout,” Metzger said.

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Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or ecowan@azdailysun.com

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Environment, Health and Science Reporter

Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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