The mystery began several months ago with the discovery of a 120-pound cow’s head at Sacramento’s Reichmuth Park in the South Land Park area. Around the same time, another decapitated cow’s head was found 3 1/2 miles away at Garcia Bend Park in the Pocket.
Then, in December, officials found the chickens.
“Multiple beheaded chickens were found in the city cemetery with these bowls of what was described as bloody oatmeal,” said Gina Knepp, manager of Sacramento’s Front Street animal shelter and its animal care operations. “We don’t know what that was about.”
Since then, the city has been hit with a series of disturbing animal mutilation cases that have left officials perplexed about their meaning and the identity of the perpetrators.
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Since early January, officials have discovered six separate cases of animal mutilations, the latest coming Friday. Knepp said the bodies of two very young goats that had been decapitated were found shortly before 4 p.m. at the railroad tracks at 19th and V streets.
The bodies, along with the severed heads, were found in a brown paper grocery bag. Based on the conditions of the remains, Knepp said the goats appeared to have been dead at least two days. Knepp said animal control authorities are trying to find out whether businesses in the area have surveillance video of the site.
On Wednesday, the bodies of six decapitated goats were found in northern Sacramento off a bike path near Sully Street and Claire Avenue, where Norwood Avenue ends. Before that, a series of discoveries at Reichmuth Park have included a decapitated goat found in a cardboard box, a group of about a dozen headless chickens in paper bags and a dead tortoise.
“In one case there was a baby lamb at Reichmuth where they gently placed the head on top of the body in this brown paper bag,” Knepp said.
Both the north Sacramento area and the park offer secluded spots for someone to move without notice.
The north Sacramento location is near Robla Creek and a levee overlooking horse pastures, yards with roosters in them and the remains of an abandoned homeless encampment. Reichmuth Park is in a much more populated part of town off of 43rd Avenue, but features a heavily wooded section and a brackish slough shielded from the park and roadway by eucalyptus and oak trees and a wall of blackberry bushes.
Officials aren’t certain whether the animals were killed before they were beheaded, but Knepp said the cuts appear to have been made with some sort of saw and do not appear to be precise.
“They’re not clean cuts,” she said. “They’re not very good butchers, and they don’t have the right tools.”
The beheadings come as two high-profile cases involving animal cruelty are playing out in Sacramento – one involving a puppy burned to death in a crate, the other the drowning of a 12-year-old border collie named Zelda who was dumped into the American River with a bowling ball tied to her collar. Suspects have been arrested in both those cases.
The livestock mutilations, however, have left investigators wondering whom they are dealing with.
“It’s never cats and dogs,” Knepp said. “It’s farm animals and weird things like tortoises, and lately it seems like there’s been an increase in it, kind of averaging every other week, which is strange.”
Initially, little attention was paid to the discoveries as the carcasses were discovered by various park or cemetery workers and not flagged immediately to animal care services for investigation.
Now, the agency is trying to determine whether the incidents are connected, and whether they are some sick crime or the result of a ritual being performed for reasons officials do not understand.
“I’m thinking there’s some kind of practice that we’re not aware of,” Knepp said. “It could be felony animal cruelty if you’re intentionally maiming and killing animals. If you’re slaughtering them for religious purposes, that is somewhat protected, but it’s illegal dumping and improper disposal.
“We are very culturally diverse in Sacramento, and people do slaughter animals for human consumption in their yards, but they typically eat the meat.”
The fact that the animals’ bodies are being dumped makes no sense if they were killed for meat, she noted. “Why would you throw away a perfectly good goat?”
Compounding the mystery is the absence of any reports of missing or stolen livestock, which has left investigators wondering where the animals are coming from and whether the dumping of the carcasses is a disturbing prank by youngsters.
Goats are relatively easy to obtain in the Sacramento region, where rural ranchers offer them up through online ads at prices ranging from $100 a head to free.
Cameron Bang, an Elk Grove farmer, placed an ad to sell 30 goats for $10 to $15 each on Craigslist on Sunday and sold all of them that day to four or five different people, he said. Bang added that he believed the buyers lived in Elk Grove and south Sacramento and that none of them were youths.
Goat or lamb beheadings are not especially rare, and videos of gruesome rituals in which animals are beheaded – the perpetrators often drinking the animals’ blood – are easily found online, as are reports of teens killing goats and other livestock.
In January, investigators in Louisiana reported the beheading of a 3-month-old pygmy goat and the disappearance of another baby goat, according to a report in the New Orleans Advocate.
Livestock mutilations have captured headlines in the United States for decades, especially in the 1970s, when a wave of cattle mutilations was reported across the West and Midwest.
The problem became so pronounced that ranchers, local authorities and U.S. senators pressed the FBI to launch an investigation into the issue, which involved more than 1,500 cattle being mutilated and drained of blood in 22 states, according to a 1976 Oui magazine report included in FBI online files on the issue.
The matter was the subject of correspondence by officials as highly placed as then-Attorney General Griffin Bell, who assured one senator that he was deeply concerned.
“I must say that the materials sent to me indicate the existence of one of the strangest phenomenons in my memory,” Bell wrote in a 1979 letter included in the FBI files.
The cause of the widespread livestock killings never was determined, although theories have abounded through the years that they were the result of satanic rituals or alien attacks. Such ideas persist today, and simple Google searches can produce suggested search terms like “why do aliens mutilate cows?”
The mutilated animals dumped in the Sacramento region so far have all been found within the city limits. Knepp said that so far she has “no idea” who is killing them.
“I’m not getting any tips, either,” she said.
Anyone with information can call Knepp at (916) 808-8333.
Call The Bee’s Ellen Garrison, (916) 321-1006. The Bee’s Cathy Locke contributed to this report.