When the district attorney's office submitted its grant proposal to LEAA in early mai 1979, there was reason to believe that livestock mutilations in New Mexico were a law enforcement problem. Moreover, the problem appeared to be a serious one both in terms of its economic impact on livestock owners and in the fear it had generated among rural residents. Information obtained from such residents together with material gleaned from newspapers, magazines, and other available reports seemed to indicate these mutilations were being perpetrated by highly skilled individuals with considerable financial backing.

To distinguish these mutilations from the sloppier work of predators and scavengers, the term "classic mutilation soon came into popular usage. A classic mutilation is characterized by the following traits:

  1. The surgically precise removal of certain parts of the animal. As one writer explains, the term "mutilation" is actually "inappropriate to describe the extremely precise and delicate surgery performed on these animals" (Perkins 1979: 20). The parts most commonly removed are the sexual organs, one eye, one ear, tongue, and in female animals, the udder.
  2. A perfectly cored anus, as though a large cookie cutter was used to perform the operation.
  3. A lack of blood, indicating that the animal has been deliberately drained of its fluid.
  4. The unusual rate of decay of the carcass. The carcass decays either extremely slowly or extremely rapidly. In most cases, the usual "death odors" are absent.
  5. The deliberate selection of certain types of livestock. The New Mexico victims have been described as healthy, native-grown livestock.
  6. The absence of human or tire tracks at the scene.
  7. Deliberate avoidance of the carcass by other animals. Animals who do approach the carcass usually circle at a safe distance. Although flies may avoid the body, dead ones are occasionally found on the carcass.
  8. The sighting of strange lights or aircraft within the vicinity of a reported mutilation. In New Mexico, these aircraft have been variously described as UFOs or helicopters.
  9. Unusual reaction of family pets. On the night a mutilation occurs, the family dog, which usually barks at everything, is exceptionally quiet.

In this chapter I will briefly sketch the popular history of livestock mutilations in New Mexico. I do this for two reasons: (1) To show the type of information on which the district attorney based his decision to apply for a LEAA grant, and (2) to indicate the general climate of opinion and belief that prevailed when I assumed the role of project director in mai 1979. The material presented here is drawn primarily from newspaper and magazine articles, most of which would have been readily available to New Mexicans. In short, any resident who has followed the mutilation phenomenon through local newspapers and magazines will probably be familiar with the incidents discussed here.