ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In remote eastern Oregon, a serial crime is unfolding. Someone is killing purebred bulls, and they're doing it with the level of cruel precision that unnerves ranchers and law enforcement. Northwest News Network's Anna King reports. And a warning to listeners - this story includes descriptions of cattle mutilation.
ANNA KING: North of Burns, Ore., dust from hooves creates a fog in the early light. A cowboy calls his cattle dogs as they flank the herd. Silvies Valley Ranch is nearly the size of Chicago. This summer, five young bulls were killed in remote areas here.
COLBY MARSHALL: So we're driving in on a Forest Service two-track dirt road.
KING: That's Colby Marshall, vice president of the ranch. He's heading out to one of the bull carcasses. It's an eerie scene. The dead bull looks like a giant deflated plush toy. It smells. Scavengers haven't touched it. The bull's red coat is as shiny as if he were going to the county fair. But he's missing his tongue, genitals and all his blood. Marshall says the ranch's young animals were just reaching their top value as breeding bulls when they were killed. Each is worth about $6,000. Worth even more - the hundreds of thousands of dollars of future calves they won't sire. And Marshall says the ranch isn't just worried about the money. Now staff are required to ride in pairs and encouraged to carry arms.
MARSHALL: If some person or persons has the ability to take down a 2,000-pound range bull, you know, it's not inconceivable that they wouldn't have a lot of problems dealing with an 180-pound cowboy.
KING: Calls and tips from all over the country have been coming in to the Harney County Sheriff's Office. Deputy Dan Jenkins has been working the case.
DAN JENKINS: Everybody's got stories, but so far, there's very little evidence.
KING: Jenkins says it's clear the bulls weren't shot. He's also ruled out bears, wolves, cougars and poisonous plants. Other theories are even stranger.
JENKINS: There has been things where people have said they've found satanic altars or what they believed were satanic or occult-type altars, stone altars with pentagrams and different geometric symbols, candles. But it's definitely very frustrating, and it's been going on basically since the '70s.
KING: Since then, there have been reports like this from all over the country, as far away as Kansas and Texas. But these in Oregon are new. Three hours north of Silvies, outside of Pendleton, Ore., Terry Anderson has just fixed his irrigation system.
TERRY ANDERSON: Cows just rub on stuff for the heck of it. They love to scratch.
KING: Back in the 1980s, one of this rancher's cows was mysteriously killed overnight. Anderson found her dead, her udder removed with something razor sharp.
ANDERSON: And not one drop of blood anywhere.
KING: When Anderson heard of these fresh cases, he called down to Silvies to let them know they weren't the only ones. Anderson says the killing is so weird and disturbing, he's never gotten over it, even after all these years.
ANDERSON: It's just left a really strange feeling with me since that day. You can't explain it, and no one else has been able to explain it.
KING: The sheriff continues to investigate the killings, and Silvies Ranch has put up a $25,000 reward for information that could solve the case.
For NPR News, I'm Anna King outside of Pendleton, Ore.
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