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Cow’s death remains a South Whidbey mystery this weekend

Diane Schneider stands over her dead cow, a healthy animal with a calf that died suddenly Friday, intact except for a large patch of skin removed from one side of its face.  - Jim Larsen / The Record
Diane Schneider stands over her dead cow, a healthy animal with a calf that died suddenly Friday, intact except for a large patch of skin removed from one side of its face.
— image credit: Jim Larsen / The Record

There’s a whodunit on South Whidbey and it has nothing to do with Langley’s Mystery Weekend.

This mystery involves a healthy black Angus cow found dead by its owner, Diane Schneider, on her farm near Midvale off Maxwelton Road.

“I’ve got 11,” she said when asked how many cows she has. “I had 12 until just a few hours ago.”

She was standing over the body of what was a healthy 6-year-old cow. She discovered its carcass lying in the corner of a muddy, grassy pasture. The other 11 cows, including the dead cow’s 6-month-old calf, huddled next to a fence near the house.

Schneider fed the cows that morning and found the dead one at 1 p.m. The cow’s calf was still at its side.

“The calf was suckling even though she was dead,” Schneider said, estimating the value of the cow at $1,500.

“It can eat by itself,” she added, referring to the calf.

There were no footprints from other animals near the dead cow, which looked like it could have been peacefully lying down to catch the last rays of the fading sun. There was nothing abnormal about it except for one side of its face. Something or someone had stripped away the hide on the left side of the face, from below the eye to the jawline.

Carol Barnes, Animal Control officer, examined the cow. “I didn’t see any bite marks or lacerations on the rear or throat,” she said, ruling out coyotes or a pack of dogs. There was no damage to the heels, throat, udder, ears or nose.

Barnes, perplexed, took photos and later emailed them to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Island County Coroner Robert Bishop.

Bishop is the elected county coroner, but keeps his veterinarian’s license up to date.

“All I can tell is that this cow died a sudden death,” Bishop said.

He ruled out natural disease or death by another animal. “The skin laceration was post-mortem,” he said, noting the small amount of blood on the ground.

“This cow did not struggle; that’s soft ground, she’s not dirty,” the coroner said. “She just dropped where she was standing.”

He too ruled out coyotes or other predators, saying they go for the soft parts of an animal. He was puzzled by the missing skin from the face. “It’s not a single cut from the back to the muzzle, there are two irregular edges that don’t really fit,” he said. “So a section was taken when she was already on the ground and dead … something or someone took a hunk of skin not consistent with a predator.”

Matt Cleland, district supervisor and wildlife biologist for the USDA, said from the pictures he saw, “We can’t make a decision on anything, there’s no signs of any kind of predation … It looks like somebody actually cut that cow’s head.

From the type of cut it was not a predator.”

Cleland and Bishop said they have seen many dead animals, both wild and domestic, and neither has ever seen anything like this.

“The whole, entire hide is intact, somebody cut that cow from nose to back of head, a very clean cut, a very long cut,” Cleland said. No major facial artery was cut because then the cow would have bled out, he added.

The cow was buried soon after its death so this killing near Langley may remain a mystery.

Barnes said anyone with information about the incident should call 911.

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