It’s a “Mystery in Miner County.” It happened on Halloween, but this was no teenage prank.
A Miner County rancher’s 44 cattle were poisoned and died. The Department of Criminal Investigation is coming up short on solving the crime.
In Sunday night’s Eye on KELOLAND investigation, we find out how the cows and one bull died and why it’s been so hard to track down the killer.
The pasture is cold and desolate now, but it was the scene of a crime on Halloween night.
While neighbors were attending a township meeting, someone came onto the property near Howard with evil intentions.
“They’re trying to scare you. They obviously have major problems,” Brenda Donahue said.
Brenda and Bernard Donahue kept 65 head of cattle on the rented pasture.
“By the time we got up there in this pasture we had about eight or nine dead ones,” Bernard Donahue said.
Veterinarian Tom Heirigs got a frantic call as the cattle began dropping like flies after they came in to drink.
“When she called me I think there was three dead and by the time I got there, there was seven dead, “Heirigs said.
The water tank was clean and the Donahues say water from this well–fresh water filled up the tank just before the cattle drank from it.
“And we were probably after the fact 100 feet away from this water tank and you could smell rotten eggs or just ammonia type,” Bernard Donahue said.
Donahue frantically called over Heirigs.
“This is what the cattle are dying of Doc; come over here and look at this tank. He bent down and took a whiff of it and it just about knocked him over,” Bernard Donahue said.
Heirigs: It burned my nose bad.
Angela Kennecke: So you smelled the water and it burned your nose?
Heirigs: Yes, it definitely–almost enough to make you puke.
Heirigs: The water was definitely tainted.
Angela Kennecke: Is there any doubt in your mind that the cattle were poisoned by the water?
Heirigs: Absolutely no doubt.
Sheriff’s deputies on the scene took water samples for testing.
“They have no hard evidence is what we’ve been told–what chemical it was. That’s what’s frustrating to us. I don’t know what we’ve spent on tests but we’ve got all these fancy labs and we’ve supplied umpteen samples of water–can’t determine what’s in the water–but it smells. That’s what they can tell us,” Bernard Donahue said.
“If you put an ammonia source like that in the water, it’s going to dissolve and the ammonia source is going to disappear,” Heirigs said.
Within the hour after the vet was called 22 cows were dead, by the next day that number rose to 44, including a bull.
“I’m talking about a normal, good healthy animal looking you in the face and in 15 minutes is dead. And what was worse, is we couldn’t do anything about it,” Heirigs said.
“It hit the brain and they died, Donahue said as his eyes filled with tears. “Not good–sorry.”
“(I) couldn’t do crap. I couldn’t do anything to help him, help them; had to walk away. That hurt,” Heirigs said.
What also hurts is the fact that no one has been arrested for the crime.
Angela Kennecke: Nobody saw anything?
Klinkhammer: During the night, nobody saw nothing.
Miner County Sheriff Lanny Klinkhammer called in the Division of Criminal Investigation.
“The DCI has been involved. They’ve also interviewed some individuals There’s nothing that has come of that as of yet. But they’re not giving up,” Sheriff Klinkhammer said.
There are a few other clues to go on.
Bernard Donahue: “Mysterious run two steel fence posts into our combine that were pounded into the corn field. We think that all happened the same night.
Angela Kennecke: So is somebody out to get you?
Bernard Donahue: Ummmm. I don’t know.
Somebody could also be out to get the Donahue’s landlord. The owners of the pasture received a threatening anonymous letter that’s been turned over as evidence in the case.
“You two are the most hated two in the area…I know karma comes around…. I hope you get what you deserve.”
But so far authorities don’t know who’s behind these cryptic words.
Angela Kennecke: But not any real good true leads?
Klinkhammer: No, not right now. We were hoping maybe this would generate some leads and we can go from there.
The cattle killer has the Donahues on pins and needles. They’re out nearly $100,000 and have now spent several thousand more to insure their remaining herd.
“Yeah I’ve lost some cattle and I’ve lost some money but whoever did it will do it again to somebody,” Bernard Donahue said.
Brenda Donahue: Yep you can suspect, you know this person doesn’t like you because people have told you that–or you know this person doesn’t like you. But there’s not any evidence to get a search warrant.
Angela Kennecke: Untraceable?
Brenda Donahue: Yes, yes.
Despite the dead ends the sheriff is confident the cattle killer will be caught.
“This will come out eventually. It just may take some time. It might be a week from now or two years from now, but this is too big of a case not to come out,” Sheriff Klinkhammer said.
The Donahues are offering a $5,000 reward for information in the case that leads to an arrest.
If you have any information or leads, call the Miner County Sheriff’s office (605) 772-4501.