Piles of dead sheep and goats have been dumped in a rural area of Carroll County four times in the past six weeks, prompting an investigation that includes police, road crews, agricultural and animal agencies.
About 35 animals have been removed from the Marston area in southwest Carroll near the Frederick County line, said Jay R. Nave, administrative supervisor of the county Bureau of Roads Operations.
About evenly divided between sheep and goats, many were so decomposed that it was difficult to determine the numbers, much less a cause of death.
The carcasses have been found along three county roads - in the 3000 block of Sams Creek Road and on Jordans Retreat Road and Wilt Road - with as many as 15 in a pile, he said.
The first were found the last week of last month when officials investigated a report of foul odor. The most recent pile was found Monday, Nave said.
County roads crews used backhoes and buried the animals at the county landfill.
Dr. David L. Booth, a field veterinarian for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, was called in after the last animals were buried. He said the state animal health laboratory is ready to perform necropsies if other animals are found. He also is working with federal veterinarians on one clue to try to trace the animals' origins.
Larry L. Leitch, director of the county Health Department, said the dead animals pose no health hazard for people passing by on the road. But no one should handle any dead animal without gloves.
Nave said the animals could have been from anywhere, but he and others said they believe somebody nearby dumped the animals.
"It's somebody who lives in the area," agreed Nicky Ratliff, longtime executive director of Humane Society of Carroll County Inc., which is handling the case with state police.
The offense centers on littering - albeit unusual, said Lt. Terry L. Katz, barracks commander.
"It's a fairly tedious process," he said, speculating that the owner didn't want to haul or pay to dispose of the animal at the landfill.
"So you might just decide to dump them along a secluded roadway," he said. "Where this has occurred is certainly in the back roads. The probability is that this is someone who is not transporting a great distance."
Ratliff said the Humane Society is working on the case because of the unusual number of animals. She stressed that no indication of satanic activity has been found.