POLICE have released more gruesome details in the case of a young woman believed to have been mauled to death by her dogs in a further bid to end speculation she was murdered.
Bethany Stephens, 22, was found dismembered and naked, apart from one boot, in the woods near her family’s farm in Goochland, Virginia last month.
The grisly discovery was made by Ms Stephens’ father, who went searching for her after she failed to return home from walking her pit bulls Pac-Man and Tonka on December 14.
He called police after finding his daughter’s savaged body in woodland just after 4pm. The animals were reportedly “standing guard” over her.
The horrific case sparked fears Ms Stephens, an experienced dog trainer, had fallen prey to a large predator such as a bear or coyote. Others worried a homicidal manic was on the loose, particularly after it emerged that she had received death threats just days earlier.
Investigators quickly found evidence that ruled out the possibility of involvement by a human or larger animal but many locals remain convinced she was the victim of foul play.
In the latest development, the Goochland County Sheriff’s Office has released results of necropsies (post mortem examinations for animals) on the dogs, announcing human hair had been found in the dogs’ faeces.
The hair was described as “light coloured and wavy” and further tests will be carried out to establish whether or not it belonged to Ms Stephens.
The rumours got so bad that Sheriff James Agnew resorted to showing reporters photographs of Ms Stephen’s body and revealed that he had personally witnessed the animals feasting on their owner’s remains.
“Let me cut right to the chase — the most important detail that we did not release because we were worried about the wellbeing of the family is that in the course of trying to capture the dogs, we turned and looked … I observed, as well as four other deputy sheriffs, the dogs eating the rib cage on the body,” he said at a December 19 press conference.
Ms Stephens was found with her right breast missing and her arms had been stripped of skin. A large portion of the centre of her face had been eaten and she was completely naked except for one boot. The other shoe was found nearby.
Ms Stephens’ employer Tori Trent, who had known both dogs since they were pups, refuses to believe they were responsible for the young woman’s death.
Friends told local media that the animals were from the same litter and that Ms Stephens adopted Tonka at eight weeks old and later took in Pac-Man from a home that was abusive.
“They were both very passive dogs,” Ms Trent told WTVR.
Ms Trent has started a hashtag campaign called #justiceforbethany on Facebook and accused police of failing to consider possibilities outside the dog mauling theory.
“We demand a true investigation on what happen!! (sic)” she wrote on Facebook last week.
“These dogs did not do this especially in the manner it was explained and as 1 of the top K9 behavior experts you could ever meet — I want to speak to any news stations and all investigating parties involved by speaking on and explaining K9 behavior (sic).
“After speaking to a witness whom actually found the body and reading every article published about the event, things do not add up due to k9 behavior and instinct. Not to mention, I have personally known these dogs since the day they were born and Bethany herself was employed by me in the K9 field for some time (sic).
“I could extremely help this investigation simply speaking on K9 behavior, knowing these dogs, and knowing Bethany! So much exaggeration and lies — that I can prove!! There is more to this case, including a possible threat to Bethany’s life only days before! We demand further investigation and speaking to someone who actually knows K9 behavior — not just dog owners.
“My head behavior expert Mark and I will stand side by side through it all until justice is served. As well as hundreds of people who have contacted me asking me to speak out will support my expertise and at this point I have no choice not to speak out. Between Mark and I we have received nearly 400 calls and texts demanding help!!! The more time goes on evidence is disappearing! (sic)”
Sheriff Agnew confirmed that police were aware of a person considered to be a threat to Ms Stephens but ruled out his involvement after concluding there was no foul play.
CAT scans and X-rays of Ms Stephens’ body showed no broken bones or signs of strangulation. It was also determined she had not been sexually assaulted. Her mobile phone was found in half with bite marks on it.
“We had a number of witnesses come forward and we were able to put a time frame together and people’s movements together and they don’t fit with that particular narrative,” Sheriff Agnew said of the speculation the victim was murdered.
“Having said that, we are still following up on those; we are still doing forensic tests.”
Animal lovers and so-called dog experts have been quick to claim that it is highly unusual for dogs — even breeds such as pit bulls which are considered dangerous — to turn on their owners for no reason.
But investigators were able to establish that in the last few weeks of her life, Ms Stephens had taken the dogs to stay at her father’s farm so she could deal with some “personal issues”.
As a result, they went from being “inside dogs” adored and doted on by Ms Stephens, to living outside in a kennel in cold weather and not being fed on a daily basis.
“They were a little bit neglected towards the end of this,” Goochland Police Sergeant Mike Blackwood told WTVR.
“(Ms Stephens’ father) wasn’t taking care of them. It wasn’t his responsibility.”
Originally published as Rumours rife over mauled woman