A murder mystery for a mystery writer

More than a dozen ducks and chicks killed at West Tisbury home of Cynthia Riggs.

Cynthia Riggs was upset to find that more than a dozen animals were killed on her property Thursday. - Rich Saltzberg

Updated June 18

Mystery writer Cynthia Riggs found herself in the midst of a murder mystery at her home in West Tisbury last Thursday afternoon, after over a dozen ducks, chickens, and guinea hens were massacred by an unknown assailant. Riggs wasn’t home when the birds were killed, between noon and 3 pm, during bouts of heavy rain. A woman who rents a cottage from Riggs and tends to the birds came home and found dead birds and feather clusters all over the property, Riggs said.

“It appeared to be a dog because of the bite marks on the ducks,” West Tisbury Animal Control Officer Anthony Cordray said.

“A couple ducks had their backs broken,” he said, which, in addition to the size of the bites, shaped his belief the dog was of a larger size.

Initially no prints could be found, but over the weekend one of Rigg’s friends found a paw print in mud by a recently installed solar array on the property. Cordray said the print is consistent with a large dog, German shepherd-size or larger.

He has reviewed all the dog licenses in the neighborhood. “None of them really fit the description,” he said. This led him to wonder if it might be a visitor’s dog. After the paw print was found, he still didn’t see a probable offender in the vicinity. He said it didn’t appear to be the work of a coyote, and noted only one is known to be on-Island. Despite a scarcity of suspects, he said, the investigation remains ongoing.

Cordray characterized wholesale poultry killings like this as “pretty rare,” and said he sympathizes with Riggs because the birds were more pets than livestock.

Riggs said up until this incident, the birds lived in what she described as a “peaceable kingdom.” The have a nighttime enclosure, but they were out in the yard that afternoon, she noted.

A rooster and two Plymouth Rock hens have yet to be accounted for, she said, though their feathers were found.

Riggs hopes West Tisbury residents and visitors to the town will remember to adhere to the town’s dog bylaw. She was scheduled to go before selectmen in West Tisbury as The Times went to press on Wednesday.

In essence, Cordray said, the bylaw isn’t a leash law, however it stipulates owners must keep dogs under their control or on their property.


Not new to the greater neighborhood

A similar slaughter occurred in February, Suzan Bellencampi told The Times. Bellencampi, who is director of Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, lives relatively near to Riggs. She said in February an animal killed 11 of her chickens in the daytime in the six-hour difference between when a chicken sitter left and she returned from a trip.

“We believe it was a dog,” she said. “We found dog tracks in the coop.” The dog bit its way into the coop, she said.

Riggs lives about a mile away from Bellencampi as the crow flies.


  1. I don’t really find any humor in your headline.somebody knows e a rly who is responsible for this. They also know the dog/dogs have done it at least twice. I question why the ACO doesn’t Think it could be a neighborhood dog. I would think everybody in the area should be asked if anybody was working at their house that day. Lots of handymen, landscapers etc bring their dogs to work with them. The dog most likely had some evidence on it that it had been up to no good.

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