When Prince George's County animal control officers and police searched an old farmhouse in College Park last week, they found 29 cats' heads floating in a tub outdoors, at least 25 cat skins draped over chairs and stapled onto walls inside, and a vest apparently fashioned from the pelt of a tabby cat, the officials said.
Six persons were arrested and charged with cruelty to animals after the search of the property at 7600 Mowatt La.
During the search last Thursday, officers saw paintings inside the house that depicted "satanic" scenes of devils and fires, said an animal warden who helped in the search.
The wardens confiscated 11 rabbits, three cats and three dogs that were apparently healthy and cared for, officers said.
They said they found three small animal traps near the house that may have been used to capture cats.
"Never, in 16 years as a warden, have I seen anything like it," said county animal warden Mickey Shaul.
The six arrested the day of the search, including two former University of Maryland students and two students currently registered at the university, were also charged with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, county police said.
But police declined to discuss possible satanic aspects of the case.
"We're not going to speculate on that," said county police spokesman Bruce Gentile.
"The animal control officers apparently saw some things that struck them as satanic, but we're not getting into it -- it's not illegal anyway."
Animal wardens first visited the house last Wednesday after receiving an anonymous complaint that cats' heads were hanging in the towering shade trees surrounding the isolated house, Shaul said.
The wardens found "a mummified cat's head" in the barn behind the house, she said.
The head was examined by a veterinarian, who concluded that it had been cleanly cut, then set on fire.
With that information, the county animal control center requested and received search warrants for the house and surrounding property.
The wardens, accompanied by county police, returned to the house Thursday. In a field behind the house, they found the tub filled with "a foul-smelling liquid" and the heads of 29 cats and kittens, Shaul said.
The skins of about 25 cats, some with legs and tails attached, were found tacked to walls and lying on furniture, she said. In the freezer, she said, was a dead white rabbit.
One small trap was found beside the house and two others near an old crumbling foundation in the back yard, Shaul said.
Charged with one count each of cruelty to animals and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute are Mark Richard Bennett, 23, of 7600 Mowatt La.; James E. Burk, 25, of Box 191, Port Republic, Md.; Paul R. Clark, 23, of 4209 Knox Rd., College Park; Lauren M. McEleny, 21, of 7600 Mowatt La.; Tanya M. Skinto, 20, of 807 W. Edmonston Dr., Rockville, and Louis M. Belle, 25, of 7600 Mowatt La.
University of Maryland officials said Clark and McEleny are registered as students at the university, while Bennett was last registered in December 1984, and Belle in the spring of 1984.
Belle was released after posting a $2,500 bond; the others were released on personal recognizance.
Some of the suspects said they had gotten the cats, already dead, from the university's zoology department, Gentile said. Dr. John Corliss, chairman of the department, said yesterday that "it is possible" a box of carcasses used for dissection in anatomy classes, then discarded, could have fallen into other hands.
None of the six students was registered in a zoology class.
Asked if the neighborhood near Mowatt Lane was known as a haven for stray cats, Shaul replied, "Not anymore."