Warning: This post details a gruesome death. Reader discretion is advised.
Bethany Stephens was found dead in the woods near her family’s farm in Goochland, Virginia last month.
The sight police officers were met with on the evening of December 14 was horrific. The 22-year-old’s body was naked apart from one boot, her right breast had been ripped from her chest, her arms stripped of skin and a large part of the centre of her face was missing.
Investigators were left to determine what caused such a gruesome scene. Was this the result of a bear or coyote attack, or a deranged killer?
However, police say although they will continue forensic research to confirm, they know what killed the young woman: her pet dogs.
The evidence suggests a dog mauling, local authorities say. For starters, Bethany had been walking her pet pit bulls Pac-Man and Tonka that day and when her father found her, the dogs were "standing guard" over her.
Yet, even as more details are released, many people are standing firm that it couldn't have been the dogs who killed her.
The alternate theories.
Bethany worked as a dog trainer and had adopted Tonka at eight weeks old and later his brother Pac-Man from a home that had been abusive.
The woman's employer Tori Trent refuses to believe the dogs, who were shortly after put down, could have been guilty and wants police to further investigate other possible causes of death.
In a Facebook post, Tori, who described herself as a canine expert, said she did not believe the dogs killed her friend "especially in the manner it was explained".
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"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 canine behaviour 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 canine field for some time."
Tori claimed she and fellow dog behaviour expert Mark had received hundreds of calls from people offering to help. She and fellow animal lovers claim it's unusual for dogs to turn on their owners for no reason. Others also point to the fact she was found naked as reason to believe it was a person and not an animal that killed her.
Following her death, it emerged Bethany had received death threats. However, local police officer, Sheriff James Agnew, said police had ruled the person who made these threats out over any involvement with her death.
Police reasons for concluding it was the dogs.
Human hair was found in their faeces.
Determined to put an end to the speculation Bethany was murdered, Goochland County Sheriff's Office released the results of the post-mortem examination of the dogs, which included the detail that human hair had been found in the dogs' faeces.
The hair, described as "light coloured and wavy" visually matches Bethany's, through further tests will be carried out to establish a DNA match.
Police found the dogs biting at her chest.
At a December 19 press conference, Sheriff James Agnew revealed a horrific detail he had previously left out of public discussions in compassion to Bethany's family.
"Let me cut right to the chase — the most important detail that we did not release because we were worried about the well-being 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.
This hasn't convinced those who suggest the dogs may have fed on their owner after something or someone else killed her.
Her injuries didn't suggest murder.
Scans and X-rays of Bethany's body show no broken bones, nor signs or strangulation or sexual assault, but it does show "defensive wounds" consistent with an animal attack. Her phone was also found with bite marks on it.
The dogs were neglected in the final weeks of their lives.
Perhaps the most compelling argument police presented to counter claims that animals don't turn on their owners is that the dogs had been neglected in the weeks before Bethany's death.
To take time to deal with "personal issues", Bethany took her dogs to stay with her father on his farm, Goochland Police Sergeant Mike Blackwood told WTVR.
There, the dogs who had previously been doted on and largely cared for inside, were staying outside in a kennel in the cold. For these few weeks, they were also not being fed every day.
"They were a little bit neglected towards the end of this," Sergeant Blackwood said, adding that Bethany's father "wasn’t taking care of them", but it "wasn’t his responsibility".