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FELINE SKULL RULED OUT AS CLUE TO HOLMESIAN MYSTERY

A fanged skull, touted as a clue to Britain's "Beast of Bodmin Moor" serial animal killings, was eliminated Monday from a mystery-chiller with overtones of Sherlock Holmes.

The skull belonged to a leopard, London Zoo said, but had probably been planted on a remote southwest England moor by hoaxers."There are several features regarding this skull which are not consistent with the specimen having arrived in the area of its discovery by natural means," the zoo said in a statement.

The remains of an egg case of a large tropical cockroach were inside the skull, it added - which indicated that the leopard had died in a tropical region. Fine cut marks made by a knife were also found on its surface.

Experts at London's Natural History Museum identified the skull as belonging to a member of a species of black leopard usually found in India.

Now, the search goes on for the fabled Beast - a late rival in media attention to Scotland's "Loch Ness Monster" mystery.

Bodmin Moor has been the scene of reported sightings of predatory, panther-seeming marauders and the deaths of scores of sheep and newborn calves over a decade.

Local farmers insist the Beast exists, despite an official investigation that decided the culprit, sighted in blurred photos and videos, was probably just a large domestic cat.

The puzzle has overtones of detective writer Arthur Conan Doyle's often-filmed Sherlock Holmes story "The Hound of the Baskervilles."

Holmes solves the mystery of a supernatural hound threatening the life of a baronet on nearby, mist-shrouded Dartmoor by proving that it was all too natural.

Bodmin has the same creepy atmosphere but no firm answers as mutilated animal carcasses turn up regularly on remote moorland and lonely, rural communities feel virtually under siege.

A government investigation concluded that there was no hard evidence that large feral felines lurked on the moor. It said sheep purportedly savaged by the "Beast of Bodmin" had probably been killed by dogs.