Even though police have stopped hunting the Croydon Cat Killer, blaming foxes for the multiple feline mutilations across south London over the past few years, work is just as grim as it ever was for pet detectives Boudicca Rising and Tony Jenkins. "I've got a call about a skinned dog in Portsmouth," says Boudicca at one point, breaking off our chat to detail some new misery.
Over the past three years, Boudicca and Tony – founders of South Norwood Animal Rescue and Liberation (SNARL) – have gathered almost 2,000 dead pets, sometimes working 12 hours a day. Tony, driving his battered Ford Focus, and Boudicca clattering around the undergrowth in high heels and gloves with armfuls of plastic bags to gather evidence. Some pets transpire to have been hit by cars, others cut to pieces by blade or tooth.
There is no doubt that, since around 2015, hundreds of pet cats and even rabbits in the south east have had their heads and tails removed and left displayed, often in a perfect triangle, on their owners' property. VICE made a own documentary about it, and within six months even the New York Times and Vanity Fair had covered the case. But last month the Met dropped their investigation, blaming foxes. A spokesperson said, "There were no witnesses, no identifiable patterns and no forensic leads that pointed to human involvement. Witness statements were taken, but no suspect was identified."
WATCH: To Catch a Cat Killer
At its 2017 peak, the Met Police had 15 officers working to investigate how cats were being lured with food, clubbed with a blunt instrument and dismembered. Detective Sergeant Andy Collin even suggested the killer might move on to vulnerable lone women next. There was even a bizarre belief a maniac was trawling around for already dead animals and mutilating them.
In July, Stephen Harris, a retired science professor who had studied fox behaviour for 50 years, wrote in the New Scientist that the cat deaths were consistent with cats being hit by cars and then having the head or tail removed by scavenging foxes. Harris highlighted a similar cat killer scare in the 1990s in London, which was also investigated. Harris stated, "We have known for decades that foxes chew the head or tail off carcasses, including dead cats."
Residents reported CCTV footage of foxes dumping headless cat carcasses in gardens, but SNARL counter that they have seen similar CCTV evidence of human involvement and – unlike Harris – have actually studied the recent body finds. A study five years ago by the Royal Veterinary College showed that, while fox attacks were possible, the real instances of foxes savaging a healthy, mobile cat were minimal.
So: what's the truth here? Foxes catch wild rabbits, so could they conceivably catch a docile or elderly domestic cat? And if so, how can the precision, blade-like cuts be explained?
Boudicca has several answers.
VICE: The police and other experts now blame foxes for the spate of cat killings around Croydon. What do you think?
Boudicca Rising: We've seen over 2,000 bodies of cats and rabbits. Of these, we have discounted a lot as road accidents or where foxes have nibbled at a carcass, making it difficult to tell, but we think around 500 are linked. Foxes go for guts, where all the nutrition is. If they wanted meat, why would they just eat the head or tail or paws? In around 8 percent of cases, the killer has returned the collar or parts of the animal a short while later. After the police statement blaming foxes, the RSPCA have since said that while there were fox bite marks on the carcasses, this might have happened after the animal was already dead and that the murders were human-related.
Can you describe some of the cases where you have been certain that the killer was human?
In most instances, the killer removes the head, tail and front paws, very specifically. He also shaves parts of the animal's flank. A lady in Watford had her rabbit killed in this way; its head was cut clean off. The examining vet was adamant it was a human killer. Six months later, the rabbit's head reappeared – upright and pristine – positioned in the middle of the lawn. Completely preserved, as if it had been frozen and then returned there.
In another killing, the liver had been left on a stone next to the body. The owner had all these animal statues and the head of one had been hacked off and positioned next to the crime scene. She covered all the evidence with heavy pots and called the police. Before they came, the liver had been removed from under one of the pots and the missing collar had been put back in its place.
The police looked at the body and said, "Yes, this a linked 'cat killer' case."
At North Cheam we had an incident where a cat was killed and the tail was removed, and later found – preserved and pristine – carefully curled up in a neighbour's plant pot. In West Wickham, a cat had its head, front paws and tail removed. Some months later, the cat's collar had been returned and placed on a wall a few doors down. If we hadn't seen the similar cases then you might think, 'Oh, a child or animal could have left it there,' but this is too consistent.
Do you have a definite suspect?
I estimate we have forwarded around 37 names given to us to the police, who have ruled them out. Eight, we still suspect. These people have a previous history of harming animals in a particular way. They also do jobs where they are moving about. We can't rule out joint enterprise – that we actually have a group of human killers.
In Caterham, a suspect was identified after there were five killings within a three road area. One lady had two cats taken, and heads, tails and front paws were all removed. We started doing patrols, and the next night we saw someone hanging about, looking under cars. We challenged them and they ran. Police were called with dogs, but Caterham has a lot of alleys and side streets and they got away.
What did he look like?
He was a white male in his forties, chunky build, brown hair, dark clothes, pock-marked skin and stubble. The next day, a guy of that description was seen crawling around and looking under cars.
Do the killings have any patterns we can reveal?
We have never had two attacks on the same day in different parts of the country. It's nearly always southern England, particularly around Croydon. We believe he also holidays on the Sussex coast and has family or work in the Wirral and Sheffield. A lot of Bank Holiday weekends, the London killings stop and move to Brighton for the period only. They will then stop in London for three to four days and move to Sheffield and the Wirral. That same thing has happened three separate times – a Sheffield killing followed immediately by a Wirral one, almost as if he is going up there for the weekend.
Where do you think he lives?
During October of 2016, there were repeated attacks in Addiscombe [in Croydon]. There was a strong belief that he lived around here, but we don't know anything. We put volunteers out, plastered leaflets all over the area and knocked on doors. We were very visible. We have had no attacks there since, except one which was just outside the area. I don't think foxes are clever enough to read. Why would they see leaflets and stop?
What are the craziest theories you’ve heard? I live in the Croydon area and have heard rumours it could be a training terror cell or a gang initiation.
We had one man get in touch with us, who, having done some research, was convinced that the killer was related to a 15th century vampire who had come back from the dead. One of the families had the same name as this vampire, and so, this guy concluded, he was coming back to vent fury at them. One particularly persistent American theorist believes it is the work of UFOs.
Does anyone ever accuse you of being the killers?
We get a lot of online comments that it's me or Tony doing it all for money. But we haven’t made any money from this – we’re all volunteers. We have both been investigated by the police, which we welcomed. After all, we are the people who know the most about this case.
The Met have effectively dropped the case now. How seriously do you think they took it all?
The police have given it their best shot, given the resources they have got. Other forces, Kent and Northampton, are still investigating. We have messages from serving police officers who get in touch with us. They come to crime scenes and ask, "What the fuck are the Met doing? This is definitely humans."
What do you do now?
Our biggest mistake was not talking enough, because we wanted to let the police do their work, not intrude on their investigation – and also we didn’t want to have copycats. But now we have proper expertise from former officers, security experts and even a forensic CCTV company who are volunteering with us. We can do a lot more to catch this killer.