Another night in south London, another beloved family pet butchered.
Boudicca Rising, co-founder of South Norwood Animal Rescue & Liberation (SNARL), gets into the car with her partner, Tony Jenkins, and puts another address into the SatNav. The couple don't know the owner of the recently deceased cat, but they know the horror that awaits when they arrive.
"Typically the cats are being found either beheaded or with the tail removed, or a combination of both. Occasionally, there are eviscerations, paws removed and, in some cases, cats cut in half," says Boudicca. "The attacks are happening somewhere else, as the blood is usually drained from the animal before it is then left on the owner's doorstep. Displaying the bodies outside the owner's address, we think, is a big part of the thrill for them."
Worryingly, the killer now appears to be attacking more regularly. "In the last two weeks alone we've had another 12 cases come in," says Boudicca. "Most are recent kills, but also historic cases where people have seen the coverage and revealed this happened to their cats too."
The story of the "Croydon Cat Killer" – or, more accurately, the "London Cat Killer", as identical cases continue to crop up in other boroughs – has now been splashed across TV and the tabloids for months. Reports of mutilated cats being found in their owners' gardens and driveways began to appear in October of last year, but police are no closer to catching the perpetrator.
Officers were initially slow to react to the murders – the early crimes usually being logged only as "criminal damage" – but the focus shifted when SNARL managed to get an audience with police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe at an open forum event in Croydon. Under the weight of a petition with some 40,000 signatures, the police started taking the attacks seriously. PETA have also offered a £5,000 reward for information via Twitter, which has been retweeted by the likes of Dermot O'Leary, Caroline Flack and Martin Clunes. SNARL are desperate for cat owners to keep their pets indoors overnight, even if they aren't in the immediate vicinity of the crimes.
As a cat owner who lives in the area, I've heard rumours that the deaths could be the work of a gang-style initiation or, rather more outlandishly, a budding terror cell. Boudicca, who's been collecting the bodies of the murdered cats for professional forensic examination, insists it is the work of one person. "Based upon the dozen or so post-mortems we have carried out, the forensics suggest it is one individual," she explains. "In terms of the way they are cutting them, the vet is suggesting the perpetrator is getting better at it."
Speculation is mounting that the attacker is a cab driver – or someone who travels for their job – as bodies with identical wounds have appeared in Edgware and Tottenham Hale, but clues are very limited. In a bid to prevent copycat killings, Boudicca won't reveal the killer's typical trademarks, other than the basic outline of the mutilations. "If the killer doesn't live in this area, we assume they have done in the past. They know this area well," she says.
Another grim facet of the case, says Boudicca, is that the killer appears to enjoy watching the victim find their own murdered animal. "We knew they liked to leave the cats at the owner's doorstep – although they have got it wrong in many cases, which would suggest they have time enough to watch the cats leave a specific address."
In another case, the killer may even have returned to move the body a second time. "We received a call from a lady in Thornton Heath who had found a tail and a leg of a cat," says Boudicca. "We asked her to take photos and to cover the scene to stop it being tampered with or children finding it. She did this, placing a green recycling tub over the body parts, and bin bags around it. When we arrived the parts were gone. They had definitely been there as the lady had a photo. There is no way an animal had taken them and put the bin and bags back exactly in the same place."
Alongside sensational tabloid stories and the rising body count, SNARL – essentially just Boudicca, Tony and a handful of other part-time volunteers – are doing the hard yards in trying to catch the Croydon Cat Killer alongside working their own 9 to 5 jobs and caring for the animals in their rescue centre.
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Late-night call-outs and the endless horror of mutilated animals and distraught owners are just some of what they've faced in their quest to find the killer. The other problem has been getting people to listen in the first place. The murders were first highlighted when a Facebook report from another south London animal charity – the Riverside Animal Centre in Beddington – warned that animals were being dismembered. SNARL then warned their own local area, before beginning their own research. Tony says, "We shared it on Facebook and then we had people contacting us from all over the place. We then found out about the first murder in Addiscombe – a cat was eviscerated and left on a door step."
The RSPCA had been contacted several times about different attacks, but either blamed foxes – "The cuts are far too clinical and the forensics show it's the work of a bladed weapon," says Boudicca – or said they were unable to carry out their own investigations without an actual suspect being named.
The search changed pace when Amber, an eight-year-old tortoiseshell cat, was found, beheaded, by his owner Wayne Bryant in Shirley. Amber's body was then taken to a vet, who confirmed it was the work of a knife, possibly a machete. A GoFundMe then quickly raised £5,000 to pay for more of the bodies to autopsied to prove the killings were linked. But even that wasn't easy. "The police initially said even if we had tests done privately at our own expense the police couldn't accept the results as part of an investigation," says Tony. "The reasoning was that, if a case went to court, an independent report wouldn't hold up as evidence."
But now, under the weight of further attacks, police have agreed to accept results from a mutually agreeable forensic analyst. The RSPCA has also finally agreed to start their own post-mortems. The big fear for them and residents is that the killer could soon switch to humans, with animal torture being a graduating step for many serial killers.
Former FBI profiler and author of Dangerous Personalities, Joe Navarro, says, "Animal torture is usually associated with psychopathy – a person lacking remorse or a conscience – and in this case this is very likely. This killer derives pleasure from both the act of killing and the pain and suffering he causes others upon their discovery of his mayhem. As to whether he will kill humans, that cannot be determined from these mutilations alone, but we can be sure this individual's severely flawed character has all the hallmarks of psychopathy."
With more reported cases every night, Boudicca and Tony are now left answering daily calls from stricken owners. The only way to end the horror, they say, is to help police catch the killer.
"People are very reluctant to ring 999 when they see something strange, specifically when it's involving a cat, not a human being," says Boudicca. "But the police want your calls and they are keen to catch this person. If you see anyone behaving strangely, enticing a cat with food or carrying a cat towards a car without a carrier, please do call the police."
To donate, find more information or to offer to become a volunteer for SNARL visit their Facebook page.
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