How to Murder a Prize-Winning Dog and Get Away with It
Just pick a really famous dog who's recently competed in Britain's annual Crufts dog show. Hey, it worked last year.
Illustration by Ella Strickland de Souza
In March 2015, Crufts went from being the world's biggest annual dog show to one of the last places where a prize-winning dog was seen alive. The case has gone cold and remains unsolved.
"It was hysterical," Beverly Cuddy, editor of Dogs Today magazine, tells VICE as she recalls the media circus surrounding Irish Setter Jagger's death. "It all kicked off when [journalist and established Crufts presenter] Clare Balding read out a tweet live on Crufts coverage. When Clare says something, everyone assumes it is true, and when she read something suggesting Jagger had been poisoned at the show, it just went round the world. Don't let any facts get in the way; it was front-page news regardless."
To call it front-page news (beyond The Sun) is a push, but the story gained traction in major news outlets around the country. On the evening of Friday 6th March – less than 36 hours after leaving the world-famous dog show – Jagger was dead in the vet's office in his small Belgian hometown of Lauw. An autopsy conducted on 7th March, the Monday after the dog show ended, revealed small, undigested cubes of beef stuffed with poison inside his stomach.
Though there was little doubt that Jagger had died under suspicious circumstances, his Belgian co-owner Aleksandra Lauwers initially believed the Irish Setter was poisoned at the event itself.
"I am convinced it happened at the dog show. There wasn't any other opportunity," Aleksandra said, speaking to The Telegraph last year. "It looked like an act of jealousy." Aleksandra thought Jagger may have been slipped the fatal dosage at the show, held at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre. When tissue samples from the body were transported to Ghent University's toxicology department, they were found to contain heavy traces of carbofuran and aldicarb: banned EU pesticides with fast-acting and severe symptoms including abdominal cramps, excessive salivation, imbalance, blurred vision and difficulty breathing.
Things escalated. In the days after Jagger's death, a West Highland white terrier, an Afghan hound and a Shih Tzu were listed amongst other alleged victims. It was the type of tabloid-tailored fodder designed for Sunday newspaper supplements. But speaking to event coordinators the Kennel Club, all the other cases turned out to be rumour and misinformation. And after a wide appeal for witnesses, evidence and for the alleged victims to come forward, the Kennel Club's investigation was eventually dropped due to "no access to direct information".
"There was absolutely no evidence that there was any poisoning," says Caroline Kisko, Kennel Club spokesperson. "We went back over past rumours and reports and checked those out as well. If anybody had thought that their dogs had been poisoned at Crufts, then none of that has ever been borne out." The police also let the whole thing go, with West Midlands Police spokesperson Lee Page saying: "There was no investigation and no report to us of any dogs being taken ill. We were aware of the allegation but weren't approached by anyone, so it never went anywhere and it was never a formal investigation."
A week after Jagger's death and with the help of the police, Crufts and the Kennel Club issued a statement, based on timeline of Jagger's movements and information from the toxicology report.
"We must conclude that it is inconceivable that he could have been poisoned at Crufts on Thursday 5 March, some 28 to 36 hours earlier," the statement read. "Furthermore, the poison is thought to have been given on a piece of beef that was still largely undigested when the autopsy was performed on Saturday 7th March morning, and food is usually absorbed in dogs within six hours."
But the dog is still dead.
And none of the information in the report helps point toward a motive or murderer. "There are still conspiracy theorists," Beverly says over the phone, her voice tailing off. "Over a number of years there have been... incidents.
"You can easily find the Doberman that made the news," she continues. "The dog was in some way poisoned or doped. The problem was that [the owners] reported it but a couple of days later they stopped answering the phone and wouldn't come outside to talk to the media. There's quite a bit of pressure not to whistleblow in this environment because it makes everyone else look bad. With these incidents, it may be a personal rivalry, it may be somebody who's just lost the plot."
And weirdly, the only lead may point back towards Belgium, at a cat-killer operating in the neighbourhood where Jagger was found dead. Speaking to The Times in March 2015, local Lauw resident Els van Marsenille said three of her cats had been killed since January, with her "terrified neighbours" losing two. And according to local vet Patrick Jans, all bodies showed "symptoms suggestive of intoxication".
But among the allegations, abandoned investigations and guesswork, only one thing's certain: someone with Croydon cat-killer skills is getting along with their life, undetected, after deciding to kill a dog. And with Crufts 2016 underway as of Thursday, Kennel Club spokesperson Caroline says that the show has now doubled its security measures to include "increased patrols by stewards, as well as CCTV, to further protect the dogs at the show".
We'll see how that goes. Jagger's UK-based owners, Dee Milligan-Bott and Jeremy Bott, declined to speak to us for the piece. They were getting ready for the show, with another dog.
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