Someone - or something - is killing cats in the south of England.
In the last five years, over five hundred domestic cats have gone missing only to be later found dead and dismembered in various gruesome ways.
The Croydon Cat Killer, The M25 Cat Killer, The UK Animal Killer… He/she/they or it goes by many names. For the purposes of continuity, we’re going to use the term ‘UK Cat Killer’ here.
Whatever the moniker, the story behind it really is a shocking one. Not only is it shocking, it’s also capable of sparking huge disagreements, debate and fury.
What exactly is happening, no one really knows. Although there are plenty of theories. What there is very little of though, is evidence.
We’ve waded through some of the grislier details of the cases to try and make some sense of it for you. This is what we know - and what we don’t know - about The UK Cat Killer...
The details of the case
People first started talking about cats being killed back in 2014. To begin with, the rumours and gossip were confined to south London. Croydon, specifically. A spate of cat deaths was being reported. These cats hadn’t just been knocked or run over by cars, though. They’d been dismembered. Seemingly deliberately. Perhaps by a human.
The numbers increased. The locations increased. Soon, there were dead and dismembered felines turning up all across London. What was being called ‘The Croydon Cat Killer’ was now known as ‘The M25 Cat Killer’. Soon enough, dead cats were turning up outside of London.
There was increasing publicity. And panic. The police launched an official investigation called Operation Takahe. A small-scale moral panic among pet owners began to take hold in and around the capital.
Google the subject and you could be forgiven for thinking that the killings have stopped. The majority of the stories are dated 2018 and before. But delve deeper and check local news sources and you’ll find that the decapitations are still happening. They’re just not receiving as much media attention.
New Year’s Day saw a cat turn up dead and mutilated in - by all accounts - a manner consistent with other cases. The pet’s remains were found in West Reading, in Prospect Park - a public park with a dark history of its own. Six men were convicted of kidnapping, raping, torturing and killing 16-year-old schoolgirl Mary Ann Leneghan there in 2005, leaving her lifeless and battered body propped up against a sapling.
Proof, if proof be needed, that there are true crime stories everywhere you look.
What is it about us and cats?
We’ve just mentioned a truly horrific murder. Thankfully, the killers of poor Mary Ann Leneghan are still in prison as you read this.
Yet while the senseless and violent murders of schoolgirls are unpalatable to us as a society, they’re not quite as shocking and visceral as they perhaps should be. Why is that? Maybe it’s because of the amount of books and TV dramas about them. Who knows? What we do know is this - killing cats provokes an entirely different reaction...
Cats and dogs have been our best friends for centuries. The bond is real. Ruminate on the prospect of your pet dying in a violent way and it brings about a feeling akin to being punched in the stomach. This is no trifling matter.
We can handle the idea of humans killed violently. But pets?
Consider the recent Netflix documentary Don’t F*ck with Cats. The miniseries explores the fascinating case of Canadian murderer Luka Magnotta, a man famous for fleeing to Europe after killing a man and releasing a snuff film of the vile act.
Judging by social media reactions, the watching public were pretty shocked at the series. But not because of his brutal murder of Chinese student Lin Jun. Not even because short excerpts of the video were shown. Oh no. The negative reaction came from the clips taken from Magnotta’s earlier videos. Ones where he suffocates kittens in plastic bags and feeds them to pythons.
We can handle the idea of humans killed violently. But pets? Specifically cats? That’s a different story.
So who - or what - is ‘The UK Cat Killer’?
Involved in collecting information and evidence and assisting from the start have been South Norwood Animal Rescue and Liberty (SNARL). A small group of dedicated animal welfare activists, SNARL are headed up by a man called Tony Jenkins. Tony and the rest of SNARL are convinced that the killings are the work of a single solitary psychopath.
Jenkins claims that the locations and timings are the work of a solo killer and cited several bizarre incidents that suggest that the deaths are the work of just one twisted individual.
Not everyone agrees with Tony and SNARL, however. The RSPCA, for instance. Initially siding with SNARL’s point of view, the animal charity has since gone on record to say that they do not believe that the deaths are criminal. They, along with the Met Police and the National Crime Agency, all now agree that they believe that a combination of vehicles and foxes are responsible.
Some cat deaths - those that seem to be the result of blunt force trauma seem likely to be due to cars or vans. Others appear consistent with the way a fox might attack an animal. But there are some dead cats which can’t be explained by either car or fox.
Decapitated heads left on penalty spots in garden football pitches and cat statues with their heads removed in the garden of someone who's moggy had gone missing…
‘That wasn’t a f*cking fox that did those,’ Jenkins told the Guardian in an interview in 2018.
The Met closed Operation Takahe in 2018 after a three year-long investigation saw 25 examinations of dead cats. It was their opinion that there was ‘no evidence of human involvement’. Instead, they determined that the deaths were ‘likely to be the result of predation or scavenging by wildlife on cats killed in vehicle collisions’.
Commander Amanda Pearson said that every report had to be investigated, which - in turn - led to what she called 'an increased workload for officers working on the case'.
‘The decision was made to allocate a large number of similar reports of mutilated cats to the officers who were investigating the initial spate of such allegations,’ Pearson said. ‘In particular, they were following up six suspicious cases identified by the post-mortem examinations. It is this collating of reports that enabled officers to work with experts and reach the conclusion that no further police investigation.’
According to the police, The UK Cat Killer simply doesn’t exist. At least not in single human form, anyway.
Many following the case take the police at their word. While others have poured scorn on the decision to close the case, suggesting that it’s merely indicative of laziness and poor police work. The mention of ‘an increased workload’ made some tracking the story write off the Met’s decision as financially dictated.
What’s really going on…?
Who knows? In December of last year, Sussex Police charged security guard Steven Bouquet with sixteen counts of criminal damage after determinging that he had killed nine cats and seriously injured seven others between October 2018 and June 2019. So these kinds of things do happen. People do randomly and gruesomely slaughter animals. Cats, even.
But to this extent? 500 and counting dead cats? It’s possible. But it’s understandable why people are cynical about it.
So, then. Fact of fiction? Felon or fox...? Well, we can say almost for certain that this isn’t fiction. Animals are dying. The facts, however? They’re in short supply.
We don’t know if the Metropolitan Police are right. We don’t know if SNARL are right. The truth, as it so often is, is probably a muddied version of all of the theories put forward.
It seems unlikely that a solitary cat serial killer is responsible for over 500 cat deaths. Some of these cats will have been hit by cars, some will have been attacked by foxes. Some will have been killed by a human.
Whoever - or whatever - is behind it all, our thoughts are with the owners of any cats that have been killed.
If you’re concerned about the safety of your cats, do yourself and them a favour... Keep them in at night.