In Depth

Croydon cat killer finally unmasked

The Week charts how the three-year investigation unfolded and who the perpetrator is

A three-year police investigation into the so-called “Croydon cat killer”, believed to be behind the mutilation of hundreds of animals, has concluded the most likely culprit comes from the animal kingdom.

Police yesterday revealed the majority of the cats suspected to be killed by the “serial killer” were hit by cars before having their heads or tails removed by scavenging foxes.

Some, though, have refused to accept the findings, maintaining the real perpetrator is still at large.

What is the history of the Croydon cat killer?

In December 2015, the Metropolitan Police launched an investigation under the name Operation Takahe, led by Detective Andy Collin, after South Norwood Animal Rescue and Liberty (Snarl) raised concerns about a series of dead cats found without heads and tails.

By February 2016, the deaths of ten cats (four in Croydon and one each in Streatham, Mitcham Common, Sutton, Charlton, Peckham and Finchley) had been linked by an examining vet, according to a report in The Independent.

Snarl believed that the killings dated back as far as 2010, with the London Evening Standard reporting that the Croydon-based rescue centre had been approached by families about deadly attacks on pets up to three years before they began investigating.

As more decapitated cats began appearing outside the town, the killer became known as the M25 Cat Killer and then, as the attacks spread further, the UK Cat Killer.

Who did people believe a person was behind the attacks?

Snarl has long claimed a single person was behind the deaths of hundreds of cats, as well as foxes and rabbits. Mutilated animal corpses have been found in locations as far afield as Manchester, Brighton and the Isle of Wight.

“The majority of them are decapitations of heads, tails and paws - a few of them have been cut in half,” Snarl’s founder Tony Jenkins told the BBC.

“Typically, there is no blood on the scene, so they are either killed somewhere else and then brought to the scene, or they are killed quickly with blunt force trauma and mutilated afterwards, which we have seen in many cases” he added.

At one point during the three-year investigation a £10,000 reward was offered for information leading to the conviction of those responsible for mutilations in Greater London, Surrey, Kent, Manchester, Birmingham, St Albans and Northamptonshire.

In August last year, police released a description of an individual they believe to be behind the killings. According to witnesses, the suspect is “a white man in his 40s with short brown hair, dressed in dark clothing, possibly with acne scarring to his face. It also says he may be wearing a headlamp or carrying a torch,” reported The Guardian.

What supposedly drove them?

Detective Collin told the BBC: “Cats are targeted because they are associated with the feminine. The killer can’t deal with a woman or women who are troubling him.”

Vince Egan, associate professor of forensic psychology at Nottingham University, told The Independent: “In some individuals, we have seen animal cruelty as part of a broader pattern in which humans are also harmed. It is far more likely that this reflects a rather more banal pattern of anti-social behaviour, such as drunkenness or something that doesn’t go further. But when we have so little to go on, you have to keep your mind open.”

Were multiple people suspected?

In June Vice TV released a documentary, To Catch a Cat Killer, that followed the investigation by Jenkins and his partner Boudicca Rising, working alongside the police.

The Vice team spoke to veterinarian Dean Lewis, who believed that more than one person was responsible for the dead cats.

He said in the documentary: “All the animals have died of blunt force trauma. Most of the animals have been decapitated and most of them have had amputations”.

“However, the nature of how they have been carried out has fluctuated wildly. With the tail amputations, some of it has been done very skilfully. Others been crushed and cut quite crudely. I do not believe you can attribute every single cat that has been presented to me and all the other vets to one person” he added.

Why do police now suspect foxes?

Despite wild speculation, police said they have found no evidence of human involvement in the mutilations.

The Met said: “No evidence of human involvement was found in any of the reported cases. 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.”

Scavenging animals like foxes were most likely the culprit, the police said, adding: “Officers also took note of expert opinion – including a recent, widely reported New Scientist article – which highlights how wildlife is known to scavenge on roadkill, often removing the heads and tails of dead animals.”

Forensic tests and postmortem examinations were carried out on several carcasses and CCTV footage was even obtained “showing foxes carrying dismembered pets and dropping them in the locations in which they were later discovered” reports The Independent.

The police also added that “such apparent spates of cat mutilations are not unknown in the UK and elsewhere” and said that officers had been made aware of a spate of reported mutilations over 20 years ago which were eventually attributed to predation by wildlife.

All of the cases will now be recorded as “no crime”.

However, Snarl is not buying the Met’s conclusions, releasing a statement on its Facebook page saying it remained convinced human killers were to blame for the pet deaths.

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