By Dan Masoliver
11 Jan 2017
Reports have emerged that the ‘Croydon cat killer’ has struck again, with the discovery of a skinned cat in Hackney, East London. It is the second mutilated animal to be found in the borough in the last three weeks. With the list of deaths now believed to number more than 100, the killer, or killers, is still on the loose.
The following article was originally published on 1 June 2016.
“Got another callout for this evening,” reads the text message. “You might find it very interesting, can you get here in twenty minutes?”
The words are cryptic, but their meaning is clear: the pet detectives have discovered another body.
On a quiet residential road in Upton Park, East London, the hustle and bustle of the street food sellers and market traders of nearby Green Street fade to a barely audible background hum, little more than white noise.
The location itself is unremarkable - all gentrification-ready terraced housing and mid-sized family cars - but mere hours ago, this is where the body was found of the most recent in an ongoing series of gruesome and violent murders.
The official death toll stands at 28, though some believe it could actually be upwards of 150. The links between the cases were only confirmed towards the end of 2015, but investigators suspect the perpetrator has been torturing and mutilating victims across the South East of England for at least two years, if not longer.
The front door swings open and a middle-aged woman in smart business attire ushers me inside with a warm smile. Boudicca Rising is the sender of this morning’s text message and, along with her partner Tony, she is one half of South Norwood Animal Rescue & Liberty, or SNARL. Together, they have found themselves torn from the comfort of their day-to-day lives and thrust right into the heart of the hunt for a sinister and notorious serial killer.
Boudicca signals up towards the top of the stairs. Inside the first floor flat she wipes a hand on the lap of her skirt, coating herself in the talcum powder used to line the latex gloves she wore while handling the corpse. In her other hand she clutches a clear blue plastic bag, not unlike that which you might use to transport your sandwiches to the office. Within it, however, is not her lunch but the stiff little body of a recently deceased owl, no bigger than the hand she uses to hold it in.
In this built-up corner of the capital, the bird would be an unusual sight at the best of times. Today it is made all the more shocking by the fact that this particular owl has been beheaded.
The person behind this unfortunate creature’s demise goes by many names - most of them misleading. You may have seen him described in the press as the Croydon Cat Killer or the Cat Ripper of Croydon, owing to the fact that the bodies of his decapitated, mutilated and/or eviscerated victims were originally thought be exclusively feline, and limited to the South London borough.
More recently, as the horizons of the murderer’s malignant influence have broadened, so too have the monikers used to describe him: first the London Cat Killer, and now, after a slew of fox and bird mutilations, the M25 Animal Killer.
His catchy newspaper-given nicknames may change but his methods do not. Operating almost exclusively under the cover of darkness, the victims are thought to first be enticed with food before being mutilated in one of a handful of precise and distinctive ways with a razor-sharp blade. The lifeless body is then left as close as possible, it is believed, to where the killer found the animal in the first place.
“Initially, we thought it was just Croydon,” recalls Boudicca. “But it became apparent around December that there were cases all over.” Cases which have now been confirmed as being as far apart as Kent, Surrey, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and every corner of London.
Sweeping a stray lock of auburn hair behind her ear, Boudicca speaks with the confidence and commanding authority of a hardened detective with 25 years on the beat. In fact, she works a full-time job - which she won’t discuss, for both the sake of her privacy and safety - and has been rescuing and rehoming cats in her spare time, on and off, for the past 18 years.
She set up SNARL just over two years ago with her partner, Tony Jenkins, a reassuringly broad-shouldered man who wears his long grey hair tied up in a ponytail. With a soft Scouse accent and sympathetic smile, Tony is a man seemingly built for consoling the bereaved. A bedside manner learned from decades of working with elderly people, encouraging even the most reluctant to make concessions for their age and have stair lifts, wheelchair ramps and wet-floor showers installed in their homes. A job from which he was recently made redundant by Westminster council in a wave of austerity cuts.
It was last October that Boudicca and Tony began to connect the dots. The first victim they heard of was a cat sliced open with its intestines removed, deposited a few doors down from its owners’ home in Addiscombe, in the North Eastern tip of Croydon; another was left by the side of a footpath in neighbouring Bywood with its tail and one of its hind legs sliced clean off; a third disappeared without a trace - apart from its tail that is, which was dumped on the pavement outside its distraught teenage owner’s home.
“We went to Croydon Police,” says Boudicca, “They said that they were aware that something was going on, but with no physical evidence, there was nothing they could do.” To further complicate matters, the police don’t tend to investigate animal-related crime - that’s normally down to the RSPCA - but the RSPCA won’t investigate unless there’s a named suspect. They simply don’t have the resources.
Boudicca and Tony found themselves faced with a Catch-22, stuck between two organisations, neither of which was set up to deal with what was starting to look increasingly like the work of a serial killer on a rampage. And so, with no budget, no resources, and certainly no experience of bringing a violent felon to justice, they took it upon themselves to track down the killer.
“ We’ve seen upwards of 40 victims now, I’m no longer squeamish ”
If it was evidence that the authorities wanted, thought Boudicca and Tony, then that’s what they would get. “I had a call one Saturday afternoon,” recalls Boudicca from the passenger seat of Tony’s car. She tends to do the talking, while Tony does the driving. “This guy said, ‘I’ve just found my cat and she’s been decapitated.’
“It all spiralled from there. Wayne and Wendy Bryant were brave enough to give these two people they’d never met before Amber’s body, and that was the one we used to prove that there was something going on.”
They took Amber’s disfigured remains to their vet and asked him to conduct a post-mortem examination, which he duly did. After raising £5,000 on crowdfunding site gofundme to cover the cost of these tests, it didn’t take long before the vet had 10 bodies in his surgery, all of which he confirmed as being the work of one very consistent, and very sick man.
With this rapidly-rising mountain of evidence - not to mention growing pressure from the media, animal rights campaigners and celebrities including Martin Clunes and Dermot O’Leary - the police and the RSPCA took the case. Far from being nudged out of the investigation, however, SNARL continues to play an integral role.
“We found ourselves bridging the gap, and once we realised that it was an ongoing issue, we weren’t prepared to let it drop,” says Boudicca, defiantly. The result is an unprecedented three-way partnership between police, RSPCA and a pair of cat lovers with a willingness to pour time, energy and hundreds of diesel miles into catching an elusive killer.
Boudicca and Tony are still the ones fielding phone calls about new bodies, rushing to collect them at the scene, transporting them to their own or the RSPCA’s vets for post-mortem, and performing the incredibly time-consuming and emotionally draining role of post-traumatic support for the fragile owners of the murdered pets.
“We’ve seen upwards of 40 victims now,” says Boudicca. “I’m no longer squeamish, but they all upset me, and every now and again there’s one that really gets me. There was one in Mottingham, South East London, two weekends ago. The owner held it together all the time she was speaking to us and took us to where the cat had been found.
Before we took the cat away, I asked if she wanted to say goodbye. “She was trying to, but normally she would stroke his head, only his head was missing. So she was holding onto its paws through the plastic, and she lost it. And I lost it.”
Boudicca’s normally steely voice breaks and she turns away to look out of the car window. “I was watching her and thinking, ‘God, if that was one of mine, how would I feel?’ And that’s what set me off, because I knew in that instant exactly how I’d feel.”
At around midnight on Saturday 25 March, on the eve of Mothering Sunday, Mac walked out of the front door to embark on his habitual evening patrol. An eight-year-old with short black fur and dark, doting eyes, Mac joined the Grant family in their Streatham Hill home in 2012, after son Marcus - now a bus driver on the G1 route between Streatham and Clapham Junction - convinced his mum that a cat would be the solution to their mice problem.
Sweet-tempered and indiscriminately friendly - ultimately his “downfall”, according to owner Marcus - Mac proved himself to be a worthy hunter, proudly displaying the bodies of mice, small birds and any other critter brazen enough to enter his turf, on the doorstep of his family home.
It was 4am when Marcus got the call. He was fast asleep in bed at his girlfriend’s house, some three hours away from South London. It was his mother. She was inconsolable, and Marcus could barely make out her words through her breathless sobs. “You need to go home. It’s Mac… he’s dead.”
Marcus’ sister had returned from a night out at 3am, just three hours after Mac had left the house. What she found as she fumbled for her keys was the still, lifeless body of her beloved cat, his tail removed with surgical precision. The Grants would later learn that fur had been found across the road where the mutilation likely took place. Mac escaped his attacker and ran home, but died from his injuries on the doorstep.
“Hearing that was so distressing,” says Marcus, sat on the black leather sofa of his family home. His eyes glaze over with tears and his voice drops almost to a whisper. “Just the fact that he came home and he just died. He didn’t make it. When I got home, it was just mayhem. My father isn’t a man to cry, but he was in bits. He was shaking. You couldn’t speak to him.”
Marcus exhales sharply, staring across the bright living room - adorned with photos of smiling grandchildren and souvenirs from trips to Africa and the Caribbean - at the spot on the sofa where he’d seen his father break down just weeks before. Marcus had heard something on the news about the Croydon Cat Killer, but had no idea that he was spinning his web of death across other parts of London.
A neighbour had heard of SNARL and gave Boudicca a call. She and Tony rushed straight over. “Mac got me,” says Boudicca. “No cat deserves to die like that, but some of the families are just the loveliest people, and the Grants are one of them. One of the most difficult parts of what we’re doing is seeing the owner’s responses. As cat lovers ourselves, it’s hard enough to pick up a little broken body…”
She trails off, shaking her head gently at the memory. Tony picks up where she left off. “To see two macho Jamaican guys, father and son, break down sobbing in the street because their cat had been killed the night before… it’s not something that you expect to see every day.”
Yet Tony and Boudicca are witnessing scenes such as these with increasing and alarming regularity. Despite a now full-scale police investigation - dozens of man hours spent scouring CCTV footage, the deployment of high-tech geo-profiling software, and leads from victims, neighbours and concerned members of the public duly scrutinised - they are still no closer to catching the killer.
Speculation has been rife as to who might be behind the killings. Some posit that it could be Satanists or Voodoo practitioners, using the animal parts in their dark and mysterious rituals. Only if so, then why display the bodies in public for the owners to stumble upon? Those engaged in illicit animal sacrifice tend not to advertise the fact.
Or the deaths, then, could be related to a gang initiation, or part of some jihadi training ring, or just down to a bunch of cruel kids, say others. Though the way the bodies are dismembered - not to mention the vast and growing geographical area in which they have been found - suggests the work of one person, most likely a man.
Publicly, the RSPCA still aren’t ruling out the possibility that some of the deaths have in fact been caused by foxes (though privately, according to Boudicca, they are fully aware of the scale of the problem on their hands). Besides, foxes tend to make a horrible, bloody mess when they kill - or more likely scavenge - a cat, whereas the missing body parts in this case have clearly been removed with a sharp blade - most likely a machete or cleaver.
Finally, there’s the possibility that over the past few months, having heard about the killings in Croydon, any number of copycat cat-killers have emerged around the South East. Boudicca interrupts this line of enquiry, clearly frustrated by what she sees as time-wasting theories. “We have around 40 bodies, with injuries that are exactly the same, with cuts that are in exactly the same place. We don’t say where those cuts are - for obvious reasons. In order for someone to be a copycat that would be almost impossible.
“Our vet thought it was one person; the RSPCA’s vet is inclined to think it’s one person. We believe what the forensic evidence and the other evidence tells us, so we know it’s most likely to be one person.” What we’re faced with, says Boudicca, is a serial killer. A man, most likely, who is highly mobile - be that because his job - as a delivery man, say - means he travels for a living, or simply because has a very generous travel budget - who is stalking the country, cruelly and purposefully planning the deaths of any household pet and/or wildlife he is able to get his hands on.
Counterintuitively, perhaps, Tony doesn’t think the killer is an animal-hater, but merely using them as a way to cause the maximum possible harm to his fellow man. “I wonder whether killing the cats and beheading them is just a means to an end - what his real kick is, possibly, is watching people when they find the cats.”
The animals, after all, are not murdered then dropped into wheelie bins, incinerated or buried where no-one would ever find them. They are deliberately deposited on doorsteps, pavements or anywhere they are guaranteed to be found. “If someone sees a dead cat, it’s like, ‘oh poor cat, it’s probably been run over.’ If a cat’s got no head it’s horrific, and that’s what causes distress to people.”
The fact is, as close as Boudicca and Tony are to the case, neither they - nor anyone, for that matter - know for certain who this person is, or what his motivations are. And among the many unanswered questions is one of the darkest of all: having proven himself so adept not only at butchering his victims, but going undetected, what’s to stop him from hunting a larger, more human prey?
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Vincent Egan, Professor of Forensic Psychology at the University of Nottingham, has been following the case from afar with keen interest. “People who are cruel to people tend to be cruel to animals, but not everyone who is cruel to animals is cruel to people,” he explains over the phone from his office on campus. “But obviously it is a risk-increasing factor, because if you’re going to be callous about this sort of thing and hurt for no good reason, then quite possibly you might inflict that on humans as well.”
It is a possible twist of events that the police are not taking lightly. The growing national and now international media interest in the media has led to a communications lockdown by the Metropolitan Police’s press office. SNARL, however, in a manner more usually associated with comic book crusaders, have a direct line to lead investigator Detective Sergeant Andy Collin from the Met’s Crime Squad: the Cat Phone.
So, could this animal killer get bored of his furry prey and target a fleshier bipedal victim? “It’s something that we’re considering,” says DS Collin, an affable detective who has found himself immersed in a most unusual series of crimes. “We’ve got no indication that this has happened or that it will happen, but obviously it is a consideration… a concern.”
He describes it similarly to Professor Egan, albeit it in terms more in keeping with a man in his line of work. “Pretty much everyone that’s on heroin will have started on cannabis, but if you’re on cannabis it doesn’t mean you’re going to progress to heroin.”
Why, then, has it proven so difficult to catch this perpetrator? “If it had been Addiscombe, Addiscombe, Addiscombe, which is where it all started, then this would have been solved months ago,” he says. “But now it’s dotted all over the place, and there’s no rhyme or reason to it, other than they’re overnight.
“When [crimes take place] in quiet residential areas, where there aren’t that many people around, it’s very very hard, unless someone makes a mistake, to actually get your hands on them. Because there’s only so many policeman that can be out there looking, and at two in the morning they tend to be busy dealing with drunks and fights on the high street and what have you.”
It’s a refreshingly honest insight from an experienced detective. What the police need, he acknowledges, is a break. A neighbour or passerby to see something late at night; a concerned acquaintance of the killer to point the finger; an uncharacteristic mistake on the part of the murderer.
Almost as unfathomable as the sheer cruelty of the acts themselves is the amount of time the killer is devoting to his spree. Incidents can and frequently do take place on consecutive nights, hundreds of miles apart - it’s become as much of a full-time job for him as for the small army of people attempting to bring him to justice.
“A large proportion of this person’s life has been set aside for this,” says DS Collin. “It’s the biggest thing in this person’s life, and it’s unfortunately proving to be having a large impact on a lot of people’s lives, so we’ve got to catch him.”
Few people’s lives have been overhauled as fully as Boudicca and Tony’s. Boudicca continues to work a full-time job, but receives countless daily phone calls, texts and emails relating to the crimes, which she gives her mornings, evenings and weekends over to entirely.
Tony, meanwhile, doesn’t feel able to search for a job, as he understandably fears that a new employer might not be altogether sympathetic to his extra-curricular activities. His days are spent traveling from crime scene to victims’ homes, to vets, to laboratories, and a new job would necessarily break all the momentum that he and Boudicca have built up over the past few months.
“I can’t go back to work,” he says. “If we’re both in full-time work, we’re going to lose bodies, we’re not going to be able to take phone calls.”
Not to mention the tens of rescue cats currently in their care which they are yet to find homes for, as the hunt for the serial killer dominates their every waking hour. “When this is all over, I have this vision of us having two weeks on a beach somewhere, nice cocktails… but then, who the fuck’s going to look after the best part of 30 cats?” he muses.
Leaving the Upton Park flat where they collected the decapitated owl, Boudicca receives a text from one of the first victims, back down in Addiscombe. A neighbour has found a stray cat and she was wondering whether SNARL could try and identify its owners, using their microchip reader. Without a moment’s hesitation, she and Tony get into his car and head South.
“ I once felt pity for this person, because I thought they had to be really sad and fucked up… ”
The car - a mud-caked Ford estate long-passed its prime - may not be as glamorous as one of the Met Police’s fleet of Mercedes Benz and BMWs, but inside it bears all the hallmarks of his newfound calling. A box of latex gloves share the seat-back pocket with an A-Z map, open on a page displaying the roads of South London. Bin liners, kitchen roll and an empty cat-carrier occupy the back seat and footwells.
Boudicca and Tony are simply two ordinary people who have found themselves embroiled in an extraordinary investigation. And where others would have given up long ago - for the emotional, financial, physical and temporal toll that this case continues to take - they remain passionately committed to seeing this through to the bitter end. And beyond.
There is currently a very real possibility that if and when the serial killer is caught, despite all the cruelty, pain and suffering that he has inflicted to animals and people alike, he will walk away with little more than a slap on the wrist. By the letter of the law, a cat is simply property, and so the most severe charges the police may be able to pin on the perpetrator would be criminal damage. The equivalent of if he had roamed the country smashing car wing mirrors.
“This is supposedly a nation of animal lovers,” says Tony, “but we don’t have the laws to support that. And this case may exemplify this - if we catch this guy who’s responsible for 50, maybe 150 cat murders, and he gets a year, and walks out in six months, we will promote the public outcry which will inevitably happen.”
Campaigners, full-time pet detectives, a return to the relative tranquillity of normal life: the possibilities for the future are endless. For now, there’s an animal mutilator on the loose, and Boudicca and Tony have made it their mission in life to bring him in.
Were they in the right place at the right time? Or the wrong place at the wrong time? Either way, they show no signs of slowing down. Not while the killer is spreading the dark cloud of his crimes further by the day. “To be a person and to be deliberately cruel, with all the power humans have, I think is despicable,” says Boudicca, her voice hoarse from hours of talking - to colleagues, victims, police, journalists - and cracking from the fire pouring out from within her small frame.
“I once felt pity for this person, because I thought they had to be really sad and fucked up… but I’ve held too many cats while their owners have broken down in front of me. I don’t feel a shred of pity anymore. There’s no need for this. The best thing he could do is to give himself up.
“He won’t though. So the best thing we can do is to fucking find him. So we change our lives to fucking find him.”
If you find a cat or any other animal that has been decapitated, eviscerated or had its tail cut off anywhere in the UK, contact Boudicca and Tony via the SNARL Facebook page.
If you see anyone coaxing a cat or behaving suspiciously around an animal, particularly late at night, contact the police immediately on 999. Local police operating outside of South London may not respond, in which case contact SNARL.