The intention is to shock and horrify. The method involves a knife wielded with forensic precision. The victims are much-loved family pets. The so-called Cat Killer of Croydon – named because the first cases were carried out in the south London district – is believed to have struck more than 400 times during the past two years.
In the past month the killings have escalated in frequency and have been committed almost daily.
Foxes have been targeted as well as pet rabbits snatched from back gardens but the majority of the victims are cats – lured with food before being bludgeoned to death, decapitated and dissected.
The remains of the animals are then displayed in a ritualised way that appears designed to cause maximum trauma for their devastated owners.
Police fear it’s only a matter of time the crazed cat killer will attack people
There is a known link between serial killers and harming animals when you look into their dark history
And the killer appears to be extending his range.
Similar cat murders have been identified across London and Surrey and as far away as Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham and the Isle of Wight.
Many of the decapitations have appeared “surgical” in their precision and cats have been butchered in similar ways around the country.
While this is horrifying enough, the fact the feline killing spree accelerated last month has left police concerned that the murderer – whom they believe to be a psychopath – could soon grow bored of torturing animals and begin to focus instead on women and girls.
If the animal deaths are indeed the work of one person there is concern that the threat to humans is increasing with every feline murder committed.
Scotland Yard has been running Operation Takahe for two years, working closely with the RSPCA and South Norwood Animal Rescue Liberty (SNARL), an animal rescue organisation.
So far there have been no arrests.
“There is a known link between serial killers and harming animals when you look into their dark history,” says Detective Sergeant Andy Collin, who is leading the investigation.
“If you look at offending patterns the assumption is this killer is getting some form of gratification. The concern is [he] will cease getting that gratification and escalate the attacks to humans, specifically vulnerable women and girls.”
According to a 1997 study, people who abused animals were fi ve times more likely than others to have a criminal record and four times more likely to have a record of violent crime.
Many infamous killers “practised” on animals. Moors murderer Ian Brady is said to have abused dogs, cats and rabbits as a child before killing the first of his first child victims in 1963 when he was 25.
Betsy, an 11-month old black and white cat, was murdered in the night of June 17
Thomas Hamilton, who shot 16 children and their teacher at a school in Dunblane in 1996, had spent hours as a young man trying to squash rabbits under the wheels of his car. And 10-year-olds Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were reported to have tortured animals before they went on to kill toddler Jamie Bulger in February 1993.
Cruelty to animals is considered one of the three symptoms that predict the development of a psychopath.
Robert Ressler, founder of the FBI’s behavioural sciences unit, says: “These are the kids who never learned it was wrong to poke out a puppy’s eyes.”
Butthere is also a concern that the animal killer may be carrying out the killings for sexual gratification as many of the corpses have been found spreadeagled beneath their owners’ bedroom windows.
Other remains have been found on cars. “Worryingly we’ve even had a few put next to school playgrounds where little children would be,” says Tony Jenkins, co-founder of SNARL.
“He kills with blunt force trauma, waits for half an hour for the blood to stop circulating, then cuts their heads off. It’s having a devastating effect and ripping people’s lives apart.
In October 2015 when the investigation began there were eight recorded deaths.
Last year that number was 114, including the first locations outside the M25. So far this year there is evidence 246 animals have been targeted but some fear there could be at least 100 further cases.
Amber the cat who was found without head or tail
Police believe the perpetrator, who could also have been behind killings in 2013 and 2014, is hiding “in plain sight”. They have a profile of the type of person they believe him to be. And, yes, it is most likely to be a male.
If in a relationship, the cat killer is also likely to be violent towards his partner. He is also likely to have been badly abused as a child and is probably known to the authorities.
“Sexually abused children are five times more likely to hurt animals,” says former Scotland Yard detective Mick Neville. The same US study found that children exposed to domestic violence were three times more likely to be cruel to animals.
“He may be taking out his ‘revenge’ on cats and other animals to make up for the abuse he suffered,” he adds, pointing out that he believes the killer is from the Addiscombe area of Croydon, where the killings began.
“Someone behind the doors of one of these suburban terraced streets is hiding a wicked secret.”
A £10,000 reward has been offered for information that leads to the arrest of the killer.
The Operation Takahe team can be contacted on 020 8649 0216 or call SNARL on 07961 030064.