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Is London’s ‘Cat Ripper’ a serial killer in the making?

Animal abuse can betray a very dangerous mind. Shutterstock

The phrase “to do it in a cat’s paw”, meaning to do something in such a way that no one knows that it is you doing it, is an apt description of the “cat killer” who has reportedly mutilated and decapitated around 50 animals, mostly felines, in south London over the past two years. But what sort of person abuses animals in this way and might they be preparing themselves for acts of violence against people?

In our often labelled “nation of animal lovers”, animal abuse is a major issue. In 2014, nearly 160,000 incidents of animal cruelty were investigated in England and Wales alone. These included some of the most sadistic acts of abuse, such as a rabbit that was microwaved in Gloucestershire and a puppy that was battered and had his head trapped in a door in Cumbria. Shockingly, one in eight complaints about animal mistreatment involves alleged deliberate and violent cruelty. And these are just the incidents we know about. Clearly, there must be a huge amount of animal abuse that goes unreported.

Not so, the activities of the “Croydon Cat Ripper”. This individual is very keen to make sure that their acts of cruelty are made public. In fact, after reportedly luring their victims with raw chicken, strangling them, and taking their bodies to a secret location to mutilate them with a knife or machete, they return them for local residents to find. Their work is cold and calculated. Much planning and preparation has gone into where and when to commit the acts so as to avoid witnesses. The killer appears to use gloves and protective clothing to avoid leaving DNA evidence behind.

A dangerous method

Research demonstrates that extreme acts of animal abuse, which appear to reward their perpetrators with feelings of enjoyment, even elation, usually are the work of individuals with severe psychiatric disorders. Their motivations may include a desire to demonstrate power over not only the animal but the pet’s human owner, too. They may even experience some form of sexual pleasure (known as zoosadism) from the acts they perform. Alternatively, some acts of animal abuse are symptomatic of an individual’s anger concerning an issue that is completely unrelated to their victims.

Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer ‘practised’ on animals. Reuters

Whatever their motivation, over time, sadists often have to step up their behaviour in order to derive the same level of arousal from it. This is known as the “graduation hypothesis” and has been discussed in relation to the backgrounds of serial killers such as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer who had childhood histories of abusing animals and who went on to torture and murder humans. Ian Huntley, the killer of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman is also said to have had a similar history, strangling his dog in front of his friends because it disobeyed him.

In relation to the cat killer, this has led to fears that s/he may “graduate” to killing people. Though possible, such a scenario seems unlikely as these killings have been going on for at least two years now, suggesting that this particular killer cannot move beyond harming animals. Indeed, it appears that the only way in which his or her behaviour has stepped up, is in terms of the development of more sophisticated butchery skills – according to vets, the cuts are getting cleaner.

Reason for concern

So, should south Londoners be worried about their own safety as well as that of their pets? Possibly. The “deviance generalisation hypothesis” suggests that rather than preceding other offences, animal abuse may be just one part or element of a unified phenomenon of anti-social and violent behaviour. In other words, the extreme acts of animal cruelty undertaken by the cat killer may be just one of many illegal behaviours that they are already involved in.

The “Croydon Cat Killer” may be someone with an existing criminal record of violent crime or, at the very least, may be involved in property or drug offences. This claim is further supported if we look at those who are prosecuted for harming wild animals (wildlife offenders), whose lifestyles almost always reveal involvement in other violent offending or acquisitive crime.

The links between “animal abuse” and “person abuse”, whether through violence or other types of offending, are strong. However, whether or not south London’s cat killer is likely one day to turn into a serial killer, it is probable that they already are abusing other animals and people in all sorts of ways. It is for this reason that the authorities must devote resources to apprehending this individual as quickly as possible.

Animal abusers are, regardless of the identity of their victims, very dangerous people indeed.

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