Cat owners and animal rescue groups in London have expressed pronounced skepticism after police determined that there was no sign of human involvement in the deaths of hundreds of cats over the past few years.
Since 2015, police have received hundreds of reports of mutilated cats, as well as some rabbits and foxes, with missing heads and tails, raising fears that a serial killer was responsible.
The mystery murderer had been dubbed the “Croydon Cat Killer” after the capital’s south London borough where the mutilations were first recorded.
London police declared its investigation closed on Thursday, and found that the deaths were likely caused by predation or scavenging by wildlife, such as foxes, on cats killed or severely wounded by blunt force trauma, for instance being hit by a car.
“Officers working alongside experts have concluded that hundreds of reported cat mutilations in Croydon and elsewhere were not carried out by a human and are likely to be the result of predation or scavenging by wildlife,” police said.
In some of the cases, foxes were caught on CCTV carrying feline body parts.
But pet owners and animal protection groups are not convinced, and believe the patterns seen in the killings point to a more intelligent being.
Patterns in the killings
South Norwood Animal Rescue and Liberty (SNARL), a local animal rescue organization, said that the decapitated cats they had seen had had their heads removed in exactly the same manner and place each time.
“Where we have recovered both head and body, the same small part is missing from each,” the organization said in a statement. “We find it difficult to understand how foxes can replicate this perfectly across a range of victims across a vast geographical area,” it continued.
Read more: Cats are neither mean nor cruel
In another case, SNARL said a cat’s collar was returned to the owner’s home five months after the cat was killed, and in another case a rabbit’s head was returned to the owner’s garden six months after its death.
Jane Galloway, a resident of Potters Bar in Hertfordshire, found her Bengal cat Taz “chopped up” in her neighbor’s garden in October 2017, reported local paper the Welwyn Hatfield Times. She claims police told her not to tell the media about a “trademark” left by the killer.
Taz’s “neck had been snapped, and his tail, ear and right paw cut off” and “his front left paw had been flattened, as if it had been held in a vice or some kind of trap,” the paper wrote.
Jayne told the Welwyn Hatfield Times that Taz also had a marking on his stomach that had been “cut in” and many other killed cats had the same marking.
Experts support police
A number of experts have spoken out in support of the police’s findings.
“I’ve been in hundreds of gardens helping people deter foxes and I’ve found cats’ heads in gardens, tails and bits of legs,” John Bryant, an expert in humane for deterrent in the London area, told The Guardian. “They scavenge a dead cat from the road or even a dead fox, break it up and the cubs play with it.”
Bryant told The Guardian of another fox crime that sparked fear in residents — a spate of car brake lines being cut in south London. The culprit turned out to be young foxes. “From July the fox cubs are all hooligans, jumping on cars, chasing each other around and they get underneath cars and just bite anything,” Bryant said.
Dawn Scott, a professor of mammal ecology and conservation at the University of Brighton, also told The Guardian that foxes were often mistakenly thought to have killed cats they were seen eating but they had often been fatally injured by cars. “There are 9 million cats — 20 times more cats than foxes. Cats frequently get killed on roads and foxes are scavengers,” Scott said.