Tony Jenkins doesn’t look like a professional detective. Wearing a scarred raincoat and tattered jeans, the 51-year-old is unshaven with a yellowing roll-up cigarette pinched between his thick, builder’s fingers. But then, Jenkins is not in the detection game for money, and the case he’s been working is hardly a typical one.
His cell phone buzzes: number unknown.
Mysterious callers turn up on Jenkins’ phone frequently these days, and when they do he feels a churn of anger in his gut. It’s likely the caller is just a member of the press or a concerned citizen phoning in a false lead. But there is also the chance that it will be another stranger, sobbing, and Jenkins will know there has been another murder.
He takes a deep breath, runs a hand through his matted, salt and pepper hair, and picks up.
“Tony Jenkins speaking.”
He’s had to get used to sounding professional, cutting out the extreme curse words that normally flow through his speech – he regularly drops the c-bomb in casual conversation. If the worst has happened, people need to know they’ve made it through to someone serious, someone they can trust.
From the other end of the line comes a voice made thick by emotion. Jenkins’ anger returns once again.
This is not a journalist or a false lead.
A serial killer is stalking the suburbs of London. The police have confirmed at least nineteen victims slain over the last year, their bodies scarred by ritual mutilation, then displayed in prominent locations for the public to discover. Frequently, the victims’ heads have been removed. Unofficial numbers mark the death count in excess of fifty; however, none have been human.
This serial killer is murdering and mutilating domestic pets – cats mainly – and two ordinary citizens, Tony Jenkins and his partner Boudicca Rising, have vowed to track down the killer.
The pair are longtime residents of the south London suburb of Croydon, where the killings began. Jenkins, an ex-project manager for the Westminster City Council, and Rising, 44, a former anti-apartheid activist from South Africa, have been dating for three years, in which time they established South Norwood Animal Rescue and Liberty (SNARL), an animal protection service. Under the banner of this organization, they are leading the citizen-based investigation into the cat killer mystery.
It was a Facebook post on the page of another local animal protection service that first alerted Jenkins and Rising to the killings back in September 2015. The post noted that four mysterious cat deaths in the Croydon area might be linked. The partners shared the news on SNARL’s own message board, and were soon bombarded by reports of similarly sinister cases.
SNARL also managed to get a second warning out to citizens via local newspapers. “And then this guy in Shirley found his cat beheaded, no tail, in the woods just across the road from his house,” Jenkins says. “He rang us. That was the first body we were able to recover.”
The killings haven’t stopped since, and they have spread far beyond Croydon. Now, there is hardly a suburb of London that has not been affected.
* * *
Jenkins does not have a siren on his car, but while sitting in incessant traffic he wishes he did. When a call comes through, like today, the sooner he can get to the scene, the better chance there is of finding it undisturbed. A dead animal, as far as town councils are concerned, is little but city detritus. Too often, Jenkins says, they are tidied away without consideration. On a number of occasions, SNARL has had to rely on members of the public standing vigil over the bodies, warding off overeager street cleaners, so that they can assess the scene with the accuracy it deserves. (Jenkins confesses that most of his knowledge on how to approach a crime scene was learned by watching “CSI.”)
“I’m not saying that we’re perfect, that we secure the scene like it were a human murder,” Jenkins admits.
The heavy-duty garbage bags they use as body bags are stuffed in a specially designated cubbyhole in his car, along with swabs, surgical gloves and evidence bags. When Jenkins arrives at the scene, his routine is the same.
This time, a man has discovered a body in his back garden – a horribly mutilated corpse of a red Burmese. It is not his own cat, but he is a cat owner, and the strain of violation is written clearly on his face. Jenkins knows he must behave with tact, but also that he has a job to do.
He begins inspecting the scene as carefully as he knows how. Jenkins takes photographs, scours the grounds for anything the killer may have dropped, and, with his hands shielded with white latex, gathers the remains of the departed red Burmese. Then, he heads to the street outside, hoping to find a parked car with a glaring occupant still inside.
“We think part of why [the killer] displays the bodies like he does is that he gets off [on] the horror that it would cause the owners,” Jenkins explains. “Or if not them, then anyone’s who’s passing by…there’s some evidence that at times he may be lingering.”
Today, there’s nothing on the street to even raise suspicion. It is a classic, sleepy suburban panorama. In the distance, an unattended tabby is innocently sunning itself on a garden wall.
Jenkins turns to head back to the crime scene, and that is when he sees a CCTV camera peeping over a neighbor’s fence.
* * *
Despite their enthusiasm for amateur investigation, Jenkins and Rising did all they could to bring the authorities on board, including posting an online petition titled “Make the Croydon Police take the cat killer seriously,” which garnered almost fifty thousand signatures. They also recruited petitioners to attend an open Q&A on unrelated matters with London’s Commissioner of Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, in December 2015, in order to make sure Sir Hogan-Howe was aware of the numerous feline felonies.
The investigation has become a police priority, with Detective Sergeant Andy Collin from the serious crimes squad assigned to the case.
“Has it been unusual dealing with someone going round chopping up cats?” says the detective. “Yes. It’s highly unusual… I don’t think a rulebook’s been written for this [kind of investigation].”
Dr. Adam Lynes, a criminology lecturer at Birmingham University, affirms the bizarre nature of the case. “You hear a lot about individual small cases of being cruel to animals,” he says. “But this particular crime seems to be very unique. I can’t remember anything of this kind of scale before.”
Jenkins and Rising did not back off when the police came on board. Instead, SNARL and the authorities began to collaborate.
“Because they’re getting so much web traffic and social media traffic around it, it would be silly and remiss of me to ignore that,” DS Collin says. “Because they’re getting a lot of information that we’re not.”
Joint efforts have become an emerging trend in the region (the U.K. Parliament website describes how police forces across the country are, in the face of budget cuts, increasingly working with private investigators to save on the cost of investigations), but DS Collin says it has been his first experience of such collaboration in his career.
“Generally, [Jenkins and Rising] have been very, very helpful,” he says. “It’s been a positive thing for our investigation.”
* * *
Back at the befallen red Burmese crime scene, Jenkins is certain the killer could not have entered the garden without passing directly in front of the CCTV camera. On his own, Jenkins could hardly just knock on the neighbor’s door and ask to see their security footage. But with the police now on the case, after a quick phone call, law enforcement can make the request.
The camera turns out to be a fake – a scarecrow for prowlers.
Jenkins returns home with nothing but another mutilated corpse in a garbage bag. He takes it to his local vet for a post-mortem; the vet has kindly offered his services for free, bringing to bear skills he learned in post-graduate work studying forensics and law. In each case the vet is there to ascertain the cause of death, to confirm if the mutilation is the work of a human agent, and to search for fibers under the animal’s claws that can be tested for DNA evidence. So far, it appears the killer has been careful – no DNA has been found.
“It is common for vets to carry out post-mortems on animals,” says the vet, “but usually it is just to determine the cause of death, and is not always crime related.”
After doing ten post-mortems of mutilated cats, however, the vet is confident in declaring this is the work of a single killer, noting the similar direction of the cuts and evidence that a similar sized blade has been used on most of the victims.
“It has happened to certain individuals that [the killer], who we assume knew where they lived, has gone back and left body parts on doorsteps,” says the vet, who requested to remain anonymous because he is concerned that his practice could become a target for the killer. “I just don’t think it would be very productive for the client base to be stepping over [body parts] at 8:30 in the morning.”
* * *
Driving through congested suburban streets, Jenkins reflects on how he arrived at this unusual new role of dead cat collector.
He has had plenty of time to dedicate to SNARL since being laid off from his job at the council a year ago. As the funds from his severance package dwindle, his mortgage payments have begun to fall short, and the very real threat of eviction looms. Yet for the time being, Jenkins is in no position to get another job. He has a killer to catch.
His partner Boudicca Rising boasts a youthful energy poised between flirtatious and confrontational; she had a reputation for flashing her breasts at the protests she attended in her youth, and has now been in the animal rescue business for over sixteen years. Before the cat killings began, she says she helped hunt down animal abusers who posted images of their crimes online.
From this experience, Rising has built an extensive knowledge of criminal psychology. Though she is only an amateur detective, she has used her research to create a profile of this serial cat killer. She stresses how, historically, offenses like these have been committed by men.
“This is a very interesting crime in that, in human psychology, female sexuality and cats are linked,” Rising says. “So we think we’ve got a pretty good idea that this [man is] actually someone who’s got problems with females on a sexual basis. And they’re taking those frustrations out on the cats. They’re taking something beautiful and then desecrating it, and then advertising that desecration.”
She says that when women kill animals their methods tend to be less theatrical, that their motivation often comes out of anger and, thus, are more likely to starve a creature to death than mutilate its skin.
There has been no shortage of outlandish theories on the identity of the killer. SNARL is keen to dismiss most of them.
“It’s not ISIS,” Rising says, confronting one persistent local rumor. “The right wing in this country are really stupid. They’re convinced it’s some poor bloke training for ISIS. I’ll tell you what, if that’s the case then he’s the most unsuccessful ISIS applicant we’ve ever known in our lives.”
Rising also largely dismisses speculation that the killings are the work of some fringe religious group.
“The very small percentage of people who kill animals for ritual sacrifice don’t advertise,” she says. “They don’t leave the bodies behind. So we know it’s not witchcraft.”
Some insist on blaming foxes, which enrages Jenkins and Rising.
A fox might eat a dead cat, Jenkins offer, but “they tend to drag ‘em off, and they rip the guts out, have all the juicy soft tissue in the belly. They don’t cleanly cut the head off, or the tail, and leave the body on someone’s doorstep.
“Croydon’s a tough place,” he continues, “with a bad reputation, but the foxes don’t carry machetes.”
* * *
Jenkins’ phone goes off again. It’s another unknown number, but this call is not like any he has had for a long time. Someone wants to report a cat in trouble.
The caller simply says he thinks a cat has been left alone in an abandoned apartment and that Jenkins should check it out. SNARL was initially founded for situations like this, but Jenkins is suspicious.
Dr. David Holmes, a criminal psychologist, told London’s Evening Standard that the cat killer could be expected to soon move on to human prey. As a prominent investigator on the killer’s trail, Jenkins must concede that he might be a target. Jenkins is a big man who could handle himself if it came to a fight – he might even relish the confrontation. But the prospect of heading to an abandoned apartment on his own has put him on edge.
Still, the caller said there is a cat in need of help, so Jenkins puts his suspicions on hold. He calls Rising to let her know where he is going, and gets in his car.
* * *
In their dedication to catching the cat killer, Jenkins and Rising have become adept at a broad spectrum of skills. One of these is providing victim support.
“It really is quite horrifying for the owners,” Jenkins explains. “You love your cat, it’s part of the family, it’s like a child. Then some cunt comes along, nabs your cat, takes its head off, puts it back on display in your garden.”
Rising and Jenkins also take responsibility for comforting these cat owners. They’ll often sit with shocked and bereaved families for hours, and have gone on to establish customized support networks as well as help to shield owners from the press – even though the couple have become the unofficial press officers for the case themselves, engaging in rounds of interviews and TV appearances between calls.
It’s an irony not lost on Jenkins, whose money troubles have grown in tandem with his celebrity. “I’m being accused by my friends of being a media whore,” he says phlegmatically. “I said, ‘Darling, please, whores get paid.’” Jenkins fears that if he gets another full-time job, the investigation will lose momentum.
“We’d start missing bodies, the police would get fed up, the media [would go] away,” Jenkins asserts. “But we’re determined to go on until we catch this cunt. Because he needs catching.”
It appears that neither SNARL nor the police are significantly closer to finding whoever is responsible for these deaths than when the investigation began, though a few details have emerged. Some autopsied cats have had undigested chicken in their stomachs, implying the killer uses meat as a lure, and it is reckoned that most cats were killed by some form of blunt force trauma before the mutilation commenced. The widespread nature of the killings has led some to suggest that they are being carried out by a person who regularly covers a lot of ground, like a taxi driver.
Dr. Lynes cautions that most perpetrators of this type are eventually caught not because of extraordinary police work or profiling, but because they get careless.
“Serial killers tend to grow in confidence,” Dr. Lynes says. “They think, ‘I’m not getting caught, I’m worrying too much here; I can easily do this and not get caught.’ And that’s when they start to get sloppy and leave evidence, especially DNA evidence.
“When I first heard about this,” he continues, “it reminded me of John Duffy and David Mulcahy – The Railway Rapists – and how they started out active in a very small location and as they gained confidence they spread out.”
A post on SNARL’s website, however, sums up how far this case is from being resolved. Jenkins and Rising have a list of four possibilities they have ruled out: “foxes, gang activity, multiple suspects, terrorist-linked activity.” There’s also a list of the two they are still considering: “black magic, everything else.”
* * *
Jenkins parks in front of the modern block of apartments he has been called out to, where, supposedly, he’ll find a stranded cat. The flats look innocent enough, but there is something unnerving now about leaving his car.
The home has been mostly cleared. Left by its owner due to illness, it has the eerie atmosphere of a life abandoned. Sure enough, just as he was told to expect, Jenkins finds a cat there, all alone. It is a beautiful black female that leaps without protest into Jenkins’ arms.
On the drive home, Jenkins reflects that it’s the first time in ages he has had a cat in the car with him that is still alive. But it might not be long before another unknown number rings his phone again.