SPCA calls on animal expert in cat killings

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String of mutilations sparks fears it could be mark of a serial slayer in the making

The SPCA has enlisted the help of an American animal crime scene expert and is considering using tracking dogs to hunt down the person, or persons, responsible for a series of cat mutilations in Maple Ridge as concern grows that the perpetrator could be “warming up” to killing humans.

SPCA spokeswoman Lorie Chortyk said forensic veterinarian, Dr. Melinda Merck of Georgia, will offer guidance in the necropsies of 25 dismembered cats found in Maple Ridge in the past year.

The slayings are particularly disturbing since history shows several examples of serial killers, such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and David Berkowitz, who tortured animals before moving on to people.

The necropsies, which are under-way, will identify how the cats were killed and determine whether there’s DNA from the suspect on the animal corpses, said Chortyk.

The cats were found within a 15-block radius around 217th Avenue and 230th Street between Lougheed Highway and Dewdney Trunk Road. Most had their heads chopped off, or their bodies slit from throat to tail with a sharp object, she said. The remains were placed where the owners or passersby could find them.

A head, leg, and some fur was found outside Harry Hooge elementary school, while a kitten’s head was left on an owner’s front lawn and a tail of a cat placed under a missing poster of the feline. The incidents occurred in batches, with the first last June, followed by others in November, March and May.

“The people who are doing this are making a point to leave the bodies where they will be found and where they will cause the most distress to people,” Chortyk said.

She acknowledged some cats may have been killed by coyotes, but in most cases, the dismemberment is “too precise to be done by an animal.”

The culprit, she said, could be some-one with a mental illness, teenagers committing a prank, or someone per-forming a cultural ritual.

It could also be a future serial killer.

Rob Gordon, a criminologist with Simon Fraser University, cited the case of Luka Magnotta, a 29-year-old Canadian porn actor suspected of killing and dismembering Jun Lin, 33, of China, and sending his body parts through the mail.

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Experts caution to wait for forensic evidence in Maple Ridge, B.C., cat killings

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VANCOUVER – As concerns rise about a serial cat killer in a Vancouver suburb, Florida’s experience with a string of cat deaths provides a cautionary tale: it can be extremely easy to confuse the actions of a natural predator with those of a human killer.

After 19 cats were killed and mutilated in a wealthy Miami suburb in 2009, police received an anonymous tip and arrested Tyler Weinman, an 18-year-old student.

A few of the dead cats had been found on their owners’ decks and others had been sliced from head to tail — the same conditions that cats in Maple Ridge, B.C., have been found in over the past year.

But at Weinman’s trial, an expert hired by the defence counsel determined that at least eight of the cats had actually been killed by dogs.

The charges were dropped by prosecutors, and Weinman — who had been labelled in the media as a sociopath and budding human serial killer — filed a lawsuit in January 2012 for malicious prosecution against everyone involved in building the case against him.

Forensic test results are still being processed in the Maple Ridge investigation at the Animal Health Centre in Abbotsford, B.C.

The Miami fiasco gives reason for being patient until all the evidence is in, says Melinda Merck, who helped review evidence in that case and is named in the Miami lawsuit.

“I was brought into that case really late,” Merck says. “There was a lot of pressure on the detectives, so the investigation was cut short. They needed to do more investigation before taking further action.”

Merck is a world renowned specialist in animal forensics, and has worked on cases such as the Whistler sled dog killings and the Michael Vick dog-fighting scandal.

She is now helping the SPCA with their investigation in Maple Ridge, where nine mutilated cats have been discovered in the last three weeks alone, making 24 over the past year.

The SPCA believes that many of the cats were sliced in half by a knife or saw and then placed where their owners would find them.

But until investigators receive forensic evidence from a provincial lab examining the bodies, Merck cautions against drawing conclusions.

“When it could be both (human or predator), those are really hard to determine,” says Merck.

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Maple Ridge cat killer strikes again

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Seven more cats have been found mutilated in Maple Ridge in the past two weeks, three months after the SPCA appealed for information about the disturbing killings.

In the past year, a total of 22 dismembered cats have been found in the municipality.

Their deaths prompted the SPCA to issue a public warning in March, urging cat owners to keep their pets inside.

Lorie Chortyk, with the B.C. SPCA, said all the cats have been killed in the same manner, either cut in half with a saw or sharp knife.

The latest killings happened in an area between 217th and 230th Streets.

“We are doing necropsies on the bodies, but unfortunately we still have no leads – we are still pleading to the public for information if anyone has seen or knows anything,” said Chortyk.

Eric Wernicke’s cat Buttercup disappeared Wednesday and was found after someone noticed a posting for alost cat on Craigslist.

Buttercup was killed sometime last week. Her head was found on a lawn five block from her home.

Buttercup’s head was discovered on the front lawn of a house five blocks away from Wernicke’s home on Selkirk Street.

“It was definitely her,” said Wernicke, who identified the year-old Calico from her distinct markings. Wernicke found Buttercup’s tail and tufts of fur later at a street corner. “We try to keep her in because, from what I hear, this has been happening for a year,” said Wernicke.

But like most adventurous felines, Buttercup often slipped out when the front door opened. Wernicke hopes the person responsible for the cat mutilations is caught soon. “I hope they get him,” he said.

The first cat mutilation was reported to RCMP and the Maple Ridge SPCA last July, but the owner was initially told her kitten was killed by a coyote.

Monika Soos’ three-month old kitten, Mau, was found July 15 on her front lawn on Stephens Street, near 118 A Avenue, its head cleanly severed and placed neatly next to a bubble-gum pink collar.

Police received three similar reports in the next few months. The deaths concerned Mounties because all the cats were similarly disfigured.

Maple Ridge vet Dr. Adrian Walton looked at several cat carcasses in March and told the SPCA to order full necropsies on the animals after he noticed clean cuts on their bones.

Walton has been urging cat owners in Maple Ridge to keep their pets indoor for years – not because there’s a serial cat killer on the prowl but to keep them out of the jaws of coyotes.

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