LONDON — The fiend was dubbed the “Croydon Cat Killer.” It had a chilling ring.
The brute left his — or her — victims scattered alongside the motorways around the British capital, the fringes of remnant woodlands and the gardens of suburban towns.
Police reported signs of “blunt-force trauma” — and much, much worse.
It wasn’t enough to kill a beloved tabby. No, the perp often eviscerated the victims.
It was as if the Cat Killer were an animal.
Distraught pet owners found the tails removed. In some cases, so were the heads.
Sometimes, the furry companions were left at the doorsteps of their own homes. Or a school yard.
The bodies were being moved.
For three years, Britain’s Metropolitan Police force had been trying to solve the crimes.
The Telegraph newspaper on Monday called it, we kid you not, “one of the most puzzling murder mysteries of the past decade as fearful experts described a serial pet killer who was likely to move on to humans next.”
In a 2017 article, headlined “Jack the Rippurr,” the Sun reported that police were warning that the “Croydon Cat Killer is ‘likely to kill humans’ as horrifying attacks on moggies rise.’”
The tabloid revealed, “Over 400 pets have been mutilated in exactly the same way — with the monster decapitating them, removing tail and organs, and putting corpses on display.”
A lead investigator on the case, Detective Andy Collin, told reporters at the time that there was a “known link” between serial killers and animal torturers. “The assumption is this killer is getting some form of gratification,” he opined.
The BBC said a psychological profile drawn by the National Crime Agency suggested that “the killer’s problem with cats stems from a deeper problem with women, or with one woman in particular.”
The investigators suspected the perpetrator chose cats — vs., say, hedgehogs — because felines are associated with the feminine.
At the peak of the hysteria over the Croydon Cat Killer — named for the South London suburb seen as a kind of ground zero for a cluster of serial killings — the police revealed that their hotlines were ringing off the hook.
The animal rights advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals put up a 10,000-pound ($13,232) bounty for the killer — and posted a description of a suspect.
“A white man in his 40s with short brown hair, dressed in dark clothing, possibly with acne scarring on his face," the Telegraph reported. It said the group “advised that he may be wearing a headlamp” or carrying a flashlight.
Families of the victims staged memorials and vigils.
Celebrities weighed in. The tabloids, predictably, went a little nuts.
So did the respectable BBC, which published a credulous report on the life and death of Scooter, alongside other departed pets. “The cat killer stalking suburbia” was the headline.
“Police are sure the killer is a man” who has not only butchered pets but also “foxes, rabbits and possibly a wild, baby owl,” the BBC said.
The police formed a task force. They gave it a name: Operation Takahe. They performed necropsies. They declined to say how much all this cost.
On Monday, finally, police announced that they had taken another look at those necropsies and had a glimpse at the scientific research on predation. (You might have thought that would have been the first thing they did, three years ago, but it was not.)
“Following a thorough examination of the available evidence, 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 on cats killed in vehicle collisions,” the Metropolitan Police declared.
In other words, imagine this: Vehicles struck the free-roaming pets — causing blunt-force trauma — and then foxes retrieved the roadkill, gnawed off the tails, opened up the bellies and chewed off the heads.
“In three instances where CCTV was obtained, footage showed foxes carrying bodies or body-parts of cats,” police said, referring to surveillance video.
A forensic veterinarian on the task force concluded that “the mutilations had been caused by predation and/or scavenging, and highlighted that fox DNA had been found around the wound sites on all five bodies.”
Another vet who earlier examined the dead pets — and imagined the bellies to be sliced open — took another look and found … puncture marks.
A spokesman for the South Norwood Animal Rescue and Liberty (SNARL) organization, whose “real-life pet detectives” drew global media attention to the cat killings, told the Telegraph the group was “surprised” the police closed the case — and insisted it had gathered evidence to “indicate human involvement.”