Since 2014, hundreds of cats have been found dead, dismembered, and decapitated around the South London town of Croydon. The mysterious killings sparked outrage and curiosity, with many suspecting that a malicious cat serial killer was responsible, sensational dubbed the “Croydon Cat Killer.”
Now, a new study has weighed in on the debate and claimed the culprit was, in fact, foxes.
Post-mortem examinations on 32 cats that were found in suspicious circumstances in London were carried out by a team of researchers from the UK’s Royal Veterinary College, as reported in the journal Veterinary Pathology. A combination of DNA testing, scientific imaging, and postmortem examination found no evidence of any human involvement. Instead, they argue that the mutilation was most likely the result of scavenging by red foxes, which are prolific in the London area.
They concluded 10 of the cats were predated by an animal, 8 died from cardiorespiratory failure, 6 from blunt force trauma (likely a car collision), one from poisoning by ethylene glycol (a chemical used in antifreeze), and another from liver failure. The researchers could not establish a cause of death for the 6 remaining bodies due to “extensive mutilation.”
Through examinations of the carcasses, the vets established that the mutilation pattern of the cats examined was similar to the scavenging pattern of foxes on lambs. It appears that the cats were either hunted by the foxes or killed by other means then scavenged, as per their findings.
This conclusion is echoed by a Metropolitan Police investigation three years ago which found the deaths were “likely to be the result of predation or scavenging by wildlife on cats killed in vehicle collisions.”
However, all of this is unlikely to satisfy ardent believers of the “Croydon Cat Killer.” In total, around 400 cats have been found dead in the Greater London area in recent years. Some pet owners found their cat laying on their front garden or porch, seemingly mutilated with surgical precision. There were even fears that the culprit may grow tired of killing pets and start to turn his attention to humans to satisfy “dark and deviant sexual fantasies.” The case has attracted a huge amount of attention in the UK, with numerous celebrities and animal rights groups calling for the arrest of the supposed killer. The police set up Operation Takahe to investigate the deaths, pouring in thousands of pounds and thousands of work hours to uncover the mystery.
Others have been skeptical of the case from the beginning, however. Richard Ward, a historian of crime at the University of Exeter, has argued that the case is an example of moral panic, whereby media attention and gossip blows up a social issue beyond the actual threat.
“The narrative of the so-called ‘cat killer’ was a good example of the human tendency to pick out what we want from data, demonstrating our inclination to stop investigating when we think we have made a major discovery or noticed a particular pattern. It is the job of scientists – in this instance, veterinary pathologists – to identify and overcome such confirmation bias,” Dr Henny Martineau, lead researcher of this new investigation and Head of Veterinary Forensic Pathology at the Royal Veterinary College, said in a statement.
“As veterinary professionals, we know how difficult it is for an owner when a beloved pet passes away, particularly in circumstances that can seem mysterious or suspicious. While the public’s concern around the safety of their pets is totally understandable, our investigation into the deaths of these cats demonstrates the importance of an evidence-based approach to investigating incidents like this,” they added.