by Dr Adam Lynes, senior lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham City University

The ‘Croydon cat ripper’, otherwise known as the ‘M25 cat killer’, is thought to have killed, dismembered and decapitated more than 400 cats across England. The first reported cases appeared to emerge in December 2015 and so far there appears to be no sign that the person responsible intends to stop or be apprehended. The person responsible removed the head and tails of the felines, with it being assumed that the body parts are being retained as trophies. Another notable feature is that the individual responsible appears to be leaving the mutilated corpses in locations that will ensure they are discovered – often by their owners.

I have commented rather extensively on this ongoing case and made the usual criminological remarks such as: the individual responsible is likely male; maintains a low-skilled job that allows for greater geographical movement; organised (forensically aware, for example); and, that they are likely narcissistic (in that they are following all the updates both in traditional media and newer media such as Twitter). While such commentary may have some benefits in better understanding the criminal behaviour of the person I thought I would use this space in order to explore a different angle.

This angle consists of examining the ‘Great Cat Massacre’, a piece of scholarly work on the cultural history of France by American historian Robert Darnton. The book, a series of essays, takes its name from a chapter which describes an unusual source detailing the “massacre” of cats during the late 1730s by apprentice printers living and working on Rue Saint-Séverin in Paris. Specifically, Darnton describes how, as the apprentices suffered hard conditions, they came to resent the favours which their masters gave to their cats, and contrived to deal with the cats by slaughtering them so as to distress their masters. Darnton notes: ‘The masters love cats; consequently [the workers] hate them.’ In analysing this moment in history, it would appear that the torture, slaughter and eventual presentation of these murdered cats were a means in which to gain the attention of those who had mistreated and ignored these apprentices. It’s also important to note that, given the historic context of this event, that political economy and the gap between the rich and the poor is incredibly important and of course came to head in the same century in the form of the French revolution.

So, could the ‘Croydon cat ripper[s]’ be targeting and mutilating these cats as a means to gain the attention of others that they in some way perceive as a source of their own frustrations and discontents? If we consider that this person may hold a low paid and/or skilled job and that they appear to mainly target cats from homes in the ‘suburbia’ (as noted in many mainstream media outlets), then they may well be attacking the seemingly idyllic, family-oriented and economically stable status and values that such a person may hold in contempt. If we were to consider how these pets are being mutilated and left in locations where they are likely to be found by their owners, then this admittedly outlandish possibility does not seem so strange after all. Returning to the concept of political economy touched upon in the last paragraph, the rise of neo-liberal ideals and the growth between the rich and the poor in the last few decades provides further theoretical weight to this potential train of thought.

Some media reports have already suggested that there may also be a sexual element and motivation behind the ‘Croydon cat ripper’s’ killings (for example see ‘The cat killer stalking suburbia’ on BBC News). Darnton himself notes that ‘the power of cats was concentrated on the most intimate aspect of domestic life: sex’. Darnton continues, stating that cats ‘connoted fertility and female sexuality everywhere’. Taking this into account, the targeting and mutilating of cats may serve as a means to project the individual’s frustration at the very heart of, as Darnton argues, domestic life – the very essence of suburbia.

It could be argued here that the individual responsible is not only targeting pets, but also their owners by making them stare at the horrors that they created. By making them pay attention to their actions, this individual is ultimately shattering the very values that comprise suburban and domestic life.

References

Darnton, R. (1989) ‘The Great Cat Massacre’ [excerpt] History Today [online] 

Jolly, J. (2017) ‘The cat killer stalking suburbia’ BBC News [online] 27th October. 

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