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Interview with animal experts on the serial cat murders in Denver, Utah

Aired July 1, 2003 - 19:43   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: A gruesome series of animal mutilations has plagued two American cities over the past year. It's just any animals it's cats, many of which were people's household pets. Officials in both Colorado and Utah are investigating right now, not only because the killings and mutilations are crimes themselves, but out of fear that they could escalate to other forms of violence. CNN's Charles Feldman has the details.

CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They have names like Sunny and Bugsy, two of an estimated 50 cats in two states that have been killed and apparently mutilated over the past year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another mutilated cat was found this morning. This one in Denver.

FELDMAN: It is the talk of Denver area TV stations and Salt Lake City, Utah, too. Victims like Kim Hughes, whose dead mutilated cat was found on the front lawn.

KIM HUGHES, VICTIM: It's so offensive to think that you would torture a defenseless animal and then have that family view it the next morning and derive pleasure from that. That boggles my mind.

FELDMAN: In Colorado, many of the cat mutilations have occurred in Aurora, a Denver suburb, and Crystal Jensen, who owns three cats is scared.

CRYSTAL JENSEN, VICTIM: I'm going to keep them indoors just for their safety and so I don't have to mourn any of my animals.

FELDMAN: In Utah, far fewer cat mutilations thus far. Animals could be responsible, police in Salt Lake City say, but they are suspicious.

DET. KEVIN JOINER, SALT LAKE CITY POLICE: One of the animals that were tested came back that there were some very clean cuts on it. And that -- that is certainly something that makes you maybe look in a direction different than an animal.

FELDMAN: An expert who has studied hundreds of animal cruelty cases says he believes many of the so-called cat mutilations will turn out to be caused by animals, but those that may have been caused by people, should raise a red flag. DR. RANDALL LOCKWOOD, HUMANE SOCIETY: Some of the studies actually tracking people who have committed animal cruelty, been convicted of animal cruelty in the past, shows, in general, they are about five times more likely to be arrested for other violent crimes.

FELDMAN: Whom ever or whatever is responsible, police say cat owners must safeguard their pets until this feline mystery is solved. Charles Feldman, CNN, Los Angeles.


COOPER: And a mystery it is. Of course not every person who mutilates animals goes on to become a Jeffrey Dahmer but it is a red flag for other anti-social behavior and yes, sometimes violence even murder.

Joining us tonight are Temma Martin spokesperson for the Salt Lake County Animal Services. And Frank Ascione developmental psychologist who studies links between animal cruelty and violent against people.

Now Temma I want to start off with you. I know you were at the scene of one of these discoveries earlier today. What do you think is going on here? I mean people are talking about Satanic Cults. They're talking about maybe it's, you know, teens gone wild. What do you think is happening?

TEMMA MARTIN, SPOKESPERSON, SALT LAKE COUNTY ANIMAL SERVICES: You know we aren't ruling out anything out at this point. We're still considering, in the backs of our minds, it could be a predatory animal, but all of the evidence from the necropcies that we've had performed suggest that this is a person or people doing this.

COOPER: Evidence, what kind of evidence supports that?

MARTIN: The cuts to the animals have been very clean. We haven't found saliva on the animals. The animals at the scene of the crime there's no blood. It just doesn't appear that this is happening as the result of a predator. We have we'd be relieved if it were, but it doesn't appear to be.

COOPER: I know information is being shared between Denver and Salt Lake where, you told where all of these have been happening. What kind of similarities are you seeing, what kind of pattern are you seeing, if any, Temma?

MARTIN: There is a pattern. In fact, their cases started last June and ended in November for the winter. Ours started last May and ended in November and then started up again in the spring. And the types of injuries they're seeing to the cats' bodies are very similar. It's spooky how many similarities there are between our cases and theirs.

COOPER: And not to get too gruesome we're talking about body parts cut off internal organs removed. I mean, it's extraordinarily bloody, bloody work at that. Frank, I want to bring you in. I know you've consulted on this case in Utah. You've seen some of the facts, photos. What's your take? You say it's important to look at how these cats were killed, whether they were first killed and mutilated or mutilated and then killed. Why does that matter?

FRANK ASCIONE: Well it's an important issue because if the animals were killed and then dismembered and the mutilations occurred after they were dead, it suggests that a person or persons who might be doing this may not really be focusing on the suffering of the animal but the impact that this is having on the owners of the animals.

If the injuries occur before death, then it may be an individual who is somehow enjoying the suffering that the animals are undergoing.

COOPER: Now, I guess I mean, there's a lot of options here. It could be, as we talked about, some sort of wild animal doing some of this work but it could also be, no pun intended, a copycat killings or kids just see these on the news and go out and do this stuff. What do you think is going on here?

ASCIONE: Well one of the most disturbing reports I've seen is a case in Denver, I believe, where a gentleman went out and found his cat with one of its lungs near the carcass of the animal. He went back inside to tell his wife. When he returned, to look outside again, the animal's intestines were displayed near the carcass of the animal.

So it suggests that perhaps in this case, the individual who did this may have been watching to see what the reaction was.

COOPER: And are we talking about, I mean, a young Jeffrey Dahmer? I mean, everyone knows Jeffrey Dahmer who, you know, killed 17 men or so early on, started by killing some animals?

ASCIONE: You know, there is an FBI study that was done a number of years ago of 28 serial sexual homicide perpetrators and somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of them admitted to abusing animals when were children or adolescents and also when they were adults.

That leaves room for many of them to either not have engaged in that behavior or to not be willing to admit it. One of the clearest cases was a young boy in Kobe, Japan, you may recall, in 1997 who decapitated a cat and left its carcass to be found and then later decapitated one of his school mates.

COOPER: Yes, I remember that case. Obviously something a lot of people are going to be following closely. Temma Martin and Frank Ascione. Appreciate you joining us. Disturbing case.

ASCIONE: You're very welcome.

MARTIN: Thank you.


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