Facebook Twitter

Police fear killer may move from cats to people

SHARE Police fear killer may move from cats to people

Luke Woodham was 16 years old when he tortured, killed and burned his dog in April 1997.

Six months later, the teen from Pearl, Miss., turned to human victims and stabbed his mother to death, then took a gun to school and fatally shot two students and wounded seven others.

In Salt Lake City, police and animal service authorities are concerned that whoever or whatever is responsible for 10 animal mutilations in the Avenues since last May may follow the same pattern.

Studies on animal abuse suggest that such behavior "may be characteristic of the developmental histories of between one in four and nearly two in three violent adult offenders," Utah State University professor Frank Ascione concluded in a recent study titled "Animal Abuse and Youth Violence."

"Studies over the past decade have shown that many violent criminals, like serial criminals, have a history of animal abuse," said Temma Martin, spokeswoman for the Salt Lake County Animal Services.

Animal abuse makes up one-third of what is called the homicidal triad, Martin said. The other two-thirds are fire-setting and bed-wetting. In many murderers, two of those three behaviors are typically present, Martin said.

It's a thought that has some Avenues residents on edge.

"You feel like you're living among some kind of evil," Avenues resident Katy Bonacci said. "It's almost like the air up here is thick with evil. We used to see so many people walking their animals. It's like you're afraid they're going to start doing it to humans. Everyone's locked down now."

On July 17, 2002, Bonacci's then-16-year-old daughter found their cat George across the street from their home, his stomach cut open and intestines stretched out along the curb. The animal's other organs were missing. "He was just hollowed out like a pumpkin," Bonacci said.

George was the third animal killed in what authorities say has been a string of nine cat mutilations and one dog mutilation since last May.

Before the mutilations, Bonacci, who still owns two cats and a dog, used to let her animals out at night. Now, she rarely lets them out of her sight during the day and brings them in well before dark.

"I'm terrified almost all the time," she said. "It's not a good feeling."

Another dead cat was found Sunday morning before 8 a.m. near 150 N. H Street, but it did not appear to be related to the nine previous mutilations, Martin said. Unlike past mutilations, investigators found blood all over the yard where the animal was found. The animal's fur was also bloodstained and the body appeared to have been torn instead of cut cleanly, Martin said.

In the other nine cat mutilations, which appear to be related, animals were found prominently displayed with no visible blood at the scene or on the animal. The cats' body parts and organs were also missing, Martin said. Investigators believe the killer is slaying the animals at a separate location, then placing their remains in places where people are sure to discover them, Martin said.

"This is clearly someone who lacks empathy and compassion. It seems to be a process to desensitize themselves to suffering, and that would make them able to move on to human victims," Martin said.

Though it remains unclear if that's truly the case, such a possibility has Salt Lake City police worried. A detective has teamed up with animal services authorities since May in an effort to crack the case. Officers have also been warned to pay special attention to what's happening in the Avenues area, Salt Lake City police detective Kevin Joiner said.

"We take it very seriously. A lot of times kids who are abusive to animals tend to grow up to be abusive as adults," Joiner said, adding that police were still uncertain of the perpetrator's age.

In his study, Ascione wrote that animal abuse "is sometimes explicitly excluded as one of a number of 'red flags,' warning signs, or sentinel behaviors that could help identify youth at risk for perpetrating interpersonal violence."

A 1985 study found that violent, incarcerated men reported a 25 percent rate of "substantial cruelty to animals" as children compared to zero percent among a comparison group of nonincarcerated men, Ascione wrote.

E-MAIL: djensen@desnews.com