by Stephanie Haun

(Stephanie Haun included this entry in a post on She's a psychotherapist, violinist...and the mother of Lucky-the-dog and many kitties, all patients of mine.)

Human-animal bond part 1: Serial cat killer in Miami

A serious and dangerous criminal has terrorized the residents of Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay in Miami-Dade County since April. His victims are first, cats, second, their people, and third, all animal-lovers in the county. To date, the number of feline victims is over 19.

He killed cats in a particularly sadistic and cruel manner. Cats are maimed, mutilated, and skinned, and often positioned in the owner’s yard. These killings are extremely traumatic for the people who find the cats, especially when the owner(s) find the cat left for them. The cat-loving community has been warning cat owners in these areas. The police are investigating the murders and have 16 officers and a county prosecutor assigned to specially investigate these crimes. A reward for information leading to the arrest of the serial cat killer was up to $10,000.00. The story has been picked up by both local and national news. 

Finally, just last night, June 13th, he was caught. An eighteen-year-old teen boy living in the area.

Who would do this? What type of person can commit such violent and sadistic acts? The answer is not entirely clear, but recent research suggests that this kind of behavior often begins in childhood. One recent review of studies of childhood animal cruelty used this example: “Henry Lee Lucas was born in Blacksburg, Virginia. At 10 years of age he watched his mother's live-in boyfriend stab a calf in the neck and have sex with it while it was dying. At age 13 he began catching small animals and skinning them alive for fun. After stabbing, mutilating, and murdering women for over 30 years, at age 47, Lucas is now serving a life sentence in prison.”

Either males or females may torture and kill animals, but most of the time the offender is male. When females do it they are just as cruel, and commit similar acts to males. There is no one-size-fits-all “profile,” but the research shows that this behavior stemming from childhood is associated with “conduct disorder” which is often a child precursor to adult “antisocial behavior.” Adult anti-socials have this personality disorder, formerly known as either psychopathy, or sociopathy. The psychopath is one who commits violent acts, is often arrested and imprisoned, and shows no remorse for his victims. Such are some of the characteristics of serial killers. This does not mean that every child diagnosable with conduct disorder will do these things, and neither do all anti-socials.

When someone displays a pattern of such behavior s/he will often graduate to further or more serious cruelty, abuse, or killing. Families experiencing domestic violence are at greater risk for having an abuser abuse a family pet; sometimes this is a way for the abuser to either represent what he will do to his human victim, or the abuser may just wish to further isolate his victim from the comfort of a trusted companion animal. Children who are also abused directly, or who witness within-family abuse of people or animals are more likely to become animal abusers themselves. There is as yet no way to predict exactly which of these children will grow into later animal or person abuse. But some studies suggest that children from extremely violent families commit more serious abuse than others. Research on serial killers has demonstrated a link between animal cruelty and later serial crimes against humans.

In one study, researchers identified prison inmate animal abusers and found that the overwhelming majority of the most aggressive inmates abused cats; the number is triple the amount who abused dogs. For the cat abusers several had killed cats by hanging them, and even more had exploded cats or dogs. Other frequent methods of animal abuse included, “…limb amputation, decapitation, choking, brutal beatings, fracturing bones, and scalding with hot water...” There were reported events where abusers had tied the tails of animals together over a clothesline to see the animals fight each other. It is now considered important to consider which type of violence is committed against what animal in attempting to link childhood cruelty and later violence against humans. Other inmate studies basically support these results.

In addition to the harm befalling the cats, people are being harmed, too. It is generally known that companion animal loss for some is just as severe a trauma as loss of a human companion. People who find these cats and their owners may be traumatized severely, both by the loss, the sadistic attack on themselves, and the knowledge that this psychopath is at large. The communities are disturbed as well just from learning about these cruel, sadistic acts by the person(s) at large and acting in their neighborhoods. Other parts of the county are affected; this killer could strike in their neighborhoods next. And, there is at least a possibility that the perpetrator has already or will begin to commit violent acts against humans.

There is no known “cure” for the type and extent of the pathology exhibited by this perpetrator. But he must be stopped. Currently the police have charged him with numerous counts of animal cruelly, burglary, and other crimes. His police picture shows him with a smirk on his face. This boy lived in a nice neighborhood; his father is a dentist. It remains to be seen whether the charges will stick in court. Meanwhile, he is off the streets for now, but no one knows for how long, and whether he will "graduate" to sadistic crimes against humans.


 Haden & Scarpa (2005). Childhood animal cruelty: a review of research, assessment, and therapeutic issues, The Forensic   Examiner 14.2 (Summer 2005): 23(10).

 Hensley & Tallichet (2009). Childhood and adolescent animal cruelty methods and their possible link to adult violent crimes, Journal of Interpersonal Violence 24; 147.