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Thurston County cat mutilations: Your questions answered

THURSTON COUNTY, Wash. -- Thirteen cats have been mutilated in Thurston County since October. The killings have put neighborhoods and cities on edge and prompted the creation of a six-member task force of veteran detectives with one goal: to find the serial cat killer.

"The men and women in this office and adjacent law enforcement offices are committed to finding this individual," Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza told Q13 News this week.

That isn't just rhetoric. Each time a cat is found dead, every member of the task force stops what they are doing and is called to the scene.

"We treat it as a crime scene, we cordon it off, look for leads, look for evidence of that crime, canvas the neighborhood, look for witnesses. Just like you would any type of major crime. You treat it as the same," said major crimes investigator Det. Ben Elkins of the Thurston County sheriff's department.

Elkins is the lead investigator on the county-wide task force.

What we know

Last month, the frequency of these killings increased. Sometimes, a dead cat was found every couple of days. The killer followed the same method of operation in most cases, leading police to believe it was a human culprit rather than an animal.

All the cats were cut open from stern to genitals with a scalpel and their spines were removed, Officer Erika Johnson with Thurston County Animal Services told Q13 News.

The cats were then "displayed" for the public to see.

That's all the information that has come out so far. David Rose from Washington's Most Wanted took the most asked viewer questions straight to the detectives.

How do you know an animal isn't doing this?

“We look for puncture wounds like bite marks, jagged edges, ripped hair. Anything that indicates an animal might have been traumatized by another animal," veterinarian Victoria Smith with Steamboat Animal Hospital said. "We really haven't seen that."

Smith added, “the mutilations are fairly similar, the same body parts keep showing repetitive injuries. That’s fairly consistent and then there’s blunt trauma as well as sharp trauma, like a laceration.”

Is there just one cat killer?

"We haven’t eliminated either/or; it being one or two suspects," Elkins said. "However, 7 of [the killings] are the same M.O. The cause of the death, the way that the display is being shown or left and then the mutilation part."

How are the cats displayed?

"The cats are being mutilated, parts of the innards are being taken or the entire innards are being taken with the exception of whatever is being left to be displayed,"  Elkins said.

Does the killer have medical training?

"The injuries that we’ve seen in the last several cats have been more clean, but they’ve been consistent with several others prior to that," Johnson said.

Johnson added that “with each separate body that we obtained, we get necropsies which tell us that these were done with surgical precision."

Why are they doing this?

"The suspect appears to be motivated by anger, control. There’s maybe a little bit of interest here to see how everything works but they are also putting these animals out on display for everybody to find. So I think it is also wanting to see a reaction," Johnson said.

Are the cats being killed at the scene?

"No. It’s like a dumpsite if it was a body. It would be similar to a homicide, where a body would be dumped at a dump location,"  Elkins said. "There are a couple of cases where the victim, the owner of the cat, was in close proximity or about a mile away, but we believe the cats are being taken from that residence, moved somewhere else, killed and then brought back to nearby the residence or within close proximity," said Elkins.

How is it possible the killer hasn't been caught on camera?

"Lucky, I guess or he’s intelligent enough to do his homework, his or her," Elkins said. "I’m not sure if it’s a him or her. They are somewhat intelligent because they either know the victims or they are checking out the areas before they actually go out and steal the cats."

How can the public help solve this case?

"The biggest thing I’ve mentioned before is awareness," Elkins said. "Most people are unaware of what’s around them on a normal day-to-day basis. What we’re asking is, instead of people being paranoid, if you’re outside and you get a gut feeling or just something isn’t right, the public, they know the communities they live in. If they see something, grab a license place or grab a description and report it. Call the non-emergency and report it and if that individual is still in the neighborhood, law enforcement can make contact."

You can also call 1-800-222-TIPS. Additionally, you can call (360) 704-2740 the non-emergency line at the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office. According to Pasado's Safe Haven, the reward for this case has increased to $53,000 -- with funds coming from a variety of organizations and the public.

In Washington state, killing an animal while manifesting extreme indifference to life, or in a way that causes undue suffering is a Class C felony — carrying a penalty of up to five years imprisonment, a $10,000 fine, or both.

Dates/locations where cats were found:

10/27/2107 6922 Mill Ct SE (Thurston County Sheriff’s Office)
7/4/2018 1015 Decatur St SW in Decatur Park (Olympia PD)
7/26/2018 5225 Yelm Hwy at Capitol City Golf Course (Thurston County Sheriff’s Office)
8/2/2018 'Olly' was found at 1102 Langridge Drive NW in the front yard (Olympia PD)
8/5/2018 'Harley' was found in the 1705 6th Ave SW in the front yard (Olympia PD)
8/7/2018 3131 29th Ave SW (Tumwater PD)
8/15/2018 Yonkers Dr SE and Clearbrook DR SE in field close to road (Lacey PD)
8/15/218 605 North St (Tumwater PD)
8/17/2018 1335 Woodglen St SE (North of address in wooded area-Thurston County Sheriff’s Office)
8/20/2018 'Midnight' found near Lily Rd and Plummer Rd SE (Olympia PD)
8/22/2018 9101 Se Steilacoom RD (Washington Land Yacht Harbor) (Thurston County Sheriff’s Office)
8/22/20 540 School ST SE at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church (Thurston County Sheriff’s Office)
8/28/2018 3801 Pacific Ave SE (Olympia PD)
8/30/2018 ‘Perfect’ was found off Steilacoom Rd SE near Salmon Ln SE to the east of Lacey.

In these three cases, only heads or limbs were found so it is not known if they are connected but I wanted to include the info in case somebody sees someone suspicious in this area.
1/28/2018 Clearbrook Dr and Yonkers Dr SE in field close to road (Lacey PD)
2/4/2018 Clearbrook Dr and Yonkers Dr SE in field close to road (Lacey PD)
2/4/2018 Clearbrook Dr and Yonkers Dr SE in field close to road (Lacey PD)