A certain type of humorous crime writer (I’m thinking of Kate Atkinson or Richard Osman) might be sorry that they won’t now be able to invent a detective character with the brilliant name of Boudicca Rising. For the very real Boudicca Rising is a “cat death investigator” working (until recently) for a charity with the equally brilliant acronym SNARL (South Norwood Animal Rescue and Liberty).
Rising contributed to a documentary that must have seemed a safe bet for ITV.
How to Catch a Cat Killer gave us felines and real crime together – ratings catnip, surely. It centred on a community effort in Brighton in 2018 to try to identify the person who had stabbed at least 14 of the city’s moggie residents. “How could anyone do such a thing to an innocent animal?” wondered the owner of the first recorded victim, “king of the alley” Gideon.
It’s a good question, which the documentary was unable to answer. This was largely because the culprit – 52-year-old security guard Steven Bouquet (or “creepy Steve” as he was known to fellow bouncers on the doors of Brighton’s pubs and clubs) – would die in prison having never confessed to the killings.
There was also a segment on David Iwo, who killed at least 30 cats in Norwich before graduating to his first human victim. And of course, serial killer Ted Bundy infamously began by torturing small animals.
This was partly the fear in Brighton, that the cat killer had larger, two-legged prey in mind. But mostly it was a trepidation for the residents’ own pets, with the city’s ailurophiles coming together on social media, leafleting warnings and turning citizen detectives. Their “Cats Community Action Team” even had one of those wall maps with pins and string so beloved of murder investigations in TV police dramas.
Keith Randall, whose beloved pet Hendrix was one of Bouquet’s early victims, made the vital breakthrough when he followed Hendrix’s trail of blood and checked a neighbour’s CCTV. And there was Bouquet attacking Hendrix before nonchalantly strolling away.
Having arrested Bouquet, Sussex Police began the painstaking task of gathering evidence. This stacked up fairly conclusively, with cat DNA on a kitchen knife, vile videos on his laptop of dogs mauling cats, and (crucially) a phone trace that put him at the scene of 14 of the killings. The autopsies revealed death by stabbing.
There is a more famous case – that of the so-called Croydon Cat Killer, who was believed to have slaughtered more than 400 felines. Pathologists who studied 32 of these carcasses discovered that foxes, cars and disease had caused most of the deaths. The police subsequently closed the case, although people remain convinced a killer is still at large – not least the tenacious Boudicca Rising.
She cited cases of collars being posted through owners’ letterboxes and even someone nailing a cat’s head and tail to the owner’s door.
Having covered most of the angles, the documentary even managed to serve up a happy ending – Gideon making a full recovery and Hendrix’s owners now hosting a new moggie.
But why cats, I couldn’t help wondering? Does their prowling habit and approachability to strangers make them an easy target for sickos? Indeed, there is another documentary to be made, this one about what actually drives people like Bouquet to kill helpless small animals. And, no, that’s not an invitation to hear from opponents of fox hunting.