[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/CRIME/06/17/florida.cat.killings/art.ty.jpg caption="Tyler Weinman, 18, is under house arrest, accused of killing 19 pet cats in Miami, Florida."]
Who or what is behind a spree that has left 18 pet cats gruesomely mutilated and seemingly showcased for their devastated owners? Miami-Dade police have been trying to answer this question and unravel the mystery that has gripped, and at times seemed to terrorize, the Miami towns of Cutler & Palmetto Bay over the last month where police and pet owners began discovering disfigured cats May 13th. Was a serial killer on the loose? Was this some sort of sick prank? The work of a wild animal? Gang initiation or a cult? Who or what might be the next victim?
On Sunday, police announced they had made an arrest. Palmetto High school senior Tyler Hayes Weinman was taken in to custody and charged with 19 counts of Animal cruelty, 4 counts of Burglary, and 19 counts of Improper Disposal of a Dead Animal. Weinman could face a maximum of 158 years in state prison if convicted on all counts, said Terry Shavez, spokeswoman for the state attorney's office. Find more background on the arrest and Weinman, here.
A judge ordered Weinman released today during a brief hearing after deemed "competent" following psychological testing. Weinman will return home fitted with an electronic monitoring device until he is summoned to appear for his next hearing July 6.
Weinman's family and some friends have rallied to his support that they absolutely have the wrong guy. His attorney, David Macey, alleges his client is innocent. "It's trial by ambush," Macey said. "It's anything goes so that they can have a body, a warm body, to solve these cat killings. My heart and my sympathy goes out to the owners of these pets, but unfortunately, it won't provide them any relief that Tyler's in custody. Tyler is innocent."
Left puzzled over this bizarre crime, we reached out to Fmr. FBI profiler Candice DeLong to help make sense of what type of person might be motivated to go on a cat killing spree, and why?
Q & A with Candice DeLong
Host of the Discovery Channel Series Deadly Woman, former FBI Profiler and Psychiatric Nurse
Caplan: Candice, when you first heard about these pet cats showing up on their owners lawns mutilated, what went through your mind?
DeLong: The 1st time I heard about this, I wondered if a wild animal was doing it. Had a similar case in San Jose. Cats were being found cut in half, their guts were found on top of bushes. Animal control came in and said it wasn’t a case of animal attacks. So we started investigating possible leads and had a few suspects. Then it all came apart one day when a lady saw a coyote walk away in her back yard with her cat in its mouth. Animal control came back in, looked at their autopsy reports again and realized that the killings were actually animal related. Listen, I don’t know what kind of wild animals are roaming around that part of Florida but the police allege that there is probable cause for an arrest.
Caplan: If these cats were not killed by another animal(s) but at human hand as the prosecution alleges, what does this crime say to you?
DeLong: The thing that stands out to me the most is the number of cat mutilations/fatalities being tied to this person. 18. Killing one cat is not a good sign, but you could maybe write it off as some sort of experimentation. Hopefully it ended with the person feeling disgusted and thinking it was a horrible, horrific idea. But 18 times? There is a level of premeditation here which is far beyond an accident or experimentation.
Caplan: Why and who would go on a cat killing spree?
DeLong: This behavior is a very serious indicator of a troubled person…either someone is suffering from a severe mental illness like schizophrenia and they’re doing it for some delusional reason (like they believe the cat is the devil), in which case they appear to be an unstable person to the outside world, and are not able to commit crimes without getting caught fairly quickly. Or possibly they’re a sadistic killer in training and they’re acting out a fantasy, working up to and practicing what they want to do humans. Cats actually are the MOST frequently abused/mutilated animals by potential serial killers. Why? Well, one killer told me," I hate them...they are just like women!. They sneak around, they are quiet and conniving, they act like they don't need you, and they need to be dead!" If I was looking for a suspect, I’d be looking for a male. This is a crime about power; control, rage, and possibly sadism (sexual control). Another possibility is that it was some kind of sick joke or game to someone, but if you think it’s funny, that says something is horribly wrong with the person as well. The person who did this is dangerous to society. Whatever the motivation driving the behavior, the ability to stalk and kill 18 pet cats shows a complete lack of empathy, judgment and regard for the consequences of their actions. Whether or not you like cats, even if you detest them, healthy people are still able to understand the pain they would be inflicting on the family to which they belong.
Caplan: Candice, one of our affiliate stations in Florida is reporting that Detectives believe Weinman was the ringleader of a group committing these crimes. Police would not comment further on other possible suspects and will only confirm one arrest at this point. Does this change the dynamic of the crime if it’s a group, vs. a solo perpetrator?
DeLong: It’s still horribly disturbing but it’s not AS disturbing as the profile of someone acting alone. People, especially teenagers, will do things in a group that they’d never do alone. One of the things that concerns me as a profiler, whosever idea it was, what the hell were they thinking? The fact that someone came up with this idea gives great insight in to their psyche regardless. This is not a typical prank at all. An average kid would not come up with an idea like this. This is not taking a bat to someone’s mailbox, or tp-ing someone’s elm tree. Anyone dismissing the severity of killing and mutilating a small, helpless animal does not understand human nature as I do. Shows a tremendous lack of empathy. This is a very bad behavior. It’s a predictor of future bad things to come.
Caplan: If these crimes were committed by a group, does the so called “ringleader” of the crime, have a different pathology than the other participants?
DeLong: The most dangerous person in a pack is the leader. Pretty much everyone else is a following to some degree. They might not be in to the crime that much, but don’t want to be seen as a loser. Regardless of their involvement, all of these kids should be punished and subject to court ordered mental health care. They need to be assessed by someone very familiar with sociopathy and sadism.
And a bit of the otherside. The man who thinks this is too much ado about nothing.
Americans Sure Love Their Pets-Humane Society Statistics on cat and dog ownership.