Psychological health

Moral Panic and The Raglan Cat Killer

One feature of human psychology is that people tend to see what they expect to see. As meaning-oriented beings, we are immune to interpreting patterns of information that reflect our expectations and beliefs. A notable example is Face On Mars – which turned into a pile of moving soil.

Another example is the strange case of Maria Rubio of Port Arthur, New Mexico, who was convinced in 1977 that she had seen the face of Jesus in a tortilla. This process also helps create moral panic – exaggerated threats to social order by a malevolent actor. Moral panic is heavy on rumors, gossip, and illumination of facts.

Take the case of the New Zealand Raglan Cat Killer. For a decade, citizens have read stories and watched television reports of a serial cat killer on the loose in the rural town of Raglan. A group was formed, Stop the Cat Killer, and a blog was created under the title Raglan Reaper. In 2014 near the height of the panic, residents began flying flags with a cat symbol, crossbones and the phrase “Stop Raglan Cat Killer” (Harry, 2014).

A clear aspect of this case has emerged over the years: no culprit has been identified despite living in the age of phone cameras and surveillance video. Furthermore, the police found no evidence of a cat killer.

New Zealand TV personality Guy Williams recently spent several weeks trying to get to the heart of the mystery, including going to Raglan and interviewing locals. In the end, he came to a similar conclusion – that there is no serial killer of cats. This wouldn’t be the first fatal moral panic for cats.

A similar panic in Slovenia in the year 2000 became the focus of a study by sociologist Gregor Polly who found that panic resulted from sensationalist media reports, and interest groups elicit fear and anxiety about juvenile crimes (Polly, 2002).

croydon cat killer

In 2014, Croydon in south London was the scene of another serial cat killer scare after the decapitated corpses of local cats began appearing all over the city. The perpetrator appeared to mock the owners of their victims by placing body parts in carefully selected locations such as doorsteps and playgrounds.

An animal rights group speculated that a psychopath was on the loose. Fearing that they might start targeting humans, the group looked at reports of cats disappearing across the country and discovered hundreds of similar cases.

Then Scotland Yard got involved. After studying CCTV footage, post-mortem examinations of dead cats, forensic examinations, and DNA tests, they concluded that there was no serial cat killer. According to their investigation, “No evidence of human involvement was found in any of the reported cases. There were no witnesses, no identifiable patterns, and no forensic evidence suggesting human involvement.”

But what about the deformed bodies and body parts of cats scattered around the city? They concluded that many cats died, their body parts torn and left in various places by scavengers (Thompson, 2018; Dodd, 2018).

Why do good cats remain?

It is important to remember that cats lose all the time. Normally, we don’t pay much attention to reports of missing cats unless it’s our cats. However, as soon as stories start circulating about the possibility of a villainous play, we start to see evidence of the cat killer’s work all over the place. It’s also important to look at the baseline: How many cats are lost each year in any given community? I think it’s a lot.

Heck, everyone I know has lost a pet at some point. why? Because cats crash into cars, get hit by other cats, eat rat bait, get sick, get lost, and sometimes, like their human counterparts, drop dead.

The meaning behind panic

What is the deeper psychological significance of Croydon and Raglan Cat Killer’s fears? Social panic usually reflects prevalent fears. What was happening when these episodes started to take root?

They soon exploded as ecologist Gareth Morgan made global headlines by calling for the eradication of cats in New Zealand because they were threatening many native species of birds (Wade, 2013). The story led to a flurry of both pro- and anti-cat talk online about getting rid of cats as pets. Rumors began to circulate that an evil bird lover was targeting domestic cats. As a result, owners are beginning to pay more attention to the loss of cats in their area and fear the worst.

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