A series of killings of cats and other small pets in sections of North Tustin and nearby communities has alarmed pet owners and sparked an investigation by county animal control officials.
The officials have all but concluded that the killings were done by coyotes searching for food, but some of the residents are not buying that explanation.
If coyotes are killing the pets, one of the residents said this week, then they are coyotes that carry Swiss Army knives.
Janet Hampson, who lives on Malena Street in North Tustin, says she has documented the killing of nearly 50 cats and other animals since last May by human hands--by someone with a knife who is cutting up the animal body parts and collecting the blood, perhaps to use in some kind of satanic ritual.
Hampson has embarked on a one-woman campaign to alert pet owners to what she fears is a danger more sinister than hungry coyotes.
“The only people who think we’re dealing with coyotes are the authorities,” said Hampson, a part-time political consultant and owner of three cats. She plans to plaster the area with fliers that describe the deaths and urge people to keep their pets indoors.
Hampson is backed in her effort by the owners of the dead animals, many of whom said they found their pets cut in two or more pieces with what appeared to be a sharp knife or surgical tool. In nearly every case, the pet owners said, there was little or no blood in, on or around the animal’s carcass.
Hampson has collected information on 43 cases, some of which involved more than one animal, from parts of North Tustin, Tustin, Orange and Villa Park. She said the reports include instances where intestines, severed paws and internal organs appeared to have been washed and neatly arranged around the body. In other cases, body parts and organs were missing.
The lack of blood has led Hampson and some of the pet owners to wonder if some sort of cult is involved. Hampson has been looking for clues in literature on satanism.
Police and animal control officials concede that “isolated” instances of satanic activity may be occurring in the county, but they said they doubt that the animals Hampson has cited were killed for rituals.
Jack Edwards, chief of field services for the county’s Animal Control Division, said he has seen the materials gathered by Hampson and has not changed his opinion that the pets were killed either by coyotes or dogs or while they were sleeping on the engine of a car to keep warm.
“I’ve had to cut many a cat out of a fan belt or an engine,” he said.
Three reports of mutilated cats that animal control officers responded to this week turned out to be coyote kills, he added.
Although the vast majority of the dead animals have been cats, a few reports have involved rabbits, ducks, gerbils, birds and opossums.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Dr. James Connoyer, a North Tustin veterinarian whose cat, Keoke, was found last May on a neighbor’s lawn cut horizontally in perfect halves.
Connoyer, who worked for 4 years as an emergency veterinarian at the Orange County Emergency Pet Clinic in Garden Grove and who has seen the carcasses of two cats besides his own, said he is familiar with how a pet that has been mauled by a wild animal looks.
“It was hard for me to imagine that these were typical of attacks by dogs or coyotes,” he said. “Organs were missing. The animals were severed in half very cleanly. There were no bite wounds anywhere.”
Keith Hayes of Orange and his wife, Terri, said that last September they found the head of their cat on their lawn facing toward the east with two of its paws lined up neatly in front.
“I don’t feel safe. I haven’t for a long time,” said Terri Hayes. “I’m afraid to let my daughter play outside.
Accompanied by a reporter and a photographer, Hampson this week examined drainage ditches in Tustin, Orange and North Tustin, looking for signs of satanic activity. The ditches were mentioned as places where cats were killed in an article last month in the Tustin News.
Of five ditches examined, three contained graffiti that were later identified as associated with Satanism. The outside of a storm drain pipe in Tustin near Walnut Avenue and Cherrywood Lane was covered with such graffiti. The words “Satanic Rules” were scrawled in grease pencil on the ceiling of the pipe, which is large enough for an adult to walk inside.
Satanism was not ruled out by Mike Burns, an animal control administrator for the city of Los Angeles who is familiar with the use of animals in sacrifices and other rituals.
Burns, who this week presented the Los Angeles Board of Animal Regulation with a voluminous report on the subject, said that animal blood, organs and body parts are a major part of satanic rituals.
Burns reviewed the material collected by Hampson and concluded that satanists or someone trying to emulate them could be involved. He based his conclusion, he stressed, solely on descriptions of the carcasses provided to Hampson by the owners of the pets. He noted that some of the killings occurred on or around satanic holidays, such as St. Winebald’s Day, which is Jan. 7.
Wild Animal Killings
“Assuming that the descriptions are accurate, I would say you’re not dealing with wild animals,” he said. “I’ve never seen a coyote string intestines in a line alongside a body.
“A coyote will usually eat the entrails first and will eat the liver and heart, but when you’re talking about a cat cut in half or with its chest cut open and two front paws missing--no, you’re not talking coyote.”
But an animal control officer who was spotted looking for coyote tracks at a drainage ditch in North Tustin, said he is convinced that a coyote can bite a cat in half without spraying blood all around.
“I’ve seen many of these cases,” he said, “and they always turn out to be cat versus coyote.”