UPDATE: According to the SPCA of Westchester, necropsies performed last night on three of the feline victims reveal the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head, with no evidence of poison. All of the cats are believed to have suffered the same fate. Bats, shovels and other heavy instruments were also found near the corpses. New images below.
Police made a gruesome discovery in Yonkers, New York, late this morning, with 25 dead cats found hanging from the gnarled branches of a tree in an abandoned lot. Their bodies had been stuffed in 30 plastic bags and either hung on the tree itself or scattered around its base, in what appears to be a ritualistic display.
The grisly scene was called in by employees from the Department of Public Works, who stumbled across the bags when they arrived to tidy up the lot. Onlookers have since described the sight as “horrific” and say it smells strongly of death.
“They were placed in small shopping bags, the plastic bags that you might get from an A&P or a ShopRite, and then they were hung from a tree,” says Ernie Lungaro, director of humane law enforcement at SPCA. “Some were severely decomposed. We got a couple that were still fresh, within the last few weeks maybe. But we’re transporting them and are going to have some necropsies done. We’ll know more then.”
The SPCA and local police are still collecting evidence and conducting interviews, and have yet to release a cause of death. But it appears that the cats were placed at the scene over the course of several months, which makes it difficult for authorities to even speculate as to how they were killed. “They didn’t appear to be maimed, but some of them were so decomposed we couldn’t tell,” says Lungaro, who declined to make any determination before the official report comes back.
Investigators are stumped as to how no one noticed the deceased cats. The scene is 10 minutes by foot from the Yonkers Amtrak Station and surrounded by homes on one side and shops and restaurants on the other. With the growing body count and foul stench, many are surprised it took this long for anyone to report them.
“It’s very strange. There’s a house next door and there are residences across the street. It’s a well-travelled little vacant lot,” says SPCA’s executive director, Shannon Laukhuf. “There’s a path that runs down to the businesses. Clearly, people have walked that path pretty often. It’s hard to believe that someone didn’t notice something. The smell of decomposition is overwhelming.”
It’s not the first time that multiple dead cats have been found in Yonkers. In March of last year, police were fielding calls from distressed residents on Bretton Road—an eight-minute drive from today’s find—who found more than a dozen poisoned cats in their front yards. In August, 10 more were found on the same road. A culprit was never found, but the investigation is ongoing. At this stage, authorities are not sure if the cases are related, but the latest discovery paints an increasingly sinister picture.
“It’s too early to draw any conclusions,” says Laukhuf. “We’ve never really seen anything like this. What’s so disturbing is the way the cats were hung in bags and arranged. This is obviously the work of someone very deranged.”
In a later statement released Friday afternoon, Laukhuf added:
“All of us at the SPCA of Westchester are deeply appalled by this depraved act of animal cruelty. I want to assure the public that we will use every resource available to us to bring those responsible to swift justice.”
Editor’s Note: The body count originally reported has been changed to reflect the official report. There were a total of 25 cats in 30 bags.