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It’s a case with a plot as complicated as the story machinations of a reality television show, so it’s only fitting that a member of an actual reality show contributed to the real-life drama.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
“Don't F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer” is Netflix’s newest true crime docu-series. It takes the viewer through the dramatic hunt for Luka Magnotta, who posted multiple videos of himself killing animals, before graduating to a real-life snuff film with the recorded murder and dismemberment of college student Jun Lin.
After Magnotta posted his first known animal abuse video in 2010, a video called “1 boy 2 kittens” in which he kills two kittens with a vacuum sealed bag, he caught the attention of animal rights activists. While his identity at the time was shrouded in mystery, a group of dedicated citizens were determined to find him. After all, he broke a sacred rule of the internet.
“Now, it's unwritten, but it's understood. Rule zero. And rule zero is, 'Don't f**k with cats,’” Deanna Thompson, one of the online sleuths featured in the docu-series, says.
She and a few dozen other amateur detectives began hunting down the rule zero breaker in the Facebook group "Find the Kitten Vacuumer...For great justice.”
Their small but dedicated group quickly swelled when “Rescue Ink Unleashed” joined forces with them. “Rescue Ink Unleashed” was a reality show that ran for one season in 2009, a year before the first kitten video emerged. The show centers around the (now closed) Long Island animal welfare organization Rescue Ink, which was run by a group of inked-up motorcycle folks who used aggressive tactics to stop animal cruelty.
Joe Panzarella, or Joe Panz, was the leader of Rescue Ink, and he was prominently featured in the show. He was horrified when he came across “1 boy 2 kittens.”
"When I first watched the video, and I saw the air coming out of the bag, and I saw the life going out of the kittens' eyes ... It made me so anxious to do something,” he recalls in the docu-series.
And he did do something.
Panzarella called his sister, who studied criminal profiling. She told him that the man behind the video would continue to abuse animals, and he would only progress to killing people — a prediction that proved correct.
Panz said because animal killing is sometimes a sign of a future serial killer, he knew that the man behind the video was “someone who had to be stopped immediately.”
So, Rescue Ink used their large social media following to help.
"We had a humongous internet presence on Facebook, on Twitter,” Panz explains. “We had literally 100,000 people. We were getting 8, 9 million hits a month.”
Panz said he created a poster, complete with a screenshot of the kitten abuser’s face, along with a $5,000 reward. He then shared it over Rescue Ink’s digital platforms.
The Facebook group swelled. Thompson called it an “explosion of people.”
"There was a tidal wave of leads that were coming in" Panz recalls, adding that it became “like dogs chasing shiny cars all over the place trying to find this guy.”
One of the shiny cars ended up being a false lead that had a tragic conclusion. The Facebook group thought they had found the culprit, and many members began ganging up on him online. While this man posted a video of a cat being burned alive and claimed to kill kittens, he wasn’t the cat killer. Instead, he was a man named Edward Jordan, who was battling depression. He took his own life shortly after he was misidentified as the animal abuser.
"He was an internet troll that wanted to be like a copycat, that put up a video that made everybody think he was the guy,” Panz said.
“When you're looking for somebody like the kitten killer, you gotta fight against losing yourself," he reflected. "What happens is you start to turn into the very thing that you're trying to fight. You don't want to become like these people, vicious. You don't want to become the monster.”
The real kitten killer was later identified as Magnotta. He is currently serving life in prison for the murder of Lin.
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