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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Cat killer who's claimed more than nine lives: Neighbours employ security guard in hunt for poisoner

By Andrew Levy

Cat killer: Caroline Middlebrook's cat Cleo, who died in October of last year, is among those poisoned with anti-freeze in the Essex village of Runwell

With eight dead and two missing from the same area in little over two years, it’s a crime rate that rivals Midsomer Murders.

No cat is safe, it seems, from the Runwell Poisoner.

All that is known about the culprit is that he or she poisons the victims using anti-freeze, whose sweet taste attracts cats but which contains glycol, causing kidney failure when it crystallises inside.

Precautions: Animal lovers in the village have paid thousands so that security guards can patrol the streets after a spate of deaths that included Paige, pictured

Three of the dead pets belonged to Terry Lewis, 30, a bank project manager who lives in Saxon Close, Runwell – a village near Wickford, Essex.

Three-year-old Leo's death earlier this month followed those of six-year-old Paige in October last year and one-year-old Phoebe in October 2009.

Mr Lewis, who lives with his partner Hayley Williams, 28, a software developer, spent £10,000 on vets' bills and dialysis in an attempt to save his stricken pets and put up posters around the neighbourhood to alert other cat owners.

At one point this year the posters were torn down five days running so he spent £3,000 hiring security guards. But they failed to catch the culprit.

'I think the police should launch a murder inquiry,' he said.

'If someone’s prepared to hurt animals you don’t know what else they might be prepared to do.'

Victims: Two of Hayley Williams and Terry Lewis' cats Pheobe, left, and Leo, who both died from poisoning

Gone: Caroline Middlebrook's cat Noodle who was put on medication after being poisoned but died last month

Missing: Carol Howarth's cat Roo, left, disappeared in December and another of the Howarth's cats, Tigger, has not been seen since March

Another devastated owner is Michelle Hyatt, 33, who lives with her husband Tony, 40, in the same road.

The couple’s 18-month-old cat, Tiger, died in agony last December and they are terrified the same fate will befall their other cat, Sooty.

'We are now keeping Sooty in the house for fear of the same thing happening to him – which is quite difficult, particularly in the hot weather,' Mrs Hyatt said.

Caroline Middleton, 39, also of Saxon Close, had two cats poisoned in October last year.

Cleo, a ten-year-old Persian, died at the vets and Noodle, a six-year-old British Blue, was put on medication but died last month.

Two other cats died in October 2009 – one from the same street and the other a stone's throw away in Viking Way.

Scene of the crimes: The little Essex village of Runwell is usually a quiet place

Richard Howarth, 42, and his wife Carol, who live in nearby Egbert Gardens, also fear their two cats have fallen victim to the poisoner.

Roo, a five-year-old tortoiseshell, disappeared in December and her brother Tigger has not been seen since March.

The couple have posted more than 1,500 leaflets in homes around the area appealing for information and offering a £3,000 reward but have heard nothing.

Now they have installed an £800 security fence to save their seven-week-old kitten, Milo, from a similar fate.

A police community support officer carried out house-to-house inquiries after the death toll began to mount, but found no clue to the killer's identity.

A spokesman said: 'We are keen to hear from anyone who thinks their pet may have been subject to anything like this.'



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