How amateur online sleuths found a killer. Or did they inspire him?

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By Zsarlene B. Chua, Reporter

Don’t Fuck with Cats:
Hunting an Internet Killer

CATS ARE the de facto mascots of the internet as cat photos and videos are some of the most consumed content on the internet: the BBC noted in 2015 that there were 2 million cat videos on YouTube. People take their cats seriously — sometimes too seriously — so much so that a hunt for an online cat killer turned into an international manhunt across Canada and Europe.

Don’t Fuck With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer is a three-part series from Mark Lewis following a group of “internet nerds” who searched for a cat killer online and ended up finding a real murderer.

The Netflix documentary launched in December follows the true crime story of a Chinese exchange student’s death at the hands of Luka Rocco Magnotta. But what should have been a straight-to-the-point crime docuseries spun in many different, and disturbing directions and it all started with cats.


(NOTE: Spoilers ahead.)

The year is 2010 and Deanna Thompson, a data analyst at a Las Vegas casino, was spending her time lurking on the internet to take her mind off a recent breakup when a video of a cat killing made the rounds on Facebook. The horrific video of torture and death of the cats led her and other “internet nerds” (as they called themselves) on a hunt to find the killer and unmask him.

What followed was a masterclass on internet sleuthing as Ms. Thompson, alongside John Green (an alias) who has a penchant for internet detective work, detailed how they scoured the video for hints of where the killing took place and who the possible killer was — the bedspread, the wall outlets, the doorknob, everything was a possible clue. They took apart the video frame-by-frame until they got a rough idea of where the crime took place and it was in North America.

When asked what spurred on this frantic search for a cat killer, Ms. Thompson said that on the internet, there’s a “rule zero” and that is “don’t fuck with cats.”

But just as they were close to unveiling the culprit, they realized that the private Facebook group they made to coordinate their efforts had been infiltrated by the perpetrator himself, who then uploaded a second, more graphic video of a kitten being fed to a python.

He was taunting them by using dummy accounts. While the nerds were looking for him, he was also looking for them — he showed Ms. Thompson a video that demonstrated that he knew where she worked.

Ms. Thompson then realized that they may be dealing with a budding serial killer and his killings might escalate and he may end up killing a person.

And he did.

Luka Rocco Magnotta was a film buff. He loved the classics — Casablanca (1942) for instance — and had a special passion for Basic Instinct (1992) and Sharon Stone. His love for movies led him, albeit unsuccessfully, to pursue a modeling and acting career.

He was a narcissist — at several points in the documentary Ms. Thompson and Mr. Green say that they’d get messages from dummy accounts saying that “the person you’re looking for is Luka Magnotta.”

He also created dozens of fan accounts of himself using more than 30 dummy accounts, some of which were named after victims of serial killers: he used the name of one of the five children killed between 1963 and 1965 in England in what was known as the Moors Murders. Another of his aliases was Kirk Trammel or K. Tramell, a homage to Sharon Stone’s character in Basic Instinct, Catherine Tramell.

He wanted people to know his name and after 2012 and the murder of Chinese exchange student Jun Lin, people did know his name.

In 2012, a new video was posted showing a man being stabbed to death with what appeared to be an ice pick while tied to a bed frame. Several days after the killing, the torso of a man was found in Montreal while a foot and a hand were delivered to the Conservative and Liberal parties of Canada.

“They didn’t believe us. We had no credibility with the police,” Ms. Thompson lamented. The nerds had alerted the Toronto police about the cat killing videos two years before, but aside from a haphazard response, they didn’t get a lot out of attention. Then the murder in Montreal happened.

By the time the police did believe the nerds, Magnotta had already flown to Paris.

“We’ll always have Paris,” Rick tells his former lover Ilsa in Casablanca. At this point, the documentary shows how committed Magnotta was to recreating his fantasy of being a famous killer on the run.

A few more disturbing twists and turns and he is finally captured in Germany. At an internet shop. While he was looking at his record on the Interpol wanted list.

While it is cathartic to see him brought to justice — he is currently serving a life sentence with the possibility of parole in 25 years — it does nothing to assuage how disturbing the entire case is because it not only sheds light on how the mind of a murderer worked, it also questions the way people use the internet.

At several points throughout the documentary, Ms. Thompson wonders whether she was complicit in the eventual murder. She felt responsible for spurring Magnotta on — that she fed his vanity by allotting hours and days to trying to hunt him down online — that she and her group gave him the validity he sought, and in so doing allowed him to escalate his crimes to fulfill his fantasy.

But beyond the ramifications of internet behavior, of online activism, the way the documentary was shot is also very disturbing: the director decided to show crucial parts of the snuff videos, even the murder of Mr. Lin himself, without warning the viewers of the graphic content.

The videos, despite not seeing them in their entirety, made me lose a couple of nights’ sleep. They were horrifying. And while I think it was not needed to get the message across, the shock value is effective. It was just as hard to watch as 2018’s Evil Genius which showed a man dying as a bomb tied to his neck exploded. Both were graphic and excessive.

For what it’s worth though, Don’t Fuck with Cats made me rethink how much of a person’s identity is available on the internet and how much their online behavior affects others.

Don’t Fuck with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer is available on Netflix.