MIAMI (CBS/AP) Cats can sleep a little bit easier in the sunshine state. The man behind the mysterious cat killings that horrified pet owners and disturbed residents of two South Florida communities has been caught, say police, and he was living right next door to many of his victims.
18-year-old Tyler Hayes Weinman, whose divorced parents live in the neighborhoods where many of the cats were killed, was charged Sunday with 19 counts each of animal cruelty and improperly disposing of an animal body.
"It's shocking to think that someone who lives right here and is our neighbor would do something like this," said Thomas Shad, a Cutler Bay resident whose black cat, Miss Kitty, was among the dead. The body of the small feral cat — which Shad and his wife, Mary Lou, had fed and cared for about a year — was found behind an abandoned house, near the hedges where she slept.
"Now we feel like we can let our cats out of the patio," said Shad, as the couple's new kitten, Miss Prissy, played near his feet. "Perhaps we have part of our life back."
Authorities said they had been watching Weinman for some time. A few weeks ago, investigators swept in to interview him on his prom night, neighbors said, picking him up in his tuxedo before the big dance. He was arrested at a party on Sunday.
"If they do get the wrong guy and it's not him, they've ruined his life as it is right now," said 19-year-old Kyle Hantzis, who lives next door.
Weinman's attorney, David W. Macey, said in an e-mail that his client was innocent of the charges.
"Tyler welcomes his day in court, so that he will be completely vindicated," Macey said.
In the past month, residents in the Palmetto Bay and Cutler Bay neighborhoods have reported finding the bodies of more than two dozen cats, although police said some were likely killed by dogs. Some were missing fur — neighbors said some had been skinned — and appeared to have been cut with a sharp, straight instrument, police said.
"What a horrible, horrific death for any animal," said Nancy Mayes, whose cat, Sheba, was found dead this May. "We can only hope, I can only hope, that he killed her fast and instantly so that she didn't endure the pain of the knife, the mutilation."
Louis B. Schlesinger, a professor of forensic psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said cat killings are committed by "complicated individuals," and are usually solo acts. He said the teenager should be evaluated, and he expected court officials to take the matter seriously.
"When you kill cats, disembowel them and cut their heads off, that is not a good sign and you do not have to be Sigmund Freud to see that," he said.
On Sunday, no one answered knocks at Weinman's beige house in the Cutler Bay neighborhood, which Shad said was stitched with police tape early that morning. A welcome mat dotted with pictures of paw prints playfully encouraged visitors to "wipe your paws."
At another address for Weinman in nearby Palmetto Bay, a red-and-black warning told fire crews that a cat lived in the house. Lights were on inside, but no one answered the door.
Messages left at phone numbers for his parents were not returned.
Police said they investigated more than 30 cat deaths since May and were flooded with tips from concerned citizens. Miami-Dade Police Department Maj. Julie Miller said the investigation was still open, but she declined to name other suspects.
Authorities said Weinman was spending his summer doing odd jobs. He was twice arrested as a juvenile, though they said they could not provide details.