IN a quiet market town, distraught cat owners comb the streets, occasionally calling out their pets’ names.
Lamp posts bear the tattered corners of posters where home-made “missing” appeals were hung.
The ones still intact remind residents of a macabre history.
In the past few weeks, TEN cats have gone missing in Cinderford, Gloucs, making locals fear a return of the town’s “cat killers” of 2016.
Then, it was thought a vile gang was snatching cats as part of a gruesome initiation ceremony, killing the animals or mutilating them so horribly they had to be put down.
Grandmother Carole Harris, 56, is worried about her 13-year-old puss, Denzel.
She said: “Have these cats gone off and died somewhere, or have they been taken?
“You just wonder about anybody passing by who stops to pet a cat.”
Carole remembers the horrific cat killings four years ago and worries it could be happening again.
She said: “It has made me much more worried about my cat.
“When I heard about what that gang was doing to those poor cats a few years ago, that kind of thing kills me.
“You just don’t know if that gang is making a comeback in the town. It is really worrying.
“Our cat is very much part of the family. I don’t know what I would do.”
Pauline Godwin, 54, and her fiancé Paul Green, 47, live on the same road as Carole.
They have been left heartbroken after their cat Squiggle went missing in June.
They put up missing posters in the town, which is in the heart of the Forest of Dean — but in a sinister twist, most of them have been torn down.
Pauline said: “We’ve been thinking all sorts. It’s hard to know whether this gang from a few years ago is making a comeback.
“There’s been no sighting of him. For a cat that is always in and out of the house, and eats loads, it’s strange for him to completely vanish.”
Pauline hopes her handsome tabby has just found another home “with a little old lady” but she is haunted by dark thoughts.
She said: “There are people who are living rough in the woods near our house. You see them coming out and you just think the worst.
“All sorts of things are running through your mind.”
Now she is keeping a careful eye on her other two cats, Socks and Biscuits, who she inherited when her mum passed away earlier this year.
She said: “I have got more paranoid about trying to keep the other two cats in the house. But we don’t know what to do for the best.
“They’re so used to being allowed out. If you lock the cat flap they just go crazy.”
It is hard to imagine this peaceful town was once home to what police described as “twisted and evil” acts.
During four weeks between February and March 2016, five cats were found dead.
One was riddled with air gun pellets, another had its front legs removed and was left for dead.
One ten-year-old moggy, found on the High Street, had its stomach sliced open and its organs pulled out.
A tabby was decapitated and one kicked to death — and other bodies were found in Coventry, West Mids, at the same time.
It was feared sickos had copied the “Croydon cat killer”, thought at the time to be responsible for about 60 cat deaths since the previous December.
Police later concluded that the fatalities in and around South London were caused by wild animals and road accidents.
Gloucestershire cops, who were liaising with the Metropolitan Police, said they were probing claims a gang was killing them in a test for new members.
Animal rights charity Peta put up a £2,000 reward to catch those responsible.
It said at the time: “Animal abuse is a symptom of deep mental disturbance and the person who did this could require serious psychological help.”
Mum-of-two Kim Hopkins, who lives a few doors down from Pauline Godwin, has also had two cats go missing this year — Jelly and Lucy, both aged three.
She said: “When we first moved at the beginning of the year from a house in town, two of our cats would wander off a lot.
“They would disappear for maybe a week or two. Initially they would come back for a rest and some food, and then wander off again.
“But we haven’t seen either of them since about May.
“I thought maybe they just didn’t like it here and they were going back to our old house. But I have walked down to our old address a few times now looking for them and I haven’t seen them.”
Kim, who has three other cats at home — Sooty, Lloyd and Nya — said: “It is really concerning. I don’t know what to do.
“I do try to keep my other cats inside the house now, but they always find a way out.
“I do worry if they don’t come back after a day or two.
“My 13-year-old daughter Charley suffers from anxiety, and one of our cats, Nya, is like her companion, so she gets really upset and scared about it.”
Kim, 35, also remembers what happened four years ago and prays her three-year-old pets have not suffered such a gruesome fate.
She said: “What they did was gross. It made me really upset to hear about. I don’t want to upset my kids.
“I’m hoping our two cats have just wandered off somewhere.
“But it is concerning because there’s not much you can do after they’re gone.”
With no bodies or any evidence of a crime committed so far, local cops have no cause to investigate.
All locals can do now is cross their fingers and pray that their beloved cats are still alive and will eventually find their way home. But hope is fading.
A 28-year-old woman in the town, who did not want to be named, hasn’t seen her white, ginger and grey cat Nala for two weeks.
She said: “I don’t know if there’s any truth in these things about the gang from before coming back, but there’s no smoke without fire.
“Part of me hopes that Nala just has a second home somewhere, but people can be so cruel to animals.
“I have had to stop myself from thinking the worst.”
Nala’s sister Elsa has been “really out of sorts” since the cat’s disappearance.
The owner said: “I got them together as kittens so it’s very unusual for one to go off without the other.
“Hopefully she comes back, but I have lost a little bit of hope now.”
Animals… and then humans
THERE are fears that the latest cat killers could go on to target humans – as some of the most twisted serial murderers began by snuffing out animals.
Ian Brady hurled a cat off the top floor of a Glasgow tenement building when he was ten.
The notorious Moors Murderer, who went on to torture and kill five children in the ’60s, also burned another cat alive, stoned dogs and cut off rabbits’ heads.
US cannibal killer Jeffrey Dahmer first practised his butchery skills by carving up cats and dogs before impaling their heads on sticks.
He later dismembered 17 men and boys from 1978 to 1991.
More recently, Canadian Luka Magnotta posted anonymous videos of himself killing kittens before murdering Chinese student Jun Lin in 2012 – which he also circulated online.
The story of the international manhunt for Magnotta and his conviction in 2014 was told in hit Netflix documentary Don’t F**k With Cats.
Now there are concerns that sickos who have been killing pets in the UK recently could also turn into murderers unless they are caught.
In February, five cats died in a series of unusual circumstances in Brentwood, Essex. A sixth survived and was treated for injuries.
Police were contacted by a concerned vet after members of the public brought in cats they believed had been hit by a car.
But further investigations led them to believe the cats had been deliberately hit with an object.
Officers have urged the public to report any suspicious behaviour which could help them catch the culprit.
In July, four cats were killed in Swadlincote, Derbys.
The RSPCA launched an investigation after all four of the animals, from homes on the same street, died less than a week apart.
The pets, which belonged to three separate families, were rushed to the vets but died or had to be put to sleep.
After tests were carried out, vets said the animals were poisoned with antifreeze.
But the UK’s most prolific animal hitman turned out to be completely non-existent.
The Croydon Cat Killer was linked to around 250 pet deaths in a so-called killing spree across South London that began in October 2015.
During their three-year investigation, the Metropolitan Police spent more than £130,000 trying to catch the perpetrator.
But detectives concluded that there was no evidence of a human killer.
They believed the spate of deaths were the result of attacks by wild animals, such as foxes, and vehicle collisions.
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