Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Tale of the Florida Cat Killer

by Pa Rock
True Crime Reporter

Eighteen-year-old Tyler Hayes Weinman was arrested last week for the killing and mutilation of a couple of dozen cats in and around the tonier neighborhoods of Dade County, Florida. Mr. Weinman, who had graduated from Palmetto Bay High School just a few scant weeks before his arrest, has spent the last several days being psychologically dissected and vilified in the press. Today he was released on bail.

This story bothers me on two levels. Basically the story made it into the national headlines because of class. It happened in two nice, white neighborhoods. The owners of the victim cats were horrified, which is understandable. They lit fires under the local police and the press - and they got action! But if those cats had belonged to families in East St. Louis, Illinois, or South Central Los Angeles, people residing more than five miles beyond the crime scenes would have never heard about this sadistic animal abuse - and the crimes would not have merited any police time for investigations. It is a variation of the Nancy Grace Syndrome in which terrible things that happen to white children are matters of the gravest public concern, while equally horrendous things that befall children of color are routinely ignored.

But, regardless of the class aspects, this story is important because it serves to warn us about the long-term dangers posed to society by people who torture animals. It is a sad story about a bunch of dead cats, but, more than that, it is a reminder of how cruelty can evolve from animal victims to humans.

Tyler Weinman was given a psychological evaluation prior to his release from jail. The judge wanted to have as much information as possible on his mental state before releasing this lad back into society.


The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University recently published research indicating that animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes and four times more likely to commit property crimes than individuals without a history of animal abuse. Another study profiled 354 serial killers and found that 21% of them were known to have committed animal cruelty - and that percentage is almost certainly on the low side.

Animal abusers find power and fulfillment in torturing a victim that is incapable of defending itself. That same motivation is also at play for child and spouse abusers, rapists, and serial killers.

Jeffrey Dahmer, as a youth, impaled dogs' heads, frogs, and cats on stakes. Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler, trapped dogs and cats in fruit crates and then shot arrows through the boxes. Ted Bundy and David Berkowitz (the Son of Sam) were also animal abusers in their youth. Steven Green, the U.S. Army private who raped a girl in Iraq and murdered her and her family, bragged about setting a puppy of fire and throwing it off of a roof when he was a child. (He also burned the body of his rape victim.)

Many of the school shooters practiced cruelty to animals. Kip Kinkel of Oregon, Luke Woodham of Mississippi, and Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Colorado all had a history of abusing animals.

So, if a child abuses animals, does it necessarily follow that he or she will become a deranged killer of humans? No, it does not. It is however, a nearly perfect indicator that something bad has happened in that child's life - physical or sexual abuse, or serious neglect. It is also a warning sign that this little person could become a big problem to society in the years to come.

If Tyler Hayes Weinman did kill all of those classy Florida cats, that's a legitimate news story - though not one that merits a national obsession. The real story, however, may come about a few years down the road.

The blog posts that I have read are decidedly vindictive, suggesting that he should be locked up for many years. (Unbelievably, Mr. Weinman faces a possible 158 years in prison for the cat murders!) But prison would be counterproductive. While Mr. Weinman was imprisoned and rubbing shoulders with other convicts, his urges toward cruelty and anti-social behaviors would be strengthened - and when he was ultimately released, society would face significantly more dangers than if he had been directed into a comprehensive treatment program at the outset.

Prisons are warehouses that reinforce anti-social behaviors and make bad people worse - but that is a whole other post.

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