Luka Magnotta had set up at least 70 Facebook pages and 20 websites under different names, which he used to plant rumours about himself, including that he was in a relationship with a high-profile convicted murderer
Deanna Thompson was scrolling idly through Facebook one evening when she saw a video link.
It had attracted tens of thousands of views on social media and almost as many comments.
When she clicked on it, the animal lover was merely hoping to distract herself from the breakdown of her relationship and, noticing it featured two tiny kittens, assumed she was about to see yet another video of some adorable pets playing together.
So what Deanna actually found was all the more traumatising: she watched in horror as a hoodie-wearing figure put the two kittens in a translucent plastic storage bag, switched on a vacuum cleaner and sucked out all the air. He continued filming as the creatures died a terrible death.
The shock changed Deanna’s life, transforming her into an amateur sleuth obsessed with tracking down the brute responsible.
Along with a growing army of ‘detectives’ on Facebook, she sparked a two-year hunt for the man eventually unmasked as Luka Magnotta – a killer whose actions became ever more desperate as his online notoriety grew.
Now that search and its consequences are the subject of a compelling Netflix documentary, Don’t F*** With Cats.
Since its release a few weeks ago, it has become one of the most talked-about true crime series of recent years.
Its troubling themes have proved too harrowing for some viewers.
Yet millions more have found themselves transfixed by a drama which shines a light into the darkest recesses of the internet and poses uncomfortable questions about a culture – and profit-hungry behemoths such as Facebook – which give a platform to anyone seeking fame or, in this case, notoriety.
What Deanna actually found was all the more traumatising: she watched in horror as a hoodie-wearing figure put the two kittens in a translucent plastic storage bag, switched on a vacuum cleaner and sucked out all the air. He continued filming as the creatures died a terrible death
The hunt for the kitten killer is an example of the so-called ‘hive mind’ – a collective consciousness similar to the behaviour of bees – as internet users around the world came together to solve what would turn out to be a series of appalling crimes.
Yet, as the documentary makes clear, it was that same intensity of online attention which drove Magnotta to acts of ever greater cruelty.
‘The documentary was never going to be just about killing,’ said its British director, Mark Lewis, who first proposed it to Netflix 18 months ago.
‘This story is all about internet culture, about chasing self-esteem online.’
The video which set the story in motion – the one seen by Deanna – was first posted on December 21, 2010 with the title 1 Boy, 2 Kittens.
The most distressing parts of the footage are hidden from Netflix viewers and instead we see Deanna’s tearful reaction.
It is all the more disturbing as the perpetrator, with his face pixelated, appears to be playing affectionately with the kittens before suffocating them.
‘It’s heartbreaking,’ says Deanna, as she describes one of the kittens’ attempts to save itself.
‘It reels you into thinking, “Oh, this is a super-cute video, he loves those cats.” But suddenly it turns into something brutal.’
The title of the series refers to one of the internet’s most basic unwritten rules: that virtually anything can be shared online, no matter how sordid, except anything which harms cats. The public response was overwhelming.
Deanna, a self-confessed computer nerd who works as a data analyst for a Las Vegas casino, immediately became part of a Facebook group of about 15,000 set up to find the unknown killer and who pored over every frame of the video in forensic detail.
The shock changed Deanna’s life, transforming her into an amateur sleuth obsessed with tracking down the brute responsible. Along with a growing army of ‘detectives’ on Facebook, she sparked a two-year hunt for the man eventually unmasked as Luka Magnotta – a killer whose actions became ever more desperate as his online notoriety grew
The cover on the bed where the crime took place, a Russian-sounding voice in the background, the type of Marlboro cigarettes smoked by the perpetrator – all were scrutinised for hints about the man’s identity or location.
And piece by piece, suggestion by suggestion, the sleuths closed in on the truth.
There was a notable breakthrough, for example, when Deanna visited an obscure online forum for vacuum-cleaner repairs in order to trace the make and model of the yellow appliance used to suffocate the kittens. She established that it was made by Kenmore and was available only in North America.
‘Whoever made this video, we knew that we could start looking in Mexico, the United States or Canada,’ she says.
If the ‘hive mind’ was making remarkable progress, a darker side of the internet was soon evident in the form of mob justice.
One member of the Facebook group was a man called Joe Panzarella, the leader of a Long Island-based biker gang called Rescue Ink, which specialised in taking vigilante revenge on perpetrators of animal cruelty.
And when another, entirely innocent Facebook user was identified as a potential culprit, Rescue Ink somehow persuaded him to ‘confess’ with catastrophic results.
The victim was suffering from mental health problems, and as a result of the subsequent torrent of abuse directed at him, took his own life.
Deanna was appalled but, still determined to hunt down the kitten killer, helped form a breakaway group from among the more responsible Facebook investigators and