Is a Serial Dog Murderer on the Loose in Southern Idaho?

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April 22 2013 12:58 PM

Is a Serial Dog Murderer on the Loose in Southern Idaho?

Police Dogs
Police K-9s wait with their trainers at a training base in Beijing.

Photo by China Photos/Getty Images

Crime is Slate’s crime blog. Like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter @slatecrime.

In gruesome news out of southern Idaho, Reuters’ Laura Zuckerman reports that four German Shepherd mixes were found dead by the side of a highway near Twin Falls, beaten in the head and shot to death. These were just the latest victims in a months-long spree of theatrically gruesome dog killings. Here’s Zuckerman:

Animal control officers reported last month that roughly 30 dogs had gone missing since November in Twin Falls and nearby communities in a farming region known as the Magic Valley.
A German Shepherd discovered by hikers last month in an area known as the Devil's Corral in neighboring Jerome County appeared to have suffered what animal control officers called a "ritualistic execution" in which its head was crushed with rock and its carcass covered with a purple cloth.

While ritualistic canine executions are horrible enough, there’s also a substantial body of research linking animal abuse with violence against humans. As a 2010 New York Times Magazine story pointed out, one study found that “over a 10-year period, 6-to-12-year-old children who were described as being cruel to animals were more than twice as likely as other children in the study to be reported to juvenile authorities for a violent offense.”

Several notable serial killers started out by torturing animals. Jeffrey Dahmer was known for impaling frogs and cats as a child. Albert “The Boston Strangler” DeSalvo used to trap dogs and cats in boxes and shoot them dead with arrows. In Sexual Homicide: Patterns and Motives, authors John E. Douglas, Ann W. Burgess, and Robert K. Ressler mentioned one serial killer who as a child “had acquired the nickname ‘Doc,’ apparently from his fondness of slitting open the stomachs of cats and observing how far they could run before they died."

Douglas, Burgess, and Ressler looked at the lives of 36 serial killers to determine whether they shared any behavioral or psychological traits. They found that 46 percent of the serial killers in their sample had demonstrated cruelty to animals as children, while 36 percent demonstrated similar cruelty during adulthood. However, cruelty to animals was relatively low on the list of traits these killers had in common; far more common were traits such as being assaultive to adults, daydreaming, isolation, and compulsive masturbation.

Likewise, not every animal abuser is a serial killer. In 2011, for instance, a Michigan State graduate student named Andrew Thompson was arrested and charged with killing more than a dozen dogs. But he wasn’t implicated in any crimes against humans, and last year, Thompson was sentenced to five years on probation. Did police stop Thompson before he graduated to noncanine crimes? Maybe. But you can’t charge people for something they haven’t yet done.

So, no, we shouldn’t automatically assume that the person killing dogs in Idaho is a serial killer of people as well. But whoever it is, I’m sure police will be very interested in talking to him.

Justin Peters is a writer for Slate. He is working on a book about Aaron Swartz, copyright, and the rise of “free culture.” Email him at


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