It's five o'clock in the morning on May 26th, 2012, and John Green's iPhone is buzzing with an incoming Facebook message.
"Hey, you might want to see this video," it reads. "I think it's that Luka guy you've been looking for."
Still under his covers, Green clicks on the link.
A man is laying face up tied spread eagle to a bed. He is nude, with a video camera positioned between his feet. New Order's "True Faith" is playing. A poster for the movie Casablanca hangs above the man's head, which is shrouded with a white cloth. And a figure in dark clothing is standing next to him. The figure leans over the man and touches his blindfold. The video cuts. The dark figure is now straddling the man.
Seconds later, the figure gets up, and the bound man shifts slightly. The video cuts at the one-minute mark, returning to the man, now with a black sheet over his head. Ten seconds later, the dark figure reemerges, holding an icepick in a clenched fist. He begins repeatedly thrusting the object in downward motion into the captive's abdomen.
The music continues to play. One hundred times the dark figure stabs the naked man.
"Holy shit!" Green thought to himself, watching on his iPhone. "It's Luka."
He got out of bed and opened the link on his computer so that he could view the video on a bigger screen. He watched as the dark figure began dissecting the man, cutting off his head and arm.
"Holy shit," Green said again to himself. "He really did it."
Green, referred to here by his online alias, logged onto the private Facebook group that he and a few other intrepid citizen sleuths had launched in an attempt to catch the man behind a video titled 1 boy 2 kittens. Posted a year and a half earlier, that video showed a figure in a dark green hoodie suffocating two tabby kittens using a vacuum and plastic bag.
The group, along with others online, had spent thousands of hours trying to track down a man, Luka Magnotta, who they believed was responsible for the video. They compiled pages of evidence, which they delivered to law enforcement — detailed photographic analysis, metadata pulled from numerous photographs, detailed locations of the suspected kitten killer's whereabouts. They were close to catching him twice — but found themselves always one step behind him.
They begged the authorities for help, reminding them that serial killers — from Jeffrey Dahmer to Edmund Kemper — began their reigns of terror by torturing and killing animals. Now, watching the video, Green believed his warnings had come to pass.
"Was I part of this?" Green thought to himself as he watched the video over and over. "Did we drive him to this place in his life?"
Alerted by Green, hundreds of amateur detectives sat transfixed in front of their computers, watching the hooded figure play with the decapitated head, simulate sex with the torso and masturbate himself with a severed arm. Some were attempting to positively identify the dark figure, others trying to see if the body was fake.
No one wanted to believe that what they were seeing was real.
Eighteen months earlier, on the evening of December 21st, 2010, Ryan Boyle had been surfing the web in his wood-paneled home office in Maryland. The Army veteran, who had made a civilian transition into working on aviation electronics for the Navy, was toggling between YouTube and the funny pictures thread on 4chan. "I was just looking for a laugh," he says. "Clicking back and forth."
As he was scrolling, he encountered a still image of a video called 1 boy 2 kittens. Boyle scrolled through the comments, which featured short posts from horrified and disgusted users hoping to ID a man who'd posted a video to the forum that apparently showed him killing kittens. Boyle thought, "Maybe I should watch this.'" So he clicked play, and saw a video of a human figure in a dark green hoodie asphyxiating two tabbies with a vacuum cleaner and a plastic bag. In the background of the horrifying clip, people were speaking in a foreign language. It sounded like Russian.
"Shock. Shock and disgust," says Boyle of his reaction to the video. "I'm a big animal guy. It hit me in a really personal place and I just wanted to see this guy pay." He continued reading comments on the video. "Somebody suggested we ought to do something," he recalls. "I thought that was probably a pretty good idea."
Other than a few gun/constitutional rights rallies, Boyle had never taken up any causes before. "I'm always the guy in the background. I've never stood up and demanded to be the guy with the microphone." But he immediately clicked over to Facebook and started a group called Save Teh Kitteh.
Boyle then clicked back to 4chan to ferry people over to his Facebook page, and noticed that another user had started up a page as well — one which was up to 50 followers to Boyle's 20. He contacted the other pages' admin, a 14-year-old teenager named "Dylan," to ask to join forces. Boyle, under the alias "Save Kitteh" became an admin of the Facebook group Find the Vaccumer Kitten Killer for Great Justice.
Boyle, who'd set up the group as invite-only, was getting a hundred requests for access per hour, furiously accepting each new member. "It was a wild crazy mess," he says.
On the same day that Boyle started Find the Vaccumer Kitten Killer, a woman on the West Coast of the United States, using the Internet alias Baudi Moovan, saw the video in her Facebook feed and found her way to the group. She had been following an animal mutilation case on 4chan and become intrigued at how users were able to identify a Texas Goth girl responsible for posting photos featuring the decapitation of a dog. She "found it fascinating how they used the data from the phone, and the Exif [Exchangable image file format, which contains information such as file format, often along with time, date and GPS] data and then matched up the images from the dog head." With her background in IT, Moovan felt she could help find the person who'd murdered the kittens.
She wasn't the only one. In Sydney, Australia, a 47-year-old accountant originally from the Ukraine using the alias Nicee Punk, had become intrigued with the search. "It was a challenge just to catch the bastard," she says. "I'm not really that compassionate. I've got Asperger's. I don't relate. I am low on the emotions. I don't know what drove me, I just wanted to do it." So she joined the group.
John Green saw 1 boy 2 kittens on 4chan. He was familiar with pet torture videos, having followed the case of Dusty, a cat who was terrorized on video by a teenage boy later identified as an eighth grader from Oklahoma. Green joined the group on December 23rd.
Christy, a 34-year-old a mother and business owner from Texas, joined and solved one mystery — she was the one who made the original plea on 4chan. At the time, Christy ran the gore site ohlookaforum, which was the top search result for a snuff video called 3 Guys, 1 Hammer. A user named babymaggie11 had embedded a YouTube video for 1 boy 2 kittens. (He had uploaded the video earlier that day on YouTube — the only other activity on that account was a "like" for a video of the opening of the movie Catch Me If You Can). "I took the video down immediately as we had a no animal cruelty rule," says Christy. "Since I wanted him to get caught though, I posted the info to the /b/ boards on 4chan."
This crew of avengers began tossing around theories. They started by looking at objects in the killer's room that were visible on the video. The bedspread was decorated with an image of a wolf — where was it sold? The voices in the background — was it actually Russian? The electrical outlets — were they European or North American? They pursued any visual clue that might help them identify the figure in the green hoodie.
1 boy 2 kittens was the group's Zapruder film, only the camera was not turned on a presidential motorcade but was rather staring back at an Internet user trying to get some type of attention.
The concept of the online sleuth is gaining momentum. From Susan Galbreath, a Kentucky housewife who became obsessed with the murder of local woman Jessica Currin, and began collecting clues and eventually getting a tip on a MySpace page to catch her killers, to blogger Alexandria Goddard grabbing screen captures of tweets in the aftermath of the Steubenville rape, the Internet is a breeding ground for budding Sherlocks. As long as citizens do not attempt to be vigilantes, and stick to gathering evidence and not publically identifying a suspect, the police are ambivalent about amateur sleuths — saying two things — don't interfere in the investigation, and information is a one-way street. The sleuths can tell them things, but they will get nothing in return.
The latter is a problem that the Vaccumer Kitten Killer investigators would face, but at this early point in their search, they had not reached out to law enforcement. They had, though, uncovered some facts: The wolf blanket was identified as a "Shavel Home, 60-80 Inch hi-pile throw," which had been sold on eBay for $25.26 and could be shipped outside the U.S. The vacuum was identified as a Kenmore Canister Vacuum, Yellow 26082.
"It was so fascinating," says Moovan about the hunt. "People were picking things up I didn't even think of. Like, the size of the bed — are twin beds the same in Russia as they are in America? It was a fun but frustrating time. It was exciting."
But after thousands of man-hours, the group was no closer to finding out the identity of the figure in the dark-green hooded sweatshirt.
At the same time in Hollywood, Sia Barbi, one-half of the Barbi Twins, sister models who gained fame in 1991 after posing in Playboy, was receiving e-mails directing her to the 1 boy 2 kittens video. A longtime animal advocate, Barbi, along with twin sister Shane , had recently lobbied online for the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, which sought to ban sexual fetish videos featuring people, mostly women, crushing small vertebrate animals with high heels or bare feet. The bill had passed in November 2010, which raised the twins' profile in the media as enemies of animal-abuse videos.
Sia Barbi joined the Vaccumer Kitten Killer Facebook group, but wishing to remain anonymous, had done so using the alias Lee Madison. She informed the group that she had media connections that could help spread the word.
To that end, Barbi reached out to Joe "Panz" Panzarella, who had already been deluged with e-mails directing him to the video. Panzarella is one of the leaders of Rescue Ink, a collection of hard-nosed bikers who fight against animal abuse on Long Island, New York. The group had received national attention from their 2009 reality show on the National Geographic channel, which followed the tattooed bad boys as they confronted animal abusers throughout New York. It lasted only one season, but while the show was fleeting, it boosted the club's online profile, and Panzarella says they were contacted by calls from "every part of the world," concerning 1 boy, 2 kittens.
Panzarella says his team analyzed the video, and the group tossed out speculations that it might have come from Europe. Rescue Ink announced a $2,500 reward for information leading to the capture of the figure in the green hoodie after Christmas, 2010.
Meanwhile, the Vaccumer Kitten Killer Facebook group was getting chaotic.
Users had begun posting links to Facebook profiles of people they thought looked like the kitten killer. "This might be him" became a common refrain — a precursor to the accusatory clamor that popped up on Reddit in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing three years later.
The posts pointing to Facebook profiles of innocent people were being deleted as fast as possible by Boyle and the other admins.
In an attempt to get some clarity amidst the disorder, Boyle started a second, smaller Facebook group calling it Useful Individuals and invited the users from the main Vaccumer Kitten Killer group who he thought had the best skills — hackers, investigators, filmmakers, artists — to help identify the figure in the green hoodie.
Nicee Punk used her Russian Language skills to theorize that the accents of the laughing voices heard in the background of the video just didn't match up with the items in the apartment. Coupled with the clue which Baudi discovered — that at minute .28, the figure leans out of frame and a certain "hum" on the video stops, along with the voices, indicating the voices were most likely either a recording or a an Internet phone service.
They discovered that someone had posted to 4chan a photo of a person lying on a bed holding two kittens in his hands. The face was pixelated, but the image looked to be a still photo taken in the same room as the video — wolf bedspread and all. Artists in the group tried enhancing the image, sketching out what the face might look like.
The group worked through the New Year, and by January 8th, 2011, many believed they had found the kitten killer.
A member had found the profile of a Facebook user calling himself Jamsey Cramsalot Inhisass. Jamsey had posted a video to his Facebook page of a cat in a cage being set on fire — and the photos on his profile were of a teenage boy with similar facial features to the blurry green figure in the green hoodie. Was this the killer?
Panzarella, who readily admits he's "not a nice guy," wasn't content to wait and see. Along with the Barbi Twins, he came up with a plan to bring Jamsey out in the open.
"My sister said we would have to lure this person in," says Panzarella. "We would have to give him something irresistible."
Panzarella enlisted a member of Rescue Ink who was a grade school teacher — and a female body builder. The woman began a Facebook dialogue with Jamsey, attempting to appeal to his narcissist ego and reveal himself.
After some back and forth, Jamsey admitted to the female bodybuilder that he was, in fact, the hooded figure in the 1 boy 2 kittens video. Case solved. Rescue Ink thought they had their man. But members of the Vaccumer Kitten Killer group wanted proof.
"We didn't think [Jamsey] was him," says Boyle. "We thought he was just a troll."
The Vaccumer Kitten Killer admins were skeptical that this was not their man — but the focus on Jamsey Cramsalot Inhisass had a welcome side effect: Less than a day after the group publicly identified Jamsey as the culprit behind 1 boy 2 kittens, Nicee Punk received a Facebook message from a user named Beverly Kent.
"The name of the kitten vacummer you are looking for," read the message, "is Luka Magnotta."
"I got heart palpitations," says Nicee. "It's been three weeks of no sleeping, no eating. And suddenly you got a name. You could put a name to the face."
Nicee forwarded the message to the admins of the group. "We Googled Luka Magnotta," she says. "And there we go."
The search came back with the equivalent of twisted Internet gold: articles on chintzy user-generated sites detailing Magnotta's jet-set lifestyle. And hundreds of photos. Luka on a beach. Luka in a sports car. Luke in a limo. In a hot tub. Under the Eiffel Tower. His hairstyles would vary, but his chiseled jaw, high cheekbones and bright blue eyes remained the same. A twink James Dean. Often shirtless. Always pouting. And almost always alone.
There was a Magnotta video slideshow, showing a thin young man in multiple outfits and poses, and it was set to New Order's "True Faith."
The articles and images were mainly from user-generated sites, message boards and photo buckets. But there were a few from legitimate news outlets.
"Homolka Rumour Ruins Model's Life," read the headline to a video link from a September 2007 Toronto Sun interview with Magnotta in which he denied that he dated infamous Canadian murderess Karla Homolka.
But while the citizen detectives were happy to finally put a name and a face to their supposed culprit, they were bewildered by what they were finding. On first Internet glance, Luka Magnotta was a not a real person, but a superstar. A globe-trotting model, hopping between New York, Miami, Los Angles, New York, Russia. Rumors on message board posts about him dating Michael Jackson and Madonna.
"There were times where Baudi [Moovan] and I would go, 'Is this a dream? Is this fake?" says Green. "Is this an online prank that we don't know about and we're suckers?"
Eric Newman was born July 24th, 1982 in Scarborough, Ontario, to high school sweethearts Anna Yourkin and Donald Newman. They named him after the actor Eric Roberts, according to an online journal he later penned.
Newman went to live with his grandmother after his parents split up, and attended high school in southeastern Ontario.
As early as 2003, Newman, then 21, was stripping in a Toronto club and appearing in low-budget gay porn. In 2004, he was convicted of impersonation and fraud after befriending a mentally incapacitated 21-year-old woman and applying for credit cards in her name, eventually charging $10,000. Before he was sentenced to nine months of community service and 12 months probation, his lawyer showed the court a medical report claiming his client's "significant psychiatric issues." Justice Lauren Marshall told Newman, "You have a medical problem and you need to always take medication. If you do not, your life is going to get messed up."
In 2005, Newman appeared, using the name "Jimmy," as a "Fab Boy" in the Toronto gay publication Fab Magazine. In an accompanying caption, Jimmy informed interested readers that his best attribute is "my package. I got a mean dick. Me and my buddies made a few videos."
In 2006, he legally changed his name from Eric Clinton Newman to Luka Rocco Magnotta. He applied for bankruptcy in March 2007, citing "illness, lack of employment and insufficient income to pay off debts." It was after the bankruptcy that Luka's quest for fame kicked into high gear. Normal life wasn't working, Magnotta decided celebrity might be more amenable.
He auditioned for a reality show called Cover Guy, declaring in his casting video that "a lot of people tell me I'm devastatingly good-looking." He was not chosen. He then auditioned for the reality show Plastic Makes Perfect, flaunting his multiple hair transplants and nose job and explaining how he wanted to get pectoral implants. He missed out again. When he couldn't get famous by old media means, Magnotta focused his efforts online. Twice he created Wikipedia pages about himself, only to have them taken down by the self-policing community.
He created the rumor on message boards that he was dating Karla Homolka, who was convicted of helping her husband Paul Bernardo kill two teenagers — along with raping and murdering her own sister Tammy — in the early Nineties. He called into a radio show to deny the rumors, and then visited the newsroom of the Toronto Sun, earning his first piece of mainstream press. The reporter wrote a skeptical story, noting how Magnotta was groggy and shaking, and how "We offered to get him some medical help but he declined."
Hundreds of posts about Magnotta appeared on various forums. "This is a fanpage I made for Luka Magnotta, my new idol," on a YouTube page. "Luka Magnotta arrested in New Mexico for Trying to Gain Access to Area 51 says local authoritys" (sic) on a Flickr page. "I saw something tonight on You Tube where someone had stated that River and Luka were cousins?? Is this so??" on a River Phoenix fan website.
Magnotta himself was the source of these comments and questions. It was later established that he had created at least 70 "sock puppet" accounts on Facebook, and at least 20 websites devoted to Luka Magnotta. His Google carpetbombing helped his name show up when people searched for famous, or infamous, names.
"He was trying to troll people to get famous," says Moovan about Magnotta. "Bottom line."
It wasn't working, so Magnotta took a different approach.
"There's this unwritten rule of the Internet," says Vaccumer Kitten Killer groupmember Green. "It's called rule zero. And it's you don't mess with cats."
Not unless, that is, you want attention.
So Magnotta made 1 boy 2 kittens and posted it on December 21st, 2010.
"What better way to get famous," adds Moovan. "Than to fuck with cats?"
But while Magnotta made efforts to conceal his identity, he was also hungry for more notoriety. He posted photos of himself in connection with the video holding the cats on the bed but no one recognized him. (This was before the Catfish secret weapon Google Search by Image; TinEye, the image search tool of the time, was crude at best.) After three weeks of lurking in the Facebook group devoted to his own capture, watching users toss out new theories, dissecting every clue in his video, Magnotta wanted more.
On January 11th, 2011, the Barbi Twins worked with extreme animal rights group Negotiation Is Over to publish an article on their site declaring Luka Magnotta as the kitten killer (though claiming he was known by the alias Jamsey Cramsalot Inhisass).
"After an intense investigation another anonymous tip resulted in the positive identification of the well known bisexual porn star and model Luka Magnotta," read the article. "Commonly known for drugs, wild parties, and gay clubs, his name is well known in Canada and the Northern United States regarding stories about him being involved with Karla Homolka, a hated 'serial' killer. Luka, 25, lives in Montpellier France and travels frequently between his home in France and TolYatti Russia."
While much of the above information was wrong, Magnotta's name was now out in the open. Magnotta felt the footsteps enough to meet with a attorney.
On January 12th, he wrote to a Manhattan lawyer named Romeo Salta, less denying his involvement in the video than claiming, truthfully, he was not Jamsey.
The citizen detectives had a name and they had a face. What they were missing was a location. No one knew where Magnotta actually was. And because of that — and the fact that he was just a guy killing kittens, says Green and Moovan — no law enforcement agency was going to give time or effort to finding him.
Rescue Ink's Panzarella came up with an idea. If they couldn't find Luka, maybe they could get Luka to come to them.
"He wants to be a porn star," says Panzarella, explaining his plan. "I call the Barbi twins. They said, 'I can get Ron Jeremy.'"
The Barbi Twins and Panzarella hatched a plan to try and lure Magnotta out of hiding by offering him a role in a porn movie with adult film legend Jeremy. The plot called for Magnotta to show up in Los Angeles to perform in a film. Once on set, Rescue Ink members would grab him, make a citizen's arrest and hand him over to the authorities.
At first Jeremy was on board, so long as he didn't have to do anything gay. "Ron was such a riot," says Barbi. "He was like, 'I only do straight porn.' We told him, there isn't going to be any porn."
"We were playing along with him wanting to be a porn star," says Jeremy. "It would be on the set. We were clowning around. Maybe we would do a policeman movie, where a cop comes in, 'put your hands behind your back!' but it would be a real cop and the real deal."
But Panzarella was upfront with Jeremy about the risks — Magnotta could show up early, and Jeremy would be alone with the kitten killer. The more Jeremy thought about it, the more the deception became too real. The plan fell apart.
"He kind of chickened out," says Sia about Jeremy.
By mid-January of that year, Moovan was working 16 hours a day on the case, and was getting concerned by what she perceived as immaturity in some of the users in the group — many of whom were just teenagers. John Green was kicked out of the main Facebook group several times. He says it was for asking too many questions, Boyle says it was because of his aggressive nature. Either way, Green and Moovan broke away and started a new closed Facebook group and stopped posting in the public group. "We knew Luka was in there," says Moovan. They focused on analyzing the numerous images they found of Magnotta online. From London to Russia to Miami to Hollywood — it looked like he got around. But one particular photo sparked their interest, and they were able to narrow down where it was taken — precisely.
Among the hundreds of pictures that Magnotta sprinkled across the Internet — many of which turned out to be Photoshopped — there was one of him standing on a balcony of a high rise. Behind him, you could see a Petro-Canada gas station.
There are more than 1,500 Petro-Canada stations across Canada. But armed with Exif data that Moovan pulled, she and Green focused on Toronto. From there, they dug deeper, and came upon one of the pseudo news articles in which Magnotta talked about the "paparazzi" trying to photograph him outside his condo in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke.
Etobicoke is small, so Green did a search and found only nine Petro-Canada gas stations in the area.
"I started to look at Google maps and the street view," says Green. "About the fourth one, I went, 'Boom!' There's the building with the balcony. So we had a name, an exact address and proof he was in Toronto at the time."
This was enough concrete information to be taken seriously by the authorities. In January 2011, Moovan and Green contacted the Ontario branch of the Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and delivered a large document containing evidence from the video, comparisons of known photos of Magnotta with stills from the video, and reasons they believed he was in Toronto. SPCA Investigations and Communications Officer Brad Dewar was receptive and began working with the Toronto Police.
"They were very quick to jump on board and help us with this case," says Dewar of the authorities.
A file was started on Magnotta, and the police visited the building and likely talked with the landlord. The information was correct. The photo was taken there. Magnotta had lived there, but he had moved out two years prior. He left no forwarding address. The trail went cold.
The posts on the Vaccumer Kitten Killer Facebook group began to wane. People moved on to other events: a four-month old puppy mutilated in Texas, a man accused of killing 55 dogs in Montana, a dog attacked with a machete in Florida. Occasionally, a member would ask about the kitten killer: "Was this bastard ever found?"
Eventually, Boyle handed reins of the Vaccumer Kitten Killer Facebook group to Moovan, Green and Nicee Punk, who used it as an outpost for their newly formed Animal Beta Project. Still hopeful, they set Google news alerts for "Luka Magnotta" and they waited.
On December 2nd, 2011, a video titled Python Christmas appeared on the site Flix, posted from an account registered in Islington, England. The video showed a live kitten being fed to a python.
Another video was posted, showing a kitten, duct-taped to the end of a stick and being drowned in a bathtub.
Green, Moovan and the rest of the detectives began to research these new videos. They found that Facebook pages discussing the videos had been set up a month earlier, and pictures of the cats were posted in November as well.
"A month before the videos appeared," says Green, "he was talking about it. That's Luka's M.O. He tries to create buzz."
Trying to determine where Magnotta was now, they spotted a photo of him in front of Buckingham Palace. Magnotta had Photoshopped himself into photos of landmarks before. But it turns out that this time he actually was in Britain in December. They contacted the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to animals.
On December 8th, Sun U.K. reporter Alex West tweeted to Luka, "If you want to talk, follow me and I'll DM you." Magnotta went to the Sun newsroom to deny allegations that he killed the kittens. The reporter, Alex West, then found him at the pub he was staying above, and conducted a 20-minute interview, which was not posted on the site. "He was without doubt one of the most disturbed and disturbing individuals I have ever encountered," said West in a June 2012 story.
Then, on December 12th, an e-mail from someone calling himself John Kilbride (the name of one of the infamous Moors victims) was sent to the Sun. It ended with "So, I have to disappear for a while, until people quit bothering me. But next time you hear from me it will be in a movie I am producing that will have some humans in it, not just pussies. I will, however, send you a copy of the new video im going to be making. Once you kill and taste blood it's impossible to stop."
West says he contacted Scotland Yard, but Magnotta was gone again. Green tweeted to the RSPCA, providing them a link to the lengthy dossier on Magnotta they had created, and also reached out to West, "with no luck," says Moovan.
Green and Moovan began feverishly analyzing the new activity, but Luka had again disappeared inside the Internet. But in January of 2012 they spotted something odd: a comment made from what they believed to be one of Magnotta's sock puppet Facebook accounts, on a Facebook page of an obscure Montreal House DJ named Threestarr. It was something someone without a connection to Montreal would never have posted.
They filed it in the back of their minds and kept searching, combing through the Magnotta ephemera that was popping up. "He makes up these dedication videos to himself, where he puts all his pictures together and plays a Madonna song or something," says Moovan. "And you have to sit through all these frickin' videos. It's the same pictures over and over again. So I'm watching one day, and I said, 'Oh my God, that's a new picture.'"
In the middle of the video was a photo of Magnotta standing on a set of unique stone steps. It was not something that could be found in just any city.
"We started working on that picture," says Moovan. "We took note of the trees. The foliage. The streetlights. The crosswalks. We went street by street, city by city."
They discovered that the same streetlights and crosswalks from the photo were located in Montreal. They also discovered that Magnotta, ironically, had also filed a DMCA takedown notice — against unbelievablenews20.blogspot, for a photo he said he owned the copyright of which accompanied the August 2008 story "Luka Magnotta : Incest With His Sister" — in which he used a Montreal area code for his contact info.
The group quickly contacted a Toronto detective, who explained that the case was now out of his jurisdiction, and they would need to file a complaint with the Montreal SPCA.
Luckily, Green knew of a woman who helped rescue sled dogs and who lived in the Montreal area — Dee-Ann, a 60-year old former import export manager who was living on disability. Dee-Ann (her online pseudonym) took the assignment, and called the Montreal SPCA to set up a meeting. Armed with a copy of her file containing all of the evidence pointing to Magnotta and the evidence that he was in Montreal, she met with Gabriel Boudreault, Inspector at the SPCA.
After months and months of searching, they thought they might get some help.
"All they said was, 'It's just cats,'" says Dee-Ann. "There's nothing we can do about it. We don't have time for this." She kept pressing them, but they told her to go to the police.
"There was not much," says Boudreault. "Montreal is a big city. We didn't know exactly where he was. We didn't find a lot, because it was on the Internet. We didn't know when it happened; where it happened."
Boudreault says he went to a prosecutor to get an arrest warrant, but didn't succeed. "At that time, [Magnotta] wasn't a murderer."
Dee-Ann left and went to the Montreal police department — but found the same result. "Again I'm told, 'It's just cats.' I am showing them that it's been proven that people that abuse animals can turn into serial killers. And they brushed me aside."
"What else could I have done?" says Dee-Ann. "In the end, I told them this guy is going to turn around and kill somebody. And they poo-pooed me."
"We were really concerned," says Green. "We were saying, 'He's going to hurt somebody.'"
On May 25th, 2012, a video titled 1 Lunatic, 1 Ice Pick was uploaded to the gore sites TheYNC and Best Gore, destinations for explicit videos and images of real-life blood and guts and draw in the millions of monthly viewers by doing so. (Across various sites, 1 Lunatic, 1 Ice Pick earned approximately 100,000 views.) It portrayed the dark figure stabbing and dismembering a naked dead man, while "True Faith" by New Order played in the background.
After getting over their initial shock, the web sleuths began to search for clues the same way they did the kitten killer videos. As they searched around the web, they spotted a trend they had seen before — Magnotta had been hyping the video before he even shot it.
On March 3rd, a post was made on blogspot.ca titled Necrophiliac Serial Killer Luka Magnotta. A month later, on April 22nd and 24th, four videos were posted by user "Rita Van Volkenberg" on YouTube, all with the same title, Cannibal serial Killer - Luka Magnotta, but in multiple languages. On May 15th, an anonymous Yahoo post talked about a video circulating on TOR (The Onion Router, or "the Deep Web"), "all I know is it was shot in San Francisco, I have been trying to find it for weeks." The same day, YouTube user "Alexis Valoranreich" uploaded a video containing a still photo of a figure in a purple hooded sweatshirt, holding an ice pick in a stabbing position. It was titled One Lunatic One Ice Pick Video. A thread on www.psychforums.com was started, declaring that The 1 Lunatic, 1 Ice Pick video was real and was created by a 20-year old in San Francisco.
When the video itself was finally posted on May 25th, the Google pump was primed with mentions of 1 Lunatic, 1 Ice Pick, so later, when he did post the video and people began searching for the terms, they would be met with a host of results, possibly giving it more legitimacy.
On May 27th, Green left a message for a detective in Toronto, but his message was not returned. That night, in Montana, attorney Roger Renville was surfing the Best Gore site and saw the video. He had never heard of Luka Magnotta or kitten killing videos, but he watched the entire 1 Lunatic, 1 Ice Pick video and believed it was real. He searched for online videos which used "True Faith" as a soundtrack and found Luka's name. Then he matched up a ring Luka was wearing in a picture found on Photobucket to a ring the killer was wearing in the video. By late Saturday night, he had called the Denver police department (Renville read an account that a former roommate of Magnotta's had once killed a man there). On Sunday, he called Miami PD, and then Toronto PD, the latter of whom told the Toronto Star's website that they did receive a call from Renville, but that his report was vague.
On May 29th, residents of an apartment building at 5720 Decarie Blvd. in Montreal were complaining of a foul smell. A janitor discovered a suitcase next to a mountain of garbage bags behind the building. Inside was the headless torso of a man.
At 6 p.m. that night, a package containing a human foot was received at the Conservative Party of Canada headquarters in Ottawa. It had been mailed from Montreal. At 9 p.m., a package addressed to the Liberal Party Headquarters in Ottawa was discovered by postal employees to contain a human hand.
After taking statements and finding evidence in the trash — including a blunt instrument and papers identifying Magnotta — police entered #208 of 5720 Decarie. Inside, they found a dark studio apartment that was a far cry from the Lotus-driving, jet-setting-model lifestyle Magnotta's online persona had cultivated. They saw a bloody mattress and blood in the refrigerator. Scrawled in red ink inside a closet were the words "if you don't like the reflection, don't look in the mirror. I don't care."
An arrest warrant was issued for Luka Magnotta.
The following day the torso was identified by a friend as the body of Lin Jun, a 33-year-old computer science student at Concordia University in Montreal who had been reported missing several days earlier. The police later determined that Magnotta killed Jun on May 24th, a day before the video was posted — and more than a week after the still image and mention of 1 Lunatic, 1 Ice Pick.
It is unclear how he met Lin Jun. But in the beginning of May, authorities claim Magnotta began posting in the Men seeking Men section of Craigslist under an alias.
On the web, the news hit the groups hard. "I left work, went home, went straight to my computer for two or three days," says Moovan. "I took a vacation. I cried a ton. You know, you feel things. You tried your hardest to put together a cohesive narrative for the police department. You thought you did enough to get at least a probable cause warrant. And because it's all Internet hoo ha, and it was just kittens, so, whatever."
"We were all scared to death of course," says Nicee, who wanted to be referred to by her online handle. "For two years we've been crying, 'he's gonna kill people.'"
"My blood ran cold," says Boyle. "Then after that, it was like, 'I told you so.'"
Once they had a human body, Luka Magnotta became one of Interpol's most wanted.
A week later, a man named Kadir Anlayisli was working at his job at the Spätkauf Internet café in the working-class section of Neukölln in Berlin. At 11 a.m., a man walked in, wearing sunglasses and makeup, and said, "Bonjour, Internet."
Anlayisli, who described himself to the press as a news junkie, recognized the face, but couldn't quite place it. From his workstation, he was looking at the monitors of his customers and noticed that the man in sunglasses was viewing numerous articles about a killer in Montreal that Anlayisly had read about. Then it clicked. It was him.
Anlayisli flagged down a group of cadets in training that happened to be passing by. They confronted Magnotta, who initially gave them a fake name, before telling them, "You got me." On his monitor, Magnotta had been Googling photos and articles about himself.
Both the official detectives and the amateur sleuths began to piece together Magnotta's movements while he was on the run. The day after the murder, CCTV footage showed a nervous-looking Magnotta removing garbage bags from his apartment. His neighbor, actor Derek Mackinnon, had also seen Magnotta in the hall wearing a red wig. The star of the 1980 slasher flick Terror Train told the Toronto Sun that Magnotta had actually asked him to come visit him the night of the murder, and the actor wondered aloud through tears if he could have been the victim. Footage was viewed of what looked like Magnotta carrying packages at a post office in Côte-des-Neiges. This was all happening before the body was found. He then flew from Montreal into Paris ahead of the international manhunt, arriving wearing a wig and Mickey Mouse T-shirt.
Magnotta was in Paris when the authorities declared him an international fugitive. Police began receiving thousands of tips — Magnotta was seen at bar, Magnotta trying to crash a house party. He found his way to Berlin via bus. His name was all over the papers and television. The French media nicknamed him "The Butcher of Montreal." The German media nicknamed him "The Porno Killer."
Luka Magnotta was famous.
Magnotta was taken into custody and on June 18th was delivered to Canada via military transport, and sent to the Rivière-des-Prairies detention centre in Montreal.
So far Magnotta has only been indicted on one count of first-degree murder, which carries a possible sentence of life, with parole eligible after 25 years, along with offering indignities to a human body, distributing obscene materials, using the postal service to distribute obscene materials and criminal harassment. The end of the video showed a black rabbit enter the scene and begin to nibble on one of the victim's leg stumps. Montreal police Commander Ian Lafreniere confirmed that longer version of the video included acts of cannibalism.
In the spring of last year, a 2005 letter from Magnotta's then psychiatrist, Thuraisamy Sooriabalan, surfaced. It revealed that Magnotta (then going by his birth name) was a paranoid schizophrenic who would often not take his meds, which included antipsychotic drugs Risperdal and Seroquel. Sooriabalan wrote that "Mr. Newman is not very regular in attending the outpatient department and as a result he misses his medications."
Magnotta is set to go to trial in September.
Both the amateur and official detectives wonder what else could have been done.
"I was shocked but not that surprised, " says Boudreault of the Montreal SPCA. "A lot of people start with animals and move on the humans. I spent a lot of time on that."
Dee-Ann, who took the case to Boudreault, continues to work with the Animal Beta Project, but has stopped watching cat crush videos. "I just can't do it anymore," she says. "It takes a part of your soul, and that part of your soul when it goes away, it never comes back."
Like many, she harbors ill will to the authorities. "The stupid cop and the stupid SPCA should really listen to amateurs," she says. "We do have a reason we go to see them. We end up doing some of their work. We're not wasting your time."
Moovan and John are still working together under the Animal Beta Project banner. In 2012, they were instrumental in the investigation of Ashley Nicole Richards and Brent Justice in Houston (the former pleaded guilty to state charges while the latter's state case is pending), who are accused of privately selling "hard" crush videos of puppies and kittens. (The pair is accused of releasing "soft crush" videos on Youtube showing the torture of invertebrate animals — which is currently legal — and used them as an advertisement to sell the illegal "hard crush" videos.) Nicee continues to work with them as well. "I was very meek before," she says. "But two years of Luka desensitized me."
"On a personal level, I found a lot of comfort in these people," Moovan says of her fellow citizen detectives. "Because we had been through a year and a half of the weirdest shit ever. I feel closer to them than a lot of the people I know in real life."
Once Magnotta was caught, there were a few factions attempting to take credit for doing much of the legwork during the kitten video phases. Panzarella still harbors ill will to the Facebook group and John Green in particular. "If I ever see you," he says of Green, "I will punch you in the face."
When Ron Jeremy learned of the murder, he says it gave him a chill, because if they had caught Magnotta in the porn set sting, "he would have gotten a few weeks," in jail, and then, maybe, he would've come after Jeremy. "I would be the guy with his head going to a park. An arm here, and a leg here."
Ryan Boyle has not joined any other online investigations since Magnotta's capture, saying, "All the drama and crap, it really left a sick feeling in my stomach. I tell you, a mob can be dangerous, a mob can get very off track." But, he continues, "the collective knowledge of that mob was just breathtaking."