She’ll no longer say his name, the murderer whose name she helped identify.
Deanna Thompson has said it enough by now, anyway.
She’s determined not to give the man any more of that which he’s willing to kill for: attention.
It’s something that he wanted so desperately, something that Thompson never did, but is now receiving.
The longtime Las Vegas resident, a data analyst at a casino, is at the center of a new Netflix documentary series, “Don’t F**k With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer,” a grim, gripping three-part chronicling of an 18-month manhunt to identify the perpetrator behind a series of graphic videos showing shocking acts of animal abuse and the horrific murder of a 23-year-old college student named Jun Lin.
The killer was pursued around the globe.
Toronto. Montreal. Paris. Berlin.
Thompson and a crew of fellow internet sleuths shadowed his every step, their efforts recounted in a tense, compulsively watchable, wildly popular series. It’s also a rumination on the crowdsourcing of crime, on social media as an intoxicant, an addiction, and on the power of the internet to both unleash and contain our very worst impulses.
Thompson and her online cohorts were the first to unveil who he was, even if the authorities didn’t want to hear it then. For a time, it became an everyday pursuit for her, investigating away after work until 2 a.m. and all day and night on weekends. That she’s now being recognized and lauded for her efforts doesn’t always sit that well with her, though.
She’s not sure what to make of it all, this private woman with a life gone public.
“I’m a homebody,” she says. “I go to hockey games. I don’t really go out to clubs or bars or anything like that. I’m kind of a loner, really. So, the attention has been really weird.
“I’m a super normal chick,” she adds later. “Being in a documentary, that’s crazy to me. The thought that somebody would want to hear this story was very foreign to me, because it’s so uncomfortable. It involves cats. It involves a person. It involves self-reflection. It involves society at large — and nobody really wants to talk about that.”
(If you have yet to see “Don’t F**k With Cats,” spoilers abound from here.)
A senseless act of cruelty
The room is empty and full at once, bereft of possessions, cramped with dread.
And a figure in black, a hooded sweatshirt partially obscuring his angular features, dark bangs and a cigarette dangling from his face.
He pets the cats briefly, caressing their fur playfully before putting them inside a see-through, vacuum-sealed storage bag.
What comes next is an act of cruelty that leaves an indelible mark in the mind the way a tattoo needle does to the flesh.
The clip became a call to action.
And Deanna Thompson answered that call.
‘Find the kitten vacuumer… for great justice’
A native of Detroit who moved to Las Vegas in 1995 after her parents relocated here when she finished high school, Thompson is a lifelong tech obsessive.
“I’ve always broken computers and fixed them,” she says. “As a kid I had a Commodore, and my stepdad got a bunch of pirated games for me and I would look and see how they pirated it. I was just curious. Somebody told me that the Commodore 64s are full of gold, so I would open it up and my mom would come in, ‘What are you doing!?’ I would take the printer apart and try to fix the print heads. But I was really interested in software and programming and that’s kind of where I stayed.”
The internet was a natural place for her to turn for emotional refuge.
Then one day she noticed a furor on Facebook over the aforementioned clip, “1 Boy 2 Kittens.”
In it, the unspoken rule zero of the internet had been violated.
You don’t f**k with cats.
Thompson was sad, disgusted, outraged.
The video had specifically been designed to blindside viewers like her.
“It reels you into thinking, ‘Oh this is a super cute video, he loves those cats.’ It wasn’t set up to be a brutal video, and then it turned into one, and that really hit home. I just thought it was unconscionable to do that. Not only was he killing these cats, but he was trolling people, too.”
While Thompson doesn’t consider herself an animal activist, she’s a passionate pet owner and currently has a cat and two dogs, one of which, a Pomeranian named Yogi, was among the 164 dogs rescued from a breeder in Sandy Valley in 2017 who had packed them inside a U-Haul with no food, water or ventilation.
She felt compelled to act, particularly because it was a live case that could actually be solved.
So she did.
A Facebook group was formed, “Find the kitten vacuumer… for great justice,” which Thompson joined.
Among its members was John Green, a California native who, along with Thompson, are the two main on-screen presences in “Cats,” aside from the killer they pursue. (They meet for the first time in person at the end of the series).
Together with the rest of the group members, they dissected the video frame-by-frame — 10,000 of them, to be exact — performing a digital autopsy of sorts, focusing on what scant physical objects were in the room in order to pinpoint its location: a pack of cigarettes, a vacuum cleaner, a wolf-adorned bedspread, hours and hours spent examining a doorknob.
From there, they used reverse image searches, Google Maps and other markers that provided GPS coordinates from digital photos, to hone in on their target.
Eventually, they came upon a prime suspect: Luka Magnotta: a would-be Canadian model and actor with skyscraper cheekbones, a Leonard Cohen-deep voice and the pouty, pursed lips of someone perpetually sucking on an invisible popsicle. He seemed addicted to that which he didn’t have: fame. He was suspected of flooding the internet with Photoshopped pictures of himself jet-setting around the globe.
Their suspicions were correct: The killer outed himself eventually, sending a message to the group via one of his fake accounts.
The group would track Magnotta to Toronto and then Montreal, offering to share their findings with Canadian authorities, who frequently ignored their entreaties.
“When you call law enforcement with this kind of thing, they’re like, ‘Internet videos? What do you mean?’ ” Thompson says. “We had IP addresses for him, and they’re like, ‘What? Killing cats?’ Click.”
Still, they carried on. But as their pursuit of Magnotta escalated, so did the violence.
A year after “1 Boy 2 Kittens,” another two clips of horrific kitten abuse were released.
And then came “1 Lunatic 1 Ice Pick.”
‘I’m not naive any more’
“For a minute, we thought it was fake,” Thompson says, “because you don’t want to go there. Your mind doesn’t want to believe that it’s real.”
Unfortunately, it was: The video documents the gruesome murder of Jun Lin.
Magnotta had moved from animals to a human victim, a familiar pattern among serial killers.
Thompson was devastated. She saw it coming — the whole crew did — and couldn’t do anything about it.
“When the murder happened and they announced the name of the person that was murdered, Jun Lin, I kind of disappeared for a couple days,” Thompson says. “The more I read about Jun Lin, it hit me so hard that I worked 18 months to get this person stopped, and then this incredible person was murdered. And nothing I did helped — nothing I did helped.”
It all began to take an emotional toll on Thompson.
When she first joined the group, she figured she’d spend a couple days identifying the perpetrator and that would be that.
Soon enough, it consumed her.
“As each day goes by, you do get sucked in,” Thompson says. “I don’t start a project and then not see it through. If I start something, I finish it.”
Thompson originally did her sleuthing via her public Facebook page in her name before adopting the online alter ego of Baudi Moovan — a handle taken from the Beastie Boys song “Body Movin’ ” — with Joan Jett as her avatar.
But she didn’t do so soon enough: Magnotta caught on to her efforts and was able to identify where she was employed, sharing a chilling surveillance video of Thompson at work at one point.
“I was naive,” she acknowledges in hindsight. “I’m not naive anymore. I’m very hardened.
“I don’t trust people,” she adds. “I’m just not the same person. At all.”
A killer’s capture
Jun Lin’s dismembered body was found in a suitcase outside an apartment in Montreal surrounded by 33 bags of trash.
Their contents became Luka Magnotta’s ultimate undoing.
When police sifted through the garbage, they found a driver’s license, a pharmacy receipt, a bank statement and more, all tracing back to Magnotta.
The authorities were finally on the same page as Thompson, Green and company.
“I have to say it was an odd feeling getting the head of the Montreal Police to say, ‘Luka Rocco Magnotta,’ ” Thompson says in the documentary after footage plays of a news conference where the Montreal Police names Magnotta as a person of interest. “It’s something we’d been waiting for a while.”
For Green, it was a bittersweet moment.
“A little bit of it, it validated all the work that we had been doing,” he says in the documentary, “but at the same point, it pissed us off, because I remember thinking, ‘If they had just listened to us three prior, maybe Jun Lin wouldn’t be dead today.’ ”
Magnotta eluded local authorities initially, fleeing to Paris, then Germany.
Magnotta was ultimately captured in an internet cafe in Berlin, while looking up his own file on the Interpol website.
He was so reviled in his native Canada that when extradited, no commercial airliner would fly him back to Montreal. A military plane had to be used instead.
In court, Magnotta claimed that he was being forced to do his heinous acts by a man who abused him.
In December 2014, after eight days of deliberations, Luka Magnotta was convicted of first-degree murder, among other charges, and sentenced to life in prison.
Though Magnotta was behind bars, Thompson’s work wasn’t finished.
The group launched the Animal Beta Project, an online organization that seeks to identify animal abusers and then alert local authorities to their whereabouts for prosecution.
They’ve played a role in a number of successful apprehensions, including the arrest of Brent Wayne Justice, who notoriously filmed himself crushing strays that he had lured to his Houston home.
“When we called the Houston PD on the Crusher, who we found, within two days the guy was arrested,” Thompson says. “We know lives were saved based on that conviction, and we’re so proud of that.”
She says that in the wake of the Magnotta case, police have been more responsive to her group’s efforts to help bring animal abusers to justice.
“I’m really proud of that.”
No easy resolution
It’s one of those things that can keep you up nights, staring at the ceiling, the idea that you might somehow be contributing to a problem you’re trying so hard to solve.
Deanna Thompson, John Green and the rest of their crew wrangled with this mightily.
As they sought to bring Magnotta to justice, they knew they were giving him what he wanted above all else: an audience.
“These people don’t deserve our attention,” she says. “There’s so many people in society loving true crime and serial killer documentaries. Every killer has fans. People write these guys in prison. It’s insane. I am guilty of that as well; I participate in watching these documentaries. I’m in one now.”
Thompson’s now getting everything that Luka Magnotta wanted, wanted badly enough to kill for.
“I’m trying to be very gracious to everybody, like, ‘Oh, it’s so nice to meet you. Thanks for the support,’ ” Thompson says, “but it’s very odd because somebody died.”