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Glenn Stefanik was working with his crew from the Yonkers Department of Public Works on Thursday morning, clearing debris from a wooded area overlooking the Hudson River, when he caught sight of something strange.
An animal was dangling from a tree branch. It was eviscerated and hard to make out at first, so he looked closer. A white cat had been strung up from a branch of a crooked tree. Next to it hung a black bag.
“We pulled on the bag and a little black kitten fell out,” he said on Friday. “It was a day or two old.”
More than two dozen bags just like that one would be found hanging in branches above a tangle of vines and empty beer bottles.
The workers called the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Ernest Lungaro, the agency’s director of humane law enforcement, arrived shortly before 10 a.m.
“We have never been confronted by a scene like this,” Mr. Lungaro said.
At least 25 dead cats were found, their remains in various states of decomposition, stuffed in the kind of plastic bags one gets at a bodega. The killings most likely started as long as a year ago, based on the state of skeletal remains, and continued right up until this week, according to the authorities.
Plastic bags containing the remains of about 25 cats were found hanging from a tree in Yonkers on Thursday. Credit S.P.C.A. of Westchester's Humane Law Enforcement Division, via Associated Press
Necropsies performed on three of the cats that died more recently found they all died of blunt force trauma to the head.
A wooden baseball bat, a metal pipe and two shovels were recovered from the area.
Mr. Lungaro alerted the police immediately and they are now working jointly to find out who was behind the killings.
On Friday, officers were still investigating the scene.
Lt. Patrick McCormack of the Yonkers Police Department said that there were no suspects and that the motive remained unknown. Killing a cat in a “depraved and sadistic manner” is a felony in New York, punishable with a fine of as much as $5,000 and up to five years in prison.
Because the crime scene was so strange, Lieutenant McCormack said, concerned residents had asked if there was any ritualistic element to the murders. Other than the care taken to hang the remains, he said, the killings did not appear to be ritualistic.
It remained unclear if the cats were domesticated or feral, the authorities said, but there were no recent reports called in about missing pet cats, officials said.
The authorities are doing forensic tests on the remains and other items found at the scene, and are canvassing the surrounding neighborhoods.
There is a large feral cat population in Westchester County, the S.P.C.A. said, and a colony of cats is known to populate the area around where the remains were found, a spot that is a half-mile east of the Yonkers train station.
Ora Ortiz, 43, said that she and an older neighbor feed some 30 stray cats in the area every day.
Ms. Ortiz said she had recently noticed something strange.
“There was a smell on this block for a while,” she said. “We were thinking it was trash.”
She could not have imagined someone was killing the cats she cared for so deeply.
When she learned of the killings, Ms. Ortiz whisked her own pet calico, Nyla, across town to her daughter’s house.
Others in the area were also spooked by the strange and gruesome crime.
“There is obviously cruelty all across the country,” said Becky Robinson, the founder and president of Alley Cat Allies, one of the nation’s leading cat advocacy groups. “But this is the most horrific case we have ever heard of, and it is very disturbing.”
Ms. Robinson’s group was offering $750 for information leading to the arrest of the person or people responsible.
“This is not the work of someone who is a little upset,” she said. “This is the work of someone who is deranged.”