David and Lea Ellen DeWitt never had a problem letting their five cats roam free outside in their Lake Hollingsworth neighborhood in Lakeland. One of the cats died of natural causes, but a second suddenly vanished, and a third was discovered on their front lawn in gruesome fashion.
Bessie hadn't passed away peacefully. She had been sliced in two.
"Half the cat was there with the front legs forward. The rest of the cat body was missing completely," DeWitt said.
The couple later found Bessie's other half swarmed by vultures a short distance away. They called police.
"When a person does something like this to an animal, it's practice to begin doing it on people," Lea Ellen DeWitt concluded. "That's what really frightens me."
Lakeland police began going door to door in the area where three cats have been discovered mutilated. Investigators are asking people to pay attention to unusual activity, as they've determined that the cat deaths are suspicious.
Friday morning a neighbor noticed a fuzzy white shape on the lawn of a house on Brook Lane. After getting a closer look, she realized the cat had been cut open.
The home's groundskeeper, Patrick Fisher, placed the remains in a plastic bag for police. Fisher said the cat's insides had been gutted.
"You could see right through," Fisher said.
Residents nearby who own outdoor pets have been bringing them inside, including the McGinnis family.
"We have to lock our cat door now and make sure they don't get out until this is safe," said Allie McGinnis. "Who would want to kill cats? It's just plain awful," McGinnis said.
Police said a veterinarian at Cleveland Heights Animal Hospital determined that some of the dead cats were cut with a tool, as opposed to being bitten by an animal.
With three cats turning up dead, the concern is that there may by a cat killer still at large.
"It's getting creepier. It's getting much creepier," DeWitt said.