Deanna Thompson isn’t a homicide detective. But she pretty much played one on TV.
Thompson, a casino worker in Las Vegas, is the focus of a new, mini-series documentary on Netflix called “Don’t Eff with Cats.” It's the streaming service's second-most successful documentary.
The title comes from an unwritten internet rule: Cats and kitties are adorable and fun to watch on the Internet--but you never harm them.
So, when Thompson saw video of an unknown man killing two kittens by putting them in a plastic bag, then vacuuming the oxygen out of the bag, she went to work.
Soon, she had and a crew of internet sleuths started searching for the killer; they came to know him and he came to know them.
Thompson told KNPR's State of Nevada that she became interested in internet sleuthing early in 2010, after observing another group of people search for someone using clues from a video posted online.
So, when the video of the kittens surfaced later in 2010 she joined the Facebook group looking for the person who did it.
“I’m embarrassed to say how many hours but it was a significant amount,” she said of the sleuthing.
She estimates she spent about 60 hours a week over 18 months looking for the man, who would ultimately release two more cat killing videos. One showed himself drowning a cat, and in the other, he released a python on a cat.
Thompson and the others in a private Facebook group looked at thousands of frames of the videos looking for clues. Everything was scrutinized from the blanket on the bed to the doorknob and electrical outlets.
Eventually, the group tracked down the man they believed responsible for the cat videos. He was living in Toronto. They contacted the Toronto Police, who went to the apartment where they believed he was living but he had moved.
They then tracked him to Montreal but didn't get any help from the Montreal Police when they tried to contact them.
That decision proved to be a fatal one.
The man who videotaped himself killing kittens graduated to killing a human. He didn't just kill someone, he made a video of it and sent it to members of the Facebook group trying to track him down.
“After the man who was murdered, his name was Jun Lin, I had to watch this murder video and you don’t watch something like that and just be unaffected,” Thompson said.
After watching the video, she unplugged from the group and the internet altogether. She said she needed a sanity break. After 24 hours, she came back and continued the group's effort to contact police about what they knew.
Police would eventually get the video of the murder, which the killer also posted online.
Thompson doesn't blame the police for not listening to her group.
“Who is going to listen to a bunch of internet nerds?” she said.
After spending more than a year trying to track down the man responsible for the cat videos, Thompson and the rest of the group came to know that he craved attention and notoriety. So much so, that he created fake Facebook fan pages about himself and planted online rumors that he was dating one of the most notorious female killers in Canadian history.
Thompson asked herself, during the investigation and in the years following it, whether the group's work pushed the killer forward.
“Did we create the monster? I don’t think so,” she told KNPR's State of Nevada.
She said that therapists and behavioral psychologists she has talked to believe the killer would have gone on to kill with or without their involvement.
“The attention that he sought. He needed it so bad that he would have reacted sooner had he not gotten it from us,” she said.
But the documentary does bring up a larger question, she said, about the internet culture we find ourselves in. A culture of carefully curated perfection but also a culture where people can pretend to be something they are not.
“I think it’s a bigger conversation is how the internet is affecting us as a society and how we interact with one another,” Thompson said.
Since the investigation, the murder and the killer's eventual arrest and conviction, Thompson sought out therapy.
“After all of this happened, of course, I went to therapy. Something like this doesn’t just happen to you and you survive it, coming out as you were,” she said.
Now that the documentary is available on Netflix, Thompson is being recognized at the grocery store and at Vegas Golden Knights' games.
“I always remind people because they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re so great! You’re a hero,’ and I’m like, ‘Somebody died.’ Just remember – somebody died. I think it is really important that people remember this incredible human being was murdered,” she said.
Deanna Thompson, casino worker and interviewee, "Don't Eff With Cats"