Long before Luka Magnotta became a household name in Canada and the subject of an international manhunt, he was pursued by a group of online vigilantes desperate to stop a man they were convinced had killed animals for pleasure.
A 30-year-old porn actor and stripper, Magnotta faces several charges in connection with the gruesome slaying, including first-degree murder. He has pleaded not guilty to all counts and will be tried next year.
But for 18 months before his arrest, Magnotta was tracked by an 11-member group of anonymous animal welfare activists who worked under the banner Animal Beta Project. They waded through his innumerable postings, including videos that depicted the killing of kittens. The first, posted online at the end of 2010, showed a young man killing two kittens in a bag with the help of a vacuum. Others involved a python and a bathtub.
The online sleuths analysed the videos and other photos of Magnotta with CSI-like precision, launched a Facebook page, made their own ‘Wanted” videos and contacted police and animal welfare officials in Quebec and Ontario.
All the while, they were stymied by the elusive Magnotta, a man with several aliases who seemed to be everywhere in cyberspace and yet nowhere in real life. Adding to their frustration was the lack of action by authorities in both provinces.
On Friday, members of the secretive group will share their story with CBC News’ Mark Kelley on the "fifth estate" in a segment called "Hunting Magnotta," airing at 9 p.m. ET.
Kelley speaks to group members who went to extreme lengths to identify and locate Magnotta — at one point, they even scoured Google Maps Street View of Montreal to match a specific location they had spotted in a photo he had posted online. (They traced the image to a staircase near McTavish St. and Doctor Penfield Ave. after noticing distinct street lamps in the background, the show reveals).
“No one really cared. We had a lot of trouble getting help, from anybody,” says Ryan Boyle, a former marine who ran the Facebook page, in "the fifth estate" interview.
“All of our information, all of our evidence was gained from the Internet, so to them [officials], it was Internet-based … flim-flam. You know, they didn’t care until he killed a person.”
"Hunting Magnotta" includes exclusive interviews with two people who knew the alleged killer personally. And it suggests at least one Toronto police detective was alarmed enough to warn his colleagues in Montreal that Magnotta's alleged animal abuse could escalate to humans.
"I want to find this guy more than anyone out there," a detective wrote to the group in March in correspondence obtained by "the fifth estate," CBC News reported Friday.
"I still have the email I sent Montreal PD [police department] stating that yes he was only killing cats right now but that the next would be a human."
The program air much of Magnotta's self-shot video and photos, including a chilling clip in which he spurns the advances of an imaginary lover.
It’s compelling viewing that raises a troubling question: Could Magnotta have been stopped sooner?
CBC News Network rebroadcasts "the fifth estate" on Saturdays at 8 p.m. ET and Sundays at 7 p.m. ET. For more information on the fifth estate, visit the website.