literary journalism

Montevallo, Alabama — In the woods behind a student apartment complex, in the middle of the night, a group of police officers and three fraternity brothers are searching with flashlights. No one knows exactly where the fourth killed cat lies, but after an hour or so, someone discovers it. The cat is not a carefully wrapped or skinned carcass, not elaborate like the others, just mangled on top of an anthill, like Christian Slaton’s version of a white flag, like he’s given up.

About two weeks earlier, a mid-October morning in Montevallo, Alabama near Birmingham. Two brick columns support tiny crest-shaped rods, a half ring over the entrance to the University of Montevallo, home of the purple and gold falcons. Neat gray bricks make up the road on campus; it lines the olive colored quads and reaches a cul-de-sac. It encircles two 16-foot tall, bronze hands on a pedestal reaching to the sky: The Becoming Statue reminds students to strive for excellence. A dead cat deliberately skinned and tightly wrapped in purple and gold ribbons lay under the statue’s looming hands...


    The next week, a more thought out display appears on campus — limbs of another cat are cut up, tail in slices. The bulk of the cat’s dead body is on a stake in the President’s yard on Flower Hill. The limbs and tail are in a thoughtful ring around the stake. A few days later, a flag made by a student is up — parts of dead, dismembered cat sloppily strung up a flagpole.

    The Montevallo Police Department takes on the case and launches an investigation.

    Cats are known to meander around the university. In fact Montevallo, Alabama has so many stray cats that the local spay/neuter clinic offers to fix them for free. Many students see the stray cats on campus as sort of their own pets. They recognize the cats, pet the cats, play with the cats, leave food out for the cats. But no one knows who’s killing the cats.

    A few hours after the cat-flag display is removed, rumors travel. Students have joked about “Cat Killer” since news of the first display — the one under The Becoming Statue. Now it’s the week before Halloween and most think it’s a dumb rumor. That is, until they notice how many of the Montevallo strays are actually gone.


    Jason Brown just completed a two-hour drive from his hometown to the University of Montevallo where he’s a second year art major. After delaying a drawing project, he has a lot to knock out before getting back to his apartment — more supplies, food, and toilet paper — all in one trip to the grocery store with barely any cash. His cellphone rings as he speed walks into the store. It’s Christian Slaton. “Hey man, what’s up?”  Jason wedges the phone between his cheek and shoulder. “Dude I can’t really talk, got a lot of work tonight.”

    Jason and Christian have been best friends since they bonded as middle school outcasts; now they both study at Montevallo and rush for the same “artsy” fraternity on campus, Lambda Chi Alpha. In nearly ten years of friendship, few things have changed between them. They’re both scrawny white boys who wear only skinny jeans and a variety of dark colored, clingy t-shirts. They’re still addicted to the same television shows, which they watch together as they drink. Jason’s the kind of guy who doesn’t like to talk about his life; Christian can barely shut up about his. Jason loves to draw. Christian is a writer.

The next afternoon, a Sunday, Christian shows up in Jason’s doorway with a bottle of wine, nothing out of the ordinary. For some reason though, there is an awkward formality between them, a tension that wasn’t there before. They talk about school and girls and normal things until Christian pops the cork off the wine bottle and passes over a notebook, suggesting that Jason read something Christian wrote that morning.

    Jason has read essays and random creative writing pieces by Christian before, but this is like some weird, cryptic diary entry: I’ve done some bad things, blah, blah, blah. Things I can’t control, blah, blah, blah. I’m still a Christian, blah, blah, The Nameless and blah. Jason nods, figuring it’s just some strange writing exercise and hands the notebook back. “Ah, that’s cool man.”

    He notes Christian is waiting for a certain response, which the odd silence between them clearly doesn’t fulfill. “Like… really good dude.” Jason conjures up some fake curiosity to ease the weirdness. “But uh, what’s ‘The Nameless’ mean? I don’t get that part.”

    “Yeah man, I’ve got to tell you something about that.”


    “You know that whole cat thing?”

    Jason gets it; he doesn’t know how to respond, so he starts drawing again. Christian drinks straight from the wine bottle, he’s almost crying. It’s awkward. And then he admits it—he’s been torturing, beating and killing the stray cats. And that the motivation for his creative displays come from Dexter, a television series about a serial killer, Dexter Morgan, who lives a double life. The show invites viewers to sympathize with Dexter, as he is conflicted by his kill-driven side, his “Dark Passenger.”

    Christian argues, yes, Dexter inspired the displays… but it’s only cats and he’s not copying Dexter, he relates to Dexter. As Dexter Morgan is to the “The Dark Passenger,” Christian Slaton is to “The Nameless,” portrayed in the weird, cryptic diary entry that Jason just read.

     Christian’s diary entry may even resemble real-life killer Mark Twitchell’s journal titled, S.K. Confessions (S.K. is short for serial killer), which describes his desire to kill as he admittedly takes on the persona of Dexter Morgan. In 2011, Twitchell murdered a man in a “kill-room” similar to the one on the television series. The Parents Television Council actively protested Dexter before it went on the air. Its review questions the ethics of glorifying a serial killer, fearing how the message will affect young audiences. Like Andrew Conley, a 17-year-old in Indiana, who suffocated his 10-year-old brother with a plastic bag, and stated that Dexter inspired him. As for Christian Slaton, the boy who emulates Dexter Morgan and tortures animals, what’s next?

     “Alright.” Jason keeps drawing.  Christian keeps drinking. He practically spills over with information, like every killing, every single step, and every thought has been itching for release. One of the cats, the first cat, the one under The Becoming Statue, Christian tied it up; he tortured it to death outside, then wrapped it and ran.

    “Alright.” Jason nods, still drawing.

    But that just wasn’t efficient. Christian held the others under water in his bathtub, suffocated them, tortured them, beat them and he drained the blood.

     “Alright.” Jason looks at Christian for the first time during the whole spiel; he notices the scratch on his nose, the gashes on his arms. It’s so obvious. How could he have missed that before?

    Just tortured and beat the cats until they couldn’t take it. Then he cut them up. The second cat, only the second, he reached in, pulled out its insides. And the displays, the last two displays were more imaginative. Christian explains to Jason, “They’re like my tableaus.”

    Jason laughs nervously, “Chris… you’re stupid.”

    Had he actually just called it art? The revelation is so outrageous that Jason questions if “The Nameless” is a real thing or if Christian is trying way too hard to become Dexter Morgan. Once Christian leaves, Jason figures he should call the Slaton family and he does this immediately.


    After leaving Jason’s apartment, Christian confesses to another friend, his Fraternity Big at Lambda Chi Alpha, Alex Dimmers. He tells Alex that he bought shower curtains and used them as wrapping for the cats; so he could transport them, avoid the mess. On the television series, Dexter uses a similar method with saran wrap and tarp. In retrospect, Alex expresses that he saw obvious contrived parallels to Dexter, “I don’t mean this to sound bad, but I was trying not to laugh at some of that.” Alex calls Jason that night and they make plans to meet up in the morning.

    After discussing Christian’s confession on Monday morning, Alex and Jason go to the President of the fraternity, who insists on turning Christian in to the police. Jason explains he spoke to Christian’s family, they assured him they are seeking professional help, that Christian is dropping out of Montevallo, that it is being handled.

    “But you said there’s a fourth cat, dude. That’s not handled.” Jason knows his frat brothers are right. Before leaving Jason’s the night before, Christian admitted to torturing and killing another cat. A cat that isn’t on display, but somewhere in the woods behind his apartment. “It’s for the ants,” he’d told Jason.

    The two Lambda Chi Alpha brothers decide they are going to the cops with or without him. If Jason doesn’t go, it won’t make a difference anyway. So he goes with them, he turns Christian in to the cops. The police question the guys, then take them on a hunt for Christian’s fourth kill, the last cat corpse.

    The group treks into the woods behind Christian’s apartment complex, it’s dark. No one knows exactly where this fourth cat lies. Flashlights spatter the surface of crumpled leaves, leaves that crunch under the feet of fraternity students and police officers. It takes an hour or so, but the mangled cat is eventually found on top of an anthill.


    On Halloween at the University of Montevallo, the green is drained from leaves; red-orange slivers dangle from the limbs. The leaves rattle, tiny wisps break them and they descend slowly to the ground. The University of Montevallo suspends Christian Slaton and he is publically listed as the only suspect, the “Cat Killer.” A week later on November 6th, police arrest him on four-charges of animal cruelty.

    “Our relationship before all of it was good. He was my best friend,” Jason says. “Now we don’t talk much.” After being charged with four counts of animal cruelty in the first degree, Christian Slaton had a preliminary hearing in February, an October hearing postponed, a December hearing postponed and a July hearing postponed. He was granted youthful offender status for a hearing in August 2014, making his maximum sentence less than three years. Slaton’s criminal record is no longer public.