It was the sound of a wailing cat that first caught the neighbor's attention. When she looked toward the sound she told authorities that she saw her next-door neighbor cutting off the crying feline's head with a knife.
The call she subsequently made to deputies started a bizarre animal cruelty investigation that has focused attention from around the country on a working-class neighborhood in a Bakersfield suburb where a man allegedly was fileting cats and cooking them on his backyard barbecue.
"I've been getting calls on this from around the country," Kern County Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said. "For some reason when somebody hurts animals people are more outraged than they are for a lot of other cases."
Investigators decided to release new details on Thursday because of the nationwide interest in the case.
Jason Wilmert, 35, will be arraigned Friday on charges alleging animal cruelty and using a pet or domesticated animal for food. Both are misdemeanors.
A neighbor told KBAK-TV that she had seen Wilmert with a wailing tabby cat cutting it down the back with a knife, then decapitating it. She turned away in disgust and called sheriff's deputies.
Pruitt said that when deputies arrived that morning at Wilmert's home they talked to other neighbors, who said they had heard the sounds of screaming cats coming from the house in Oildale. When he didn't answer his door, Pruitt said a deputy walked down the driveway and saw a cat's head in the backyard.
Later Pruitt came outside and deputies arrested him. When they searched his house they found a cat carcass in the kitchen sink, as if were being prepped for cooking. Deputies also found an animal trap in the driveway.
"We don't know if he was using the trap to catch cats, but he had one," Pruitt said.
Nobody has called in reporting missing pets, and investigators suspect the victims were strays.
Wilmert has been unable to post $22,500 bail on the animal cruelty charges and unrelated littering offenses. It was unclear if he had an attorney.