YONKERS, NY (LoHud.com) -- Only a slight stench was noticeable Thursday as Ernest Lungaro approached the 30 or so plastic bags hanging from tree branches in the woods off Overlook Terrace.
The bags, which reminded the director of the SPCA of Westchester's Humane Law Enforcement Division of the flimsy plastic kind bodegas use, were neatly tied around branches as if someone was hanging a line of laundry.
From a distance, they didn't raise any alarms, particularly to residents who said the woods are regularly used as a dumping ground with empty liquor bottles, water containers and other debris.
But city sanitation workers performing their annual cleanup of the woods discovered a grisly scene that shocked Lungaro and police who responded about 10 a.m.
About 25 dead cats of various ages and in different stages of decomposition — including some skeletal remains — were found in the bags, Lungaro said. Each bag appeared to have contained one cat, although wildlife appeared to have ripped open five or so of the bags, spilling the dead cats out, he said.
Most of the cats appeared to have been dead prior to being put into the bags because any cat would have been able to claw its way out, Lungaro said. Officials said it was too early to say whether someone had killed the cats or were just disposing their bodies. Necropsies, or animal autopsies, are planned.
"It's something very odd," he said. "It's a lot of cats to be disposed of in a year."
The numbers of dead cats in this case is unusual, even given the feral cat colony, Lungaro said. Officials are still working to determine whether all of the dead cats were feral. Given the sanitation schedule, the cats were hung in the woods within the past year.
Over the years, police have found dead animals left on the street and others placed inside plastic bags — but never instances in which bags containing their carcasses were tied to tree branches, police Lt. Patrick McCormack said. There was no evidence the animals were used in any rituals, he said.
Last year, residents in northeast Yonkers reported the appearance of several dead cats and wildlife in their neighborhood, believing the animals may have been poisoned.
Reacting to Thursday's gruesome find, some residents said they weren't surprised the cats were found in that location.
"That place is always dirty so when you see a bag there, it's nothing new," said Guy John, 49, who lives across the street from the woods. "You see rats running out of there. It looks like a race... Sometimes you confuse the rats for the cats."
Anyone with information is asked to call detectives at 914-377-7724 or the SPCA's Animal Cruelty Hotline at 914-941-7797.