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Homeless Man Defending Stray Cats Admits Killing Drifter

December 27, 1986

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ A man who lived with four stray cats under a bridge was being held today without bond after leading police to the grave of a drifter he admitted beating to death for trying to drown the pets, police said.

John Patrick O’Neill, 50, was charged Friday with second-degree murder in the slaying of Daniel Francis Kelly, 58, said Miami Beach police spokesman Howard Zeifman.

″I kind of feel said for the guy,″ said Detective Robert Hanlon. ″If he didn’t come in and tell us about it, there’s a very good chance that we never would have found it. I guess it was bothering him.″

O’Neill told police he had been taking care of four stray cats under the MacArthur Causeway, which crosses Biscayne Bay from Miami to Miami Beach.

Other drifters made their homes there. On Christmas, there was even a small tree with tinsel, said Hanlon.

O’Neill said he returned to the bridge Dec. 19 to discover Kelly had thrown the four cats into the bay, where they were unable to claw their way up the steep banks.

O’Neill said he leaped into the water and rescued the animals, then confronted Kelly, who allegedly pulled a knife.

The two men fought, and O’Neill said he beat Kelly unconscious, Zeifman said. O’Neill went to sleep, then realized the man was dead the next morning.

He tod police he panicked and buried the body under the bridge where it lay until Christmas Eve. That night he walked a mile to the police station and turned himself in.

″He wanted to clear his conscience,″ said Zeifman.

Hanlon said Kelly, whom he had once arrested, had a reputation for being ″a nasty drunk.″

In jail, O’Neill received a turkey dinner for Christmas but worried that his pets were going unfed, said Hanlon.

The rescued cats apparently were taken home by a woman who heard about their plight.

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