Police say when a 7-year-old boy was murdered 40 years ago in Ireland, his teenage killer was Satanic and the scene included “religious symbols, including a silver cup and three hosts.” Photo by Flickr user freefotouk.
A number of supposedly “Satanic” crimes have hit the news recently. Let’s take a look:
Ireland opened a decades-old wound recently when it held a new inquest into the murder of 7-year-old John Horgan in 1973 in Palmerstown. His killer was an unnamed teenage neighbor who was looking after him on the afternoon of June 14, and apparently took John into an attic, tied him to the rafters “in a cruciform,” near “a silver cup containing three hosts,” and bludgeoned him to death. John died of skull fractures in what several newspapers called a “Satanic killing” — presumably because of the scene.
That’s it? Do we know for sure that he wasn’t tied in a “cruciform” because that was the way the rafters were arranged? How do we know that the cup and hosts weren’t leftover from something else — this is an attic in the heart of Catholic Ireland, after all. Satan and Satanism didn’t kill this child; his teenage neighbor did. Religion doesn’t enter into it.
John’s killer was imprisoned for the crime, but has since been paroled and is living abroad, according to newspapers.
One reported, “the case didn’t receive much attention until it re-emerged during an inquest this week.” The inquest was held because apparently a death certificate was never issued for John Horgan. News media took the opportunity to capitalize on the more sensationalistic aspects of the case — apparently they’ve learned a lot about “Satanic killings” in the past 40 years and are now using that knowledge to their advantage.
As events were unveiled in that Irish courtroom, vandals were having their way with the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul, Minnesota. In what was billed “possibly Satanic graffiti,” “White-colored upside-down crosses were spray-painted on five of the six main doors” of the church. Fortunately the reporter cast some doubt on the motives behind the defacement: “We don’t know if this was some silly prank from someone or a drunken rampage or something more serious,” [the cathedral's rector] said.”
Another scholar, University of St. Thomas’ Rev. Erich Rutten, pointed out that upside-down crosses are also associated with St. Peter.
But the police are having none of this skepticism:
The investigation into whether the graffiti was a bias-motivated crime is because of the upside-down crosses on the church and “what they have to come to symbolize in popular culture,” said Sgt. Pete Crum, a St. Paul police spokesman.
Johnson said he thinks the police focus is such because the upside-down cross is sometimes associated with Satanic cults.
Even if these symbols were intended to refer to Satanism, it’s much more likely that they were painted as a prank. Serious, devoted Satanists generally have better things to do than vandalize churches; it’s not like it’s part of Satanic doctrine to paint upside-down crosses on other people’s property.
In Palm Springs, prosecutors are fighting to charge Cara Williams-Covert with murder in the slaying of Larry Roger Fisk in an incident with so-called “Satanic overtones” in 2009. Charges against her were already once thrown out for lack of evidence. No matter. Even though the evidence against her for actual murder is scanty, newspapers are not only tying her to the killing but to the supposedly “Satanic” nature of it.
So what’s the actual “Satanic” aspect of this crime?
During [Williams-Covert's boyfriend Dale] Farquhar’s trial, Deputy District Attorney Otis Sterling said a journal showed that Williams-Covert called herself a “witch” and Farquhar identified himself as a “true demon” and a “sociopath.”
Prosecutors alleged the couple came to Palm Springs in October 2009 to write a horror script and commit mass murder.
Shaw, however, contends that prosecutors overreached when connecting the journal to the murder.
“This sensationalized demon and witch case — it just isn’t there,” Shaw said.
In the script, Farquhar played a character named Dave Hatcher, a transsexual in an open relationship with a “with” named Cat, prosecutors said. Williams-Covert allegedly played Cat, a methamphetamine addict who lured men to their condominium for sex.
Prosecutors alleged Williams-Covert was acting out the script when she lured the victim from a bar back to the condo to his eventual death.
The whole “Satanic” aspect is clearly in the imaginations of the prosecutors. Even if this woman did consider herself a “witch,” not all witches are Satanic — in fact, most aren’t. And someone calling himself a “true demon” is not a de facto Satanist, either. (Nor is someone calling himself a “sociopath” necessarily a sociopath either, but taken together, these claims suggest mental instability — not religious motivation.)
Once again, a random smattering of non-Christian comments are enough to a) paint someone as evil and b) further confuse the public regarding the difference between various non-Christian faiths and practices. These are fear tactics, not attempts to inform readers. This is the opposite of what newspapers are supposed to do, by the way.
Why does this matter? Because when the public — which includes jurors — and police and attorneys become this confused about pagan practices (most of which are entirely peaceful), innocent girls can be put in prison. As long as “Satanist” is synonymous with “killer,” this can and probably will continue to happen.
How do you feel when you see people’s faiths and practices misrepresented by the press? What do you think should be done about it?