After animal beheadings, police and reporters conjure “ritual” claims


A goat, baby chickens, two roosters, and a dove were recently found beheaded outside Falkenburg Road Jail in Florida. Photo by Flickr user wuperruper.

Hardly a week goes by where I don’t see a story about someone discovering a gruesome animal beheading. And, for some reason, investigators always claim that occult activity is involved. Is it because these kinds of stories are always reported with a Satanic or ritualistic slant? Is it because police are listening to the advice of so-called “occult experts?”

Earlier this month, someone left a menagerie of beheaded animals outside the Falkenburg Road Jail in Hillsborough County, Florida. The box of slain animals included “a goat, some baby chickens, two roosters, and a dove.”

Detective Larry McKinnon of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said, “It was a disturbing discovery, and we feel like its some sort of ritualistic killing. Someone was clearly sending a message to someone inside the jail.”

“We feel like?” I’m not sure that police investigations are supposed to be based on what the police feel like. I get that some of it’s intuitive, but … really, unless there’s evidence of ritual, all you have is animal abuse. But the article doesn’t stop there:

Religious studies expert Dr. Mozella Mitchell agrees the killings were committed to send a message, but if it was ritualistic she believes it wasn’t of a religious nature, but something much darker.

“Witchcraft, yes witchcraft, I think it would be something related to that, it’s the act of some crazed mind, a person who’s out of their head,” Mitchell added.

I find it difficult to believe that someone who is a religious studies major doesn’t recognize witchcraft as a religion. Furthermore, she’s connecting “witchcraft” with “a person who’s out of their head.” Fortunately, several commenters have made it plain that folks who practice witchcraft a) are generally sane and b) don’t harm animals. But these statements fall squarely in the category of irresponsible journalism — at least if this news outlet intends to inform the public.

The article also discusses a prior incident in which a cow’s tongue studded with “about 100 nails” (someone counted?) was found in a box outside the Tampa courthouse. Police said they don’t think the incidents were linked, but “it’s the work of someone who dabbles in voodoo or witchcraft, someone calling on dark, supernatural powers to hurt an individual.” When in doubt, it’s important to describe such incidents in as vague and spooky terms as possible.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, someone beheaded another goat — this one a beloved pet, named Billy, who was the unofficial mascot of A-1 Tractor and Equipment Rentals. Rather than suspecting the work of a disgruntled customer, guess what police think is behind the attack?

Hinman said the responding officer told her the beheading might be related to some sort of a satanic cult because the animal was drained of its blood.

And, as if to back this theory up, the report adds:

In 2008, the Bullhead City Police Department reported finding a goat’s head as the centerpiece of an altar used in a ritual by drug dealers.

… when there’s no evidence that the crimes had anything to do with each other, or were committed by the same person. (There’s also the matter of suggesting that there’s a connection between animal heads, rituals, and drug dealing/crimes). Once again, the readers and commenters on this story are skeptical about the “ritual” claims. I wonder why news outlets continue to go with this angle if readers aren’t buying it. It’s not like news of animal abuse wouldn’t sell papers on its own — after all, animal-related stories, pictures, and so on are one of the most popular items online.

I’ve said this many times, but killing animals is, first and foremost, a sign of mental imbalance. It’s one of the classic signs of sociopathy. Even if the person committing the crimes is also participating in occult activity, the occult activity is not what motivates the attacks. A sane, healthy person is not — in general — capable of harming animals. That’s the way to contextualize these deaths. Discussing rituals, the occult, and Satanism is nothing more than a dangerous distraction.

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5 responses to “After animal beheadings, police and reporters conjure “ritual” claims

  1. Goats, doves, and roosters are both common sacrifices in Palo and Santeria. Hillsborough County has lots of Cuban immigrants, so its not implausible.

    The headless goat? Agreed, that’s less likely to be sacrifice related.

    • Thanks — this is a great comment. Why would a headless goat in one case be a likely sacrifice but not in another?

      Even if it is a legitimate sacrifice, it bothers me that articles like this don’t go into much detail on which specific groups practice sacrifice, what it’s for, and perhaps get quotes from people who practice those faiths to explain why it’s not just freaky and spooky.

      • Mainly I think that the goat is less likely to be a sacrifice due to the fact that its the store’s mascot. That makes it more likely in my mind to be some sort of form of revenge, warning, or suchlike towards the shop owner.

        Putting nails in tongues or putting sacrifice remains at a courthouse? That’s got Palo or Santo written all over it.

      • Too bad the reporter didn’t actually mention those faiths, eh?

  2. Yeah, that is rather ignorant.

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