Tag Archives: Satanic cult

Church of Satan: ‘Craigslist Killer Not One of Us’

Church of Satan high priest Peter Gilmore has issued a statement to the press regarding Miranda Barbour’s claims that she belonged to a Satanic cult, making it clear that she has no affiliation with the church founded by Anton LaVey.

“According to our records, we have never had any contact from this woman, nor her accomplice … It seems to me that she is calling herself a member of a ‘satanic cult,’ not a legally incorporated above-ground form of satanism.”

“Thorough investigation will likely demonstrate that this cult story is fiction,” Gilmore added.

And Lucien Greaves, a spokesman for the New York-based Satanic Temple, expressed similar sentiments in statements this weekend:

“Barbour seems bent on displaying herself as prolific murderer and absolute monster, and her ‘Satanism’ seems nothing more than another transparent effort to aid in this campaign of reverse,” public relations, Greaves said.

“It must be remembered that ‘the Devil made me do it’ excuse far predates any written doctrine of Satanism, and I feel certain that Barbour’s own relationship with any organized Satanism will turn out to be vague or non-existent,” he added.

What’s even more remarkable than these public statements is that multiple mainstream news sites have published them — without irony or mockery. That rarely happens, and it’s a major step forward in recognizing Satanism as a legitimate and law-abiding faith that is unfairly linked to crimes like Barbour’s far too often. For example, check out this comment from CNN’s Belief blog co-editor, Daniel Burke:

Barbour’s alleged satanic ties may resurrect painful memories for Satanists, who found themselves at the center of controversy during the “satanic panic” of the 1980s. During that time, several American communities reported that Satanists had abused children during horrifying rituals. The accusations were later debunked, but only after what Satanists like Gilmore describe as a “witch hunt.”

Satanism still has a long way to go before it’s seen as an equal faith, but this isn’t a bad place to start.

About That “Satanic” “Teen” “Craigslist Killer” …

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Pretend, for a moment, that you were programming a website that auto-generated sensationalistic headlines. What kinds of words would you plug into it? “Teen?” “Satanic?” “Serial killer?” The name of some kind of tech company? (Trust me on this one; headlines that include the word “Google,” “Apple,” or “Facebook” get tons of hits). On Sunday, nobody needed a fake headline generator to come up with a story that included all these phrases. After all, Miranda Barbour basically handed the story to them.

I won’t recount the details, not only because they’ve been splashed across news sites around the world already, but because right now there’s no evidence for almost anything she claims, except for the murder of one man she allegedly killed after luring him with a Craigslist ad in which she may have offered to exchange sex for money.

Instead, I want to look more closely at what she says, and how she says it:

“I remember everything … It is like watching a movie.”

Whether or not this girl is a legitimate killer, she’s indicating a sense of being disconnected from her actions. Is she delusional? Or possibly sociopathic?

Barbour claimed she began killing when she was 13 and involved in a satanic cult.

Invariably, young women who claim they belonged to “Satanic cults” were actually brainwashed into believing this by psychotherapists. They enter therapy for a variety of reasons, including childhood abuse.

At one point, she planned to let LaFerrara out of her Honda CRV. “He said the wrong things,” she said. “And then things got out of control.”

… She said she felt no remorse for her victims and said she killed only “bad people.”

Was her alleged victim a “bad person” for “saying the wrong things,” or was it more complicated than that? It’s hard to tell, taken through the filter of a news article. But if this is truly how she feels about the situation, it’s worrisome to consider what constitutes a “bad person” in her mind.

She said she was sexually molested at age 4.

Aha, now we’re getting somewhere.

“By no means is this a way to glorify it or get attention. I’m telling you because it is time for me to be honest and I feel I need to be honest.”

The way to not publicize and glorify your actions is to avoid talking to the press. You talk to the police. You cooperate with an investigation of your claims. You don’t talk to reporters.

What I’m saying, I don’t think this adds up. I’ll be interested, in the weeks and months to come, to see how much of her story holds up.

UK pony death: Satanists? No, hungry animals.

Photo by Flickr user treehouse1977.

Shortly after a pony was killed in Dartmoor, England in July, journalists were quick to report that a Satanic cult was involved. The pony was found dead “with its tongue and eyes cut out, and its genitals and right ear sliced off at Yennadon Down, a remote, bushy area of the Devon National Park,” the Telegraph reported. “Experts,” including the area’s animal-protection officer, said Satanists were to blame.

However, after a police investigation, a more likely culprit has come to light: wild animals took bites from the pony, causing the wounds described in the Telegraph. Here’s what they said:

Devon and Cornwall police concluded earlier this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails.

“Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,” the police said in a statement. “The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.”

If this sounds in any way familiar to you, that may be because it’s similar to what forensic experts found in the West Memphis Three case — more than a decade after three teens went to jail for their supposedly “Satanic ritual” killing of three young boys. Originally, experts claimed that the marks on the boys’ bodies were caused by a ritual knife; that turned out not to be the case. The teens, now in their 30s, were later released under an Alford plea.

July’s pony killing is not the first time rural England has been gripped with speculation about an equine death linked to so-called “occult” practices. Last January, a shadowy (and likely made-up) group was blamed for a horse’s death, mainly because it was killed on a supposedly Satanic holiday that turned out to have been fabricated by conservative Christians. In another instance, Satanists were blamed for a horse’s beheading last May. I will grant that in the latter case, the activity of wild animals seems less likely. But Satanic activity is just as unlikely, considering most most Satanists don’t practice animal sacrifice.

The larger problem, of course, is that hardly anyone knows that. There’s so much misinformation about Satanic and other occult practices — misinformation that seems plausible enough that people actually believe it — that folks have little reason to dig deeper before they start pointing fingers. As the Livescience article says:

One problem is that most ranchers and livestock officials have no idea what occurs in a real animal ritual sacrifice, so they can hardly make a valid comparison. Though animal sacrifice has been a part of many religions (including Christianity, Judaism and Islam), these days, the practice is mostly limited to Afro-Caribbean religions such as Santería, which has very specific procedures and rituals for the sacrifice (and typically sacrifice chickens or goats, not horses). … Of course, with something as mysterious and clandestine as suspected satanists, anything could be assumed to be the result of their sinister actions.

Satanists make a convenient and exciting scapegoat for such incidents. But these kinds of allegations can result in very real consequences for practicing Satanists, who are suspected, as a whole, of brutally slaughtering animals. That isn’t accurate and it isn’t fair.

Grandma’s corpse theft leads to journalistic horrors

After a body was stolen from a mausoleum in a NJ cemetery, police and the press blamed Satanists and Palo Mayombe. Photo by Flickr user scottnj.

At first, it sounds like something out of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or a low-budget horror flick: in late July, thieves broke into the Spinelli tomb at New Jersey’s Greenwood Cemetery, smashed the marble slab protecting a casket, and then opened the casket. They made off with the body of the family’s matron, Pauline, who was buried there in 1996.

But from there, it gets truly horrific.

Headlines describing the theft have blamed everything from cults to Satanists. We might expect this from outlets such as Catholic Online, but even ABC is playing up the “woo-woo” angle:

A satanic cult could be responsible for breaking into a mausoleum and stealing the remains of a New Jersey grandmother who died 16 years ago, police said today.

It goes on from there, because apparently the family believes that a poorly understood and peaceful religion could somehow be responsible:

“We did a lot of research and my husband found a group online that uses bodies in some kind of a ritual and they need the bones for their ritual. The group is called Palo. There were some bodies found in Newark and Woodbridge and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, speculated to have been used by this group,” [granddaughter Paula Lafollette] said. “Who else would want a body?”

To research this claim, did the reporter talk to a respected leader in the Palo Mayombe Community? No — they went to “occult expert” Rick Ross. Surprisingly, he actually provided some factual information about Palo:

“The likelihood they would go into a mausoleum and drag out a body seems remote. Usually these hybrid religious groups [including Palo] use chicken and other animal bones,” Ross said. “Typically these acts end up being individual perpetrators not linked to an organized group.”

Still, it’s disturbing that these folks believe that “Satanic cults” exist — despite no evidence — or that Satanists dig up bodies. Or that Palo Mayombe is the same thing as Satanism. Or that there’s anything wrong with Palo Mayombe or Satanism. Or that their freaked-out notions made it into several national news reports.

To me, it seems extremely unlikely that someone would break into this tomb completely at random. Sure, stealing a corpse from an above-ground setting is easier than digging up a grave. But why Pauline Spinelli? Whoever took her body, as awful as it was, had to break through a metal chain, smash a marble slab, pry open a casket, and then smuggle out her body. That’s an Olympic amount of effort.

Could they have wanted HER body, specifically? Did she have any enemies? Did her family make anyone angry? Obviously this is all speculation on my part, but it seems more likely that someone took her body to upset her family than that a “Satanic cult” or Palo practitioners picked her at random for rituals that either don’t exist or don’t use human bones.

I’m not saying Paula or her family deserved this, which is obviously and understandably causing them grief. I’m just saying it makes no sense to blame faiths and practices for whom stealing a grandmother’s bones is as abhorrent as it is for the Spinelli family.

While we focus on “Satanic” angle, killer walks free

Was Arlis Perry killed in 1974 by a Satanic cult in Stanford University’s Memorial Church? Some still think so. Photo by Flickr user daviduweb.

Rumors of murderous Satanic cults always make for a compelling scary story, even if they can’t be proven. Maybe that’s why the Great Plains Examiner has a new article today about Arlis Perry, who was killed almost 40 years ago in a church at Stanford University. Her murder remains unsolved, which always stokes the fires of the imagination.

Scant details have led people to pursue the “Satanic cult” theory:

An autopsy later revealed that Arlis Perry was killed by a blow from an ice pick punched just behind her ear. The way she was laying in the chapel led detectives to believe it was a ritualistic killing.

“The way she was laying” is pretty vague, but there are speculative sketches online, likening Perry’s position to the shake of the unicursal hexagram — which, by the way, isn’t Satanic; in fact, it’s used to protect against evil.

Also? The ice pick isn’t a particularly “Satanic” tool.

Reading through the history of the case, it’s a pretty big mental stretch to call some of the players — if, indeed, they were players — “Satanic.” Speculation in this California murder suggests it could have been the work of David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, or someone else involved with the Process Church, or there’s even a hint that the Holy Order of MANS was involved somehow. There were also rumors that Perry had attempted to convert some members of a North Dakota Satanic cult to Christianity… and this is why one of them tailed her to California and killed her?

I’m not familiar with any cases committed by Berkowitz in California — not to mention that he recanted most of his “Satanic” claims after he was jailed. The Process Church is only associated with Satan because he’s part of their beliefs — but that doesn’t mean they’re killers. And despite what it says in the Great Plains Examiner story, the HOOM folks didn’t wear upside-down crosses; they were a humble order working with Christian ideas. That detail alone makes me question the validity of the rest of the reporting — and it should make other readers doubt it, too.

Perry had a fight with her new husband the night she died. After the fight, she walked to Stanford, where she prayed in the church and was found dead a few hours later. Apparently later DNA analysis failed to yield a suspect. I have to assume that her husband was investigated — after all, 44 percent of female homicide victims in New York State, to take a random example, were killed by their partners. Still, it was more than likely the killer was someone she knew — and someone local.

The problem with such coverage — despite the fact that it’s speculative, filled with errors, and not very trustworthy — is that it leads readers to think in a particular way about a crime. Readers are potential witnesses; do they remember something? Did they see something suspicious that might be related to the crime? If they’re led to believe a certain context for Perry’s death, they might discount something they saw if it doesn’t fit that context. There’s a reason juries are selected, in part, based on how “tainted” they are by news reports — because such coverage can introduce a bias that can lead the wrong person to be convicted of a crime.

As long as people think a Satanic cult killed her — and there’s no evidence this Satanic cult exists outside people’s imaginations — her killer will remain free.

Horse killings: Satanic conspiracy or bad reporting?

Another horse mutilation in Cornwall — this one a beheading — has locals blaming Satanists. Again. Photo by flickr user Beer Coaster.

Someone in Cornwall doesn’t like horses. At least, that’s what their newspapers want you to believe.

In recent days, locals found a beheaded horse on Pentewan Beach, and a mutilated, pregnant mare dead in a field. They are, predictably, fingering Satanists for the attacks — and many reporters are listening.

A headline in the Telegraph proclaimed, “Satanic cult blamed for beheaded horse on beach: Fears are growing that a Satanic cult may be behind a spate of animal sacrifices.” Where did those fears come from? A local expert on Satanic practices? No. A fisherman:

A local fisherman told the Sun: “The head seemed to have been surgically removed in a sort of ritual. The way the artefacts were arranged made me shudder.”

No pesky details that would complicate the fear factor — just conjecture and enough scare words to get the imagination going.

In fact, that fisherman seemed to get around, talking to the Sun and the Daily Mail:

Speaking about the Cornwall horse killing, a fisherman told The Sun: ‘The way it was arranged makes me shudder. I believe whoever did this is sick and needs help.

‘It really seems like some sort of black magic ceremony has taken place.’

Reports of the attack on the pregnant mare, 19-year-old Penny, from This is Lincolnshire were thankfully much less sensationalistic, but that didn’t keep other major news outlets from lumping the attacks together — and using locals’ speculation to fuel tales of a Satanic conspiracy.

Let’s look at their evidence:
* They claim the horse slaughters were tied to the full “supermoon” May 6. The pregnant horse died May 3 or 4. The beheaded horse was found May 7. Neither happened on the full moon.
* The beheaded horse was found with a dead seagull and a cross. “Rest in Peace” was written in sand near the body. None of this is particularly Satanic.
* Three bulls had recently been “mutilated with blunt instruments” (how is that even possible?!) in St. Tudy, Cornwall.
* In January, another horse was slaughtered on a made-up “Satanic sacrifice day” that journalists didn’t bother verifying.

If indeed all these crimes were committed by the same person, that person would have to be incredibly dedicated. Pentewan Beach is 25 miles from St. Tudy and another 25 miles from Stithians, the site of the January killing. Stithians is more than 30 miles from St. Tudy. And Cornish roads aren’t like major motorways; traveling 25 miles can take an hour or more. Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, where the pregnant mare was killed, is more than 360 miles away from any of these places. The chances that they’re all linked are very, very small.

I give this link a workout, but in general, Satanists don’t sacrifice animals. However, the Romans and ancient Irish and Hindus did. I doubt any of these groups are offing horses in England, either, but pinning the crimes on them would at come closer to accuracy. Likewise, it’s amazing that, so many years after the Satanic Panic, the idea (and fear) of Satanic cults still exists, despite the lack of evidence.

It’s much more likely that bored teens in a few places are taking their frustrations out on animals — and locals should find out, because such acts are signs of antisocial personality disorder, or sociopathy. Someone who’s killing horses now may move on to killing humans later.

Who led child-rapist and killer Joshua Komisarjevsky astray? It wasn’t Satan.

Would Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters be alive if Joshua Komisarjevsky had been parented differently? Probably.

If you’ve heard of Joshua Komisarjevsky, chances are good it’s because he was recently convicted of killing Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her daughters, Michaela, 11, and Hayley, 17, in Cheshire, Connecticut, in 2007. He awaits a sentence of either life in prison or the death penalty for the crimes, which he committed with accomplice Steven Hayes. In addition to taking their lives and then setting the bodies on fire, Komisarjevsky also raped Michaela.

Komisarjevsky’s life story is a case study in how fears of Satanism and the occult can get in the way of seeking proper treatment for an obviously ill teenager. His parents and others had many chances to intervene, to save not only Komisarjevsky’s life but the lives of Hawke-Petit and her daughters.

The 31-year-old was adopted when he was 2 weeks old. Early photos show him with his mother, Jude, who is delighted by the boy in her lap. Later on, the Komisarjevskys took in foster children, and one of them — a 15-year-old named Scott — abused the other kids, including 5-year-old Joshua. Later on, Joshua turned this abuse on his sister, which his parents refused to report to the police.

By the time Joshua was in his teens, his psychological state was beginning to break down. He developed a close friendship with a man in his church. Also during this time, Joshua allegedly joined a “Satanic cult.” The church friend helped “rescue” him from a ritual held at someone’s home, but shortly afterward, Joshua said he began hearing voices and suffering night terrors. But neither his family nor his church friends sought outside help:

But the cult continued to have a negative effect on Komisarjevsky, according to testimony Thursday by Eric Perry, a staff supervisor at a Christian boys’ home called the Fold in Vermont in 1996.

Perry’s two weekly reports on Komisarjevsky were shown on the courtroom screen. “Having trouble sleeping,” Perry wrote. “He hears voices saying, ‘Kill yourself.’ He is seeing objects in his room that he believes are related to his prior inclusion in Satanic cults.”

Perry also wrote that prayer and reassurance Komisarjevsky was loved by God and the staff at the Fold “seems to be the only solution to his night terrors.”

Even if Joshua had been part of a Satanic group — and it’s not clear to me what was going on here — there’s no reason that such belonging would trigger a mental-health breakdown. Just like any religious organization, Satanism attracts a variety of people for a variety of reasons, including those with mental-health issues. It’s neither a cause or a cure for those issues.

As a teen, he kept bomb-making supplies in his room as well as razor blades, the latter for a planned suicide attempt.

Here is a boy who is obviously crying out for help. But his support network believed, for whatever reason, that prayer and faith were the answers to his problems. Obviously, they weren’t.

I’m not here to blame any particular faith on what happened to Komisarjevsky — or particularly to his victims. I think the problem lies with the type of people his parents were, not the faith or denomination they belonged to. I don’t think it’s a matter of whether or not they loved Joshua and his adopted/foster siblings. They had the heart to take these kids in. Beyond that, we know very little. What we do know is that Joshua was very sick, and we know that without treatment, this kind of sickness does not get better.

What happened to Hawke-Petit and her daughters was entirely preventable. It could have been prevented by Joshua Komisarjevsky’s parents, by his church elders, by others in his life. They made the wrong choices. Ultimately, the actions were Joshua’s — and for that reason he’s the right person to stand trial — but I doubt he would have committed these crimes without everything that came before.