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VACTF Manual: Chapter 5 - Special Cases

Animal Crimes Related To Satanic And Other Cults


This type of case may come to your attention when you receive complaints about a mutilated animal(s) being found with symbols of cult activity around the body such as satanic symbols, bones, and candles.

The following information was provided by the Animal Rescue League (ARL) of Boston and the Northeast Ritual Crime Intelligence Association (Boston), both of which have vast experience with investigating animal-related crimes resulting from cult activity. Both agencies, as well as the Rutgers University Animal Rights Law Center, can be used as a resource for law enforcement agencies investigating cult activity. (See pg 208 of Appendix II, Resource Agencies, "Animal Rescue League of Boston").

According to the ARL, satanic and other non-traditional cults are on the rise in the US, particularly in large cities where large numbers of immigrants come together to practice the cultural beliefs of their homeland, be it Voodoo, Santeria, Palo Mayombe, Condomble or Brujeria. In addition, there has been an increase in cults in the American prison system as well as in the general population.

This section of the manual concerns itself only with cult ceremonial activity involving cruelty to animals. It may take place in wooded areas, cemeteries, commercial or residential buildings or abandoned buildings.

There has been some confusion with regard to these cults and their practices and freedom of religion. Individuals have the freedom to practice their religion as they define it; however, they are not permitted to commit criminal acts, or interfere with the rights of others, while in the process. Thus, harming, killing, or mutilating an animal is not permitted because it is a criminal act. If they engage in this behavior, they are subject to prosecution.

NOTE: In 1987, the city of Hialeah, Florida enacted an ordinance that banned Lukumi Babalu Aye practitioners from performing animal sacrifice as part of their religious ceremonies. The practitioners appealed the decision, and it went to the US Supreme Court. In the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (113 S. Ct. 2217 (1993), the Supreme Court overturned the Hialeah ordinance. The important thing to note, however, is that anti-cruelty laws were not affected by the decision. In fact, the Supreme Court unanimously held that governments have the right to enforce prohibitions on animal cruelty, the keeping of livestock, and zoning violations.

According to the Rutgers University's Animal Rights Law Center, the ordinances enacted in Hialeah were deemed unconstitutional only because they targeted the ritualistic animal sacrifice of one group of practitioners, rather than outlawing animal sacrifice in general. It was important to understand that this does not mean that animal sacrifices cannot be regulated or banned. In fact, if Hialeah had used the existing Florida anti-cruelty statute in prosecuting the ritualistic killings, the lawyers at Rutgers University believe that it is unlikely that the case would have reached the Supreme Court at all.

In Vermont, any ritualistic animal sacrifice, such as nailing an animal to a tree, would be a violation of Section 352 of Title 13.

Things to be aware of when investigating:

You may have complaints resulting from an animal-sacrifice-related crime that occurred in a cemetery, park, wooded area, etc. When investigating such a crime, the presence of the following elements at the scene may indicate the presence of a cult and indicate that the animal died as the result of a cult-related sacrifice.

  • Mutilation of the animal, including removal of specific body parts (anus, heart, tongue, ears, front teeth and front legs, genitals, etc.).

  • Cages for animals, limbs, lumber, etc. from which animals may have been hung. Look for any ligatures (ropes or leather ties) that may have been used to secure the animal.

  • Bones or animal parts (such as finger and arm bones, human or animal skulls, feathers, eyes, tongues).

  • Absence of blood in the animal.

  • Mockery of Christian symbols (inverted cross, vandalized Christian artifacts).

  • Use of stolen or vandalized Christian artifacts.

  • Unusual drawings or symbols on walls or floors (baphomet - an upside down pentagram often with the head of a goat within, hexagram, pentagram, etc.).

  • Non-discernible alphabet.

  • Altars, chalices, wands, biblical passages, ceremonial type knives.

  • Candles and candle drippings (candles may be in the shape of genitals, or colored black or white.)

  • Oils, powders, wax, herbs, incense.

  • Dolls (a child's doll burned or tied to a cross, also what is commonly known as a voodoo doll).

  • Bowls of powder or colored salt.

  • Skulls with or without candles.

  • Robes, especially black, white, or scarlet.

  • Rooms draped in black or red.

  • Books on Satanism, magic rituals, etc.

  • Crystal balls or other crude crystals, usually found in unusual forms.

  • Pyramids.

  • Sea shells.

  • Necklaces made of beads, bells or gongs.

  • There may be a circle which may or may not contain a pentagram.

  • Look for a trail leading from the circle towards water. Search for stakes, etc., used to place victims in a spread-eagle position (head towards the water).

CAUTION: Never investigate these cases alone. Wear surgical gloves when handling evidence. Some cult practitioners are avid herbalists and use poisons as booby traps. Be aware that poisonous snakes may have been placed in cabinets and drawers to attack those who might be looking for evidence. Other booby traps include: fish hooks hung at eye level, shotguns tied to trip wires, falling bricks and other such setups.

What to do

If your investigation of the scene indicates that the animal's death may be the result of cult-related animal sacrifice, consider doing the following:

  1. Interview the people who live in the area where the animal sacrifice was found to determine if they have any information on any occult activity in the area.

  2. Run a check to see if there were any criminal activities in the area such as:

    1. Church burglaries
    2. Satanic, cult graffiti in the area
    3. Any missing animals within a three-mile radius (check with animal control officers and humane agencies)
  3. Attempt to develop informants. You may find people who became disenchanted with cult practices and are willing to talk to you. Maintain strict confidentiality at all times.

  4. Try to find persons in the area who practice "white magic" or are witches. Many of these people may be able to provide you with information on cult activities or people who practice "black magic."

  5. Locate stores (called Botanicas) that sell cult-related paraphernalia. Do surveillance to see who enters and leaves. See if there is a connection between those persons and any names you might have been given.

  6. If the suspects are teenagers, go to the high school and find someone who knows the students and what they are doing, perhaps a teacher or coach.

  7. Once you have suspects, develop an intelligence file.

  8. If the information you have gathered is sufficient to indicate that animal sacrifice is taking place at a specific location, consider applying for a search warrant to seize all animals and paraphernalia relating to animal cruelty.

  9. Execute the warrant and arrest the persons involved and charge them with cruelty to animals under Title 13, Section 352.

  10. Take photos of the animals and conditions at the scene. In addition, use a video camera to record the conditions of the animals and the surroundings. (See also pg 7, Chapter 1, Be Prepared, "Photographic Evidence" and pg 266 in Appendix IV, Fact Sheets and Articles, "Ten Top Tips for Good Photography, Videography").

  11. Arrange to have the local humane agency present for the purpose of removing the animals.

  12. Have any dead and live animals examined by a veterinarian (and euthanize any animals that are not saveable) and obtain a statement from him describing their condition: eyes missing, puncture wounds, cuts, etc. to indicate that they were used for animal sacrifice.

Preparing the search warrant in cult-related investigations

According to the ARL of Boston, if you have enough evidence to request a search warrant involving animal sacrifice, prepare the warrant to include the residence, property, and curtileges. While executing the search warrant, the ARL suggests looking for the following types of items, any of which may contain evidence of animal remains or documentation relating to an animal sacrifice:

  • Hypodermic needles/vials/bottles (may contain blood)
  • Animal body parts in freezers/refrigerators
  • Ashes from fire pits including fireplaces, wood stoves
  • Wooden stand for alter, marble slab, crosses
  • Heavy wooden staff, sword, knives
  • Bull whip, cat of nine tails, ligatures
  • Human or animals bones, flesh, blood (especially skull or long bones, finger bones)
  • Animal carcasses
  • Ritual books, books on satanism, diaries
  • Small animals in cages, and empty cages
  • If adolescents are suspects, school composition books should be examined.
  • Computers and computer diskettes
  • Occult books, etc. may be found under mattresses, etc.
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