SATANIC, OCCULT, RITUALISTIC CRIME: A LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSPECTIVE NOTE: This article was c
SATANIC, OCCULT, RITUALISTIC CRIME:
A LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSPECTIVE
NOTE: This article was completed after the killings in Matamoros,
Mexico, became known in April, 1989. There is nothing known to the
author about this case which changes the opinions and recommendations
set forth in this article.
By: Kenneth V. Lanning
Supervisory Special Agent
Instruction and Research Unit
Quantico, VA 22135
CultWatch Response, Inc.
P.O. Box 1842
Colorado Springs, CO 80901-1842
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: This report is published under the Public Domain.
The author knows of this publication, and neither approves nor
disapproves. The initial appearance of this report was in the October,
1989 issue of Police Chief Magazine.
SATANIC, OCCULT RITUALISTIC CRIME:
A LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSPECTIVE
The belief that there is a connection between satanism and crime is
certainly not new. In fact, one of the older theories of crime
causation is demonology. Concern about satanic or occult activity has
peaked from time to time throughout history. Concern in the late 1970s
focused primarily on "unexplained" deaths and mutilations of animals,
and in recent years has focused on child sexual abuse and the alleged
human sacrifice of missing children. In 1999 it will probably focus on
the impending "end of the world."
Today, satanism and a wide variety of other terms are used
interchangeably in reference to certain crimes. This discussion will
analyze the nature of "satanic, occult, ritualistic" crime and focus
on appropriate LAW ENFORCEMENT responses to it.
Recently a flood of law enforcement seminars and conferences have
dealt with satanic and ritualistic crime. These training conferences
have various titles, such as "Occult in Crime," "Satanic Cults,"
"Ritualistic Crime Seminar," "Satanic Influences in Homicide," "Occult
Crimes, Satanism and Teen Suicide," and "Ritualistic Abuse of
The typical conference runs from one to three days and many of them
include the same presenters and instructors. A wide variety of topics
are usually discussed during this training either as individual
presentations by different instructors or grouped together by one or
more instructors. Typical topics covered include the following:
1. Historical overview of satanism, witchcraft, and paganism
from ancient to modern times.
2. Nature and influence of fantasy role-playing games, such as
Dungeons and Dragons.
3. Lyrics, symbolism, and influence of rock and roll, Heavy
Metal, and Black Metal music.
4. Teenage "stoner" gangs, their symbols, and their vandalism.
5. Teenage suicide by adolescents dabbling in the occult.
6. Crimes committed by self-styled satanic practitioners,
including grave and church desecrations and robberies, animal
mutilations, and even murders.
7. Ritualistic abuse of children as part of bizarre ceremonies
and human sacrifices.
8. Organized, Traditional, or Multigenerational satanic groups
involved in organized conspiracies, such as taking over day
care centers, infiltrating police departments, and trafficking
in human sacrifice victims.
9. The "Big Conspiracy" theory, which implies that satanists
are responsible for such things as Adolph Hitler, World War
II, abortion, pornography, Watergate, and Irangate, and have
infiltrated the Department of Justice, the Pentagon, and the
During the conferences, these nine areas are linked together through
the liberal use of the word "satanism" and some common symbolism
(pentagrams, 666, demons, etc.). The implication often is that all are
part of a continuum of behavior, a single problem or some common
conspiracy. The information presented is a mixture of fact, theory,
opinion, fantasy, and paranoia, and because some of it can be proven
or corroborated (desecration of cemeteries, vandalism, etc.), the
implication is that it is all true and documented. The distinctions
among the different areas are blurred even if occasionally a presenter
tries to make them. This is complicated by the fact that almost any
discussion of satanism and witchcraft is interpreted in the light of
the religious beliefs of those in the audience. Faith, not logic and
reason, governs the religious beliefs of most people. As a result,
some normally skeptical law enforcement officers accept the
information disseminated at these conferences without critically
evaluating it or questioning the sources. Nothing said at such
conferences will change the religious beliefs of the attendees. Such
conferences illustrate the ambiguity and wide variety of terms
involved in this issue.
The words satanic, occult, and ritualistic crime are often used
interchangeably. It is difficult to precisely define Satanism (with a
capital S), and no attempt will be made to do so here. However, it is
important to realize how the word satanism (with a small s) is used by
many people. Simply put, for some people, satanism is any religious
belief system other than their own. The Ayatollah Khomeini referred to
the United States as the "Great Satan." In the British Parliament, a
Protestant leader called the Pope the anti-Christ. In a book titled
Prepare For War, the author, Rebecca Brown, M.D., has a chapter
entitled "Is Roman Catholicism Witchcraft?" Dr. Brown also lists among
the "doorways" to satanic power and/or demon infestation the
following: fortune tellers, horoscopes, fraternity oaths,
vegetarianism, yoga, self-hypnosis, relaxation tapes, acupuncture,
biofeedback, fantasy role-playing games, adultery, homosexuality,
pornography, judo, karate, and rock music. Dr. Brown states that rock
music "was a carefully masterminded plan by none other than Satan
himself." The ideas in this book may seem extreme and even humorous.
This book, however, has been recommended as a serious reference in law
enforcement training material on this topic.
In books, lectures, handout material, and conversations, the author
has heard all of the following referred to as satanism:
Church of Satan Stoner Gangs New Age
Ordo Templi Orientis Heavy Metal Music Astrology
Temple of Set Rock Music Channeling
Demonology KKK Transcendental Meditation
Witchcraft Nazis Holistic Medicine
Paganism Scientology Buddhism
Santeria Unification Church Hinduism
Voodoo The Way Mormonism
Rosicrucians Hare Krishna Islam
Freemasonry Rajneesh Orthodox Church
Knights Templar Religious Cults Roman Catholicism
At law enforcement training conferences, witchcraft, santeria,
paganism, and the occult are frequently referred to as forms of
satanism. It may be a matter of definition, but these things are not
necessarily the same as traditional Satanism. The worship of lunar
goddesses and nature and the practice of fertility rituals is not
satanism. Santeria is a combination of 17th century Roman Catholicism
and African paganism.
Occult means simply "hidden." All unreported or unsolved crimes might
be regarded as occult, but in this context the term refers to the
action or influence of supernatural powers, some secret knowledge of
them, or an interest in paranormal phenomena. Occult does not imply
satanism, evil, wrongdoing, or crime. Indeed, historically the
principal crimes deserving of consideration as "occult crimes" are the
frauds perpetrated by fortune tellers and "psychics" who for a fee
arrange visitations with dead loved ones and commit other financial
crimes against the gullible.
Many individuals define satanism from a totally Christian perspective,
using this word to describe the power of evil in the world. With this
definition, any crimes, especially those which are particularly
bizarre, repulsive, or cruel, can be viewed as satanic in nature. Yet,
it is just a difficult to precisely define satanism as it is to
precisely define Christianity or any complete spiritual belief
What is Ritualistic Crime?
The biggest confusion, however, is over the word ritualistic. During
law enforcement training conferences on this topic, ritualistic almost
always comes to mean satanic or at least spiritual. Ritual can refer
to a prescribed religious ceremony, but in its broader meaning refers
to any customarily repeated act or series of acts. The need to repeat
these acts can be cultural, sexual, or psychological as well as
Cultural rituals could include such things as what a family eats on
Thanksgiving Day or when and how presents are opened at Christmas. The
initiation ceremonies of fraternities, sororities, gangs, and other
social clubs are other examples of cultural rituals.
Since 1972, the author has lectured about sexual ritualism, which is
nothing more than repeatedly engaging in an act or series of acts in a
certain manner because of a sexual need. In order to become aroused
and/or gratifies, a person must engage in the act in a certain way.
This sexual ritualism can include such things as the physical
characteristics, age, or gender of the victim, the particular sequence
of acts, the bringing or taking of specific objects, and the use of
certain words or phrases. This is more than the concept of M.O.
(Method of Operation) known to most police officers. M.O. is something
done by an offender because it works. Sexual ritual is something done
by an offender because of a need. Deviant acts, such as urinating on,
defecating on, or even eviscerating a victim, are far more likely to
be the result of sexual ritualism than religious or "satanic"
From a criminal investigative perspective, two other forms of
ritualism must be recognized. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R) defines Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
(OCD) as "repetitive, purposeful, and intentional behaviors that are
performed in response to an obsession, or according to certain rules
or in a stereotyped fashion." Such compulsive behavior frequently
involves rituals. Although such behavior usually involves noncriminal
activity such as excessive hand washing or checking that doors are
locked, occasionally compulsive ritualism can be part of criminal
activity. Certain gamblers or firesetters, for example, are thought by
some authorities to be motivated in part through such compulsions.
Ritual can also stem from psychotic hallucinations and delusions. A
crime can be committed in a precise manner because a voice told the
offender to do it that way or because a divine mission required it.
To make this more confusing, cultural, religious, sexual, and
psychological ritualism can overlap. Some psychotic people are
preoccupied with religious delusions and hear the voice of God or
Satan telling them to do things of a religious nature. Offenders who
feel little, if any, guilt over the crimes may need little
justification for their antisocial behavior. As human beings, however,
they may have fears, concerns and anxiety over getting away with their
criminal acts. It is difficult to pray to God for success in doing
things that are against His Commandments. A negative spiritual belief
system may fulfill their human need for assistance from and belief in
a greater power or to deal with their superstitions. Compulsive
ritualism (e.g., excessive cleanliness or fear of disease) can be
introduced into sexual behavior. Even many "normal" people have a need
for order and predictability and therefore may engage in family or
work rituals. Under stress or in times of change, this need for order
and ritual may increase.
Ritualistic crime may fulfill the cultural, spiritual, sexual and
psychological needs of an offender. Crimes may be ritualistically
motivated or may have ritualistic elements. The ritual behavior may
also fulfill basic criminal needs to manipulate victims, get rid of
rivals, send a message to enemies, and intimidate co-conspirators. The
leaders of a group may want to play upon the beliefs and superstitions
of those around them and try to convince accomplices and enemies that
they, the leaders, have special or "supernatural" powers.
The important point for the criminal investigator is to realize that
most ritualistic criminal behavior is not motivated simply by satanic
or religious ceremonies. At some conferences, presenters have
attempted to make na issue of distinguishing between "ritual,"
"ritualized," and "ritualistic" abuse of children. these subtle
distinctions, however, seem to be of no significant value to the
What Is Ritualistic Abuse of Children?
It is not an easy question to answer. Most people today use the term
to refer to abuse of children that is part of some evil spiritual
belief system, which almost by definition must be satanic.
Dr. Lawrence Pazder, author of Michelle Remembers, defines ritualized
abuse of children as "repeated physical, emotional, mental, and
spiritual assaults combined with a systematic use of symbols and
secret ceremonies designed to turn a child against itself, family,
society, and God." He also states that :the sexual assault has
ritualistic meaning and is not for sexual gratification."
This definition may have value for academics, sociologists, and
therapists, but it creates potential problems for law enforcement.
Certain acts engaged in with children (kissing, touching, appearing
naked, etc.) may be criminal if performed for sexual gratification. If
the ritualistic acts were in fact performed for spiritual
indoctrination, potential prosecution can be jeopardized, particularly
if the acts can be defended as constitutionally protected religious
expression. The mutilation of a baby's genitals for sadistic sexual
pleasure is a crime. The circumcision of a baby's genitals for
religious reasons is most likely NOT a crime. The intent of the acts
is important for criminal prosecution.
The author has been unable to precisely define ritualistic abuse and
prefers not to use the term. It is confusing, misleading, and
counterproductive. Certain observations, however, are important for
Not all spiritually motivated ritualistic activity is satanic.
Santeria, witchcraft, voodoo, and most religious cults are not
satanism. In fact, most spiritually- or religiously-based abuse of
children has nothing to do with satanism. Most child abuse that could
be termed ritualistic by various definitions is more likely to be
physical and psychological rather than sexual in nature. If a
distinction needs to be made between satanic and nonsatanic child
abuse, the indicators for that distinction must be related to specific
satanic symbols, artifacts, or doctrine rather than the mere presence
of any ritualistic element.
Not all such ritualistic activity is satanic. Santeria, witchcraft,
voodoo, and most religious cults are not satanism. In fact, most
spiritually or religiously-based abuse of children has nothing to do
with satanism. Most child abuse that could be termed ritualistic by
various definitions is more likely to be physical and psychological
rather than sexual in nature. If a distinction needs to be made
between satanic and nonsatanic child abuse, the indicators for that
distinction must be related to specific satanic symbols, artifacts, or
doctrine rather than the mere presence of any ritualistic element.
Not all such ritualistic activity with a child is a crime. Almost all
parents with religious beliefs indoctrinate their children into that
belief system. Is circumcision for religious reasons child abuse? Does
having a child kneel on a hard floor reciting the rosary constitute
child abuse? Does having a child chant a satanic prayer or attend a
black mass constitute child abuse? Does a religious belief in corporal
punishment constitute child abuse? Does group care of children in a
commune or cult constitute child abuse? Does the fact that any acts in
question were performed with parental permission affect the nature of
the crime? Many ritualistic acts, whether satanic or not, are simply
When a victim describes and investigation corroborates what sounds
like ritualistic activity, several possibilities must be considered.
The ritualistic activity may be a part of the excessive religiosity of
a mentally ill, psychotic offender. It may be a misunderstood part of
sexual ritualism. The ritualistic activity may be incidental to any
real abuse. The offender may be involved in ritualistic activity with
a child and also may be abusing a child, but one may have little or
nothing to do with the other.
The offender may be deliberately engaging in ritualistic activity with
a child as part of child abuse. The motivation, however, may be not to
indoctrinate the child into a belief system, but to lower the
inhibitions of, to control and manipulate, and/or to confuse the
child. In all the turmoil over this issue, it would be a very
effective strategy for any child molester to deliberately introduce
ritualistic elements to his crime to confuse the child and therefore
the criminal justice system. The ritualistic activity and the child
abuse may be integral parts of some spiritual belief system. In that
case, the greatest risk is to the children of the practitioners. But
this is true of all cults, not just satanic cults. A high potential of
abuse exists for any children raised in a group isolated from the
mainstream of society, especially if the group has a charismatic
leader whose orders are unquestioned and blindly obeyed by the
members. Sex, money, and power are most often the main motivations of
the leaders of such cults.
What Makes a Crime Satanic, Occult, or Ritualistic?
Some would argue that it is the offender's spiritual beliefs or
membership in a cult or "church." If that is the criteria, why not
label the crimes committed by Protestants, Catholics, and Jews in the
same way? Are the atrocities of Jim Jones, in Guyana, Christian
Some would answer that it is the presence of certain symbols in the
possession or home of the perpetrator. What does it mean then to find
a crucifix, Bible, rosary, etc., in the possession or home of a bank
robber, embezzler, child molester, or murderer? If different criminals
possess the same symbols, are they necessarily part of one big
Others would answer that it is the presence of certain symbols such as
pentagrams, inverted crosses, and 666 at the crime scene. What does it
mean then to find a cross spray-painted on a wall or carved into the
body of a victim? What does it mean for a perpetrator to leave a Bible
tied to his murder victim? What about the possibility that an offender
deliberately left such symbols to make it look like a "satanic" crime?
Some would argue that it is the bizarreness or cruelness of the crime:
body mutilation, amputation, drinking of blood, eating of flesh, use
or urine or feces. Does this mean that all individuals involved in
lust murder, sadism, vampirism, cannibalism, urophilia, and
coprophilia are satanists or occult practitioners? What does this say
about the bizarre crimes of psychotic killers such as Ed Gein or
Richard Trenton Chase, both of whom mutilated their victims as part of
their psychotic delusions?
A few might even answer that it is the fact that the crime was
committed on a date with satanic or occult significance (Halloween,
May Eve, etc.) or the fact that the perpetrator claims that Satan told
him to commit the crime. what does this mean for crimes committed on
Thanksgiving or Christmas? What does this say about crimes committed
by perpetrators who claim that God or Jesus told them to do it? One
note of interest is the fact that in handout and reference material
collected by the author, the number of dates with satanic or occult
significance ranges from 8 to 110. This is compounded by the fact that
it is sometimes stated that satanists can celebrate these holidays on
several days on either side of the official date or that the birthdays
of practitioners can also be holidays. The exact names and exact dates
of the holidays and the meaning of symbols listed may also vary
depending on who prepared the material. The handout material is often
distributed without identifying the author or documenting the original
source of the information. It is then frequently photocopied by
attendees and passed on to other police officers with no one really
knowing its validity or origin.
Most, however, would probably answer that what makes a crime satanic,
occult, or ritualistic is the motivation for the crime. It is a crime
that is spiritually motivated by a religious belief system. How then
do we label the following true crimes?
a. Parents defy a court order and send their children to an
unlicensed Christian school.
b. Parents refuse to send their children to any school because
they are waiting for the second coming of Christ.
c. Parents beat their child to death because he or she will
not follow their Christian beliefs.
d. Parents violate child labor laws because they believe the
Bible requires such work.
e. Individuals bomb an abortion clinic or kidnap the doctor
because their religious belief system says abortion is murder.
f. A child molester reads the Bible to his victims in order to
justify his sex acts with them.
g. Parents refuse life-saving medical treatment for a child
because of their religious beliefs.
h. Parents starve and beat their child to death because their
minister said the child was possessed by demonic spirits.
Some people would argue that the Christians who committed the above
crimes misunderstood and distorted their religion while satanists who
commit crimes are following theirs. But who decides what constitutes a
misinterpretation of a religious belief system? The individuals who
committed the above-described crimes, however misguided, believed that
they were following their religion as they understood it. Religion was
and is used to justify such social behavior as the Crusades, the
Inquisition, Apartheid, segregation, and violence in Northern Ireland,
India, and Lebanon.
Who decides exactly what "satanists" believe? In this country, we
cannot even agree on what Christians believe. At many law enforcement
conferences The Satanic Bible is used for this, and it is often
contrasted or compared with the Christian Bible. The Satanic Bible is,
in essence, a 150-page paperback book written by one man in 1969. To
compare it to a book written by over 30 authors over a period of
thousands of years is ridiculous, even ignoring the possibility of
Divine revelation in the Christian Bible. What satanists believe
certainly isn't limited to other peoples' interpretation of a few
books. More importantly, it is subject to some degree of
interpretation by individual believers just as Christianity is.
The fact is that far more crime and child abuse has been committed by
zealots in the name of God, Jesus, and Mohammed than has ever been
committed in the name of Satan. Many people don't like that statement,
but few can argue with it.
Although defining a crime as satanic, occult, or ritualistic would
probably involve a combination of the criteria set forth above, the
author has been unable to clearly define such a crime. Each potential
definition presents a different set of problems when measured against
an objective, rational, and constitutional perspective. Each offender
in a group may have a different motivation for the crime. The author
has discovered that the facts of so-called "satanic crimes" are often
significantly different from what is described at law enforcement
training conferences or in the media. The actual involvement of
satanism or the occult in these cases usually turns out to be
secondary, insignificant, or nonexistent.
THE LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSPECTIVE
The perspective with which one looks at satanic, occult, or
ritualistic crime is extremely important. Sociologists, therapists,
religious leaders, parents, and just plain citizens each have their
own valid concerns and views about this issue. This discussion,
however, will deal ONLY with the law enforcement perspective.
The law enforcement perspective must focus on crime and clearly
recognize that just because an activity is "satanic" does not
necessarily mean it is a crime or that it is not a legitimate
religious practice protected by the First Amendment. Within the
personal religious belief system of a law enforcement officer,
Christianity may be good and satanism evil. Under the Constitution,
however, both are neutral.
This is an important, but difficult, concept for many law enforcement
officers to accept. They are paid to uphold the Constitution and
enforce the penal code, not the Ten Commandments. The apparent
increasing numbers of teenagers and some adults dabbling in satanism
and the occult may be cause for concern for parents, school officials,
and society. What, however, law enforcement can or should do about it
is another matter. Police interference with free exercise of
constitutional rights potentially creates major problems and
What is the justification for law enforcement officers giving
presentations on satanism and the occult to citizen groups, PTA's, or
school assemblies? Is it public relations, a safety program, or crime
prevention? If it is crime prevention, how much crime can be linked to
satanic or occult activity and what do such presentations do to
prevent the crime? Law enforcement agencies should carefully consider
the legal implications and justification for such presentations. Is
the fact that satanism or the occult is or can be a negative influence
on some people enough justification for such law enforcement efforts?
When you combine an emotional issue such as the sexual abuse of
children with an even more emotional issue such as people's religious
beliefs, it is difficult to maintain objectivity and remember the law
enforcement perspective. Some police officers may even feel that all
crime is caused by evil, all evil is caused by Satan, and therefore,
all crime is satanic crime. This may be a valid religious perspective,
but it is of no relevance to the investigation of crime for purposes
Many of the police officers who lecture on satanic or occult crime do
not even investigate such cases. Their presentations are more a
reflection of their personal religious beliefs than documented
investigative information. They are absolutely entitled to their
beliefs, but introducing themselves as current or former police
officers and then speaking as religious advocates causes confusion. As
difficult as it might be, police officers must separate the religious
and law enforcement perspectives when they are lecturing or
investigating in their official capacities as law enforcement
officers. Many law enforcement officers begin their presentations by
stating that they are not addressing or judging anyone's religious
beliefs, and then proceed to do exactly that.
Some police officers have resigned rather than curtail or limit their
involvement in this issue as ordered by their departments. Perhaps
such officers deserve credit for recognizing that they could no longer
keep the perspectives separate.
Law enforcement officers who believe that the investigation of
satanic/occult crime puts them in conflict with supernatural forces of
evil should probably not be assigned to these cases. If, however, such
officers must be or are assigned, they will need the power of their
own spiritual belief system in order to deal with the superstition and
religious implications of these cases. the religious beliefs of
officers should provide spiritual strength and support for them, but
not affect the objectivity and professionalism of the investigation.
The law enforcement perspective requires avoiding the paranoia that
has crept into this issue and into some of the law enforcement
training conferences. Paranoid belief systems are characterized by the
gradual development of intricate, complex, and elaborate systems of
thinking based on and often proceeding logically from
misinterpretation of actual events. Paranoia typically involves
hypervigilance over the perceives threat, the belief that danger is
around every corner, and the willingness to take up the challenge and
do something about it. Another very important aspect of this paranoia
is the belief that those who do not recognize the threat are evil and
corrupt. In this extreme view, you are either with them or against
them. You are either part of the solution or part of the problem.
Concern over satanic crime and ritualistic abuse of children is highly
polarizing. After one presentation on this topic, a student wrote in a
critique that the author was obviously an "agnostic cultist." Some
zealots even use the term "clean" to refer to law enforcement officers
who have not been infiltrated by the satanists. If some police
officers or military personnel practice satanism or paganism does that
mean that law enforcement and the military have been infiltrated? The
word "infiltrated" is only used when talking about an unpopular belief
system. Protestants, Catholics, and Jews are no longer though of as
"infiltrating" the police and military, but not long ago Jews were
thought by many to have done so.
Overzealousness and exaggeration motivated by the religious fervor of
those involved in law enforcement training is more acceptable than
that motivated by ego or profit. There are those who are deliberately
distorting and hyping this issue for personal notoriety and profit.
Satanic and occult crime has become a growth industry. Speaking fees,
books, video and audio tapes, prevention material, television and
radio appearances all bring egoistic and financial rewards.
Law enforcement officers must be objective fact finders. It is not
their job to believe children or other complainants. It is their job
to listen. The law enforcement perspective can't ignore the lack of
physical evidence (no bodies or even hairs, fibers, or fluids left by
violent murders); the difficulty in successfully committing a large-
scale conspiracy crime (the more people involved in any crime
conspiracy, the harder it is to get away with it); and human nature
(intragroup conflicts resulting in individual self-serving disclosures
would be bound to occur in any group involved in organized kidnapping,
baby breeding and human sacrifice). If an when members of a
destructive cult commit murders, they are bound to make mistakes,
leave evidence, and eventually make admissions in order to brag about
their crimes or to reduce their legal liability. The discovery of the
murders in Matamoros, Mexico in April, 1989 and the results of the
subsequent investigation are good examples of these dynamics.
Bizarre crime and evil can occur without organized satanic activity.
The law enforcement perspective requires that we distinguish between
what we know and what we're not sure of. The facts are:
a. Some individuals believe in and are involved in satanism
and the occult.
b. Some of these individuals commit crime.
c. Some groups of individuals share these beliefs and
involvement in satanism and the occult.
d. Some members of these groups commit crime together.
The unanswered questions are:
a. What is the connection between the belief system and the
b. Is there an organized conspiracy of satanic and occult
believers responsible for inter-related serious crime (e.g.,
After all the hype and hysteria is put aside, the realization sets in
that most satanic/occult activity involves the commission of NO
crimes, and that which does usually involves the commission of
relatively minor crimes such as trespassing, vandalism, cruelty to
animals, or petty thievery. The law enforcement problems most often
linked to satanic or occult activity are:
2. Desecration of churches and cemeteries
3. Thefts from churches and cemeteries
4. Teenage gangs
5. Animal mutilations
6. Teenage suicide
7. Child abuse
9. Murder and human sacrifice
Valid evidence shows some "connection" between satanism and the occult
and the first six problems set forth above. The "connection" to the
last three problems is far more uncertain.
Even where there seems to be a "connection," the nature of the
connection needs to be explored. It is easy to blame involvement in
satanism and the occult for behaviors that have complex motivations. A
teenager's excessive involvement in satanism and the occult is usually
a symptom of a problem and not the cause of a problem. Blaming
satanism for a teenager's vandalism, theft, suicide, or even act of
murder is like blaming a criminal's offenses on his tattoos: both are
often signs of the same rebelliousness and lack of self esteem that
contribute to the commission of crimes.
The law enforcement investigator must objectively evaluate the legal
significance of any criminal's spiritual beliefs. In most cases,
including those involving satanists, it will have little or no legal
significance. If a crime is committed as part of a spiritual belief
system, it should make no difference which belief system it is. The
crime is the same whether a child is abused or murdered as part of a
Christian, Hare Krishna, Moslem, or any other belief system. we
generally don't label crimes with the name of the perpetrator's
religion. Why then are the crimes of child molesters, rapists,
sadists, and murderers who happen to be involved in satanism and the
occult labeled as satanic or occult crimes? If criminals use a
spiritual belief system to rationalize and justify or to facilitate
and enhance their criminal activity, should the focus of law
enforcement be on the belief system or on the criminal activity?
Several documented murders have been committed by individuals involved
in one way or another in satanism or the occult. In some of these
murders, the perpetrator has even introduced elements of the occult
(e.g., satanic symbols at crime scene). Does that automatically make
these satanic murders? It is the author's opinion that the answer is
no. Ritualistic murders committed by serial killers or sexual sadists
are not necessarily satanic or occult murders. Ritualistic murders
committed by psychotic killers who hear the voice of satan are no more
satanic murders than murders committed by psychotic killers who hear
the voice of Jesus are Christian murders.
Rather, a satanic murder can be defined as one committed by two or
more individuals who rationally plan the crime and whose PRIMARY
motivation is to fulfill a prescribed satanic ritual calling for the
murder. By this definition, the author has been unable to identify
even one documented satanic murder in the United States. Although such
murders may have and can occur, they appear to be few in number. In
addition, the commission of such killings would probably be the
beginning of the end for such a group. It is highly unlikely that they
could continue to kill several people, every year, year after year,
and not be discovered.
A brief typology of satanic and occult practitioners is helpful in
evaluating what relationship, if any, such practices have to crimes
under investigation. The following typology is adapted from the
investigative experience of Office Sandi Gallant of the San Francisco
Police Department, who began to study the criminal aspects of occult
activity long before it became popular. No typology is perfect, but
the author uses this typology because it is simple and offers
investigative insights. Most practitioners fall into one of three
categories, any of which can be practiced alone or in groups.
1. Youth Subculture - Most teenagers involved in fantasy
role-playing games, heavy metal music, or satanism are going
through a stage of adolescent development and commit no
significant crimes. The teenagers who have more serious
problems are usually those from dysfunctional families or
those who have poor communication within their families. These
troubled teenagers turn to satanism and the occult to overcome
a sense of alienation, to obtain power, or to justify their
antisocial behavior. for these teenagers, it is the symbolism,
not the spirituality, that is important. It is either the
psychopathic or the oddball, loner teenager who is most likely
to get into serious trouble. Extreme involvement in the occult
is a symptom of a problem, not the cause. This is not to deny,
however, that satanism and the occult are negative influences
for a troubled teenager. But to hysterically warn teenagers to
avoid this "mysterious, powerful and dangerous" thing called
satanism will drive many teenagers right to it. Some
rebellious teenagers will do whatever will most shock and
outrage society in order to flaunt their rejection of adult
2. Dabblers (Self-styled) - for these practitioners, there is
little or no spiritual motivation. They mix satanism,
witchcraft and paganism. Symbols mean whatever they want them
to mean. Molesters, rapists, drug dealers and murderers may
dabble in the occult and may commit their crimes in a
ceremonial or ritualistic way. This category has the potential
to be the most dangerous, and most of the "satanic" killers
fall into this category. Their involvement in satanism and the
occult is a symptom of a problem and a rationalization and
justification of antisocial behavior. Satanic/occult practices
(as well as those of other spiritual belief systems) can be
used as a mechanism to facilitate criminal objectives.
3. Traditional (Orthodox, Multigenerational) - These are the
true believers. They are usually wary of outsiders. Because of
this and constitutional issues, such groups are difficult for
law enforcement to penetrate. Although there is much we don't
know about these groups, as of now there is little or no hard
evidence that they are involved in serious, organized criminal
activity. In addition, instead of being self-perpetuating
master crime conspirators, true believers probably have a
similar problem with their teenagers rebelling against their
Many police officers ask what to look for during the search of the
scene of suspected satanic activity. The answer is simple: look for
evidence of a crime. A pentagram is no more criminally significant
than a crucifix unless it corroborates a crime or a criminal
conspiracy. If a victim's description of the location or the
instruments of the crime includes a pentagram, then the pentagram
would be evidence. But the same would be true if the description
included a crucifix.
There is no way any one law enforcement officer can become
knowledgeable about all the symbols and rituals of every spiritual
belief system that might become part of a criminal investigation. the
officer needs only to be trained to recognize the possible
investigative significance of such signs, symbols, and rituals.
Knowledgeable religious scholars, academics, and other true experts in
the community can be consulted if a more detailed analysis is
necessary. Any analysis, however, may have only limited application,
especially to cases involving teenagers, dabblers, and other
self-styled practitioners. The fact is, signs, symbols, and rituals
can mean anything that practitioners want them to mean and/or anything
that observers interpret them to mean. The meaning of symbols can also
change over time, place, and circumstances. Is a swastika spray
painted on a wall an ancient symbol of prosperity and good fortune, a
recent symbol of Naziism and anti-Semitism, or a current symbol of
paranoia and adolescent defiance? The peace sign, which in the 1960s
was a familiar antiwar symbol, is now supposed to be a satanic symbol.
In spite of what is sometimes said or suggested at law enforcement
training conferences, police have no authority to seize any satanic or
occult paraphernalia they might see during a search. A legally valid
reason must exist for doing so. It is not the job of law enforcement
to prevent satanists from engaging in noncriminal teaching, rituals,
or other activities.
There must be a middle ground in this issue. Concern about satanic or
occult activity should not be a big joke limited to religious
fanatics. On the other hand, law enforcement is not now locked in a
life-and-death struggle against the supernatural forces of ancient
evil. Law enforcement officers need to know something about satanism
and the occult in order to properly evaluate their possible
connections to and motivations for criminal activity. They must know
when and how beliefs, symbols, and paraphernalia can be used to
corroborate criminal activity. From a community relations perspective,
they must also learn to respect spiritual beliefs that may be
different or unpopular but that are not illegal. The focus must be on
the objective investigation of violations of criminal statutes.
Until hare evidence is obtained and corroborated, the American people
should not be frightened into believing that babies are being bred and
eaten, that 50,000 missing children are being murdered in human
sacrifices, or that satanists are taking over America's day care
centers. No one can prove with absolute certainty that such activity
has NOT occurred. The burden of proof, however, as it would be in a
criminal prosecution, is on those who claim that it has occurred. As
law enforcement agencies evaluate and decide what they can or should
do about satanic and occult activity in their communities, they might
also consider how to deal with the hype and hysteria of the
"anti-satanists." The overreaction to the problem can clearly be worse
than the problem. An unjustified crusade against those perceived as
satanists could result in wasted resources, unwarranted damage to
reputations, and disruption of civil liberties.
In general, the law enforcement perspective can best be maintained by
investigators repeatedly asking themselves what they would do if the
acts in question were part of Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish
activity. If a law enforcement agency wants to evaluate the group
spiritual framework within which a crime is committed, it is more
appropriate, accurate, and objective to refer to such crimes as cult
crimes rather than as satanic, occult, or ritualistic crimes. The
"Sects, Cults and Deviant Movements" seminar put on by The Institute
of Police Technology and Management at the University of North Florida
in Jacksonville, Florida, is a good example of this more objective,
broad-based approach. Satanic cults have no more law enforcement
significance than many other potentially destructive cults that exist
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank