Law enforcement, during their myriad cases, often come across those cases that are particularly odd. Missing persons, unsolved crimes with weird clues, it is all a part of the strangeness that lurks about on the periphery of police investigations. One area that has long been a stubborn area of such investigations are those crimes that have something to do with the occult. Here we have all manner of weird clues, ritual sacrifices, odd rituals, things that traditional law enforcement hasn't really been trained to handle. Yet there are a select few who have fully immersed themselves into this dark realm, and here is their story.
One such police expert on occult crimes is the late Det. Marcos Quinones, who was at one point the NYPD’s top expert in religious cults, Satanism, and the occult. Quinones joined the force in January of 1982, and at first he was just a usual police officer doing usual police work, with no particular connection to occult crimes. It was not until he uncovered information that an occult group was trying to infiltrate the NYPD that he started to evolve into a sort of one-man department devoted to investigating such crimes. Over the next three decades, he became a sort of expert on the occult, investigating the cases that involved evidence of rituals or which entailed other arcane clues such as symbols, candles, or various black magic or Satanic paraphernalia, which traditional law enforcement had little expertise in dealing with, as well as determining what type of practitioners were at work — and what they might have been seeking. Quinones was well-versed in various types of occult and black magic practices, in particular Satanism, Santeria, which is a mix of West African, Caribbean and Roman Catholic traditions, and Palo Mayombe, a black magic melding of Congo-based practices and Cuban traditions brought to the New World by African slaves.
One area that Quinones specialized in was grave robberies for occult purposes and ritualistic sacrifices, mostly involving animals, but sometimes allegedly human beings as well. His expertise in these matters made him the go to guy for such cases. In one spate of animal mutilations there were found in quick succession headless goats and birds found in Yorktown near the New Croton Reservoir, a bag with headless goats and chickens found in Long Island Sound in New Rochelle, a black bird wrapped in colored fabrics in Mount Vernon, and the mass killing of cats decapitated, bludgeoned, and hung from trees in Yonkers. Whereas normally this might be written off by authorities as merely the work of some demented whacko, Quinines used his knowledge of religion and the occult to dissect it more precisely and glean information that may have been missed otherwise. For instance, for this case he says:
I eliminate what's normal. If I'm left with occult aspects, is that a ritual of some sort? Ultimately, you have to dissect it. The symbols within a ritual are a road map for the entity you worship, they tell what you want the entity to do for you — for someone or against someone, or a group of people. Animal sacrifices happen in every state. I believe Westchester's recent cases are probably not related to each other, and might involve three of the black magic and underground religious practices. For example, I suspect Santeria was behind the bags of animals found in New Rochelle and Yorktown, though they're not likely to be connected. Sacrifices are usually made somewhere other than where they are later found. So, for example, in the case of the bagged animals found near the reservoir in Yorktown, the offering was either for a water god or was placed in proximity to a location important to the practitioner. The black bird wrapped in cloth in Mount Vernon was clearly Palo Mayombe. It contained a telltale symbol: two circles intercepted by arrows. The bags of cats could be anything from Satanism to Santeria to Palo Mayombe. Or, it could just be someone who wanted to get rid of cats. The key question is, and we may never have an answer, is why hang the cats? You're drawing attention to yourself.
Quinones trained police officers in the city and across the country in how to recognize occult and cult activity, consulted for free with agencies in North America, Latin America, Europe and Africa between 100 and 150 times a year, helped more than 200 law enforcement groups with his knowledge of the occult, wrote numerous books pertaining to the occult, both fiction and non-fiction, and even performed exorcisms. Sadly, Quinones tragically died in 2021 of cancer, and Dawn Perlmutter, an Adjunct Professor in the Forensic Medicine Program at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Director of the Symbol Intelligence Group, and a subject matter expert in the areas of symbols, symbolic methodologies, atypical homicide and ritualistic crimes would say of him and some of the adventures they got up to together:
Marcos Quinones was my colleague and friend. We met in 1996 when I was a Professor researching and consulting on ritual violence, and he was NYPD’s expert on ritualistic and occult crimes. Since there are not many people you can talk to about satanic murders, animal mutilations, violent destructive cults, and grave robberies we became friends immediately. He knew every place, person, and group associated with occult violence in New York City. He would give me regular tours of all the occult shops, scenes, and places in New York, teaching me what to look for. We went to the Bronx to botanicas and he pointed out what each ritual item was used for and what scenes he had found them in. It was an incredible education. We eventually consulted on several cases together. Whenever I had trouble trying to decipher a particularly difficult symbol or ritual, Marcos always knew what it was. Very few people specialize in ritualistic crimes and we all know each other and have our own unique backgrounds. Marcos was the most kind, caring and knowledgeable of all of us. Ritualistic crimes range from everything from animal mutilations to large drug trafficking rings that use human remains, to the worst homicide cases involving torture and abuse of children.
Even in typical cases, offenders will curse officers for arresting them, but with occult ritualistic crimes they literally curse you. They put spells on you, leave dead animals on your car and goats heads on your doorstep. Marcos told me that one person had carved his badge number into a clay voodoo doll when he was investigating a case. We talked about the unique issues associated with working on such unusual crimes. He was very religious and would tell me you had to be spiritually grounded to do this kind of work, and he was. For him it was not just a job, it was a calling. He always had a Bible with him because he was acutely aware that he was fighting evil.
Another police officer dedicated to crimes of the occult is Sandi Gallant, who was first indoctrinated into this dark world when she worked on the case of the Peoples Temple mass murder-suicide in Guyana in 1978, in which over 900 people died in a mass murder-suicide at the behest of their leader, Jim Jones. The experience had made her determined to study up on cults, brainwashing, and alternative belief systems such as witchcraft, Santeria and Satanism, along the way becoming known as an expert in the field among her peers and often called in for bizarre crimes involving rituals and the occult.
One of her most gruesome cases was that of a man who was found murdered in 1981 in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The man’s head had been removed and was missing, and near the corpse was a headless chicken, part of which had been stuffed into the dead man’s body. Gallant suggested that it was a ritual involving Palo Mayombe black magic, but in that era such explanations were still not largely accepted and she says that at the time “We literally were laughed at by our homicide investigators, and our chief of detectives.” Nevertheless, using her knowledge of the occult and its rituals she predicted that the dead man’s head would be returned near the spot where his body was found 42 days later, and that for the first 21 days, the religion’s practitioners would use parts of the man’s brains, ears and his eyes to make a ritual brew, after which the culprit would return to return the head next to where the body had been. Despite this potentially promising tip, when things played out exactly as she had said, no one was there because no one had really thought it would happen. Gallant explains:
At the end of those 21 days, if the priest deemed it appropriate, he would actually sleep in an area with this head and with this caldron for another 21-day period. Then on the 42nd day he discards the head . . . in close proximity to where he took it from. To him, that was a sacred way of returning the head. Our problem was, even though our homicide detectives didn’t buy it, my partner and I weren’t out there doing surveillance on the 42nd day either. I think looking back on it, we had a real difficult time, too, believing that something like this could happen. Even though it was our theory.
The bizarre case has never been solved, but based on her correct analysis of the scene Gallant gained more credibility in such crimes and was taken far more seriously after that. Since then she has gotten all manner of cases deemed too bizarre for traditional investigators, and she has said of some of these:
I just got a call yesterday from a state on the East Coast and the investigator had gotten a call about a father who went into his son’s room and found a human head underneath the kid’s bed. It appears that it was dug up from a cemetery. But he found a human head. That’s really an extreme case, but I’ve had other cases where kids have gotten into real bizarre types of activity like mutilating birds, animals, and really graphic drawings of dismembered bodies, and parents don’t even recognize that this is a disturbed child. They think that this is normal for a 14- or 15-year-old kid to be doing these things. And it’s not normal.
While most of these investigators pursue this as simply rationally analyzing the occult clues as just physical evidence, such as symbols and other non-traditional evidence including unfamiliar injuries, excessive mutilation, unusual trauma, symbolic crime scene evidence, and unusual activities such as cutting, branding, blood drinking, and body mutilation, others have come to believe there might actually be something to the paranormal angle, and that perhaps dark forces really are really swirling about. One of these is Randy Emon, a police sergeant with the city of Baldwin Park who worked on Satanic crimes, and who warns that mysterious misfortune and strange happenings can befall those who look into such things. He has had his own rather strange experiences while on the job, and says of it:
You want a personal experience? Quite frankly, I got obsessed with researching this. I started reading ‘The Satanic Bible’ and ‘The Satanic Rituals’ and I brought all this garbage into my house. Then one of my sons had ear infections for nine solid months. We went through five different antibiotics. We had accidents in the family. I had difficulties at work. Then one day, I came home and found a pentagram on my carpet. It looked like someone had taken the tip of a pencil and drawn it. I just looked at my wife. I stepped on it. I vacuumed it. It wouldn’t come off. There was an evil presence that I could just sense.
Whether there really is anything truly supernatural at work, such talk certainly doesn’t help the credibility of occult investigations, which already even now face an uphill battle being accepted in mainstream law enforcement. One problem is that many in police work still deny that such strange, often gruesome occult practices exist, or are exaggerated and sensationalized at best, and in the conservative world of law enforcement there is a lot of official ambivalence towards such off-the-wall crimes. There is also the problem that much of the evidence collected at scenes of occult crimes are just too bizarre to stand up in court, as jurors often find such practices just too weird and impossible to believe, and there are few statistics or reliable estimates to document the actual magnitude of the problem. Adding to this is that the right to practice one’s religion, regardless of what that might be, is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution, so making a distinction between what is legal or illegal can be tricky, with it hard to make a distinction between the two. The occult crime expert Dawn Perlmutter has written of some of the problems occult investigations face:
Ritual murder includes a wide variety of both sacred and secular acts committed by groups and individuals and is most often attributed to practitioners of occult ideologies such as Satanism, Palo Mayombe, Santeria, and other magical traditions, or to serial killers and sexual sadists who ritually murder their victims. Due to many legal, practical, and ethical controversies the study of contemporary religious violence is in its infancy. There have been no serious empirical studies of ritualistic crimes or classifications that adequately distinguish between ritual homicides committed for sacred versus secular motivations. In the law enforcement community, the investigation and analysis of ritual murder is viewed from a behavioral science perspective derived from methodologies in the fields of psychology, criminology, and forensic science. Problems arising from investigating ritualistic crimes are generally beyond most investigators’ typical experience. Due to the lack of standardized categories, law enforcement professionals cannot agree on the extent of ritualistic crime, the types of crimes committed by individuals and religious groups, or the motives of the perpetrators. Hence, ritual violence is not often recognized, reported, or investigated accurately. Furthermore, academic research on the subject of occult religions typically situates them within the discipline of new religious movements, which is fraught with controversy. Scholars hold vehement debates concerning the credibility of accusations of violence, the validity of research, and the degree of authority that government and law enforcement agencies should assert with respect to new religious movements.
There has also been criticism that many of the occult investigators are devout Christians, so they have been accused of being biased and using their beliefs and the guise of occult crimes to persecute other non-traditional belief systems. There has been the accusation that their religious beliefs cloud their judgement and objectivity, and that they do little more than sensationalize such crimes and fuel hysteria. Larry Jones, president of Cult Crime Impact Network and a lieutenant in the Boise, Idaho, police force with expertise in occult investigations, has denied this, and explains the need for what they do:
Well, give me a break. What do psychologists across the country have to gain by brainwashing their clients? That doesn’t really hold water. We have confessed Satanic murders across the country. Ritually killed bodies, from infants to older folks. Matamoros. I mean, what do we need? The fact of it is there. The magnitude is what is under question. And the ones who are supposed to keep track of this don’t even believe that it exists. So we are kind of at an impasse. Kids are killing themselves and their friends. We got a problem. We need to be better investigators. This is no different a new field than child abuse investigation was in the 1970s. Back then, nobody believed it was happening. But it had been going on for decades.
All of this has ensured that, despite the fact that there are recognized police experts in occult or ritualistic crimes, no law enforcement agency currently has a committed branch or even individual solely assigned to such crimes. Those experts that hold seminars or consult and train other officers on this dark occult underbelly of society do so on their own time or squeezed among their other duties. However, in the face of the sheer number of bizarre occult crimes there are efforts being made to try and bring these investigations out of their infancy and into more conventional acceptance through various training programs. An abstract from a training manual issued by the US Department of Justice reads:
Police officers must be aware that the Constitution's First Amendment gives people the freedom to worship God, plants, Satan, or any other symbol. Witchcraft, the Occult, and Satanism are sometimes considered to be synonymous. Individuals interested in deviant pagan and satanic practices are usually male, intelligent, creative, alienated from the family religion, and middle-class or upper-middle- class. They usually have a difficult time relating to peers, have low self-esteem, and may be underachievers. Early phases of involvement with deviant or satanic practices include stress with accompanying anxiety and fear and feelings of inadequacy or loss of control. Signs of active involvement include obsession with fantasy role-playing games, books on magic or witchcraft, the use of objects for spells or rituals, symbolic jewelry, drug abuse, unexplained paranoia or fear of the world, and extreme secrecy. Crime scenes may offer clues to involvement in the occult: mockery of Christian symbols; the use of stolen or vandalized Christian artifacts; unusual drawings; animal mutilations; skulls with or without candles; and rooms draped in black, white, or red. Glossary, drawings and explanations of symbols, list of ritualistic items that should be listed on a search warrant, and suggestions for investigating a ritualistic crime scene.
With the increasing demand for such training and investigators, the world of the occult in law enforcement is becoming more accepted, the attitudes shifting, if slowly. For her part, Gallant believes that it is a shame that there was a time that occult cases weren’t properly investigated for what they were while they were still fresh, but rather dismissed out of hand. She believes there needs to be more of a willingness to investigate these bizarre, often gruesome cases from both angles in order to find the truth, and she explains:
There was a case here 19 years ago, with two boys, 7 and 9, who allegedly kidnaped a child that was about a year and a half old. They took him to a garage and crucified him...They actually had a little crown on his head and a cross that he was tied to. It was kissed off as just being real bizarre, because the 9-year-old had a plate in his head, he was brain-damaged. Now looking at it 19 years later, knowing what I know, I would scrutinize that much more carefully. Was it just the 7- and 9-year-old boys that did this? How would they know to do the things that they did in this kind of murder? There was something, but what? You can’t go back 20 years later and put it together. So I’m sure there are a lot of cases like that that have slipped through the cracks.
For most of us, and I can give myself as an example, what we tended to do in the beginning was we started to hear these things and first of all, we disbelieved it. Then we felt guilty about disbelieving it when it appeared that there might be something there. And then from there perhaps we got a little hysterical in the way we responded, too. And then, hopefully, we get to a point where we go, ‘Ah ha. I’ve seen both sides of the issue, and now let me sit back and be very objective and weigh each side and come to a conclusion as to what the reality is.’ I think that’s where I’ve been for about the last 3 1/2 years, where I’m not out trying to prove anything. And I’m not necessarily out to dis prove anything. I’m just trying to find out the truth about what’s going on.
It seems as if law enforcement is coming around somewhat in their methods for investigating Satanic or occult crimes, of penetrating into that netherworld of magic, demons, and the arcane. What are such investigators likely to find while stumbling through the shadows of this spooky corner of crime? Are they just following the leads of deranged individuals or are there other more insidious, mysterious forces at work? Whatever the case may be, I think one thing that can be agreed on is that, although police work can certainly cover some strange stuff, nothing really comes close to this.