At the time, police officer Sandi Gallant recalled, maybe even she didn't truly comprehend the dark lure of the occult.
The year was 1981. The case was eerie, weird in a grotesque, spooky kind of way. Even for San Francisco, where cops are not easily surprised by sensational crimes.
Black male, probably a street person, found murdered in Golden Gate Park.
The guy's head had been cut off. And it was missing.
Detectives found some strange clues. There was the headless chicken, for one. Part of the bird's body had been stuffed inside the dead man. Some kind of ritual seemed to have taken place.
An Expert of Sorts
Homicide didn't know what to make of it, so investigators called Gallant, who works intelligence. After her involvement in the aftermath of the Peoples Temple mass murder-suicide in Guyana, she'd become an expert of sorts in the realm of spiritual wackos.
She had begun studying up on cults, brainwashing, the sick powers of persuasion. From there came an exploration of "alternative" belief systems, witchcraft, Santeria and Satanism.
Gallant had been looking for explanations. Increasingly, it seemed, the occult was leaving its marks in crime.
So now this. What did Gallant think? Homicide wanted to know.
Gallant and her partner said it looked like Santeria , a religion involving animal sacrifice that slaves from the West African Yoruba tribe imported to the Caribbean.
Today, Gallant refines that a little. She says it was probably Palo Mayombe , a similar, albeit darker religion brought to the Caribbean by Bantu-speaking slaves from the Congo.
It was Palo Mayombe , too, that Mexican and U.S. investigators say was entwined with the gruesome deaths of at least five of the 15 people murdered in Matamoros earlier this year as part of a drug and religious cult.
But Gallant didn't know that much then. She was taking an educated guess, testing out a theory.
"We literally were laughed at by our homicide investigators, and our chief of detectives," Gallant recalled. "It was like, 'Give me a break. This stuff doesn't happen.' "
So Gallant went out on a limb, laying out a bizarre blueprint for murder not much different from the others she now routinely dispenses at seminars.
The difference is that now those who listen to her theories are far more likely to furrow their brows than crack a smile.
Today, Gallant is a leading expert among the small but growing number of police officers who have carved out a specialty in crimes connected with the occult--everything from the centuries-old practice of devil worship to a relative newcomer known as chaos magic, a combination of Satanic teachings with an emphasis on mutilations with steel objects.
But in 1981, such were the theories of radicals, if not psychotics.
In 42 days, Gallant told homicide, the dead man's head would be returned near the spot where his body was found.
In the meantime, for the first 21 days, the religion's practitioners would use parts of the man's brains, perhaps even his ears and his eyes, blending them in a caldron to make a ritual brew.
"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," Gallant said.
"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."
And that, apparently, is exactly how it happened.
The head was returned on the 42nd day not far from where the body was found. But no one from the San Francisco Police Department was there to see, let alone arrest, whoever returned it.
"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," Gallant said.
"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 baffling case of the beheaded transient remains unsolved. Today, though, Gallant takes her theories seriously, and so do law enforcement agencies across the country.
"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," Gallant said in a recent interview. "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 multilating 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."
Like the public in general, some police officers flat out don't believe that such strange, often gruesome occult practices exist. Others, usually those with strong Christian fundamentalist beliefs, see the devil's work virtually everywhere. They talk of conspiracy and mayhem, of Satanic child abusers and women who breed babies for Satanic sacrifice.
Often there is no evidence that will stand up in court. It is just too weird, prosecutors say. No juror in his right mind would buy it.
And putting aside rumors that may never be proven, there are still no statistics, or even any reliable estimates, to document the magnitude of the problem. Some law enforcement officers say California seems to be a hotbed for crimes of the occult.
But others say that's nonsense, that the trappings of the occult are turning up at crime scenes across the country without any discernible pattern.
What that leads to in the conservative world of law enforcement is official ambivalence. Although there are several recognized experts in so-called occult crimes--those connected with an occult belief system--no U.S. law enforcement agency currently has an officer assigned exclusively to such criminal acts.
Those that hold seminars, consult and train other officers on the demonic netherworld do it on their own time or squeezed among their other duties.
But they are doing it. Police forces want it. And so do other government and community organizations. The evidence that crimes--everything from animal mutilations, to rape, to murder--increasingly are being committed under the guise of occult beliefs is just too strong.
"In the '60s, the cutting edge was drugs," says Washington journalist
Larry Kahaner, whose 1988 book, "Cults That Kill," has won wide favor among police officers.
"In the '70s, it was computer crime. In the '80s, it's terrorism. Occult crime is really the crime of the '90s."
Detective Patrick Metoyer, 23 years with the Los Angeles Police Department, a bomb expert and watch commander for the criminal conspiracy section, is not somebody inclined to go in for the far out. And he doesn't. He just keeps an eye on it, and then tries to sort it out.
For him the fascination started during the three months he guarded Linda Kasabian, a witness at the Tate-La Bianca murder trial of Charles Manson, the man who had convinced her and other cult members that evil was good.
"She was totally dependent on Manson," Metoyer says. "Here was a person with the ability to mesmerize people, which is no different than Jim Jones, who was able to command about 900 people to drink poison. It's this phenomenon of brainwashing."
Then, slowly, Metoyer began noticing another link. The profile of a cultist seemed very similar to that of the young people who were dabbling in Satanism.
They were looking for something, hoping to fill a personal void. And, as evidenced by the trappings of Satanism at crime scenes, they were increasingly acting outside of the law.
Metoyer has captured the grisly evidence in a horrifying slide presentation that he shows to other law enforcement officials trying to understand what could motivate a person to commit such acts.
There are mutilated animals. Satanists may use their body parts in rituals and drink their blood.
There is a slide of a nude woman, her body painted with Satanic drawings, who is masturbating with a black candle. She was the companion of a man arrested for sexually abusing children.
Another slide shows the left hand of a corpse. Satanists, who believe that the left hand gives them the power of evil, apparently hacked it off.
And still another slide shows a man having sex with a cadaver, apparently part of a ritual associated with the practice of necromancy.
As repulsive as such practices may be, police officers stress that not all of them are illegal.
The right to practice one's religion, regardless of what that might be, is protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution. Police say that only when the practice of that religion violates the law--posession of a human skull, for example, is a felony--do they become involved.
But such is a distinction that the public, and even some police officers, may not always appreciate. The very nature of Satanism, the antithesis of Judeo-Christian ethics, is especially threatening to most people.
Says Kenneth Lanning, the FBI's chief expert on ritualistic child abuse: "If I went into the room of an alleged child molester and I see a crucifix on the wall, am I going to seize it? I may, if I believe it has something to do with the crime, but only if it has something to do with the crime.
"The same thing is true, in my opinion, about a pentagram on the wall. Just because it is there, doesn't mean that you just take it."
Metoyer gives another example.
Anton LaVey, who founded the Church of Satan in 1966, invited Metoyer to the Satanic baptism of a 6-week-old girl during a ritual in Van Nuys about three years ago.
LaVey, whose "Satanic Bible" is a perennial best seller among self-styled teen-age Satanists, sent down a high priestess from his base in San Francisco.
"They showed me all the trappings," Metoyer says. "I didn't think for one minute that they were going to do anything illegal. I told them I would arrest them if they did."
So what Metoyer says he saw, and felt, was the bone-chilling devotion of some 25 people who had committed their lives to Satan.
The Satanic sanctuary, painted entirely in matte black, was a single room in a suburban house. Illuminated only by the twinkling of a revolving strobe light, Metoyer says, it gave him a floating sensation. Eerie music played in the background. The room seemed to have no corners.
A huge portrait of Satan looked down at the participants, all of them dressed in black robes.
On the west wall was the altar. The black candles were on the left, representing the path of damnation, and a single white candle stood on the right, representing the path of righteousness.
There was a dagger, a chalice, a crucible, a bell, an upside-down cross, a silver baphomet--a pentagram with the head of a goat imposed on it--a gong, salt (a purifier), incense and a grimoire, a manual for invoking demons and the spirits of the dead.
The baby's mother held the child away from her, while the priestess invoked demons and placed the dagger over the baby's heart. The baby was not cut. But she may still be a member of the Church of Satan.
Randy Emon, a police sergeant with the city of Baldwin Park, says that what law enforcement officials don't realize when they begin investigating occult crime is that bad things may mysteriously befall them.
"You want a personal experience?" he says. "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."
It was only after he prayed on top of the pentagram--"There was an evil presence that I could just sense"--that Emon says it disappeared.
Emon, who became interested in occult crimes with the arrest of Night Stalker suspect Richard Ramirez, exemplifies perhaps the most controversial breed of occult investigators: Christian fundamentalists.
He is director of Christian Occult Investigation Network, based in West Covina, and also teaches a course for law enforcement officials, certified by Police Officers Standards and Training, called "Occult Crimes Investigations."
In the eight-hour course, complete with photographs, objects used in Satanic rituals, literature and the occasional reformed Satanist, Emon offers what he calls his "secular presentation."
"I teach," he says. "I don't preach."
Larry Jones, president of Cult Crime Impact Network and a lieutenant in the Boise, Idaho, police force, whose bimonthly newsletter has 1,750 subscribers, says that he has heard the criticism of him and other born-again Christians who investigate occult crimes: that their religious beliefs cloud their objectivity, that they give credence to mentally disturbed "survivors" of Satanic cults, that they fuel hysteria and throw common sense to the wind.
"Well, give me a break," he responds. "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."
Jones believes that organizations such as his will eventually persuade the nay sayers that the devil's hand in occult crime is really nothing to be dismissed.
"Kids are killing themselves and their friends," he says. "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."
One of the biggest problems in a field as sensitive as the investigation of occult crimes is a definition of terms.
Several cases of ritualistic child abuse have been prosecuted, and won, after evidence of Satanic trappings was brought out. Other cases, however, have been tried without any mention of devil worship because prosecutors felt it could jeopardize the outcome.
Jurors often find such practices impossible to believe, especially when young children are the ones telling the horrifying tales.
Convicted teen-age killers, in California, Oklahoma, Missouri, New Jersey and elsewhere, have told investigators and jury members that they killed their victims as a sacrifice to Satan.
But so far, only one case in the United States, that of ex-waiter Clifford St. Joseph in San Francisco, has been prosecuted as a human sacrifice.
St. Joseph, 46, was sentenced last year to 34 years to life in prison for murdering a male drifter, who is still unidentified. The victim's chest had been carved with a pentagram and police said he had been chained, his blood drained into a chalice and drunk, and that one of his testicles had been cut off and eaten in a ritual.
But the FBI's Lanning, for one, doesn't believe even the St. Joseph case qualifies as a Satanic sacrifice.
"I would define a Satanic murder as one committed by two or more individuals--you have to have at least two people to have a cult--who rationally plan the crime and whose primary motivation is to fulfill a prescribed Satanic ritual calling for the murder," he says.
"I have been involved in a case where a woman was sexually assaulted, stabbed 30 to 40 times, and a Bible was tied to her chest. Now are we going to say that this is a Christian crime?"
Gallant, who gets some 25 calls a week from investigators trying to decipher occult trappings at crime scenes across the country, says that in San Francisco, three cases have been classified as ritualistic homicides: the '81 case of the beheaded transient, the St. Joseph case, and another in 1983 involving a decapitated woman who was mutilated and dismembered. Like the '81 case, that murder is still unsolved.
"Those were the cases that we can verifiably say were ritualistic," Gallant says. "There may have been others. 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."
But to leap from there to the conclusion that whoever committed such a crime had to be under the influence of Satan is something that Gallant and most other occult investigators say they are simply not willing to do.
The stories may be true, they say, but they remain unproven. Even the existence of the devil, or God, or Mohammed, or any other deity, has so far been impossible to prove.
"For most of us," Gallant says, "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."