A LAW ENFORCEMENT PERSPECTIVE
by Kenneth V. Lanning M.S., Supervisory Special Agent
National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime
The belief that there is a connection between satanism and crime is
certainly not new. In fact, one of the oldest 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 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
analyse 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 conference
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
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
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 grave and church
desecrations, and even murders.
7. Ritualistic abuse of children as part of bizarre ceremonies and
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
9. The "Big Conspiracy" theory , which implies that satanists are
responsible for such things as Adolph Hitler, World War II,
abortion, pornography, Watergate, Irangate, and infiltration of the
Department of Justice, the Pentagon and the White House.
During the conferences, these nine areas are linked together through
the liberal use of word "satanism" and some common symbolism
(pentagrams, 666, demons, etc,). The implication often is that all
are part of a continuum of behaviour, 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 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 controls the religious beliefs
of most people. As a result, some normally sceptical 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 the issue.
The words satanic, occult, and ritualistic 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. How ever,
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 expressed 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
Ordo Templi Orientis
Heavy Metal Music
Temple of Set
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 are 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 or them, or an interest in paranormal phenomena, Occult
does not imply satanism, evil, wrongdoing, or crime. Indeed
historically the principle 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 as difficult to precisely define satanism
as it is to precisely define Christianity or any complex spiritual
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 spiritual.
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 gratified, 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 or 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 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" ritualism.
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
Disorders 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 behaviour
frequently involves rituals. Although such behaviour 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 their crimes may need little
justification for their antisocial behaviour. 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 behaviour. 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. Cries may be ritualistically
motivated or may have ritualistic elements. The ritual behaviour may
also fulfill basic criminal needs to manipulate victims, get rid of
rivals, send a message to enemies, and intimidate co-conspirators.
The leader 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 make, the leaders, have special or
The important point for the criminal investigator is to realise that
most ritualistic criminal behaviour is not motivated simply by
satanic or religious ceremonies. At some conferences, presenters
have attempted to make an 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
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 by criminal if performed for sexual gratification.
If the 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 babies’ genitals for sadistic sexual pleasure is
a crime. The circumcision of a babies’ 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 non satanic 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 not crimes.
When a victim describes and investigation corroborates what sounds
like ritualistic activity, several possibilities must be considered.
The ritual activity may be part of 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 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 crimes 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 obey 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 answer 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
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 of urine or feces. Does this mean that all individuals
involved in lust murder, sadism, vampirism, cannibalism, urophilia,
and coprephilia 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 psychopathic 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 it 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 on 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 labour 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 Christian 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
behaviour as the Crusades, the Inquisition, Apartheid, segregation,
violence in Northern Ireland, India, and Lebanon.
Who decides exactly what "satanists" believe? In this country, we
cannot even agree 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 with 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
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 this
statement, but few can argue with it.
Although defining a crime as Satanic, occult, or ritualistic would
probably involve a 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 the issue. This discussion,
however, will deal ONLY with the law enforcement perspective.
The law enforcement perspective must focus on crimes and clearly
recognise 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 the 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 conflicts.
What is the justification for law enforcement officers giving
presentations on satanism and the Occult to citizen groups, PTA’s,
or school assemblies? It is 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 peoples’
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 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 and 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 advocated causes confusion.
As difficult as it might be, police officers must separate the
religious and law enforcement perspectives when they are lecturing
or investigating the 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 the 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 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. It typically involves hyper-
vigilance over the perceived 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 recognise 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 thought of as "infiltrating" the
police and military, but not long ago the Jews were thought by many
to have done so.
Overzealousness and exaggeration motivated by the religious fervour
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, 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 cannot ignore the lack of
physical evidence (no bodies, or even hairs, fibres, 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
(intra-group conflicts resulting in individual self-serving
disclosures would be bound to occur in any group involved in
organised kidnapping baby breeding, and human sacrifice). If and
when members of destructive cults commit murders, they are bound to
make mistakes, leave evidence, and eventually make admissions in
order to brag about their cries 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
Bizarre crime and evil can occur without organised 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
b. Some of these individuals commit crime.
c. Some groups of individuals share these beliefs and involvements
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 crimes
b. Is there an organised conspiracy of satanic and occult believers
responsible for interrelated serious crime (e.g., molestation,
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 mutilation
6. Teenage suicide
7. Child abuse
9. Murder and human sacrifice
Valid evidence shows some "connection" between satanism 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 teenagers’ 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 criminals’ 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 perpetrators’
religion. Why then are the crimes of child molesters, rapists,
sadists and murders who happen to be involved in satanism and the
occult labelled 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 symbolism at the crime scene). Does that
automatically make these satanic murders? It is the authors 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
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 a
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 Officer 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 and the occult 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
communications within their families. Those troubled teenagers turn
to satanism and the occult to overcome a sense of alienation, to
obtain power, or to justify their antisocial behaviour. 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 some teenagers right into it. Some
rebellious teenagers will do whatever will most shock and outrage
society in order to flaunt their rejection of adult norms.
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
"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 behaviour.
Satanic/occult practises (as well as those of other spiritual belief
systems) can be used as a mechanism to facilitate criminal
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, organised 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 belief system.
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 victims’ 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
There is on way any one law enforcement officer can become
knowledgeable about all the symbols and rituals of every spiritual
belief system that might become a part of a criminal investigation.
The officer needs only to trained to recognise 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 only have limited application,
especially to cases involving teenagers, dabblers, and other self-
styled practitioners. The fact is, signs, symbols, and rituals can
mean anything the practitioners want them to mean AND/OR anything
the observers interpret them to mean. The meaning of symbols can
also change over time, place and circumstance. 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 anti-war symbol, is now supposed to be a satanic
In spite of what is sometimes said or suggested at law enforcement
training conferences, police have no authority to seize and 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
Until hard evidence is obtained and corroborated, the American
people should not be frightened in 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 Americas’ day
care centers. No one can prove with absolute certainty that such
activity has NOT occurred. As law enforcement agencies evaluate and
decide what they can or should do about satanic or occult activity
in their communities, they might want to 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
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 in this country.