Cults That Kill: Probing the Underworld of Occult Crime

By Larry Kahaner 

  • Publisher: Warner Books Inc.  (May 1994) Hardback cover shown here. 
  • Also available in other formats. 
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0446356379
  • ISBN-13: 978-0446356374



“Occult crime may be the most difficult area of police work today. You won’t find simple cases with obvious suspects. You find bits and pieces, evidence that goes nowhere, testimony that is always suspect and crimes so bizarre and disgusting that even police officers don’t want to believe it exists. ”


–        Det. Sandi Gallant, San Francisco Police Department



“Where all these occult religions go bad is when people aren’t satisfied to live within the environment they have created. It s not enough to have power over themselves. They want to control the heavens and each other. As the need for more power grows, occult crime increases. It attracts people who aren’t satisfied; they want more power. The more powerful you are. the more people you have power over, and the more powerful you become in turn.”


–        Det. Cleo Wilson, Denver Police Department



In the Midwest, an epidemic of animal mutilations leaves hundreds of cattle and horses dismembered with frighteningly surgical skill…in Michigan, a fifteen-year-old boy shoots his older brother in the head at pointblank range and kills him…in California, young children in day-care centers tell stories of prayers to Satan, animal and human sacrifices, and ritualized sexual abuse.


In all three cases-and countless similar ones-the evidence gathered by authorities points to a frightening new criminal element threatening the peace and safety of us all. It’s the world of occult crime, and it’s the most discussed issue in law enforcement today.


A hidden society is thriving in America. Though the vast majority of people involved with occult groups are citizens merely exercising their First Amendment rights, law enforcement officials now believe that a number of these underground cults are responsible for a growing number of horrifying, violent crimes. Stories of child abuse are reports of grave stories of child abuse are reports of grave robberies, torture, and arson…all stained by the signs and symbols of the occult. There is also evidence of nationwide connections between black magic groups and drug and pornography rings.


Against this growing criminal problem stands a small army of dedicated police investigators affectionately known as “cult cops” or “ghostbusters” by their peers. Piercing a once impenetrable veil of secrecy, this book details the phenomenon in crime through the eyes and with the voices of those trained to stop it. Much like drug crimes in the 1960s, computer crimes in the 70s, and terrorism in the 80s, occult crime is fresh territory, and at least as far-reaching as any criminal trend that has gone before it.


Besides the actual words of the cult cops themselves, you’ll also hear testimony by medical and psychiatric experts, practitioners of white and black arts, victims, and others. You’ll go to crime scenes, see police records and confiscated evidence, and witness the secret ceremonies themselves. You’ll learn what the experts have to say about the different occult groups in America today-who they are. Where they worship, and how the local communities and law enforcement officials try to deal with their activities.


Where will the future battle lines be drawn? No one knows for sure, but one fact is clear. More occult crime is reported every day. And the police and – and the public – have a long way to go before occult crime is stopped.

First Pages

Chapter 1: The Cult Cops


Some police officers are experts in terrorism, gangs, orga­nized crime, or explosives. A handful have focused on occult crime. Some detectives were thrust into the field by a single case, while others have found themselves bewildered by an ex­plosion of apparently bizarre and unrelated cases and have strived to make sense of them. Although each officer ap­proaches the subject in his or her own way, each shares an irresist­ible passion and curiosity about human beings who operate just beyond what most of us would consider the real world.

[Sandi Gallant, forty-four, is a detective with the Intelli­gence Division of the San Francisco Police Department. In 1972, she made national news by being the first female po­lice officer assigned to street duty in San Francisco. She also worked as the first decoy prostitute, the model for sim­ilar police actions now commonplace. Her interest in cults and the occult was triggered by the Jonestown, Guyana, mass suicide of Jim Jones and members of the People’s Temple, which was established in San Francisco.]


DET. SANDI GALLANT: I got a call at home on November 23, 1978, from my boss saying, “Do you know anything about People’s Temple?”


I said, “I know they’ve been right next door to where the Zebra [murders] suspects were for quite some time, and when I worked in Juvenile every once in a while somebody would call and complain that their kid was with this group, but I really know nothing about them.” He said, “We’re getting re­ports that two hundred in the group committed suicide.”


We both kind of cackled on the phone and said it was ridiculous. Then he said, “But the reports are coming from the State Department.” I got serious real fast. “Oh, my.. ..” And he said, “Well, I just wanted to know if you knew anything about it.”


By the next day, the count was four hundred people. The Department had somebody who was working with the FBI, but the information wasn’t being gathered fast enough. I was working prison gangs at the time, eating my lunch one day in the office, and the boss said “Daly, get in here! [Daly was Gallant’s maiden name.] I got an assignment for you. The FBI needs someone to work liaison, to gather information, put files together.” I’ve always been fairly good at putting systems together, so I said, “Okay.” [Before entering the police acad­emy, Gallant worked as a civilian employee in the Police De­partment. She compiled the Department’s first comprehensive tattoo and scar file as well as a left- and right-handed file of criminals.]


What I did mostly was a lot of paper shuffling, a lot of paper handling. I wasn’t directly involved in the interviews until later on. One of the fellows in our office, however, Don Daniels, did some interviews of the survivors when they came back. One of the janitors in our building lost his wife and five children. Don and I did that interview, which was tough. A little bit after that, less than a year later, the man who was to become my partner, Jerry Belfield, and I got involved with some of the survivors who were living over in the East Bay.


Jeannie Mills, who was an ex-member of People’s Temple, was murdered along with her husband in their home in Berkeley. Their daughter was critically wounded. [Mills and her husband Al ran a halfway house for former cult members called the Human Freedom Center.] The original call came from one of the Jonestown survivors who was living over in Berkeley, and our immediate thought was, Oh my God, some­one from the Temple killed them. It’s starting again, but that turned out not to be the case.


We began doing some surveillance on some of Jones’s adopted children, just to get a feel for whether they were a little agitated or too excited, while Berkeley [Police Depart­ment] was trying to put the case together. That was really the beginning of how we got involved in cults. As it turned out, the D.A. didn’t have enough to go to prosecution, but the investigation suggested that the son had shot the parents and critically wounded his sister.


Out of that, over a period of months working that case, we developed a general interest in the area of cults. I eventually went back in to the boss and said, “There are other groups out there, certainly not to the point where the Jones group was, but there are some concerns around.” I told him that I didn’t necessarily look at law enforcement as something that always reacts after something happens but before it happens. I reminded him that our Department was starting to receive a series of complaints regarding specific organizations, and perhaps it might be wise to give it some serious thought.


Murphy, the boss, said, “Go for it,” which was highly unusual, because you have a problem. You have the First Amendment, freedom of religion, so I made it very clear to him that I wasn’t going in looking at the ideology of groups but their actions. I think the reason why they let us go ahead with this was People’s Temple. We got caught with our pants down.


[Dale Griffis, fifty, was captain of the Tiffin, Ohio, Police Department. Before his retirement in 1986, he served the Department for twenty-six years. His father was a sergeant with the Tiffin police, and he retired on the same day that his son, Dale, joined. Griffis is now a private consultant to law enforcement agencies on occult crime. He receives up to twenty-five inquiries daily and about a foot of mail weekly. He even has received mail addressed only “Cult Cop, Ohio.” His interest in cults and the occult began with a bizarre suicide in a neighboring town.]


CAPT. DALE GRIFFIS: There was a case here, just down the road from Tiffin, where a fifteen-year-old had committed su­icide. The young boy had become quite enamored with occult activity. He was found in a garage, with occult writings all over his body. He was between two black candles. The police chief was under a lot of pressure. Why did this happen?— upper-class parents and so on. The chief said to me, “Dale, you’ve got a degree in psychology and all that, so why don’t you take a look; we’ve got a hell of a problem.”




On 23 March 1980 the fifteen-year-old son of a local official committed suicide by hanging himself in the loft of the residential garage. The deceased was found by a family member at about 0700 hours on 24 March. The youth had covered himself with curious writings that give the appearance of being inspired by cultish connections referencing Satanic origins. Descriptions of markings as follows:


Upper torso, below base of neck, “Satan” printed w/orange lipstick.

Middle of torso (chest), “IM COME HOME MAS­TER” [sic] printed with ballpoint pen.

Middle lung area, the numbers “666” printed with orange lipstick.

Left ribcage area, “SATAN” printed w/orange lip­stick.

Front of right leg and ankle, “I LOVE SATAN” w/ ballpoint pen.

Buttock area, vertical line and, crosswise across top of the buttocks, a horizontal line at the bottom of the vertical line. These lines have the appearance of an upside down cross when viewed from top to bot­tom; this was done w/orange lipstick.

Inside of left thigh, “LUCIFER” printed w/orange lipstick. Blood analysis indicated there was no drugs or toxins present.


CAPT. DALE GRIFFIS: By the time I got there the crime scene had been disturbed. I talked with the investigators; I tried the parents. I wanted to know what kind of things the kid was reading. I guess I was looking for the psychological reason at the time, approaching it from a pseudoscientific angle. I couldn’t get much from the parents. They were in no condition to talk about it. The investigators were pretty much certain that it wasn’t a murder. I was bothered by the writing being in hard to reach places on his body, but I also knew that a distorted mind can be devious and creative.


I drove over with the chief of our department, and on the way back I said, “I don’t know, Dave, I’ve got a lot of questions in the back of my mind that have got to be settled. I think what bothers me more than anything else is that I think this type of activity is going to become worse m the United States.”


It wasn’t a scientific wild-ass guess- I guess I had been boot smart from school. Keep in mind that I had been taughtthe transition of the modality of criminals and all that psy­chological mumbo jumbo, but I had police experience going back forty years at that time. When you’re born into the cop business and it’s in your blood . . . there’s something from my roots and everything else that said there’s a problem. Take all that and something inside of me says there’s something here. Call it a hunch or whatever you want.


The questions kept on my mind. I asked Tom Spellerberg, the local prosecutor. “Tom, maybe I’m all wrong, but we’ve got some of these groups floating around in America that very few people know anything about. One of these days, you’re really going to have to do something. Nobody’s doing any­thing, no type of study, nothing. You’ve got FOJ funds [local Furtherance of Justice funds]. If I guarantee you not to leave law enforcement and use what I learn to help the citizens of Seneca County, would you see that I get some training?” He said, “Where would you go to school?” I said, “By God that’s a good question.”


[Pat Metoyer, forty-seven, a twenty-two-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, is currently a member of the Criminal Conspiracy Section. He has worked in juvenile and homicide departments. His interest in the occult is an outgrowth of his investigations into brainwashing by cult groups.]


DET. PAT METOYER: When I was in the public disorder intelligence division we monitored groups. Some of the groups we monitored were Scientology as well as some of the other religious groups. You begin to see that in some of those or­ganizations there’s a certain amount of brainwashing that must necessarily take place in order for a person to believe. A good example of that is Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. Of that whole group, the dumbest person there was the last one to drink the poison. He saw all his friends drink/this stuff and go belly up, and he stood in line to get a drink of this damn poison. That shows you the power of brainwashing, and I began doing some studies with respect to brainwashing, number one, and as they related to cults, number two. I wanted to learn how to pick out those persons who would be most susceptible to cult involvements.


About four or five years ago, I was lecturing about na­tionalistic terrorism. The fellow in charge of a seminar asked me, “Would you like to lecture for me at an exposition for law enforcement officers?” I said “Sure,” but he says, “Instead of talking about nationalistic terrorism how about religious ter­rorism?” I said, “No way, I wouldn’t do that.”


He persisted. “I really would like to have you lecture, but I’d like to have something that has some links with religion.” I finally said, “Okay, how about if I do my research and I lecture on Satanism and the occult?” He said “Okay.”


[Bill Wickersham, thirty-seven, is a detective with the Den­ver Police Department. His father was a sheriff and encour­aged Bill to become a police officer. Wickersham’s special interest in the occult came about as the result of an investi­gation into a juvenile prostitution ring. His partner was Det. Cleo Wilson.]


DET. BILL WICKERSHAM: All we did that summer was ride around in the patrol car, my partner Cleo and me. We got right into the line of cars [picking up male prostitutes], and by the time we got around the right corner we would find somebody new, some kid that we hadn’t seen before. We asked for I.D., that sort of thing. The first week we had twelve com­plaints of harassment. I mean we were busy.


We got in good with some of the adult male hookers. They snitched on the kids because they were ruining their business.


One night we got a complaint that some juvenile prosti­tutes were hanging out at a sandwich place at 13th and GrandAvenue, in the Capital Hill area of Denver. They were supposed to be runaways. We interviewed them and knew they were runaways because they all told different stories. We brought them downtown. Four kids total.


We found out that three were runaways. The oldest boy said he was eighteen, but we couldn’t verify it so we had to let him go. It turned out later he was only seventeen, a juvenile. The other kids were either sent to shelters or their parents picked them up.


We had been noticing that many of the juveniles we picked up had insignias on their jackets and clothes—inverted crosses and “666.” I remember one kid we picked up for dope had a great big inverted cross on the back of his jacket. Above that he had an inverted pentagram, and below the cross he had “666.” Not only that, but he had calling cards with all these symbols on it and the type of sex he would perform. It just blew my mind.


I said to Cleo, “This son of a bitch is evil.” I know what “666” means, and I know what the inverted cross means. I knew the “666” from the Bible, and I knew from catechism that the inverted cross was the symbol of the Antichrist.


I saw it with this doper we picked up, and now we were seeing it with these other kids we had. Not only that, but one kid’s father started telling us stories about how the kids were into witchcraft and I said, “What kind of bullshit. . .” He said, “I have a whole box of stuff that one of the kids left at my house.” I said, “What have you got?” and he described all this crazy stuff, and I looked at Cleo and said, “Oh, shit, what is going on here?”


He brought in the box the next day, and it had inverted crosses, pentagrams, athames [ceremonial daggers], pacts with Satan that these kids had written. I said to Cleo, “This is evil. This is Exorcist shit.” That movie scared the living piss out of me. Being a Catholic it scared me. The father was anxious to know about his son’s youngerbrother. He was ten years old, and the father didn’t know where he was. We started asking the kids about him, but we couldn’t talk to them. They were in another world. They spoke a different language.


[Cleo (short for Cleotilde) Wilson, forty, has been a police officer for thirteen years with the Denver Police Depart­ment. She and Bill Wickersham became partners about seven years ago.]


DET. CLEO WILSON: Talking to this group of kids was prob­ably the hardest thing we had ever done. We had talked to other kids, prostitutes, kids who are victims of violence, but we never had so many problems getting information as we did with these kids. They lied for each other constantly. They were hard as rocks. There was no conscience.


We had a ten-year-old out there, and we would do almost anything to get to him. We didn’t know if they had leased him out to some John or what.


We finally found out where he was. He was in a hotel on East Colfax in a high crime area. We found a sixteen-year-old girl with him.


It was kind of an eerie feeling to see these kids who were so hardcore, and seeing the kinds of things they had pledged—pacts with Satan, pledges of fidelity to the group.


We needed to know about the older kid, the one that everyone else was protecting. His name was Donald Bradley. We figured he was the leader.



[Some additional letters have been added by Bradley

to make the words pronounceable but there are

misspellings, too.]



When through with the Lord’s prayer backwards, blow out the candle and say “So mote it be.”


DET. CLEO WILSON: I had been brought up in a strict Cath­olic background. I knew about the devil and demonic posses­sion, so I was aware of the symbolism. I knew what they meant, but I didn’t know if they were meaning the same things to these kids as what I had been taught.


So, we went to a priest at the high school where I had been and talked to him. He referred us to Jim McCarthy, an instructor at the University at Boulder. He went to juvenile hall with us and asked them questions in vernacular that they could understand. We sat there and realized why we weren’t getting anywhere. We didn’t even speak the same language.


After a while, we were able to piece together information about this group, what they were doing and who was in charge. Bill and I both had trouble believing what we were hearing.



“Interviews here with police officers, psychiatrists and others in the field make it clear that there exist in the U.S. all sorts of cults that are involved not only in bizarre ceremonies and the ritual sacrifice of animals but also in child sexual abuse and perhaps even murder. Kahaner ( On the Line ) draws distinctions between satanism and witchcraft and shows how such Latin American phenomena as Santeria (perverted worship of the saints) and Brujeria (a mix of ancient Aztec practices and Catholicism) are allied. But, most disturbing, apart from the reports of children involved in ritual practices, are the testimonies of adults who joined in such incidents in their youth and have been scarred by their involuntary participation. This is a revealing study that will prove shocking to readers.”


Publishers Weekly



“Powerful stuff.”


Charleston Post-Courier



“The format, especially the many and varied voices, is fasdnatl^ng, and much like the blind men describing the elephant, the total picture presents a very dark, very real animaL Though intended to aid In law enforcement by showing the breadth of the crimes, the book should also prove helpful to those who deal with the survivors of such cults. ”






“Offers insight into a problem that grows worse… Fans of true-crime tales will especially want to find a spot for this book on their shelves.”


Flint (Mich.) Journal





Salem (Ark.) News



“An excellent tool for investigators who have been assigned cases that involve cults or who already investigate cult crimes.”


Washington Crime News Service





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