Voodoo Dolls Placed
in Man's Corpse
June 30, 1998
Bradenton, Fla. (Reuters) -- A Florida funeral home owner severed the left hand from a corpse and inserted small dolls into the body and performed ''spiritual'' rituals before burying it, Bradenton police said.
Paula Green-Albritton, owner of Green's Funeral Home in Bradenton for six years, told investigators she had placed the dolls into the body ''for her own personal practices and spiritual beliefs, which she claimed was voodoo,'' police Capt. Jeff Lewis said.
Willie Suttle, 70, a garbage collector from Palmetto, Florida, died in June 1997 of natural causes. Because he had no attending physician, his body was taken to the Manatee County Medical Examiner's office, Lewis said.
After determining the cause of death, Suttle's body was taken to the funeral home where it was tampered with, Lewis said.
Police began the investigation after a severed hand was found along the shores of the Manatee River in November 1997. It was taken to the Bradenton Police Department for fingerprints, but the quality of the prints prevented immediate identification. The Florida Deptartment of Law Enforcement crime laboratory in Tampa ultimately identified the prints.
When the body was exhumed last week police found that Suttle's left hand had been cut off and small, handmade fabric dolls stuffed into his body. How the hand ended up in the river was undetermined, police said.
Bradenton police asked for assistance from a voodoo expert from the Medical Examiner's Office in Miami.
Abuse and mutilation of a corpse is illegal in Florida, but no charges were filed against Green-Albritton. Lewis said ''it was a good possibility'' she would be charged after the investigation was complete.
[Copyright 1998, Reuters]
Nigerian Snake Charmer
Charged With Boy's Death
April 21, 1998
Lagos (Reuters) -- A Nigerian snake charmer has been charged with causing the death of a 10-year-old boy who was bitten by his cobra, the national news agency said on Monday.
The News Agency of Nigeria said the snake charmer at Dankaiwa village in northern Nigeria lost control of his cobra, which bit young Mohammed Ahmed on his right leg. The boy died without medical care because there was no hospital nearby.
The report did not say when the case had been heard, but said the snake charmer had been remanded in custody after pleading not guilty.
[Copyright 1998, Reuters]
at U.S. Capitol
June 1, 1998
Washington (AP) -- Getting the demons out of Congress is easier said than done, ordained exorcist Baron Deacon discovered Monday.
Dressed in a black satin robe with silver trim and wielding a large silver cross, Deacon stood on the steps of the Capitol determined to drive out the ''dragons and serpents'' within.
With a Bible in one hand, he pointed the cross up the Capitol steps. But after the ritual, Deacon said he had failed. He said he had not been able to dispossess the building of its evil spirits.
Congressional staffers and tourists largely ignored the spectacle, although Capitol police on routine security were careful to keep a watchful eye.
David Grossack, a member of Citizens Justice Programs who accompanied Deacon, said the exorcism was aimed at drawing attention to corruption in government by both political parties.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
Thai Lives With
May 6, 1998
Bangkok (AP) -- A farmer who claims a unique ability to communicate with snakes has set out to spend a week in a glass-encased room with more than a hundred of the poisonous reptiles.
"We are friends. We understand each other," said Boonruang Buachan, 29, when contacted by telephone inside his snake-infested chamber in a Bangkok shopping mall.
Boonruang, who began his cohabitation Tuesday, cradled and kissed writhing snakes and at times plunged his hand into a wriggling mass of serpents to extract one. Hundreds of people pressed against the Plexiglas to watch.
Accustomed to the tough upcountry life, Boonruang said he was more worried about catching a cold from the air conditioning than being bitten by the fanged creatures that slither over him. They include two king cobras, 100 cobras, 30 centipedes and 20 scorpions.
Also introduced into the snake pit Tuesday were 44 pounds of live frogs -- the snakes' diet for the week.
Besides claiming he can communicate with the animals, Boonruang believes that in a previous life he was the "Prince of Snakes," a creature from Thai mythology.
© Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
Cut Off Pastor's Hand
by Cliff Walker
February 2, 1998
Kenya -- A pastor, who was cheating on his wife, had his hand chopped off by a mob of villagers who caught him in the act, according to an article in the East African Standard. The clergyman, 43, said that he suspected his wife had betrayed him to villagers in Virembe, western Kenya.
He left his home on Saturday to attend the funeral of a church member."On arrival there I decided to visit the home of my lover briefly."
While they were sleeping early on Sunday morning, villagers burst in and attacked him with sticks. One enraged man chopped off the pastor's hand with a machete.
The clergyman was then taken to a hospital in a wheelbarrow.
Angry Africans Hack
Head Off Sorcerer
July 10, 1998
Abidjan (Reuters) -- Villagers in the Ivory Coast hacked off the head of a 60-year-old man, branding him a sorcerer and accusing him of killing a young boy by witchcraft, a newspaper reported on Thursday.
The daily Le Jour said two other people in the southern village of Godilehiry, were lynched over the boy's death, it said.
The parents of 11-year-old Christophe Adou, who died without receiving medical help, consulted the boy's corpse to find a culprit, Le Jour quoted villagers as saying.
The accused, Ameyoua Gossou, tried to disprove guilt by defying the dead boy's coffin to knock into him if he was responsible. It did -- according to the newspaper.
He died after being attacked by a mob.
''In less than three months this village has seen 13 children die but we have had no revenge,'' one bystander was quoted as saying.
Villagers in Ivory Coast, the world's largest cocoa producer, and other West African countries, often blame sorcery for deaths due to diseases ravaging the continent such as malaria and AIDS.
West African countries officially discourage such superstitions. In similar incidents, Ivory Coast and Ghana saw a 1996/7 wave of lynchings of people accused of using magic to shrink other mens' penises.
[Copyright 1998, Reuters]
After 'Spell' Fails
July 13, 1998
Monrovia, Liberia (AP) -- After casting a "bulletproof" spell over two men, a traditional Liberian doctor shot and killed his two patients while testing to see if the incantation worked, a newspaper reported Sunday.
James Numeni, an herbalist "witch doctor" from the central Liberian town Gbarnga was arrested and charged with murder shortly after the incident on Friday.
The two victims, who were not identified, were shot several times in the face and chest, the Inquirer newspaper reported.
Numeni had promised to make them bulletproof with the use of traditional herbal medicine and a charm.
After casting the spell he insisted on proving the power of his magic by telling the two men to stand at close range while he shot them, the newspaper reported.
Soldiers and rebels during Liberia's brutal 7-year civil came to believe in the magic and spells of traditional doctors that promised to offer protection against their enemies.
Numeni was reportedly one of the best-known herbalists in Liberia.
[Copyright 1998, Associated Press]
Witches and Wizards
to Take On Weather
December 31, 1998
Moscow (Reuters) -- A coven of witches and wizards will try to use their supernatural powers on New Year's Eve to change Moscow's unseasonably mild weather and bring snow to the Russian capital, RIA news agency said.
It said the sorcerers would gather on Red Square in front of the Kremlin with barrels of ice-cold water which they plan to whack with their broomsticks.
The flying water is then supposed to turn into snow with the help of various arcane rituals and spells, RIA said, quoting sources "close to the supernatural powers."
The witches and wizards decided to hold their meet after Muscovites complained of a big drop in temperatures, which has turned the capital's traditional snow into slush and puddles.
RIA said the witches and wizards had the backing of the Moscow city government and of Father Frost, the Russian answer to Santa Claus, and his assistant the Snow Maiden.
Copyright © 1998 Reuters Limited.
Woman Claims Voodoo
Tried to Kill Her
May 22, 1998
Irvington, N.J. (Reuters) -- Police investigators were combing through northern New Jersey Haitian communities Friday to learn about voodoo rituals after a Long Island woman accused a voodoo priest of trying to kill her with burning candles in an exorcism ceremony.
Pierrot Charles, 41, of Irvington, was charged with attempted murder and his alleged accomplice, Jean Valme, 36, of New York's borough of Brooklyn, was arraigned Wednesday on the same charge, as well as conspiracy. Both were free on bail pending indictment and a jury trial.
Sheila DeGraff told police that her dead father was haunting her and she went to Charles in hopes he could rid her body of evil spirits.
During a ritual in October at Charles' home, where he also sells Bibles and other voodoo ritual objects, she told police she doused herself with "Florida Water," an alcohol-based perfume often used in voodoo.
But DeGraff burst into flames and had to be hospitalized with second-and third-degree burns which left her with facial and neck scars, according to officials.
Charles's lawyer James Weinberg denied Friday that the priest intentionally set her on fire. He said the Haitian-born Charles, a U.S. citizen, was 10 to 15 feet away from DeGraff, and that fumes from the cologne caused the combustion.
He said he will call theologians or other religious experts at trial to dispel negative stereotypes around voodoo, often associated with torture when pins are stuck in dolls.
"There's nothing that should be construed as negative about it," the attorney said. "It's just as if I was talking with you about Buddhism. It's about positive, spiritual growth."
Prosecutors said they will be researching the religion in New Jersey's Haitian neighborhoods.
Beat the Tax Man
June 12, 1998
Budapest (AP) -- Hungary's witches have beaten the tax man. And they didn't even need a curse.
"They backed off after realizing they bit off more than they could chew," crows head witch Jozsef Cezar Meszaros, demonic eyebrows rising in glee as he shows a copy of the court ruling acknowledging that his Hungarian Witches' Association is tax exempt.
The attempt to collect comes as Hungary is coming to grips with tax evasion -- endemic, as it is in all of post-communist Eastern Europe.
Under communism, income tax did not exist. And although nearly a decade has passed since the onset of democracy, many Hungarians still consider taxes unjust.
Meszaros and others in his 10,000-strong association also could have chosen the easy route -- declare a bit of income from the incantations, hexes and readings they offer, pocket the rest and count on being among those not being caught.
Instead, they decided to take on the tax-man head on, after the association was ordered to register with tax authorities last year and then told to pay a fine of 100,000 forints (nearly US$500) for registering late.
"The fact is, we didn't have the 100,000 forints," Meszaros chuckled, resplendent in a crimson velveteen robe in the semi-gloom of his witches' parlor, behind a desk cluttered with pickled tarantulas and snakes, a grinning skull, pin-studded dolls and other occult paraphernalia.
So the association -- 200 "experts," 500 apprentices and the rest believers or followers with an inkling of witchcraft -- challenged the fine, deciding to nip any further tax demands in the bud.
It had already registered itself in 1992 as a religious organization. Moreover, members argued, all earnings went to paying rent and utilities on parlors or by supporting sister organizations.
"Those of us in the association do this as a charity" and make their living through other means -- in his own case through dealing in antiques, Meszaros said. "We are not like the other big religions, created to rake in money. We do not take membership dues, nor do we get state support, like most churches (in Europe)."
The state disagreed. In making his case earlier this year, state prosecutor Istvan Sallos said the witches were "business oriented" and were not keeping proper records.
Moreover, he questioned whether casting spells, sticking pins in dolls and other witchcraft ceremonies had the same religious value as the weddings, burials and other services conducted by established churches enjoying tax-exempt status.
Auditors were sent several months ago, leading the witches to expect the worst. The subsequent court ruling backing the association's tax-exempt status and revoking the fine came as a suprise.
"As far as we're concerned the case is closed, they owe us nothing," says Edit Body of the tax office.
Meszaros, who dons a head-dress of bull's' horns for some of his spells, says the ruling is just, even while acknowledging that some of his props -- including a pair of bird's claws, the skull, the stuffed raven on a perch -- are for effect only.
Asked about the tiny vials of clear liquid scattered on his desk, he admits chemists would have a hard time finding anything else but pure water or oil within. "It's the vibrations that count," he says.
Sessions start at 2,000 forints (dlrs 10) -- a lot for the average Hungarian -- but believers pay gladly.
"They fulfill a need for me that no established church can," said Zsuzsa, a blonde woman in her 20s who refused to give her full name or other personal details beyond saying she regularly consults witches on her love and professional lives. "They clearly should have the same rights as the other religions do."
[Copyright 1998, Associated Press]
Refuse to Go Home
July 17, 1998
Gambaga (Inter Press Service) -- More than 100 women, branded as "witches" by their communities, were recently set free from a camp where many have lived for most of their adult lives.
However, instead of stepping out and enjoying their new freedom, the women, ranging in age between 30 and 75, have refused to go home.
"We will not go anywhere. We are safe here," said Assana, who is more than 70 and is the leader of the women. She has been at the "witches" village in Gambaga for over 30 years after being chased out of her home village "for being responsible for the death of a child."
Assana came to Gambaga, because the Rana (chief) is reported to have powers to cleanse anybody with "such evil powers." "You can see I am not preventing any of them from leaving. I did not go for them. They came to seek refuge under my powers and I welcomed them," said Chief Gambagarana Wuni.
Gambaga has for over 100 years been a refuge for women declared witches by their communities in the northern regions of Ghana and in parts of neighboring Burkina Faso.
These women are accused of causing death, the impotence of their husbands, and some have even been blamed for outbreaks of diseases such as cholera, meningitis, measles, and tuberculosis.
To escape from being beaten to death by their communities -- a traditional form of punishment often meted out to women who are declared "witches" -- the women came to Gambaga on their own, or they are brought there by relatives.
During the Cerebral-Spinal Meningitis (CSM) outbreak two years ago, for example, five elderly women were beaten to death by youth who accused them of using witchcraft to cause the disease. This incident prompted President Jerry Rawlings to warn of dire consequences for perpetrators of "such barbaric acts."
Ghana's Deputy Minister of Employment and Social Welfare, Ama Benyiwa-Doe, has said that although the government can stop the practice of women being labelled as witches by law, "we want to use education and persuasion to end the practice."
Such traditional practices as only accusing women of witchcraft, she added, are an abuse of women's human rights.
Rights groups, like the International Federation of Women Lawyers, have also called for an end to the practice.
While the Ghanaian media has portrayed Gambagarana as a "super witch catcher who has the women under his spell and working in his fields", he has denied the accusations, and claims that he only "dewitches" the women. "I inherited this power from my father, who got it from his own father, who were all chiefs," Gambagarana Wuni said.
Chief Von Salifu, regional head of the Commission on Arts and Culture said there are many "witches" homes in northern Ghana.
Gambaga and Bimbilla, near the eastern border with Togo, are the two largest ones.
He adds that the women in Gambaga are not held against their will. "They sought refuge with him (the Chief) from all over the north, including Burkina Faso. That has been the tradition before Chief Wuni was born."
But he also said that Ghanaians "must guard against maltreating the weakest in society by declaring them witches or wizards."
Ghana's Presbyterian Church has worked for years with the women in the " witches" communes, teaching them income-generating activities like cotton spinning, soap and bead making. Many of them also sell firewood. Other churches, Anglican and Apostolic, among others, also provide clothing and food for the women.
According to members of the Presbyterian Church who work in the area, the women are free to move in Gambaga town and some of the younger women have even married men from the area. A church official, who declined to be named, said that the women are afraid to return to their communities, because people still hold grudges against them.
One woman, Aiyeshetu, who returned home from Gambaga, came back with one of her ears cut off. "She was told it was a warning.
"Next time she returns, the other ear will go off," said a church official.
"Because of this, the women are afraid ... We have to educate the people, increase the number of people in school, evangelize among them, so that they will know that diseases are not caused by witchcraft."
"The situation needs some kind of shuttle diplomacy. The people in the villages where the women came from must be convinced they are harmless, and the women must feel safe to return," said the church official. "We cannot use force or legislation and with God on our side, we shall get many of the women home safely."
Ghana's northern region has a literacy rate of only 10 percent, and officials admit publicly that the majority of the people still follow traditional practices and have little awareness of health and other issues.
Some of the women say they miss their families and would like to go back home, but the church official says, for now, this "is a delicate matter. You need a lot of patience and education on both sides. But the example of Aiyeshetu, is a big setback".
Emmanuel Arongo, the Anglican Bishop of Tamale (in the North), says the whole practice is "wrong, unjust and unfair" to women and must be stopped. But the Gambagarana say, "when they stop coming, I will stop giving them refuge."
[Copyright 1998, Inter Press Service]