Many people assume that human sacrifice has long gone extinct. However, in our wide world, many cultures and communities do still deal with this shocking and most inhuman of practices. In particular, people will take the lives of other human beings to appease spiritual entities or gain supernatural power for themselves. Often, their actions result from a twisting of historical traditions, though there are several cases where people have brought back once-extinct practices of human sacrifice. Although their actions are beyond reprehensible, rooting out such practices requires a better understanding of the reasons and contexts undergirding them.
The following cases of human sacrifice prove that the innate brutality of human nature cannot be so easily left in the past.
1. Sacrifice of Albinos
Albinos in the Great Lakes region of Africa and Tanzania face discrimination and violence including human sacrifice from their fellow society members. Although over 200,000 Tanzanians bear this otherwise rare genetic condition, people commonly believe that this impaired pigmentation is a divine punishment that makes albinos less than human. Witch doctors then encourage people to ostracize them for bringing bad luck, only to cut off their body parts for making powerful talismans or muti. In 2007 alone, there were over 70 documented killings, not to mention infanticides. While restrictions were raised in 2015, albinos are still hunted and killed throughout sub-Saharan Africa, and a complete set of arms, legs, ears, and genitals will fetch US $75,000 on the black market.
In September 2001, the remains of a Nigerian child were discovered in the Thames River in London. Investigators named him “Adam,” but all that was found was his mutilated torso clad in orange shorts. Not only were his head and limbs missing, but his body had been completely drained of blood. Experts were able to determine that he had been around 5 years old and had only been in the UK for a few days. On his last day on Earth, Adam had been sedated and paralyzed before having his throat ritualistically slit. Adam had seemingly been sacrificed in a muti ritual for creating potions, after which his skull would be used as a ritual chalice. Eventually, his former sitter came forward and identified the child as Patrick Erhabor of Benin City, the birthplace of voodoo, but his parents were nowhere to be found.
3. Elyse Pahler
In 1996, missing 15-year-old Elyse Pahler of Arroyo Grande, California was discovered 8 months after her disappearance in a eucalyptus grove near her home. 16-year-old Royce Casey confessed to raping and murdering her, with 14-year-old Joseph Fiorelli and 16-year-old Jacob Delashmutt. With Fiorelli as their leader, the three had planned the murder for months before taking Pahler to the grove to smoke marijuana. Once there, they assaulted her with a belt and stabbed her to death in the belief that sacrificing the girl to Satan would bring their band glory. The teens also had sex with her corpse several times over the following weeks. While the trial focused on Satanic elements and metal band Slayer, Delashmutt and several judges pointed to Fiorelli’s sadistic obsession with Pahler. To this day, all three teens are serving 25 years to life for the crime.
4. Amelia Espinoza
In another misguided case of imitation Satanism, in 2011, 18-year-old Moises Meraz-Espinoza participated in the murder of his mother, 42-year-old California resident Amelia Espinoza. According to Moises, he and two other people strangled and skinned his mother, removing her organs and cutting up her corpse with a circular saw. Afterwards, Moises spoke to a cousin who convinced him to admit his role in the murder. Upon arrival at their apartment, authorities found a trail of blood leading into a plastic-covered bathroom. They also discovered slices of flesh in the freezer and Amelia’s mutilated head in a backpack with the teeth and eyes removed, along with upside-down crosses carved on the bone. Supposedly, a “Satanic bible” was found with instructions and the date of his mother’s death as a day of sacrifice. Moises Espinoza was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
5. Monu Kumar
The state of Uttar Pradesh in India has faced a rash of human sacrifices instigated by sadistic tantric priests in the last decade. While tantric mysticism is largely respectable, certain adherents seek salvation by shattering cultural taboos. In particular, they often encourage blood rituals, which are otherwise avoided but were traditionally used to combat ghosts and witches. For example, in 2003, 6-year-old Monu Kumar of Dehri was kidnapped and ritualistically murdered by his neighbors, Madan and Murti Simaru. The couple had a daughter but were desperate for a son to take care of the family, so they had visited a tantric guru. The traveling priest told the couple to sacrifice a child by a river, and so, together with Murti’s brother, the group chanted mantras while mutilating and killing the boy near a canal, ending with Madan bathing in the boy’s blood for fertility. All three, along with the tantric priest, were arrested and are serving time for the murder.
6. Aakash Singh
As part of the same rash of murders in Uttar Pradesh, three-year-old Aakash Singh was attacked by his neighbors in the village of Barha in 2006. In particular, 43-year-old Sumitra Bushan and her two sons kidnapped and sacrificed the boy to the goddess Kali. Their family had had a string of bad luck, with the father’s sudden departure and all three facing servitude in the sugarcane fields. To top it all off, they began having nightmares of an enraged Kali. Sumitra visited a tantric priest who instructed her to sacrifice a chicken, but the visions continued. The priest then told her to sacrifice a boy, and she and her sons took Aakash, covered him in sandalwood paste and ghee, and performed a puja ceremony before cutting his nose, ears, and hands, leaving him to bleed out for Kali. After his body was discovered in the sewer, villagers came for the brothers, who confessed, and all three were jailed.
7. Halley’s Comet
In one of the least well-documented examples of human sacrifice in history, the Oklahoma City Times ran a front page story in 1910 about Jane Warfield in 1810. The author describes how this nineteen-year-old farm girl from Aline, Oklahoma was kidnapped by Henry Heinman, a cult leader convinced that Halley’s Comet was about to strike the Earth. Hienman believed that sacrificing Warfield would atone for the world’s sins and so avoid the Earth’s imminent destruction. So, he stripped the girl naked and tied her to a pole, while his followers danced around it. At the last moment, a posse organized by the Woods County sheriff intervened, and Heinman was arrested and jailed. Historians point out various inconsistencies in the story, but Halley’s Comet was commonly seen as a bad omen at the time, so, while a bit far-fetched, the story may indeed be true.
As much as we like to believe in civil society, humans have the potential for evil no matter how advanced our civilization becomes. Each of the above examples shows that the same instincts and behaviors that make us wince about our ancestors are still very much possible in our modern world. In some case, like in Tanzania, brutality and murder are the norm, with a strong black market for the body parts of our fellow human beings. We would each do well to remember novelist Greg Iles’ words: “The Terrible Truth is that brutality is part of human nature, and all the laws in the world cannot neuter it.”
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