SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Odd and unexpected happenings have long been a hallmark of San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Park. The freak occurrence on February 8, 1981, however, proved to be a particularly heavy trip.
Police found the decapitated body of LeRoy Carter Jr., 29, wrapped in a sleeping bag, with a chicken wing and two corncobs stuffed into his open neck stump. The rest of the chicken, minus its head, lay dead about 150 feet away. Carter’s head was nowhere to be found.
Due to the cut being “very clean,” investigators believed a physically powerful assailant must have employed a razor-sharp ax or machete. The motive remained baffling.
Carter had been a petty criminal with the typical litany of arrests for someone who spends a lot of time on the street. Much more than a dust-up between vagrants that turned fatal, though, this looked to be a ritual slaughter.
Given the crime’s voodoo-esque trappings, local authorities called in law enforcement’s emerging expert on religious killings: Inspector Sandi Gallant.
Gallant, who worked in the SFPD’s Intelligence division, had recently gone deep into examining the 1979 People’s Temple Massacre in Guyana orchestrated by cult leader Jim Jones. Prior to the People’s Temple’s mass emigration, Jones and has disciples had been a mainstay of San Francisco. As a result, the cult’s mass suicide claimed the lives of former city residents.
Since her Jonestown immersion, Gallant voraciously studied another staple of Bay Area culture: occult practices and other expressions of exotic belief systems.
In analyzing the LeRoy Carter murder, Gallant initially said it appeared to bear the earmarks of Santeria, a Caribbean faith founded by slaves from West Africa’s Yoruba tribe.
Animal sacrifice figured into many Santeria rituals. At least one rite involved the removal of a human head and using the brain and other organs as ingredients in a witchcraft brew. Gallant theorized that just that fate had befallen LeRoy Carter.
While many among the police brass scoffed at such a notion, Gallant laid out what she believed had happened — and what would happen after the initial three weeks of the ritual. She stated:
“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 cauldron for another 21-day period. 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.”
On March 22, exactly 42 days after the murder, LeRoy Carter Jr.’s head turned up under a bush near the original crime scene.
Unfortunately, the SFPD didn’t take Gallant seriously enough to stake out the area that night, so the culprit remained — and remains — at large.
Although the murder of LeRoy Carter Jr. remains unsolved, it immeasurably boosted the credibility of Gallant’s understanding of ritual transgressions.
She later rethought her original guess of Santeria, however, and came to believe the Carter killing resulted from a rite of Palo Mayombe — a violent, African-rooted faith that combines Santeria, Aztec blood rites, Haitian-style voodoo, and full-blown devil-worship.
During the 1990s, Palo Mayombe came up again when Gallant correctly connected the faith to human sacrifices and other witchcraft killings by Mexican drug cults such as Los Narcos-Santanicos. A black magic sleuth’s work, clearly, would never be done.
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Main photo: Candlelight [Pixabay]