Florida cops become cult “experts” regarding triple homicide (UPDATE: Wicca conflation)

Allegations of a witchcraft sacrifice during a full moon? This story is FULL of doubtful “facts” that propagate harmful myths.

A triple homicide in Florida is suspected to be a “Wiccan ritual killing” related to the “blue” moon, police said Tuesday.

The three victims, all from the same family, were found after a welfare check on Friday, July 31, said Escambia County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Andrew Hobbes.

“It appears that this might be connected to some type of Wiccan ritual killing and possibly tied to the blue moon,” Hobbes told NBC News.

Source: ‘Wiccan Ritual Killing’ Leaves Family of Three Dead in Pensacola: Police

Voncile Smith was 77. She died of blunt force trauma, possible from a claw hammer. Her two sons, Richard, 49, and John, 47, were also killed, John, in the same manner as his mother, and Richard, shot in the ear as he entered the house. All had their throats cut.

The media has JUMPED on the police comments about this being a ritual murder and put it into headlines, specifically, witchcraft and Wicca have been seemingly conflated and demonized. Wiccans do not sacrifice people or anything else living.

The victims were found on Friday. The second full moon of the month, the so called “blue moon,” occurred that night. They were killed about 3 days prior to this, sometime after 7PM on Tuesday it’s reported. The police clearly erred in their statement of the relation to the moon phase.

The police sergeant said that they are relating this to a ritual killing because of the injuries to the victims (hammer and slit throats) and the positions of the bodies. They also state “the person of interest right now is also a practitioner.” What does that mean? Is he a carpenter? Or a known psychopath? Because what religion calls for this? What sort of position were they in and how do they conclude “ritual killing” from that?

Who made the police experts in cult killings? Law enforcement officials have often jumped to erroneous conclusions regarding devil worshipping cults and other nefarious religious practices as the scapegoat for bizarre crimes. They’ve done it again.

While there are details left to be uncovered, the irresponsible and premature comments by police managed to mistakenly reinforce a moon myth deeper into the culture and wrongly insulted Wiccan followers. Even if they retracted or clarified their egregiously improper statements, the damage is done.

ADDITION: Hemant Mehta at Friendly Atheist talked to some actual experts on the Wicca connection. Check it out.

Scene of a gruesome crime

Scene of a gruesome crime.

Tip: Megan D. & Jeb Card

UPDATE: (6-Aug 2015) The local sheriff is dodging requests for explanation of the “ritual killing” link but they are attempting to backtrack. (It won’t work; they messed up.) And the Smith family is denying that the moon or the occult had anything to do with this. Wicca experts are speaking out about the ridiculous accusations as well.

This is the Sheriff’s quote from the statement from the press conference. He did not mention “Wicca” in particular, but witchcraft. (As I noted above, it somehow got conflated.)

Media: Sheriff, you mentioned that it might be some religious or spiritual tie to this. Can you give us a little more of an idea about that?

Well, again, the time of the blue moon every three years, the method of the murders and also our person of interest is known to practice this.

Media: Can you say what religion that is?

It’s witchcraft. I’ll say that right now. There are different factions of that. While it doesn’t bother me to release it being their being, most assuredly, you do not want to want to defame or demean any particular practices.

Therefore, it may have been a reporter that rolled this snowball into a bigger faux pas. Is the Sheriff suggesting that there had been a similar incident or threat last blue moon? Their person of interest is said to practice “witchcraft”. It is not at all clear what that means and we should hesitate to take the word of police in characterizing that. I do hope police spokespeople around the country have learned a lesson about talking to the media. Stop speculation. Stick to giving the facts.

  14 comments for “Florida cops become cult “experts” regarding triple homicide (UPDATE: Wicca conflation)

  1. August 5, 2015 at 9:10 AM

    This is disturbing. Of course, any time someone is murdered it’s disturbing, but for the police to publicly state it was a result of a Wiccan ceremony is downright terrifying.

    Wiccans usually maintain very low profiles because of this kind of ignorance, because some people tend to harm practitioners out of fear and hatred. This isn’t helping. And you’re right about any retraction the police might make – people cannot “unhear” or “unsee” the comments and no doubt it has reinforced a lot of wrong beliefs people already hold.

    They have a “person of interest”, but no one’s been arrested. I am reminded of the West Memphis 3 and really hope the police don’t jump the gun and blame someone for a murder he or she didn’t commit, based on their ignorance.

  2. Bob Blaskiewicz
    August 5, 2015 at 10:00 AM

    At least they are giving the supposed defendant a defense, that the cops are weird-ass bigots.

  3. Kerry B.
    August 5, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    Whatever books these cops are reading in their spare time, need to be confiscated. They should also be banned from the internet. Clearly both of these things are feeding their ignorant little brains.

  4. August 5, 2015 at 11:26 AM

    I suspect quite a bit of the world’s woes could be eliminated simply by people ceasing to try to accuse others of criminal acts in religious contexts. That might especially be the case when the accusers seem to know virtually nothing about the philosophies they’re attacking.

    If suspected criminals were found to have attended Christian church services at some point in their lives, would it be reasonable to conclude the crimes were committed as Christian rituals? The lack of basic understandings of behavior and mental illness, much less the lack of critical thinking, consistently demonstrated among authority figures (aka the po-po) could indeed be interpreted as concerning.

  5. August 5, 2015 at 11:28 AM

    Well, at least America has never let wacky moral panics result in people being imprisoned for decades despite any evidence.

    Oh, wait. Dammit. Here we go again.

  6. Eve
    August 5, 2015 at 2:04 PM

    “…[W]itchcraft and Wicca have been seemingly conflated. Wiccans do not sacrifice people.” Do non-Wiccan witches sacrifice people? I thought “witches” were more likely to be killed than to kill.

  7. spookyparadigm
    August 5, 2015 at 8:31 PM

    Given that a slice of American culture, likely the same slice informing the Sheriff’s statements, believes the Large Hadron Collider is an interdimensional gateway for opening up our world to influence by demonic entities, similar (but presumably far more difficult and expensive) to the Workings by Aleister Crowley and “Lam” or JPL co-founder and L Ron Hubbard buddy turned sucker Jack Parsons, which in turn is all controlled by a secret conspiracy that constantly screams its existence at us through rappers, all so that humanity can be enslaved in a cosmic battle in the future as sort of described on big rocks erected in Georgia 40 years ago and/or also found in important sources like a BBC April Fool’s joke, clouds, bags of polyhedral dice, scenes from the cartoon Thundercats, and video errors in poor-quality broadcast news interviews … your skepticism is irrelevant and likely serves Satanic masters.

  8. Sue Johnson
    August 5, 2015 at 10:18 PM

    It’s very disturbing to see this kind of news reporting again. We already know how cops become experts on satanic ritual abuse and cults: they attend seminars led by evangelical Christians. I have a certificate from one of these seminars myself, but you don’t have to believe me: go to your library and check out books on the Satanic Panic era by people like Debbie Nathan and Sherrill Mulherne. Delusional UFO contactees can be good clean fun, but delusional cops or news reporters who can’t tell the difference are downright dangerous — for everyone.

  9. Ben Radford
    August 6, 2015 at 2:51 PM

    Good piece, Sharon. I wrote up a more in-depth piece for Discovery News explaining how the police got it wrong, why witches were historically associated with Satan, and giving examples of previous cases where police mistakenly attributed witchcraft or Satanic rituals to ordinary crime scenes: http://news.discovery.com/history/religion/police-suggest-florida-killings-linked-to-witches-150806.htm

  10. August 6, 2015 at 3:03 PM

    Additional comment: I was sitting in my doctor’s office waiting room yesterday, and watched in horror as I read the news ticker scrolling under the local news broadcast “wiccan ritual cause of 3 deaths in Florida”. What irresponsible reporting!

  11. August 6, 2015 at 3:22 PM

    I don’t know why some people make a distinction between “witchcraft” and “Wiccan”, as there really isn’t any. Some will argue that Wicca is a more modern type of religion that was “created” (more or less) by Gerald Gardner, but this is (in my opinion) a way to separate different groups from one another – quite commonly to claim they are practicing the “true” religion (“witches”), or to sell classes in order to claim a certain level of expertise (“Gardnerian”). While the term “Wiccan” is modern, people who self-identify as “Wiccan” could be talking about anything from modern practices to what they think are “ancient rituals” to a kind of free-for-all invention of their own making.

    As with a lot of new-age thinking, there is a snobbery infused through much of it. This is possibly why, if you encounter someone who is “Wiccan”, or a “witch”, they most likely are sole practitioners and not a part of any movement, coven, or group. There is a lot of infighting, elitism, profit-making, and cultish behavior amongst some people like this, so much so that many practitioners/believers just do their thing alone, at home.

    And you probably would have to ask them directly, as only a few attention-seeking folks make it common knowledge what their belief system is. The reason for anonymity is the reaction of people like the police in Florida.

    But none of these folks ritualistically kill people, any more than Christians or any other religious people do.

  12. Bill T.
    August 6, 2015 at 4:46 PM

    If/when this connection is debunked, don’t expect a front-page retraction. It will be on page 15 of the least read section, again, if any.

  13. Eve
    August 7, 2015 at 12:59 AM

    “While the term “Wiccan” is modern….”

    It’s actually Old English. Properly speaking, “wiccan” is an inflected form of “wicca,” which is the masculine equivalent of “wicce” (witch). The masculine form is translated as “wizard, magician, soothsayer, astrologer.” What’s modern is the misuse of the word. If we’re going to persecute Wiccans, we should persecute them for their vicious mistreatment of Old English, not for imagined sacrifices.

  14. Marcus
    August 7, 2015 at 1:18 AM

    ‘Wiccan Ritual Killing’

    I feel that the authorities need to read our text books and in particular our REDE!
    any witch that I have had the pleasure of coming in contact with lives whole heartily by the wiccan REDE!

    And while the authorities have attended seminars to familiarize themselves with the cults they do not apparently attend any seminars or research any facts pertaining to Wicca.

    I hope that the damage that has been done to our name does not affect any of my fellow wiccan’s beliefs or dampen there spirits. Stand strong and proud brothers and sisters for we are united thru spirit.

    BLESSED BE!!!!!!!!

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