Murders and violence carried out in the name of the occult are often some of the most grisly and disturbing cases in crime history. True crime writer Michael Newton has estimated that around 8 percent of serial killers in America were motivated by a fascination with the occult or Satan and this obsession typically manifested in ritualistic acts of violence. While some of the following killers acted alone, others were part of a sect or group who were drawn together by the occult or supposed allegiances with the devil.
10. The Murder of Troy LaFerrara
Miranda Barbour and her husband Elytte celebrated their three-week wedding anniversary by contacting a man on Craigslist and brutally murdering him in the back of a car. Miranda met victim Troy LaFerrara under the pretense that he was going to pay her $100 for sex, but she and her husband were secretly planning to commit a ‘thrill kill’ together. After his body was found, police traced LaFerrara’s call history to Miranda who initially claimed self-defense before changing her plea to premeditated murder. During her trial Miranda claimed that he she had killed 22 other people in Alaska, Texas North Carolina and California. She said that she joined a satanic cult at the age of 13 in the small Alaskan town she grew up in and went on a cross-country killing spree. Miranda claimed she only killed people who deserved it and her devotion to Satanism kept her murderous feelings in check. The FBI and local authorities investigated her claims but found no evidence that she had murdered before (although she did boast that they wouldn’t find corpses, only “body parts”). The couple avoided the death penalty and received life imprisonment without parole.
9. Beasts of Satan
The Beasts of Satan were a group of young men from Italy who committed three horrific ritualistic murders over a period of six years. The friend’s obsession with the occult came from their interest in the death metal music scene and this was said to have played an important role in the killings. In 1998, young couple Chiara Marino and Fabio Tollis were attacked and stabbed to death by their friends Andrea Volpe, Nicola Sapone and Mario Maccione. The pair were buried in the woods under a full moon and Volpe was said to have manically laughed as he danced on their makeshift grave. Fabio Tollis’ father became obsessed with the disappearance of his son, not believing that he had simply eloped with his young girlfriend. He became convinced that Satanism played a role when he discovered that Chiari, who it is believed was targeted for death because she bore a resemblance to the Virgin Mary, had a collection of satanic literature and paraphernalia. Tollis investigated his son’s friends and the music scene for six years and brought his evidence to police in 2004 after he read about the murder of Mariangela Pezzotta. Volpe had been arrested for shooting Pezzotta, his former girlfriend, and burying her alive. Police were able to connect Volpe and his accomplices to the previous double homicide and they, along with several other members of his ‘sect’, were all tried on murder and conspiracy charges.
8. Larry Eyler
Between March 1982 and May 1984, Larry Eyler targeted and brutally murdered more than 20 victims across five states in the United States midwest. Cruising around late night districts, gay bars and small-town pubs, Eyler targeted young men and mutilated them before discarding their corpses in remote rural locations or at the side of highways. Many of these brutal killings displayed bizarre ritualistic actions. Some victims were found with their shoes and stockings replaced with white tube socks and some corpses were found dismembered or bloodily disembowelled. In October 1983 four victims were found buried inside a barn under drawings on the rafters of a pentagram and an inverted cross. The investigation against Eyler was a mess – he was arrested and let go without being charged and was under police surveillance from September 1983 but still continued to kill – and after he was sentenced to death he claimed to show repentance. Eyler attempted to avoid his execution sentence by naming an accomplice (who was later found not guilty) and confessing to unsolved murders in five counties, but he died on death row in 1994.
7. Thomas Eugene Creech
Thomas Eugene Creech was convicted of a double homicide in 1975, but he later confessed that he had killed or acted as an accomplice to the murder of at least 40 other victims across 13 states. Denying the original murders that he was actually convicted for, Creech claimed that he belonging to a Satanic cult of bikers who had ordered him to kill in the name of Lucifer. Creech apparently admitted to attending Black Mass rituals with this cult and murdered his victims as a form of human sacrifice. Investigators were able to link Creech to at least nine other murders in Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, California and Wyoming, although some of his other claims – including directions to alleged Satanic ritual sites – were dismissed on grounds of unreliable evidence. Creech received the death penalty for his original crimes but this sentence was changed to life imprisonment. However, he later received the death penalty again when he was found guilty of murdering a fellow inmate in prison.
6. The Murder of Elyse Pahler
The murder of 15 year old Elyse Pahler sparked more public opposition to the ‘evils’ of heavy metal music. During the late 80s/early 90s, heavy metal icons Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne were sued in high-profile cases for allegedly promoting suicidal urges in their songs. In 1996, Pahler’s corpse was found in a clearing near her California home. Royce Casey, 16, had confessed to police that he and two friends, Joseph Fiorella, 14, and Jacob Delashmutt, 16, had murdered Pahler in July 1995. On the night of her death, Pahler had been lured to the spot by the three young men to smoke marijuana. When she arrived she was choked, slashed and stabbed more than a dozen times with a hunting knife and then stamped on her neck. Afterwards, the men returned to the spot and had sex with her corpse. Casey had come forward because he converted to Christianity and he told police that he and his former cohorts referred to themselves as “Children of Satan”. They had killed Pahler as a “sacrifice to the devil” so that their heavy metal band had the required “craziness” to go professional. Pahler’s parents filed a lawsuit in 1996 claiming that the lyrics of heavy metal band Slayer had inspired the three murderers and given them a violent creed to follow. The lawsuit was dismissed in two separate cases with neither judge finding Slayer’s music to be harmful to minors.
5. Adolfo Constanzo
Adolfo Constanzo was involved with the occult from an early age. Under his mother’s guidance and encouragement, Constanzo studied Haitian voodoo rituals as a teenager and started an apprenticeship with a local sorcerer who practiced Palo – a religion originating from the African Congo which is said to be associated with black magic rituals. He and his mother were involved in petty crime, allegedly so that they could perform rituals which would “profit from evil.” By the time he had finished high school he believed he had psychic powers. He moved to Mexico City and soon made a name for himself casting spells and rituals for powerful gangsters, drug dealers and hitmen which he claimed bestowed them with good luck and even invincibility from harm. Costanzo’s client base grew and by the mid-80s he had aligned himself with many powerful cartels and high-ranking officials. Constanzo believed that old human bones dug up from graveyards were no longer enough to feed into his cauldron and that he needed human sacrifices to continue his work. At least 20 ritual murders in Mexico City during this period are believed to be attributed to Costanzo and his growing cult. His lust for power grew and after he was denied a partnership in the lucrative Calzada crime syndicate, Costanzo is believed to have tortured, mutilated and killed seven members of the family. In 1988, Costanzo and his cult moved to a considerable-sized ranch out in the desert and became more involved in the narcotics business by carrying out ritualistic murders and torture on rival gangs and storing huge quantities of drugs. However, he and his disciples carried out a fatal error when they bludgeoned an American tourist to death as the Mexican police received international pressure to find his killers. Mexican police discovered the cult in March 1989. The ranch was raided and police found the remains of fifteen mutilated corpses as well as a cauldron containing human parts. Constanzo had managed to flee to the city with four of his disciples, but when police caught up to them a firefight ensured. Realising he could not escape and refusing to be arrested for his crimes, Constanzo was killed by one of his own disciples after he asked him to shoot him.
4. The Ripper Crew
The Ripper Crew were a group of four young men who carried out a string of disturbing mutilations on young female victims in Chicago between 1981 and 1982. The group believed that they were a Satanic cult and drove around together in a van looking for victims to abduct and torture. Believed to have been responsible for the disappearances of at least 18 women, the Ripper Crew brought the women back to their ‘satanic chapel’ and would often remove one of their victim’s breasts with either garrotte wire or a knife before raping and brutally murdering them. The severed breasts were kept in a box and the crew ate parts of the flesh as a ritualistic “communion” offering. The group were eventually apprehended by the police and cooperated in revealing the details of their crimes. One member, Andrew Kokoraleis, was executed by lethal injection in 1999 while the others still remain in prison.
3. Russian Goth Murders
In August 2008, the bodies of 4 missing Russian teens were found in a remote woodland area in the city of Yaroslavl. The four victims, aged between 15 and 19, had been hacked into pieces and burned in a pit. Reports stated that they had each been stabbed 666 times, some had their hearts and scalped removed and some of their charred remains had been eaten. The gruesome spot had been marked with an upside-down crucifix with a dead cat nailed to it. The police investigation revealed that the grisly crime had been committed by a group of eight Satanists who were following a ringleader called Nikolai Ogolobyak. They were apparently friends with their ‘goth’ victims. Two years before the murder, the group had headed to a graveyard and dug up a freshly buried corpse. They dismembered the corpse and ate pieces of its heart. After he was arrested, Ogolobyak was said to have shown no remorse and even remarked “Satan will help me to avoid responsibility, I made lots of sacrifices to him”.
2. Richard Ramirez
Serial killer and rapist Richard Ramirez was dubbed the ‘Night Stalker’ by the media for his shocking and disturbing spree of home invasion crimes. Between April 10, 1984 and August 24, 1985, Ramirez carried out a shocking crime spree across California which resulted in 13 counts of murder, 5 counts of attempted murder, 11 counts of sexual assault and 14 counts of burglary. The majority of Ramirez’s crimes involved him breaking into random homes late at night, tying up the occupiers (usually killing the male partner first), ransacking the house and then repeatedly raping the female victim. He left some of his victims alive after the vicious attacks while others were either shot or bludgeoned to death with a machete or blunt object. Ramirez mutilated some of his victims post-mortem (he gouged the eyes out of one of his elderly female victims and left with them in a jewelry box) and at some crime scenes he left behind bizarre pentagrams scrawled on the bodies of his victims or on the walls. Surviving victims also reported that he asked them to “swear to Satan” that they weren’t lying about where their valuables were hidden. Ramirez was finally caught on August 30, 1985 following a police manhunt and was completely unrepentant for his crimes. He announced that he was an avowed Satanist (during his first court appearance he had a pentagram drawn on his hand and said “Hail Satan”) and served his crimes as a minion of the devil. Ramirez received the death sentence but died of complications from lymphoma in 2013 after spending 23 years on death row.
1. David Berkowitz
David Berkowitz terrorised New York City between 1976 and 1977 with a spate of shootings which left six dead and seven wounded. Berkowitz’s first attack occurred in December 1975 when he attacked two women with a hunting knife, but he soon changed his modus operandi by targeting couples, who were usually sat in cars, and shooting them with a 44. caliber revolver. Although the shootings seemed to be random and erratic, most of his female victims had long dark hair and he used the same gun in every crime. However, despite receiving descriptions of Berkowitz from some of his surviving victims, police were unable to draw a pattern between his early attacks because they had occurred in different neighborhoods and boroughs across New York City and unreliable ballistic evidence was left behind at most of the crime scenes. It wasn’t until Berkowitz broke his pattern in March 1977 with the murder of 19 year old student Virginia Voskerichian that police linked the attacks together. With a death toll of 3, Berkowitz was dubbed the “44. Caliber Killer”, but this all changed when he shot and killed a couple in April and left behind a bizarre handwritten letter where he referred to himself as the “Son of Sam” and made many references to the devil. Another bizarre letter was sent to the police in May and it was widely circulated by the media. Two more shootings occurred, killing one victim, before police finally caught Berkowitz after linking his vehicle to the most recent crime. The walls of Berkowitz’s apartment were covered in satanic graffiti and during interrogation he said that his neighbor’s dog was possessed by a demon and had been commanding him to kill. He claimed to have joined a Satanic cult in 1975 and he told police that “’twenty two disciples of hell” were living in New York and had acted as accomplices to his crimes. Berkowitz became a born-again Christian in prison, referring to himself as the “Son of Hope”, but it’s unlikely that he will even receive parole.