Against Satanic Panics > Recent scaremongers > Dawn Perlmutter > "Forensics of sacrifice"
Comments on Dawn Perlmutter's Fall 2003 paper
"The Forensics of Sacrifice: A Symbolic Analysis of Ritualistic Crime"
by Diane Vera
Copyright © 2006 by Diane Vera. All rights reserved.
In the fall of 2003, two years after her paper on "The Religious Practices of Modern Satanists and Terrorists" (reviewed by me here), Dawn Perlmutter got another paper published in the online academic journal Anthropoetics, on The Forensics of Sacrifice: A Symbolic Analysis of Ritualistic Crime.
Her 2003 paper begins:
Ritual murder includes a wide variety of both sacred and secular acts committed by groups and individuals and is most often attributed to practitioners of occult ideologies such as Satanism, Palo Mayombe, Santeria, and other magical traditions, or to serial killers and sexual sadists who ritually murder their victims. Due to many legal, practical, and ethical controversies the study of contemporary religious violence is in its infancy. There have been no serious empirical studies of ritualistic crimes or classifications that adequately distinguish between ritual homicides committed for sacred versus secular motivations. In the law enforcement community, the investigation and analysis of ritual murder is viewed from a behavioral science perspective derived from methodologies in the fields of psychology, criminology, and forensic science. Problems arising from investigating ritualistic crimes are generally beyond most investigators’ typical experience.
Why are they "generally beyond most investigators' typical experience"? Perhaps because "homicides committed for sacred purposes" are, in reality, extremely rare, at least here in the modern West?
Due to the lack of standardized categories, law enforcement professionals cannot agree on the extent of ritualistic crime, the types of crimes committed by individuals and religious groups, or the motives of the perpetrators. Hence, ritual violence is not often recognized, reported, or investigated accurately. Furthermore, academic research on the subject of occult religions typically situates them within the discipline of new religious movements, which is fraught with controversy. Scholars hold vehement debates concerning the credibility of accusations of violence, the validity of research, and the degree of authority that government and law enforcement agencies should assert with respect to new religious movements.
These "vehement debates" seem to be Dawn Perlmutter's way of explaining away any and all aspersions anyone may cast upon her claimed expertise. As we'll see below, she uses "differences of perspective" as an excuse to avoid looking at facts and evidence.
As we've seen in her paper on "Satanists and Terrorists," and as we'll see further below, Dawn Perlmutter does not appear to have what it would take to be able to do any truly "serious empirical studies of ritualistic crimes or classifications that adequately distinguish between ritual homicides committed for sacred versus secular motivations." She has an exceeding great bias in the direction of seeing "sacred violence" everywhere, especially in subcultures she disapproves of.
In the next paragraph, she claims a desire to "to protect the religious freedoms of members of alternative religions while assisting law enforcement professionals in the investigation of ritualistic crimes." If these were truly her aims, she would pay a lot more attention to facts and evidence than she does. As of the time she wrote this paper, it does not appear that she has delved much at all into the "recovered memory" debate or other controversies surrounding both the "Satanic ritual abuse" scare and the larger child sex abuse panic of the 1980's and early 1990's. (See my pages on "Satanism" scares and their debunking: A brief introduction and The "Satanic Ritual Abuse" scare (and the larger child sex abuse panic) of the 1980's and early 1990's.) In none of her online papers does she utter even a single word about the controversial methods of both some psychotherapists and some child-protection social workers during the 1980's and early 1990's. Nor does she even mention any other issues pertaining to the validity of the evidence on which lots of people were convicted. Instead, as we'll see later, she just breezily dismisses the skeptics as being too "Western" and "rational."
She also writes:
To introduce the problem I will summarize occult religions and their magical theologies, and describe the types of ritual practices that are illegal and designated as occult crimes. This will be illustrated by examples from a variety of recent cases. The problem will be clarified by describing current methods of criminal profiling and showing how they are intrinsically flawed when applied to ritualistic crimes. I will argue that to understand the nature of contemporary acts of sacrifice it is necessary to suspend Western values, paradigms, and rational thought processes and examine sacrifice from the standpoint of the phenomenology of religious experience and the magical ideology of the practitioner.
She wants us to "suspend ... rational thought processes" - including an insistence that she present evidence for her claims about Satanism, and that alleged criminals should be considered innocent until proven guilty?
Anyhow, if there's good reason to believe that a given crime has been committed for religious or magical purposes, and if the crime has the hallmarks of a genuine, known religious tradition, then it is indeed reasonable to examine it "from the standpoint of religious experience and the magical ideology of the practitioner." One does not need to "suspend rational thought processes" in order to see that this might be a reasonable approach in at least some cases. But let's see how she tries to apply this idea to Satanism.
After her five-paragraph introduction, we come to "Part 1: Occult Ideologies," in which she says:
Some groups will post only the positive side of their theologies on the Internet and introduce practitioners to more violent rituals only after they have reached a certain level of initiation.
Which groups is she talking about, and how does she know about what these groups do offline? She doesn't say.
A few are bold enough to proudly flaunt their violent rituals on-line, for example a Satanic religion called the Order of the Nine Angles has a guide to human sacrifice on their web site.
As in her paper on "Satanists and Terrorists," Perlmutter again never even considers the possibility that the ONA might not be for real. Given the ONA's opinion that Satanists ought to get involved in neo-Nazism as well as murder, one would think that the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center would be very worried about the ONA, if indeed it were a real organization with a genuinely long history.
Her "Forensics of sacrifice" paper then has a section on "Syncretic beliefs," including Santeria, Voodoo, and Palo Mayombe. Not being an expert on those religions, I can't really comment on how accurately she has described them. I would be very interested to see comments from knowledgeable people.
Next comes a brief paragraph on Satanism, in which she mostly just refers us to her "Satanists and Terrorists" article. It would seem that she didn't do much further study of Satanism between 2001 and 2003. Or, at least, she apparently didn't do enough further study to unlearn any of the many erroneous conclusions she jumped to back in 2001.
Next comes a much longer section on the Vampire scene. Perlmutter claims that "Vampirism, the most recent manifestation of the occult, has led to many crimes, ranging from vandalism to murder." I've responded to her claims about the Vampire scene on a separate page, Comments on Dawn Perlmutter's claims about various "dark" subcultures (Goth, Vampire, Fetish, BDSM, Body Art).
Part 1 concludes with a brief paragraph on Neo-Paganism, in which she says:
Neo-Pagan principles do not entail illegal activities and, significantly, "Witches" as they refer to themselves, do not engage in animal sacrifice or other blood rituals. Since there are so many different neo-pagan groups and their philosophies do not entail violent rituals it would go beyond the scope of this article to even briefly describe all of their philosophies.
That's true of most forms of Neo-Paganism. It's certainly true of Wicca and its offshoots. However, there are some Pagan Reconstructionists (those who aim to revive an actual ancient European or Middle-Eastern religion) who do practice animal sacrifice.
In "Part 2: Ritualistic Crimes," let's skip down to the third paragraph:
Graffiti is frequently related to occult crime. While a small amount of graffiti is related to other occult groups, the vast majority is directly related to involvement in Satanism. Nearly all instances of Satanic-related graffiti are committed by juveniles and young adults, most of whom are dabbling in the occult.
For some reason, she doesn't want to consider the possibility that Satanic graffiti might in many cases be just a juvenile prank. Later in this section, we'll see her dismiss that possibility on the mere grounds that its proponents have an allegedly flawed "standard behavioral science approach."
Earlier, she asked us to consider allegedly religiously-motivated crimes "from the standpoint of religious experience and the magical ideology of the practitioner." But she doesn't bother to tell us the alleged religious motivations for Satanic graffiti. Apparently she just assumes that it must be related to actual "involvement in Satanism," and that it couldn't possibly just mean that some kids enjoy shocking the grownups.
Occult related arson is also almost always attributed to Satanists, especially juveniles and young adults. Among the most common places for juveniles to commit arson are churches and synagogues in which particularly holy sections or artifacts are burned, and houses or buildings where damaging evidence could be uncovered by investigators. It is important to note that the motivations behind the arson of churches and synagogues can also be attributed to hate crimes.
"Occult related arson" is not "common," period. There have been, unfortunately, some very well-publicized cases of young people who have burned churches in the name of Satan. But this activity is hardly commonplace.
Occult related suicide appears to be the primary domain of juveniles and young adults involved in Satanism and is a major concern among many criminal justice practitioners and therapists.
She doesn't say where she gets her information on this. And what is "occult related suicide," anyway? Any suicide by a person who happens also to have an interest in the occult? Or does she mean suicide out of a belief that one will thereby liberate one's soul travel freely on the astral plane, or something?
She then brings up "Satanic ritual abuse," a topic which she acknowledges to be "controversial" - but she never really examines the reasons why it's "controversial." Nowhere does she consider the history of the 1980's child sex abuse panic, of which the SRA scare was just one part. She just says:
There are many scholars who argue that occult crime does not exist and that allegations can be attributed to witch hunts, satanic panics, and false memories. Occult crime debates are essentially theoretical disputes based on the perspective of the person interpreting the violence. When viewed from the standard behavioral science approach, crimes are the result of deviant behavior and are frequently attributed to teenage pranks, sadists, or gangs. When viewed from the perspective of the belief system of the perpetrator, they are ritualistic crimes and attributed to occult beliefs. Because of conflicting theoretical perspectives, the degree and prevalence of such crimes are unknown.
No, the debates about "Satanic ritual abuse" (where false memories were an issue) were not just "theoretical disputes based on the perspective of the person interpreting the violence" - unless a key part of Perlmutter's "perspective" happens to be disregard of such questions as the credibility of alleged evidence that the crime even occurred in the first place, let alone that the alleged perpetrators are guilty. Perlmutter does indeed habitually disregard such questions.
Next is a section on "Animal sacrifice." First she talks about animal sacrifice in Santeria, Voodoo, and Palo Mayombe, plus a number of relevant court cases.
She then goes on to say:
Although animal sacrifice for Santeria and Voodoo is disturbing to persons unfamiliar with these practices, it pales in comparison to animal sacrifice that occurs for particular Satanic and Vampire religions. In syncretic religions animals are sacrificed by either quickly slitting their throats or by snapping their necks; at worst, the heads of pigeons or other birds may be bitten off by the Priest. However, in Satanism animals are slowly tortured and heinously mutilated. In most occult traditions blood is believed to consist of life force energy. For Satanic and Vampire religions bloodletting or imbibing blood from a victim represents the assimilation of raw power. The longer an animal is tortured and the pain is prolonged, the more life energy/power is emitted. Ritual torture is viewed as a powerful form of magic that releases energy that can be directed by the perpetrator and used for specific goals. A basic magical principle is that intense emotion releases energy; in nonviolent groups such as neo-paganism this emotional energy is achieved through sexual magic and in traditional Satanism it is achieved through pain.
Nowhere does Perlmutter substantiate her claim about ritual torture, for magical purposes, as supposedly practiced both by Satanists and by people in the Vampire scene.
For information on "Satanic black magic and the subsequent theological justification for animal and human sacrifice," Perlmutter than refers us to the web page Ritual Sacrifice, a chapter in the online E-book Satanism: An Examination of Satanic Black Magic by Paul Elvidge.
Elvidge makes the same mistake as Perlmutter in assuming that the Order of the Nine Angles is a genuine and serious organization with a genuine generations-old tradition. However, even if we assume for the sake of argument that the ONA is for real, Elvidge's book does not support Perlmutter's claims about the alleged extreme cruelty of Satanic sacrifice. The ONA literature does NOT advocate torture of the sacrificial victim.
Incidentally, the ONA literature also does NOT support 1980's-style "Satanic ritual abuse" claims either. As Elvidge correctly observes, the ONA "would be more inclined to sacrifice the child abuser than the child."
Next is a long paragraph on cat killings. Alas, there do exist some very disturbed folks, mainly teenagers, who kill cats in the name of Satan. However, the alleged frequency of this sort of thing has been greatly exaggerated. (See Legend: Black cats are routinely sacrificed by "satanic cults" at Halloween on the Urban Legends Reference Pages.)
At least Perlmutter admits that at least one well-publicized rash of cat killings turned out to be the work of animal predators. Not so regarding "cattle mutilations," to which she then devotes several paragraphs.
She claims, "There have also been numerous incidents of cows and horses that have been ritually mutilated; it is much more difficult to attribute their deaths to animal predators." She admits that there has been quite a bit of controversy about cattle mutilations, but she does not state her reasons for concluding that many cows and horses have been "ritually mutilated," contrary to the studies which have shown that animal predators are the most likely cause of most "cattle mutilations." She talks about a few cases involving animals with mutilated sex organs, as if that in itself were evidence that the perpetrators must be human, when in fact sex organs are among the soft tissues that animal predators would normally go for. (See cattle "mutilation" in the Skeptic's Dictionary, plus other pages linked at the bottom of that page.)
Regarding an incident involving horse mutiliations, she says:
A retired police officer was convinced that the attacks on horses were a twisted form of Wicca which consequently provoked the Wiccan community and the Pagan Federation to get involved and offer their assistance to solve the mystery. They immediately asserted that there is nothing involving horses in any of the old or new Pagan spell books. Interestingly, in the practice of Santeria a common ritual item is called an iruke, a scepter made from a horses tail, but it would be highly unlikely that Santeria practitioners would be attacking animals in this fashion and iruke are not used in the manner described. The description of the types of mutilations, stone altars, burning of hair, and symbols of the double headed axe are indicative of satanic rituals.
Since when was the double-headed ax a Satanic symbol? Where on Earth did Perlmutter pick up that idea? Perhaps from one of the long-discredited 1980's "occult crime experts" who claimed that even the peace symbol was Satanic?
The double-headed ax, as a religious symbol in the modern West, is most commonly used by feminist Goddess-worshipers, not by Satanists. My point is not that the mutilations were committed by feminist Goddess-worshipers either, just that the conclusion that they were committed by Satanists is completely groundless. Apparently Perlmutter assumes that (1) any animal death that looks even vaguely like it might have been a ritual killing probably was a ritual killing, and that (2) if it can't be blamed on any other religious group, then it must have been done by Satanists.
We now come to a section on "ritual homicide." Perlmutter writes:
The following cases of ritual murders are described in the context of the perpetrator’s belief system. Arguments that these crimes were actually the result of disturbed, dysfunctional, or disenfranchised individuals are the result of Western behavioral scientific theories which marginalize the offenders as deviants or "others." This perspective hinders the investigation, prosecution, and prevention of ritualistic crimes and frankly only serves to help its proponents sleep better at night. Understanding the religious beliefs of the perpetrators is essential to analyzing ritualistic crime.
The above is true only if indeed there's good reason to believe that a given particular crime was motivated largely or primarily by a belief system and not by psychopathology.
She then goes on to describe four cases involving kids who killed people in the name of Satan, and then a few cases involving kids in the Vampire scene. But she admits that the culprits in all these cases were "dabblers."
One should not give dabblers equal status with serious, committed, and knowledgeable adherents of a religion. The motives of a dabbler are unlikely to be based purely or primarily on religious beliefs. Furthermore, why would a young person choose to dabble in a self-destructive "religion" which the kid has stitched together from horror movies plus Christian anti-Satanist propaganda plus sensationalistic media coverage of "Satanic crime"? Obviously there must be something seriously wrong with this kid. And one need not have a strictly "Western behavioral" perspective in order to see that.
Perlmutter then goes on to say:
Another important distinction when investigating ritualistic crimes is the difference between motives of true believers and "true criminals." True believers are religious practitioners who commit crimes because such acts fit into and/or are required by their particular belief system. These persons are involved in crime primarily because the ideology, rituals, and tenets of their beliefs require them to do so. True criminals are persons who use the occult as an excuse to justify or rationalize their criminal behavior. They are committed not to the belief system but to the criminal action.
She then talks about Richard Ramirez as an example of a "true criminal."
After that, she talks about two cases involving murderers she deems to have been "true believers": (1) the 1989 Matamoros murders, which she says occurred in the context of Palo Mayombe, and (2) the fall 2001 Thames River case, which the London police believe to have been a muti murder as practiced on the fringes of some traditional African traditions. (For more information about the Thames River case, see my collection of links about The infamous 2001 murder of "Adam" in the U.K. on my page about Human sacrifice today.)
Regarding the Matamoros murders, Perlmutter says:
Unfortunately, in the brief decade since this group was discovered, many scholars have published articles refusing to acknowledge the ritual murders as human sacrifice and relegate the deaths to a form of sadism. "Matamoros, many scholars of Afro-Caribbean belief systems assert, was an aberration involving an especially deviant personality who used his involvement with and knowledge of Palo Mayombe for his own economic, criminal, and psychological needs. To these scholars, Constanzo was yet another true criminal involved in spiritual ritualism. Others believe that Mark Kilroy was a human sacrifice murdered because Constanzos’ true belief in Palo Mayombe required his death; for these adherents, what happened in Matamoros could and does happen across the nation."(26) It is difficult, even for well educated, good intentioned persons, to recognize religious violence for what it is. Although it may be easier to comprehend brutal crimes as a form of psychopathology or as a method of achieving one’s goals, to conduct a comprehensive investigation, these murders must be viewed in the context of the belief system they were perpetrated in. The crime scene had all the symbolism associated with Palo Mayombe a nganga complete with human skull, sticks and blood, a ritual machete, and an assortment of ritual artifacts specific to this practice. Most significantly Adolfo was a true believer who conducted ritual sacrifices for their magical benefits.
What Adolfo Constanzo practiced was a deviant form of Palo Mayombe. Typically, Palo Mayombe involves animal sacrifice, not human sacrifice. And, as Perlmutter herself observed earlier, in the syncretic African diaspora religions - including Palo Mayombe - animal sacrifice is typically performed in a relatively humane manner, whereas Costanzo tortured his victims.
Perlmutter then goes on to say:
The interpretation of the aforementioned ritualistic crimes obviously depends on one’s theoretical and theological perspectives. From a psychological viewpoint, violent rituals are all forms of psychopathology regardless of their religious intent because the discipline of psychology is based on Western secular scientific traditions. From an extreme fundamentalist perspective, a dualistic worldview that separates the world into good versus evil, all occult practices inclusive of nonviolent beliefs are indicative of Satanism regardless of individual traditions. From a sociological perspective, ritualistic crimes are a form of social deviance shaped by environmental factors. Ironically, the only people who seem to recognize ritualistic crime as a religious rite in the belief of specific traditions are the practitioners themselves, and their opinions are invalidated because they have been designated as psychopaths.
Not so. Again she's using "difference of perspective" as an excuse to evade questions about the actual facts of a given alleged case.
As far as I am aware, not many people have trouble believing that the 2001 Thames River case may have been a muti murder. We can't be absolutely sure, since the perpetrator was never caught. But there was indeed some good evidence for the muti murder hypothesis, including traces of a specific African herb that was found in the victim's intestines.
On the other hand, in the Matamoros case, the evidence shows that Costanzo indulged in gratuitous cruelty that is clearly not justified by Palo Mayombe tradition, even if our understanding of Palo Mayombe is limited to Perlmutter's own summary of Palo Mayombe beliefs earlier on this same paper.
We now come to "Part 3: Symbolic Analysis." Perlmutter writes:
Current psychological profiling methodologies based on preconceived categories of personality and behavioral characteristics of the offender are intrinsically flawed when applied to ritualistic crimes. Psychological typologies are fundamentally based on Western scientific values, paradigms, and methodologies, which are often contrary to non-Western, non-scientific, religious explanations for events. Hence a profiling system that focuses on significant aspects of religious experience and phenomenology is needed to assist the investigator in shifting his frame of reference from a Western rational perspective to a magical religious perspective by providing suggestions for interpreting evidence based on knowledge of alternative religious ideologies, rituals, and values. Additionally, it is needed so that alternative religions that practice legal albeit unfamiliar rituals are not stigmatized as criminal.
Here, she claims to be concerned "that alternative religions that practice legal albeit unfamiliar rituals are not stigmatized as criminal." Her professed concern rings very hollow, given her sloppiness when talking about Satanism and various other subcultures (see my Comments on Dawn Perlmutter's claims about various "dark" subcultures), and given her tendency to see "ritual violence" in situations where its presence is at best highly questionable, cavalierly dismissing any and all skepticism about the guilt of alleged perpetrators as being just too "Western" and "rational."
Perlmutter explains, further:
Symbolic analysis is based on the premise that the single most relevant factor in determining motive, method of operation, victimology, and forensics of the crime is the sacred (holy) meaning held by the offender. Although the crime scene characteristics may resemble actions typical of sexual, personal-cause, or group-cause homicide, as described in the FBI’s crime classification system, in symbolic analysis the primary motive is found in the offender’s need to ritually express his perception of the sacred.
The FBI’s crime classification typology refers to ritualistic motives and methods of operation as the signature aspect or calling card of the crime. Another term the FBI uses for the signature aspect is "personation," defined as
Unusual behavior by an offender, beyond that necessary to commit the crime. The offender invests intimate meaning into the crime scene (e.g., by body positioning, mutilation, items removed or left, or other symbolic gestures involving the crime scene). Only the offender knows the meaning of these acts. When a serial offender demonstrates repetitive ritualistic behavior from crime to crime, it is called the signature. The signature aspect of a crime is simply repetitive personation. (John Douglas, Ann Burgess, Allen Burgess and Robert Ressler, Crime Classification Manual, a standard system for investigating and classifying violent crimes, (San Francisco, CA : Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1992) 251)
Ritualistic crimes by their very nature involve personation. The premise that only the offender knows the meaning of his ritualistic acts is based on a behavioral approach that does not recognize unfamiliar religious rituals. If an investigator is aware of alternative religious practices it is very possible that he will comprehend the meaning of the offender’s ritual acts. Interpreting the signature aspect of a crime is precisely where symbolic analysis departs from behavioral analysis. Although the FBI’s category of the signature aspect of a crime is useful in distinguishing ritualistic crimes from nonritualistic crimes, it is not specific enough to distinguish between types of ritualistic crimes. A symbolic analysis approach would distinguish between types of ritualistic crimes through the identification of the religion, rites, and intent of the offender(s) based on symbolic evidence, the sacred context of objects, ritualized behavior, and forensic findings at crime scenes.
Fair enough, if indeed a given crime scene really does have the hallmarks of human sacrifice as practiced in a genuine, known tradition involving human sacrifice, as is the case with muti murders.
On the other hand, there simply isn't any good evidence of the existence of a Satanist tradition involving ritual murder. Perlmutter has not produced even a single example of a murder committed by a Satanist "true believer" who was not a dabbler. And, given the inherent eclectism of dabblers, the symbolic meaning of the "signature" of a dabbler's crimes would indeed be known only by the offender.
The best Perlmutter could do, by way of trying to produce evidence of a Satanist tradition of ritual murder, was to cite the ONA literature. But, even if there now do exist some people who are genuinely following the ONA teachings in their entirety, an ONA-style "human culling" would be indistinguishable from a lynching; it would not take place in a ritual setting. Hence the ONA literature would not be very useful for purposes of "symbolic analysis" of a crime scene. More significant would be the perpetrator's involvement in neo-Nazism or some other extreme right wing movement.
The last section, "The Forensics of Sacrifice" just discusses some general considerations, without application to specific cases or specific religions. I find nothing to criticize here; my problems are not with the general idea of "symbolic analysis" but with Perlmutter's tendency to vastly over-apply it.
Earlier, at the end of her paragraph about the 2001 Thames case, she wrote:
In addition to the previous examples of ritual murder, the following websites list numerous other incidents: Human sacrifice in the U.S. (http://www.rense.com/ufo6/HUMSAC.htm) and Satanism and Ritual Abuse archive (http://www.newsmakingnews.com/karencuriojonesarchive.htm).
The second of the above two pages is maintained by Diana Napolis, a.k.a. Karen Curio Jones, about whom see the following:
- Ritual Abuse, by Rogue Therapists on the blog "Secular Blasphemy"
- A web of intrigue: The search for Curio leads cybersleuths down a twisted path by Mark Sauer, September 24, 2000
- Woman Charged With Stalking Actress Sent To State Hospital: Judge Rules Suspect Not Competent To Stand Trial - NBC San Diego, March 10, 2003
Both of the two pages referenced by Perlmutter contain a smattering of cases, all described too briefly for any conclusions to be drawn. About most of the crimes, we're not told enough to draw any reasonable conclusions as to whether the alleged perpetrators are innocent or guilty of the alleged crimes, let alone what their actual motives might have been. In some cases, notably some of the alleged child abuse cases described on Karen Curio Jones's page, we're not told enough to draw any reasonable conclusions as to whether the alleged crimes even occurred in the first place, given the overly zealous practices of many child protection agencies in the 1980's and early 1990's.
One of the murder cases mentioned on both pages is that of Damien Wayne Echols, Charles Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Lloyd Misskelley, Jr., whom many people believe are innocent. (See my collection of links about The "West Memphis Three" case.) Many people believe that these kids were railroaded because of Damien Echols's interest in the occult. I have to wonder whether this might also be true in some of the other alleged cases on the two pages Permutter has referred us to.
And that's the big danger of any attempt to apply "symbolic analysis" to Satanism. Given the lack of evidence for even the existence of any genuine Satanist tradition of human sacrifice or other ritual crime, let alone any genuine scholarly study of said hypothetical tradition, what would constitute evidence that a given murder was a "Satanic sacrifice"? A pentagram carved on the body? A "666" scrawled somewhere in the vicinity? Candle wax? All these things could be easily faked by a perpetrator with no interest in Satanism other than as a means of throwing investigators off the trail, and with no knowledge of Satanism other than what one might have seen in a horror movie - or in a TV appearance by the likes of Dawn Perlmutter. Therefore, any attempt to apply "symbolic analysis" to Satanism isn't likely to produce very many useful forensic insights and is far more likely to result in the conviction of innocent people who just happen to have had at least a passing interest in Satanism.