Task Force Study of Ritual Crime

Cultic Studies Journal, Volume 8, Number 1, 1991, pages 191-250

Task Force Study of Ritual Crime

Michael P. Maddox

Virginia State Crime Commission


The very general and amorphous overtones that discussions of cults frequently assume present a particularly perplexing problem for the criminal justice field. Because these discussions are typically pervaded by extreme emotion, a rational response to allegations of cult, or ritual, crime becomes difficult. This predicament is exacerbated by the ignorance surrounding the occult. While attempting to be sensitive to the diverse viewpoints on ritual crime, this report offers an empirical basis for evaluating the level of such activity, as well as an objective attempt to clarify some of the conflicting issues inherent in claims of this nature.

During the 1990 session of the Virginia legislature, Delegate Robert Tata sponsored House Joint Resolution No. 147 (HJR 147) directing the Virginia State Crime Commission to "study certain cult practices" and to (1) focus its study on those cults in Virginia that emphasize or promote their members' participation in dangerous, antisocial, or criminal activities as a part of their practices; (2) determine, to the extent possible, the prevalence of such cults and their recruitment and ritualistic practices; (3) identify risk factors associated with youth involvement in such groups; (4) confer with law enforcement agencies throughout the Commonwealth regarding the reports and documentation of occult activity, ritualistic crimes, and whether such acts involved youth; (5) inventory school divisions to determine the nature and magnitude of the problem and the perspectives of school administrators concerning how such problems should be managed; (6) assess the final impact of vandalism and destruction of public property due to such acts; (7) review the efforts of other states to prevent and control such cults and resulting criminal activity; (8) recommend appropriate ways in which the Commonwealth might respond to such activity to protect public property and safety while protecting the Constitutional rights of its citizenry; and (9) limit its study to such related matters as the Commission may deem appropriate.

The resolution called for creation of a task force consisting of 13 members, reporting directly to the Crime Commission, in order to fulfill the requirements of HJR 147. In addition to members drawn from the ranks of the Commission, the task force was to be comprised of one member each from the House of Delegates and from the Senate, and four citizen members.

Established by Section 9-125 of the Code of Virginia, the Crime Commission's legislative mandate is "to study, report, and make recommendations on all areas of public safety and protection." Section 9-127 of the Code of Virginia provides that "the Commission shall have the duty and power to make such studies and gather information in order to accomplish its purpose, as set forth in section 9-125, and to formulate its recommendations to the Governor and the General Assembly." Section 9-134 of the Code of Virginia authorizes the Commission to "conduct private and public hearings, and to designate a member of the Commission to preside over such hearings."

Pursuant to HJR 147, the Crime Commission established a task force and proceeded with this study per the authorization and direction of such resolution.

Executive Summary

House Joint Resolution 147 (HJR 147) directed the Crime Commission to establish a task force in order to study certain cult practices that represent a danger to citizens of the Commonwealth and to determine the prevalence of such practices, the risk factors that induce youth's participation in this activity, the fiscal cost resulting from property damage, and the means of addressing these concerns.

Following expert testimony regarding the scope of issues relating to the occult and cult practices, the task force determined that parameters to this study must be carefully drawn and objectives narrowly focused. Particularly prominent was concern about potential conflicts with constitutional rights to free association and exercise of religion.

To eradicate confusion and properly identify the subject matter of this study, the task force defined the focus to be that criminal behavior which is derived from or motivated by a specific spiritual belief system and the practices or ceremonies with which it is associated. Such behavior is regarded as "ritual crime" or "ritualistic crime" for the purposes of this study.

Controversy about ritual crime, both in terms of its prevalence and its nature, is rampant. Much of the debate can be traced to the careless or inaccurate use of terminology. Inappropriate identification of and reference to groups and belief systems, as well as inexact descriptions of what constitutes ritual crime, inevitably cloud this debate and make more difficult an objective investigation into the actual incidence of occult-related crime.

A statewide survey of all law enforcement agencies and school divisions, and geographically representative samples of social service departments and licensed mental health practitioners in Virginia produced comprehensive data about the incidence of ritual crime in the Commonwealth. Follow-up interviews confirmed that most incidents which could be linked to belief systems involved minor property crimes. The results make clear the difficulty in establishing causal connections between the reported cases and spiritual belief systems.

Claims regarding incidents of ritual crime suffer in many cases from a lack of adequate evidence. While this is attributed by some to the effective disposal of evidence by cult members, it is clear also that indicia of unconventional belief systems are often speciously linked to ritual crime.

The research evidenced a distinct schism between the types of reports from mental health therapists and other interviewees. While schools, law enforcement agencies, and social service workers pointed to specific cases of crime, therapists tended to provide more general accounts of ritual crime which they derived from their clients and which were frequently years or decades old.

This contrast between law enforcement and mental health extends also to the goals of the respective groups. Therapists' focus is on treatment issues rather than the prevention and enforcement of crime. Response to ritual crime therefore by necessity differs for these two segments of the population and recognition of this fact is important both in interpreting data and in making recommendations for action.

Based upon survey results, testimony, and intensive research, the task force made the following findings:

  • Misconceptions about ritual crime are pervasive.

  • Evidence is insufficient to establish the existence of any major conspiracy or organized criminal network based upon an occult or spiritual belief system.

  • Unpopular belief systems are erroneously associated with criminal behavior.

  • Criminal activity that might reasonably by associated with belief systems consists primarily of minor property crimes and is committed largely by "dabblers."

  • Existing criminal statutes in Virginia are adequate to address dangerous conduct that may result from participation in unconventional belief systems.

  • The ritual crime phenomenon has its greatest overt impact in the field of mental health.

As a result of and in accordance with these findings the task force made the following recommendations:

  • That the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services develop a model curriculum addressing ritual crime for Virginia's law enforcement officers.

  • That the Crime Commission's continued research on youth gangs be tracked and reviewed for findings and ultimate recommendations.

  • That the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services coordinate research efforts relating to the ramifications of ritual abuse in the mental health field.

  • That law enforcement personnel act in cooperation with appropriate agencies in the investigation and prosecution of claims involving ritual abuse of persons.

  • That school personnel and social service workers be provided objective and accurate information on ritual crime.

  • That the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services establish a definitional standard and review development of a separate reporting category for ritual crime.

Study Design

The subject matter of HJR 147 being of a broad and amorphous nature, the methodology necessary for fulfillment of the resolution's mandate was by necessity incremental. Prior to specific investigation into particular activity the task force required establishment of definitional terms and an understanding of the allegations surrounding cults and the occult in order to determine the study's parameters and have a context for relating certain activity to study objectives. Consequently, an initial research project into the issues surrounding occult- and cult-related crime was instigated.

This research was initiated by reference to a vast array of literature addressing the occult generally, numerous specific groups, allegations of ritual crime, and discussion and analysis of these issues. The project was both guided and augmented by interviews and correspondence with individuals who are schooled in and have gained substantial exposure to this area of study and concern. As the work of the task force progressed, further literature was amassed while the focus of the research was properly narrowed and honed.

Upon establishment of study parameters, three statewide surveys of law enforcement agencies, school divisions, and licensed mental health practitioners, respectively, were distributed. These surveys requested information relating to the respondent's awareness of ritual crime activity, its prevalence, the nature of such activity, responses to such activity, and opinions as to legislative or other action which should be taken to address the activity, based on the respondent's respective area of expertise. A subsequent statewide survey of juvenile detention facilities and regional and local social service agencies was also made, seeking similar information and emphasizing treatment concerns.

Selected respondents from these surveys were interviewed personally and by telephone. Additionally, the field for interviews was expanded to include counselors in public school systems. The purpose of such interviews was to confirm information obtained through surveys, provide greater detail and analysis of such information, and permit an update of the information.

The task force requested and received the public testimony of experts who had engaged in extensive research directly related to this area of study and heard testimony from other interested parties who chose to appear before the task force. The task force received further confidential information relating to investigations or alleged criminal conduct from numerous persons in private hearing pursuant to Section 9-134 of the Code of Virginia.

Throughout the course of the study, consultation with interested parties and with academicians and professionals was maintained. Reliance was made upon organizations at the local, state, and national level that research and respond to ritualistic crime. Additionally, training seminars, workshops, and similar meetings dealing with ritualistic crime and related issues were reviewed. While such programs provided an expanded base of information about alleged ritualistic activities and options for responding to such activity, they also offered an opportunity to gauge the perceptions and knowledge of those who lecture, teach, and attend these meetings.

Literature Review

Because the Crime Commission's investigation into ritualistic crime necessitated a broad familiarity with the subject as a whole, initial stages focused heavily on the review of literature dealing with the occult, cults, and ritualistic practices arising from spiritual belief systems (particularly unconventional beliefs). The research dealt with four broad categories of interest:

1. Various spiritual belief systems and their historical bases.

2. Sources purporting to substantiate specific cases of dangerous ritualistic activities, or otherwise reporting allegations of such activity.

3. Scholarly works describing unconventional belief systems, analyzing ritualistic practices or consequences of such practices, or proffering solutions to adverse consequences arising from these belief systems.

4. Formal studies seeking to quantify the existence of a problem with ritualistic behavior, to identify the nature or causes of such problem, or to propose alternatives for responding to the adverse effects of ritualistic crime.

The initial research objective involved definitional concerns. In order to properly differentiate between various belief systems it was necessary to gain some understanding of their goals and philosophies. To ascertain the scope of ritual crime an examination of the numerous allegations was required.

This understanding also provided the basis for evaluation of claims regarding specific groups engaged in ritualistic practices. Ultimately, the sources helped to identify both the causes of ritual crime and approaches for response to it. As the study progressed, subject matter was narrowed considerably to focus on current research efforts, recent accounts of ritualistic abuses, and other newly published materials.

A list of references is appended to this report. While not exhaustive, this reference list includes those sources cited most often, as well as those the task force found to be most credible and relevant to this study. Inclusion of a particular source does not represent an endorsement by this task force of the work or its author.

Definitional Issues

Too often literature, or speakers, dealing with the subject of ritual abuse, "deviant" religious practices, and criminal acts motivated by nontraditional belief systems utilize language that is insufficiently defined, and perhaps in some cases deliberately vague, to refer to their subject matter. Such terms as "occult," "cult," "cultism," "satanic," and "ritualistic" are regularly used by therapists, law enforcement officers, and others who speak or write about the aforementioned activities.

Two distinct problems arise from this usage. Identification of certain activities by reference to one or another of these terms is often made without defining the term in question. The connotation is left to the subjective perception or imagination of the listener. Further, many different and diverse beliefs and practices are grouped into a single category, and referenced with one or more of these titles. Both tendencies exacerbate and perpetuate the confusion and debate that necessarily pervade subject matter as controversial as this. The terms used to describe these various activities possess distinct meanings and should not be used interchangeably. Additionally, the activities themselves are not inherently related and reference to them as such makes quantification and analysis impossible.

This ubiquitous ambiguity necessitated of the task force that it define both the subject matter to which it would devote itself and the terminology to be used in this study. While the term "ritual crime" is used by many in conflicting fashion, it was adopted for the purposes of this study with a specific and limited definition. Thus, throughout the course of the study and within this report, "ritual crime" and "ritualistic crime" have been used to connote the criminal behavior that is derived from or motivated by a specific spiritual belief system and the practices or ceremonies with which it is associated. Dangerous activities associated with these practices that are not presently prohibited by criminal law have been referred to as "ritualistic" behavior.

In this context, the fact that commission of a crime involves some ritual or rituals does not in itself make it a "ritual crime." The use by some individual of a modus operandi in commission of a criminal act would not cause such act to fall under the purview of this study. Only if these acts are driven by, or are the result of, a spiritual belief system does "ritual crime" apply as such term is employed by this task force. In no way is this definition meant to represent universal application of the phrase. Rather, it provides the reader with a clear notion of the task force's reference point in the study of this subject.

Other terms are applied in their more traditional fashion, unless accompanied by specific explanation. Where "cult" is used in this report the term assumes the common definition of a group engaged in an unorthodox system or community of religious worship. The occult may refer to anything of a supernatural nature. While Satanism is of the occult, it is merely one of many such supernatural belief systems. The use of this various terminology is not directed at a specific group or belief system, nor does it necessarily carry with it connotations of criminal conduct. To avoid undue inferences, occult or cult activity of a criminal nature is explicitly referenced as such.

Substantive Issues Addressed

The task force assumed a sweeping responsibility in attempting to address this relatively unexplored area of criminal justice. Concerns relating to ritual crime manifest themselves not only in law enforcement and in the courts but also in schools and in the mental health community. In seeking to examine and respond to these concerns the task force endeavored to determine:

1. The prevalence of ritual crime in the Commonwealth.

2. The prevalence of other dangerous ritualistic activity that may not presently constitute a crime.

3. The geographic concentration of such activity.

4. The nature of such activity; whether it is associated with violent crime, crimes against property, or other crimes, and to what degree.

5. The nature of other states' experiences with ritual crime, both in terms of the extent of such activity and the means by which such states address it.

6. Whether existing criminal statutes adequately address adverse ritual activity in the Commonwealth.

7. Whether measures beyond the criminal code need be employed to address adverse effects of ritual activity in the Commonwealth.

Background Discussion

The topic of ritualistic crime ignites strong sentiment on all sides of the issue. The controversy is only heightened by the fact that many allegations of pernicious activity involve ideas and concepts which, for some people, constitute deeply held religious beliefs. As a result, both the investigation by the task force and the production of this report required carefully crafted guidelines and objectives. In order to pursue an effective investigation into conduct that may represent a real danger to the citizens of this Commonwealth, to seek out remedies for individuals who suffer from participation in or consequences of dangerous ritualistic practices, and to preserve the rights of all persons, the task force defined and limited its investigation to practices that legitimately fall within the purview of the state.

In researching this topic the task force was not interested in representing a particular viewpoint. Rather, the goal was to make a comprehensive but objective determination as to the prevalence of ritualistic crime in Virginia and assess alternative means for addressing whatever problem was ultimately found to exist.

While written works dealing with mystical practices, ritualistic abuse, unpopular religions, and allegations of various related criminal endeavors abound, relatively few credible studies have been conducted on the nature and prevalence of these phenomena. Statistics regarding the frequency of ritualistic activities proliferate, yet sound bases for these numbers are rarely offered. A fundamental, yet common, problem is the failure to sufficiently identify the topic of discussion.

The occult is an umbrella term for supernatural or mystical beliefs and practices. To the degree that conventional religions rely upon nonphysical entities and conviction by faith over reason they share this umbrella. This does not mean that all supernatural belief systems are equal, or that they represent comparable value systems. In fact "occultism" is generally referred to in the context of unconventional systems of belief. It is important, however, not to confuse unconventional beliefs with illegal practices. The latter is the primary focus of this report.

Those who write or lecture about ritual crime frequently do not make the distinction between criminal acts and noncriminal practices involving occult or ritualistic elements. Rather, the discussion focuses on participation in belief systems that are deemed aberrant and viewed as potentially leading to dangerous or illegal conduct. Consequently, many spiritual belief systems are grouped together and subsequently treated with a single point of reference. Though these belief systems often have very disparate goals, values, and practices they are treated in comparable fashion.

Some belief systems most often cited as falling into this group include witchcraft or wicca, Satanism, santeria, voodoo, palo mayombe, as well as other neopagan and syncretic religions. The treatment of believers or practitioners of these faiths as somehow comparable immediately confuses the discussion of ritual crime. Most do not belong to a major unified organization and are not represented by a single entity.

Thus belief systems will differ dramatically even among individuals who claim to adhere to a specific religion. This is particularly true of the more generic titles. The Satanism cloak, for example, is cast over practices and beliefs that are utterly unrelated. Depending upon one's point of reference, origins, values, and goals of two so-called satanic religions may contrast completely. "Satanism" has now been adopted by many as a term of reference for various individuals or groups espousing beliefs in magic, witchcraft, or any of the other belief systems mentioned above. Such application is inaccurate and unproductive. Further, the identification of these groups (or the members thereof) as inherently criminal is a fallacy that will not be perpetuated here. A sweeping generalization regarding unpopular or unconventional belief systems is neither an accurate portrayal nor an effective method for assessing perpetration of ritual crime. Consequently, this report will not examine these many individual belief systems in-depth (please note, however, that the appended reference list will direct interested parties to other sources that do so). Rather, focus will be directed toward criminal activity that may be traceable to particular ritual practices.

A broadly used classification scheme has evolved that places adherents of these belief systems into one of four distinct categories. The categories are:

1. Dabblers: Those who exhibit superficial, and usually transitory, interest in a belief system but have neither developed a significant understanding of it nor become substantially committed to it. Alternatively, the dabbler may exhibit superficial interest in the occult generally (as opposed to a single belief system).

2. Self-stylists: Those who exhibit a greater degree of interest in one or more belief systems but have generally not developed a significant knowledge and understanding of the respective systems. Individuals who fall into this category develop personal belief systems encompassing elements of multiple religions, embellished with their own ideas and concepts.

3. Religious Traditionalists: Members of an established church or religion that is legally recognized and does not formally advocate criminal activities.

4. "Cult" Members: Those who adhere to an established belief system and belong to an organization that advocates and encourages certain criminal activities. By necessity their practices are typically covert.

Depending upon the particular advocate the category title may differ, though these are the most popular. The accompanying characteristics also may deviate somewhat from one speaker to the next. Again, the definitions provided here approximate those most frequently offered. Persons being characterized in this manner may not fit exclusively into a single category or may cross lines from one to another. For example, dabblers, due to their relative ignorance and lack of commitment, often assume the characteristics of a self-stylist. Nevertheless, a self-stylist is generally regarded as more involved and more dangerous than a dabbler. In fact, some authorities contend that the self-stylist is the most dangerous of the four types because he is wholly unpredictable and may exploit selective elements of various belief systems as justification for violent or criminal conduct. An extreme example of this archetype is viewed by some as possessing severe personality problems and mental instability.

The religious traditionalists are labeled as such by virtue of their reliance upon an established religion. Members of this group may or may not belong to a recognized church. They will, however, possess a reasonable level of knowledge about, and commitment to, a given belief system. In either case, their practices are legitimate insofar as they decline to advocate illegal activities. Some authorities on ritual crime contend that members of apparently legitimate religious organizations actually engage in covert criminal conduct contrary to the stated position, but with the sanction, of their church.

This scheme of categorizing individuals has a number of drawbacks, not least of which is the implicit delegitimization of any organization placed in the third category (the mere mention of a given belief system in this context tends to lend to it a negative connotation). The focus is not on ritual crime per se, but on the belief system. Still, it is used so pervasively in discussions of ritual crime that it demands mention and may actually provide a useful means of differentiating levels of involvement in ritual crime.

Important to note, however, is the tendency by some to brand particular religious beliefs as inherently unhealthy. Participation, to whatever degree, in unconventional or minority belief systems is viewed by many as an undesirable event in itself. The mere interest in spiritual beliefs that are not associated with accepted religious norms, particularly in youth, is presumed to lead to dangerous or criminal behavior. Frequently evidence of interest in an unconventional belief system provokes parents or other concerned parties to assert the existence of a causal relationship between delinquent acts and the belief system itself, where none has been established.

Various activities that may not even indicate an interest in the occult are also sometimes cited as engendering unhealthy beliefs or thought patterns. Among these are certain musical groups and fantasy or role-playing games. Popular music may contain lyrics that mention occult subjects but which young people enjoy simply for its entertainment value. Likewise, participation in fantasy games (as with any game) most often represents a form of entertainment and nothing more. The few credible studies addressed to research of this topic have failed to point out a causal link between music or games and illegal practices.

Allegations Regarding Ritual Crime

As already noted, substantial controversy surrounds claims of ritual crime. Contentions concern not only the prevalence of ritual crime but also conceptual frameworks for viewing the topic. The very nature of ritual crime is at issue, spawning disparate and divergent viewpoints as to the existence and intentions of movements and organizations implicated in such activity. It is necessary therefore to identify some of the perspectives that predominate this debate.

At one end of the spectrum are those who conclude that ritual crime, in essence, does not exist. Subscribers to this view hold that spiritual motivations generally do not drive criminal conduct and that only isolated incidents of such crime actually occur. They suggest that alleged incidents either did not transpire at all or are susceptible to alternative (more viable) explanations, and that victims of ritual crime are mistaken in their beliefs, misled into false beliefs, or deliberately fabricate stories for their own purposes.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who recognize the existence of a broad-based organization, or multiple organizations, engaged in habitual acts of crime (violent or otherwise) premised on tenets of a given belief system. Adherents of this position point to statements of numerous persons across the North American continent claiming personal knowledge of ritual crime. Most often these individuals claim to be victims of powerful cult groups. The lack of physical evidence of ritual crimes is explained by the effectiveness of these groups in destroying or concealing such evidence. Cited crimes include fraud, kidnapping, torture, and murder (often in the form of sacrifice), as well as habitual acts of physical abuse. The perpetration of such acts would constitute a massive criminal conspiracy that is pursued not for the sake of money but in the interest of spiritual fulfillment.

Nevertheless, there are some who maintain that the existence of this criminal network is actually motivated by a quest for power and that the spiritual belief system is a subterfuge employed to ensure the continued allegiance of participants and the silence of victims. Often the allegations indicate multigenerational participation in these cults by family members.

The third group might be identified as objective observers, or persons who initiate their research without a personal position or interest. These are frequently academics whose goal is to determine the verifiability of claims and the veracity of witnesses, as well as the causes, effects, and relationships associated with the phenomenon of ritual crime. Sociologists and mental health researchers populate this group. Also falling into the group, however, are criminal justice and other governmental or public interest entities. Members of this group recognize reason for concern regarding ritual crime simply because allegations are so widespread and therefore demand examination.

Unlike members of the first two groups, members of the latter do not possess a uniform position on the prevalence of ritual crime. Depending upon the focus of study, such a determination may not even be an issue. The orientation is on the belief in existence of ritual crime as much as validation of that belief. It is fair to say, however, that both of the extreme positions are frequently rejected as unsubstantiated.

Finally, there are those who perceive a threat from unconventional belief systems based upon the clash that those beliefs and values represent to their own religious views. Insofar as purely spiritual bases for these objections are proffered, this group resides outside the focus of this study. The task force takes no position on the preference of one religion over another, or on the legitimacy of religious beliefs or practices except where they encourage behavior that represents a threat to the rights or safety of society or the safety of the practitioner.

Numerous advocates across the United States and Canada have offered various perspectives on ritual crime, based upon their particular objectives in examining this subject. Most can be placed in one of the general groups described above. This task force initiated its investigation with the posture of an objective observer. The study focused upon the specific issues outlined in this report; and the methodology adopted by the task force, described earlier, was developed in response to these issues.

Surveys, Interviews, and Testimony


In an attempt to quantify and document actual cases of ritual crime in Virginia a broad-based survey of the Commonwealth was conducted. This consisted initially of statewide surveys to three separate segments of the population: law enforcement agencies, public school systems, and licensed practitioners within the various disciplines of the mental health field.

All 174 chiefs of police, 87 law enforcement sheriffs, and 145 school district officials in Virginia received a copy of the survey. Additionally, a random sample of 155 licensed mental health practitioners in Virginia, representing all geographical areas of the Commonwealth, was polled. The questionnaires were designed to elicit information relating to the number of reports of ritual activity, the type of activity, the number of participants or perpetrators, the manner in which reports were addressed, and other information concerning the respondent's knowledge of, experience with, and concern about ritual crime. Jurisdictions were broken down into regions, utilizing the classification maintained by Virginia State Police.

Through compilation of responses to these surveys the task force hoped to provide reliable data for determining the prevalence of ritual crime, in contrast to the widely varying, and typically anecdotal, reports that are so pervasive. That said, a caveat must be interjected. Schools and law enforcement agencies do not generally maintain discrete records of ritualistic crime. Therapists represent only their clientele rather than a specific geographical portion of the general population. Nevertheless, respondents generally exhibited excellent understanding of the information sought by the survey and provided effective responses. Subsequent follow-up interviews further clarified and confirmed the data.

Of the 561 surveys distributed, 361 were returned (see Appendix A for compilation of survey data), representing a response rate of 65%. School divisions returned 135 surveys, which means that over 90% of the state's schools are represented. The sheriff's and police departments returned over 60% of the 250 law enforcement surveys. Mental health professionals returned approximately 30% of the 150 surveys mailed to them.

Of all law enforcement agencies responding to the survey, 57% reported no incidents of ritual crime during the past year. However, approximately the same number reported some incidence of ritual crime during the most recent five-year period. No reports of ritual crime during the entire reporting period had come to the attention of 43% of the respondents. A mere 10% of school divisions reported any incidence of activity that might be associated with ritualistic involvement during the past year, while fewer than 20% indicated such activity during the preceding five years. Twenty-five percent of the mental health practitioners indicated that during the past year clients had been involved in ritual activity, and just over 33% of the respondents indicated clients had been so involved during the past five years.

While approximately 40% of law enforcement agencies reported some incidence of ritual crime in their jurisdiction during the past year, the vast majority of these indicated that the number of incidents was fewer than five (53 reported this category, compared to 18 for all other categories combined). Additionally, over 65% of these reports of ritual crime were said to have an unclear association with occult or ritual practices or, alternatively, could have another explanation.

Figure 1

Incidence of ritual activity

(See Appendix)

The types of ritual crimes most often reported involved graffiti, vandalism, and trespassing. Crimes against persons were far less frequently reported. Such crimes typically involved sexual and physical abuse. Reports of homicide were extremely rare.

Though relatively few school jurisdictions reported any student behavioral problems that they associated with occult involvement, data from those that did report such activity closely paralleled responses from law enforcement agencies. However, fully 84% of the perpetrators fell into a category of "alleged perpetrators," while only 6% were adjudicated as such (the others were categorized as victims).

Among mental health professionals who reported clients involved in ritual activity, a greater percentage of incidents were said to involve violent crime. As with other surveys, physical assault and sexual assault were by far the most frequent violent crimes. Also consistent with findings of the other surveys was the percentage of property crimes related to offenses of vandalism, graffiti, and trespassing. (Such crimes, again, represented a disproportionate share of the offenses.)

Figure 2

Ritual crimes against persons

(See Appendix)

Figure 3

Other ritual crimes

(See Appendix)

Questionnaires were also distributed to juvenile detention facilities and to local and regional social service departments. Responses from juvenile detention centers invariably indicated the lack of any significant activity. The survey of social service departments, while requesting information about the level of activity, was focused primarily upon the response taken and suggestions about means of addressing ritual crime, eliciting written responses not susceptible to quantification. Consequently responses from these surveys were not compiled for numerical analysis.

Many of the respondents to the social services questionnaire indicated that they had encountered youth expressing some interest in the occult. However, most of these respondents stated that only one or two such cases had come to their attention. Furthermore they suggested that frequently this interest was not associated with ritual crime. When such an association was alleged, animal mutilation was often cited and physical assault of persons was occasionally reported.

Despite the limited ritual crime involvement evidenced by these responses, a number of those answering the questionnaire suggested that the most effective aid for social service workers would be information on evaluating and treating youth who were involved in dangerous occult practices.


The high response rate, as well as the detailed nature of the information provided, was indicative of significant and useful data. To further clarify and verify these data, a number of selected respondents were interviewed via telephone and in person. Geographic locations with high population density and areas that reported significant activity were the primary targets of such interviews. Typically they were one and the same. Though respondents who indicated little or no ritual crime in their jurisdictions were also interviewed, relatively fewer of them were chosen.

As might be expected, interviewees reiterated responses they had provided on surveys, but the bases for these positions were not always comparable. The follow-up investigations elicited information falling into two basic groups: well-defined current or recent cases and testimonials of historic or on-going abuse.

Generally, law enforcement officers and school officials were able to offer accounts of specific misconduct that they associated with ritualistic practices. Because of the nature of mental health practitioners' work, their information on ritual crime was invariably secondhand and did not involve investigation into specific allegations. Rather, accounts by clients constituted the sole basis for their responses.

School officials typically referred serious offenses to law enforcement authorities. For less serious offenses, parents or other custodial parties were notified. Verification of occult influence generally was not made by school officials.

Law enforcement officers who actually completed the surveys and who were chosen for interviews were those reputed as being experienced in the investigation of ritual crime. In many cases these officers were in possession of indicia of belief systems that they felt linked the crime to the belief system itself. They conceded that in few cases could they conclusively prove such a connection. Though this evidence sometimes indicated a suspect's interest in an unconventional belief system, more often than not it failed to substantiate a causal link between those beliefs and commission of the offense in question. Further, because perpetrators were not apprehended in most cases, investigators were unable to definitively assign a motive to the crime. Often they relied upon factors merely suggesting existence of a belief system.

The presence of certain graffiti at the crime scene, or of particular clothes, tatoos, or scars on the suspect led law officers to label the offense as a ritual crime. The occurrence of the event on a specific date (one of many listed on a "satanic calendar") was also a popular basis for assigning ritual crime status, even where no suspect was apprehended and other corroborating evidence was unavailable.

Definitive documentation of ritual crime was rare. In no case was there conclusive evidence of homicide in Virginia that could be causally linked to the influence of a spiritual belief system or interest in the occult.

Crimes of vandalism, trespassing, and graffiti (those most frequently cited as possessing occult overtones) had the clearest link to occult influence. Even where these crimes were reported, follow-up investigations revealed that an occult influence was often suspected rather than proved.

Results of the follow-up interviews indicated that ritual crime in Virginia, to the degree that it is found to exist, is limited primarily to individuals or very small groups (who might be characterized as dabblers) and consists of trespassing, graffiti, and other vandalism.

Follow-up interviews exposed no evidence of any broad conspiracy of ritual crime. Local law enforcement agencies throughout the Commonwealth and experts within the Virginia State Police insisted that their investigations failed to uncover any organized network of crime that could be attributed to the influences of a spiritual belief system.

Greater in-depth review of survey responses by members of the mental health field revealed ritual crime claims falling into the second group. Follow-up interviews of these respondents evidenced a substantively different body of information. Generally these claims involved information derived from clients, were anecdotal in nature, and lacked detail concerning dates and locations of alleged offenses. Additionally, they involved incidents that were years or decades old. The nature of such claims makes verification exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. It also suggests an aspect of this phenomenon that is fundamentally different from the more specific allegations provided by law enforcement and social service agencies and schools.


On a number of occasions the task force received testimony involving allegations of ritual crime. Academics, law enforcement officers, and alleged victims came before the task force in public and private hearings (authorized by Section 9-134 of the Code of Virginia), the latter being necessitated both by concern associated with the safety of certain witnesses and the potentially sensitive nature of material relating to on-going criminal enterprises and investigations.

Evidence received in such meetings mirrored the conflicting opinions and accounts encountered throughout the study. Disclosures by therapists and self-described victims of ritual crime included allegations of nationwide conspiracies (as described previously in this report). Alleged offenses included kidnapping, murder, and physical and emotional abuse, though witnesses were typically unable to provide specific details as to locations of events, dates on which they occurred, or names of victims other than themselves.

Law enforcement officers (from the national, state, and local level) appearing before the task force challenged these claims. While some of these witnesses suggested the possibility of criminal activity between state lines, all rejected as untenable the existence of an organized crime network as pervasive as that being asserted. Citing the lack of physical evidence, missing persons, or other indications of the alleged crimes, these officers disputed the claims of criminal activity and therefore failed to reach the more specific issue of whether such alleged crime had occult influence as its origin.

Therapists who claimed experience in treating victims of ritual crime offered contrasting positions on the veracity of a victim's testimony. While some expressed the conviction that much of this testimony was accurate, others noted that victims of abuse, as well as those suffering various emotional and psychological conditions, may assert such claims for numerous reasons.

In its totality the testimony reaffirmed the need for separate discussion of concerns experienced by law enforcement personnel and those encountered by professionals in the field of mental health.

The Mental Health Perspective

Based upon the number of claims of ritual abuse emanating from therapists and their clients it is evident that significant concerns exist in this arena. The cumulative research (including interviews with and testimony of numerous licensed mental health practitioners) indicates that issues relating to ritual crime in the mental health field possess their own unique series of problems.

Because therapists are necessarily concerned with treatment issues, their initial response to clients who report ritual abuses is to seek a determination as to what effect this has had on the client. Ascertaining the validity of the reports may be important in treatment planning, but it is not the objective of the therapist to attain or compile evidence in support of a criminal investigation or prosecution. Indeed, attempts in that regard may tend to impede effective treatment.

Where patients allege being subjected to abuse, claims of ritual crime take on a new focus, directed at the victim solely. This impacts directly in two ways. While the nature of inquiry differs, the ultimate objectives are also distinct. The mission of law enforcement is at odds with that of the therapist since, for the therapist, challenging a client's story may be inappropriate. It is imperative, however, for law enforcement to establish factual accuracy with regard to alleged criminal offenses. Additionally, the goal for addressing complaints directed to therapists varies from that sought by the criminal justice system. Law enforcement agencies exist to prevent, investigate, and prosecute crime. In the majority of cases the therapist is likely never to seek nor encounter the client's victimizer. Typically, only if the patient is the actual perpetrator of the crime will the therapist address this side of the equation.

This dichotomy is of particular significance for those attempting to establish the true extent of ritual crime because claims involving the most serious and widespread offenses derive predominantly from the realm of mental health. Often these claims are never reported to law enforcement at all, or only after a therapist has elicited the information.

But if the nature of therapists' work makes more difficult the verification of claims involving ritual crime, the concerns reflected by such claims remain just as real. Unfortunately, controversy regarding treatment of clients reporting ritual abuse is as intense among therapists as is the subject among the broader general population. Actually, mental health professionals who espouse any opinion about the ritual crime phenomenon tend to fall into one of the three earlier referenced categories.

However, while these professionals point to many of the same factors as others in debate over the true extent of ritual crime, the discussion assumes a higher level of complexity. The causes and effects of victims' mental conditions, and their impact on claims of ritual crime, add fuel to the fire. The inquiry shifts readily from questions about the victim's veracity to issues concerning their beliefs.

Just as the therapist's role contrasts with that of the law enforcer, so too is the patient's role incomparable to that of the average citizen reporting a crime. The patient is there for the specific purpose of seeking treatment and therefore properly views as unique communications within the doctor-patient relationship. These communications are neither directed to, nor intended for, an officer's ears. Further, the conditions for which the patient seeks help often affect his or her ability to perceive and process information, which in turn relates to the reliability of information relayed by such a patient.

The credibility that a therapist attributes to a patient's claims of abuse will depend substantially on the pathology for which the patient is diagnosed. Manifestation of psychosis may evidence distortions of reality apparent on their face, either because they involve inaccuracies with which the therapist is personally familiar or because the reports follow an inherently illogical path. Many claims of ritual abuse appear to be so bizarre that psychosis is assumed. If objective testing does not indicate the presence of such psychosis, however, the therapist might well attribute greater potential credibility to a patient's claims of abuse.

Other bases for questioning credibility of patients' accounts might include malingering patients or a factitious disorder. In these cases the patient will deliberately fabricate stories to serve an ulterior motive. Lack of sincerity on a patient's part makes uncovering discrepancies in the stories less difficult than is the case with other psychological conditions that involve more deeply imbedded memories or beliefs.

Increasingly victims of abuse are being diagnosed with dissociative disorders. Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) in particular has come to be viewed as a common manifestation of severe abuse. Substantial debate remains, however, as to the prevalence of MPD. In cases of abuse, MPD would typically manifest itself as an adaptive ego defense mechanism. Alter egos are created to assume various roles in the individual's life. Borderline Personality Disorder, which traditionally has been heavily associated with victims of severe habitual abuse, has taken a back seat as a diagnosis in the offices of many therapists who are gaining increased knowledge and understanding of MPD.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition (DSMIII-R), revised in 1987, now recognizes MPD as the essential feature of certain dissociative disorders and as one response to severe abuse. Among mental health professionals, however, there are many who feel that some patients reporting abuse are being misdiagnosed as sufferers of MPD. That some therapists have a high concentration of clients diagnosed as MPD in their caseloads is beyond dispute. There are those who point to this fact as support for their hypothesis. On the other hand, therapists known as experts in dealing with MPD patients tend to receive referrals for these clients, so that they may be expected to have a disproportionate number of such patients.

Continued publicity stressing the link between ritual abuse and MPD has popularized the notion that MPD is the result of ritual abuse. In fact, this has not been firmly established. A broadly accepted model, Kluft's Four-Factor Theory, suggests that the disorder results from the interrelation of various factors. Unfortunately the converse to the position has also been implied: that all MPD sufferers are in fact victims of ritual abuse. Yet this is only one of many traumas that may precipitate the disorder. Since the introduction of his theory, Kluft has published findings of MPD case studies covering a period of a decade and a half of that indicate that approximately one third of these patients reported ritual abuse (Kluft, 1988). He goes on to say that this third included many of the more complex cases. These findings suggest, however, that the majority of those suffering from MPD did not become so encumbered as the result of ritual abuse.

Whether patients are properly diagnosed or not, a problem that may arise from the perception of these individuals as victims of abuse is the tendency to conclude that each such patient necessarily represents one more in a growing throng of ritual crime victims. This potential is enhanced as these diagnoses increase. But because not all MPD patients are victims of ritual abuse, and because there is good reason to question the veracity of the accounts of MPD patients, such a conclusion would be premature (pending other corroborating evidence).

An essential component of MPD is the susceptibility to autohypnotic trance experiences. This susceptibility to trance aids therapists in the hypnosis that is often used in abreaction (a method used by therapists to elicit repressed emotions). A number of ramifications ensue from this proclivity toward trance states. Persons under hypnosis are more highly suggestible. Studies affirm that they are also more inclined to accept the accuracy of information that is obtained while in the hypnotic state. Because elements of fantasy are likely to exist to one degree or another in the evolution of the disorder, persons suffering from MPD may, with complete conviction, report events that either did not occur or were distorted by their perceptions.

Also significant is the fact that most MPD patients who report ritual abuse state that they were the object of such abuse at a young age. The limited cognitive functions of young children permit manipulation by adults who may convince the child that a certain series of events occurred when in fact they were contrived (that is, the event in question appeared to be real when it was mere theatrics). Even innocent acts of adults may be distorted in the minds of children. Because adults who recount these childhood experiences view them through children's eyes their stories retain such distortions. This factor may help to explain certain accounts of ritual crime that, if accepted at face value, would be physically impossible.

While the evidence in support of organized ritual crime is found almost exclusively within the mental health community (in the form of testimony from patients and therapists), there are many practitioners who reject the existence of such a broad-based criminal conspiracy but who do assert experience suggestive of more limited ritual crime. Much of the information in support of their opinions comes not from victims but from perpetrators of what is described as ritual crime. These crimes are most often property crimes of a relatively minor nature, consistent with the information obtained through surveying schools and law enforcement and social services agencies.

Patients who report participation in illegal endeavors, and who also demonstrate interest in the occult, may cause therapists to jump to the conclusion that the delinquent acts involve ritual crime when in actuality the belief system plays no part in the criminal acts. There is some evidence, however, that troubled youth experience a disproportionate interest in so-called aberrant belief systems.

Clinical studies indicate that youth who turn to occult beliefs reflective of socially ostracized value systems tend to exhibit antisocial behavior generally, and may be self-destructive. Self-esteem is likely to be abnormally low, suggesting the youth's attempt to gain greater power, acceptance, and confidence through his participation in the occult and groups who engage in associated practices. Also demonstrated was a high incidence of substance abuse among these individuals. Clinical evidence does not support the conclusion that either drug abuse or a general interest in the occult leads to ritual crime. The research does suggest the possibility that drug abuse and participation in aberrant belief systems can be symptomatic of psychological problems.

There is no question that psychotic and sociopathic persons who engage in various atrocities involving loss of human life may be associated with belief systems that rationalize or explain their behavior. Such persons may fit the model of a "self-stylist" who integrates the concepts of other religions into a personal (and self-serving) belief system. In this case it is not a particular belief system that influences their behavior. Rather, the behavior is a result of the interaction between their illness and their personal belief system, and may itself affect that illness and belief system.

Clearly there remains substantial debate within the field as to the extent to which ritual crimes occur. Some of this debate is attributable to the same definitional problems that generally plague this area of study. The ritual abuse often cited by therapists, for example, encompasses interfamilial generational abuse. The reason for its characterization as ritual abuse is sometimes due to the bizarre or habitual nature of it, despite the absence of a belief system and associated rituals. Characterization of such abuse as ritual is not incorrect per se. It may, however, convey false images to other professionals and to the public. And it could certainly ignite challenges to proffered statistics of ritual abuse.

As greater understanding of physical and sexual abuse of children is gained, it is becoming ever more evident that the proclivity for such abuse is passed from parents to children, from one generation to the next. Thus, that generational abuse within families occurs seems unquestionable. This fact does not establish, nor necessarily make more likely, the existence of organized ritual abuse. The increasing publicity accorded ritual abuse claims, however, heightens the likelihood that child abuse will be seen in this light. The added dimension of mental illness, which may lead to distortion of actual events, only aggravates the problem. Recognition of this reality does not require one to reject all claims of ritual abuse but should caution the need for objective evaluation of such claims based upon available facts.

Fiscal Impact of Property Damage

In attempting to assess the fiscal impact to the Commonwealth of property damage resulting from ritual crime, law enforcement agencies were requested to report the average dollar value of property damage for all ritual crimes investigated by their agency. (See Appendix A for survey results.)

The subsequent review of data on ritual crimes provided by law enforcement agencies indicated that many of the incidents reported as ritual crime were not conclusively determined to be so. Consequently the level of property damage reflected by survey responses is somewhat inflated.

To accurately reflect damage costs of established ritual crime incidents, the more serious crimes that are not demonstrated to be occult-related should be discounted. Estimates could then properly be limited primarily to cases involving acts of vandalism and graffiti. As such acts are conducted for the most part in or upon abandoned property, fiscal damage would be negligible. Because available data does not permit precise evaluation of property damage within such constraints, survey results are being relied upon to provide a general average figure for damage costs per incident.

In a very few cases disproportionately high damage costs were reported, raising the overall average. In most cases the value of damage to property was relatively small. The single figure reported most often was 50 dollars per incident. By far, the greatest number of respondents reported damages as being 200 dollars or less per alleged incident of ritually related crimes against property.

Figure 4

Average dollar value of property damage

(See Appendix)

Experiences of Other States

Though allegations of ritual crime have been pursued vigorously on the national level and within many states, few states have attempted to systematically assess the actual level of such activity within their jurisdictions. Anecdotal reports of ritual crime appear widely and with some regularity but are accompanied by very little quantitative analysis.

California's Office of Criminal Justice Planning produced a research effort which is largely descriptive of ritual crime and which presents the various perspectives on it. Their conclusions are that while each of the perspectives may share some truth, they are frequently dominated by "fears, emotion, spiritual beliefs and hearsay" (Office of Criminal Justice Planning, 1989-90).

The Michigan State Police conducted a comprehensive survey of all law enforcement agencies in the state. The survey "broadly defined occult" and requested information relating to any of a number of crimes against property and persons. The report concluded that no causal link could be established between occult practices and offenses of homicide or suicide. Consistent with results of the surveys by this task force, the crimes most frequently reported were graffiti and vandalism, while animal mutilations were also frequently reported. Because follow-up interviews were conducted only in cases involving deaths the authors declined to offer a position on the validity of other reports in terms of occult influence.

The largest survey to date was recently conducted by the Child Abuse Research Project at the University of Buffalo with the aid of a federal grant. This survey was comprehensive in its geographical scope, covering numerous agencies throughout the nation. It also generated a substantial quantity of information, though its subject matter was limited to crimes against children. The Research Project is in the process of compiling its data and will publish findings within the year.

The limited reliable information presently available fails to substantiate any significant incidence of ritual crime in the United States. However, because the available figures are so limited, this information cannot disprove the existence of ritual crime.

Some few states have sought to control ritualistic practices through statutory enactments. Criminal laws passed in Idaho, Louisiana, Texas, and Illinois enhance penalties for engaging in specific forms of abuse, mutilation, and cannibalism during ceremonies or in a ritualistic manner as defined by statute, but have had little success in convictions heretofore. The acts proscribed in these statutes are criminal in nature, independent of the ritual element. No state presently possesses a statute that criminalizes conduct premised solely on its ceremonial nature. Legislative memoranda and reports from a number of states detail research that emphasizes the constitutional prohibition against doing so.


Interest in the occult in certain segments of the population, particularly among youth, has become apparent in recent years with the increasing cries of concern about such involvement. Whether this interest is on the rise or whether the prominent attention focused upon it has created greater awareness of such interest is not clear. It is likely that media stories focusing on occult involvement have actually spurred curiosity about occult topics, though this media attention may simply reflect the increased interest.

Among young people who do develop some interest in unconventional belief systems the vast majority are "dabblers" who will abandon this fascination in relatively short order. For some it is an innocent diversion; for others it may represent adolescent rebellion. Some few, however, immerse themselves in concepts and value systems that appear to parents to be unhealthy or even dangerous.

Insofar as belief systems represent values that run contrary to social norms, they will be looked upon by many with substantial disapproval. Likewise, minority religions by their nature clash with established notions of acceptable worship. When activity that threatens the physical welfare and safety of society is tied to one or more particular belief systems apprehension is inevitable.

Much of the examination of ritual crime among writers and lecturers today has as its basis an evaluation of belief systems in terms of their "deviance." Unfortunately, the standard that is applied for such evaluation is often a subjective one. Challenges to foreign or distasteful ideas are premised in vague assertions of threats that may be unproved or altogether groundless.

Because the judgment of another's spiritual beliefs is generally anathema to a fundamental proposition on which our society rests, and which has long been established as a pillar of both federal and state constitutions, charges of this nature must be carefully scrutinized for substance. Criminal law proscribes conduct; a careful line must be drawn between regulation of behavior and the restriction of beliefs.

Certain well-publicized cases of violent crimes, such as those committed by Sean Sellers (who attributed his actions to a belief in Satan) and the Matamoros murders (described by many as satanic sacrifices but in fact were related to an Afro-Caribbean syncretic belief system), are oft-cited examples of the dangers that specific belief systems represent to society. Such belief systems, however, are those of the perpetrators of these heinous offenses, and are personal to them. These are self-stylists who often suffer severe mental illness and who invariably rely upon values that are unrepresentative of established belief systems. Thus, the individual, who happens to claim some allegiance to one or another religion, is actually acting upon personal desires and goals.

Regardless of the motive, available evidence suggests that these cases are aberrations. Crimes of this nature are relatively rare and appear to be perpetrated by individuals or small groups acting on their own initiative.

Media reports of these crimes often relate incomplete or inaccurate information and cause some people to look for ritual crime where it doesn't exist. Even trained professionals may categorize a crime as ritually related without sufficient evidence to support this interpretation. The types of symbols and paraphernalia that are customarily relied upon as evidence of ritual crime represent different things to different people and certainly are not always indicative of unique belief systems.

Because of the hyperbole and hysteria, as well as an undue emphasis on belief systems as agents of crime, investigation into ritual crime is often sidetracked, and objective and effective analysis is defeated. Rather than attacking ritual crime based upon presumptions about certain belief systems, effective crime prevention necessitates aggressive action against practices (ritual or otherwise) that have conclusively proved to be criminal in nature or effect. Because mental health professionals are so frequently confronted with claims of ritual crime the potential for being affected by preconceived notions is especially acute. As with other professionals, therapists may accept claims of ritual crime where unwarranted because other elements of the claims are more easily validated. The fact that abuse has occurred does not necessarily confirm allegations of ritual abuse. For treatment purposes this distinction may not be relevant. Indeed it may be important to minimize the distinction in treatment sessions between patient and therapist. But allegations of ritual crime (particularly when evidence fails to support the allegations) can diminish a victim's credibility and may discourage a criminal investigation or prosecution where one is appropriate.

The differing roles of law enforcement and therapy take on special significance in this regard. Ultimately, continued research in the mental health field may permit a better understanding of how ritual abuse affects victims psychologically and what treatment means are most effective. The apparent link between drug abuse, mental illness, and ritual crime demonstrates the importance of treatment issues. The debate within the mental health community regarding the viability of ritual abuse claims, however, need not influence law enforcement officials in the effective performance of their duties. Investigators should not permit wild accusations to distract them from this objective. At the same time, counselors claiming knowledge of ritual crime, whether they work in social services, schools, or the private sector, as well as alleged victims of ritual abuse, should not be ignored. On the contrary, ritual crime investigations heretofore evidence the need for cooperation among these populations.

The role of the state should be to encourage a cooperative effort and to continue to educate people on ritual crime. Successful eradication of ritual crime rests with effective enforcement of existing criminal statutes. To the degree that organized crime exists, concentration on spiritual belief systems as a motivation only diverts resources that could more properly be used for deterring such crime. This is particularly true with regard to young people who band together for commission of crimes. Groups of this nature should elicit a response based upon recent efforts and experience in dealing with youth gangs.

Debate about the extent and nature of ritual crime is bound to persist. It is hoped that the work of this task force will provide an enhanced basis for evaluating these questions while offering constructive suggestions for resolving problems that they represent.


Misconceptions about ritual crime are pervasive.

Among the general population and professionals who are in a position to come into contact with perpetrators or victims of ritual crime, there are many inconsistent beliefs and impressions. Misinformation about the values, goals, and activities of various minority belief systems is common and has significant impact on popular perceptions regarding ritual crime.

Evidence is insufficient to establish the existence of any major conspiracy or organized criminal network based upon an occult or spiritual belief system.

The cumulative evidence, derived from a comprehensive investigation of ritual crime in the Commonwealth of Virginia, has not uncovered or indicated any network of ritual crime.

Unpopular belief systems are erroneously associated with criminal behavior.

Where indicia of unconventional, and particularly less popular, belief systems are uncovered in the possession of one who is accused of a criminal act, this is frequently cited as evidence of ritual crime. More often than not, no direct link is shown to exist between the beliefs and the crime. This reaction results in characterization of certain criminal acts as occult-based when in fact they are not.

Criminal activity that might reasonably be associated with belief systems consists primarily of minor property crimes and is committed largely by "dabblers."

In the vast majority of cases where the available evidence is sufficient to establish some link between criminal behavior and a spiritual belief system, the crimes consist of trespassing, graffiti, and vandalism. Generally these crimes are relatively minor and are perpetrated on or against abandoned property, this resulting in low damage costs. Such evidence does not conclusively disprove the existence of more serious crime.

Existing criminal statutes in Virginia are adequate to address dangerous conduct that may result from participation in unconventional belief systems.

Dangerous activities that are alleged to be associated with or motivated by spiritual belief systems are prohibited by existing criminal statutes in the Commonwealth. Amendment to the criminal code in response to ritual crime is therefore unnecessary.

The ritual crime phenomenon has its greatest overt impact in the field of mental health.

Whether true or not, there are numerous allegations of ritual crime that evidence real suffering. Many claims of ritual crime apparently have as their basis real, and often severe, abuse (whether ritually related or otherwise). Regardless of the veracity of patients claiming ritual abuse, therapists should be sensitive to such claims while approaching treatment with an objective stance.


In the interest of addressing widespread concerns regarding the possible dangers of ritualistic crime the task force offers the following recommendations. These recommendations are intended to reflect a rational approach to a real concern. Where hysteria or fanaticism is interjected, however, the recommended actions tend to defeat the interests of law enforcement agencies, schools, therapists, and society in general.

Recommendation: That the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services develop a model curriculum addressing ritual crime for Virginia's law enforcement officers.

DCJS should develop a standard curriculum in aid of law enforcement officers that could be utilized on a statewide basis to enhance awareness of ritualistic crime and to suggest appropriate responses to it. This would provide a uniform source of information in lieu of the multitude of diverse, often conflicting, and sometimes irrelevant information disseminated by training courses and seminars given throughout the state by numerous organizations and interest groups. Assistance of Crime Commission staff in development of this curriculum should be sought where practical and necessary. Appropriate subjects to be addressed include:

* Constitutional prerogatives relating to the right to assemble and to engage in the peaceful practice of religious beliefs where such beliefs do not abridge neutral criminal statutes.

* Sections within Title 18.2 of the Code of Virginia that address commonly alleged ritual crimes but with which many law enforcement officers may be unfamiliar. (Examples include sections 18.2-403.1(1), 18.2-403.2(3), 3.1-796.113, 3.1-796.122, 18.2-97, 18.2-125, 18.2-126, 18.2-127, 18.2-138, 18.2-144, 18.2-323.)

* The need to maintain normal techniques and standards in the investigation and prosecution of allegations involving ritual crime.

* The type of specific evidence at crime scenes that may suggest ritual activity.

Recommendation: That the Crime Commission's continued research on youth gangs be tracked and reviewed for findings and ultimate recommendations.

The forming of gangs by young people for purposes of pursuing criminal objectives needs to be addressed in unique fashion. The on-going study on youth gang activity by the Crime Commission should yield recommendations that are equally applicable to criminal behavior by all youth gangs regardless of the motivating philosophy or belief system.

Recommendation: That the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services coordinate continued research efforts relating to the ramifications of ritual abuse in the mental health field.

Continued research into the relationships between psychological illness and participation in dangerous ritualistic practices should be encouraged. The limited clinical research findings presently available, while not substantiating causal links, have established factors that appear to be associated with dangerous practices and that may aid in the treatment of individuals who fall prey to these activities. Such research should focus on development of a clearer understanding of perpetrators of ritualistic practices, evidence of treatable psychological illness (including Multiple Personality Disorder and related conditions), and the roles that various agencies may assume in practical intervention. The Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services should assume a leading role in coordinating this continued study of the causes, effects, and treatment of ritual abuse.

Recommendation: That law enforcement personnel act in cooperation with appropriate agencies in the investigation and prosecution of claims involving ritual abuse of persons.

As in any case involving allegations of abuse against children, law enforcement interaction with state and local agencies is necessary. In cases of systematic or on-going abuse effective prosecution demands a cooperative relationship between investigators on the one hand and school officials and social services agencies on the other. Jurisdictions having success with prosecutions emphasize this as among the most significant factors in such success.

Recommendation: That school personnel and social service workers be provided objective and accurate information on ritual crime.

The greatest problem reported by employees in social services and schools who work with young people on a regular basis is the lack of accurate information on ritual crime. Objective information, consistent with the findings of this report, should be made available to persons who deal with youth and are concerned about potential involvement in dangerous cults. The Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services is the appropriate agency for dissemination of such information.

Recommendation: That the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services establish a definitional standard and review development of a separate reporting category for ritual crime.

While law enforcement personnel in Virginia (including those officers who are responsible for investigating these types of crimes) oppose implementation of a separate reporting category for ritual crime at present, DCJS should define a standard for crimes that might fall into this category and review the potential usefulness of separate reporting in the future.


The following list provides citations for sources referenced in the course of this study, including those that were of particular relevance, and those most often cited in the field. News accounts are excluded.

Aquino, M. (1989). The church of Satan, 2nd edition. P.O. Box 210082, San Francisco, CA 94121.

Bainbridge, W.S. (1978). Satan's power: A deviant psychotherapy cult. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Banner, P.B. (1990). Satanism and overreaction: A volatile mix. All Points Bulletin, 1(1).

Barry, R.J. (1987). "Satanism": The law enforcement response. The National Sheriff, XXXVII(1): 38-42.

Bourget, D., Gagnon, A., & Bradford, J.M.W. (1988). Satanism in a psychiatric adolescent population. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 33: 197-202.

Braun, B.G., Goodwin, J., Gould, C., Hammond, D.C., Kluft, R.P., Sachs, R., Summit, R.C., & Young, W.C. Ritual child abuse: A professional overview. Video, Cavalcade Productions, 7360 Potter Valley Road, Ukiah, CA 95482.

Brown, E.F., & Hendee, W.R. (1989). Adolescents and their music: Insight into the health of adolescents. Journal of the American Medical Association, 262(12): 1659-1663.

California Office of Criminal Justice Planning. (1989-90). Occult crime: A law enforcement primer. Special Edition, Vol. 1, No. 6.

Carlson, S., & Larue, G. (1989). CSER: Satanism in America. Buffalo, NY.

Finkelhor, D., Williams, L., & Burns, N. (1988). Sexual abuse in daycare: A national study. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire.

Ganaway, G.K., M.D. (1989). Historical versus narrative truth: Clarifying the role of exogenous trauma in the etiology of MPD and its variants. Dissociation, Vol. II, No. 4.

Griffis, D.W. (1985). A law enforcement primer on cults. Tiffin, OH: Dale W. Griffis.

Gould, C. (1987). Satanic ritualistic abuse: Child victims, adult survivors, system response. California Psychologist, 22(3), 1.

Hicks, R.D. (1991). In pursuit of Satan: The police and the occult. New York: Prometheus.

Johnston, J. (1989). The edge of evil. World Publishing.

Jorgensen, D.L., & Jorgensen, L. (1982). Social means of the occult. The Sociologist Quarterly, 23: 373-389.

Kahaner, L. (1988). Cults that kill. New York: Warner Books.

Kelley, S.J. (1988). Ritualistic abuse of children: Dynamics and impact. Cultic Studies Journal, 5(2): 228-236.

Kluft, R.P. (1985). Childhood antecedents of multiple personality. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.

Kluft, R.P. (1988). The phenomenology and treatment of extremely complex Multiple Personality Disorder. Dissociation, Vol. I, No. 4: December.

Landers, S. (1988). Sex, drugs-n-rock: Relation not casual. American Psychological Association Monitor, 19(7).

Langone, M.D., & Blood, L.O. (1990). Satanism and occult-related violence: What you should know. American Family Foundation, P.O. Box 336, Weston, MA 02193.

Lanning, K. (1989). Child sex rings: A behavioral analysis. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Los Angeles County Commission for Women. (1989). Ritual abuse: Report of the Ritual Abuse Task Force.

Lyons, A. (1988). Satan wants you: The cult of devil worship in America. New York: Mysterious Press.

Michigan State Police, Investigative Service Bureau, Investigative Resources Unit. (1990). Occult survey.

Moody, E.J. (1974). Magical therapy: An anthropological investigation of contemporary Satanism. In I. Zaretsky & M. Leone (Eds.), Religious movements in contemporary America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Olsson, P.A., M.D. Adolescent involvement with the supernatural and cults: Some psychoanalytic considerations.

Prinsky, L.E., & Rosenbaum, J.L. (1987). "Leerics" or lyrics: Teenage impression of rock-n-roll. Youth and Society, 18(4): 384-397.

Richardson, J.T., Best, J., & Bromley, D. (1991). The Satanism scare. Hawthorn Books.

Story, D.W. (1989). Ritualistic crime: More awareness training needed. Law and Order, 37(6): 56.

Tennant-Clark, C.M., Fritz, J., & Beauvois, F. (1989). Occult participation: Its impact on adolescent development. Adolescence, 24(96): 757-772.

Terry, M. (1987). The ultimate evil. New York: Doubleday.

Thorne, S.B., & Himelstein, P. (1984). The role of suggestion in the perception of satanic messages in rock-and-roll recordings. The Journal of Psychology, 116: 245-248.

Trostle, L.C. (1987). The stoners: Drugs, demons and delinquency: A descriptive and empirical analysis of delinquent behavior. Dissertation Abstracts International, (DA 8619089).

Truzzi, M. (1974). Towards a sociology of the occult: Notes on modern witchcraft. In I. Zaretsky & M. Leone (Eds.), Religious movements in contemporary America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Vokey, J.R., & Read, J.D. (1985). Subliminal messages: Between the devil and the media. American Psychological Association, Inc., 40(11): 1231-1239.

Warnke, M. (1972). The Satan seller. NJ: Logos International.

Wedge, T.W., & Powers, R.L. (1988). The Satan hunter. OH: Daring Books.

Wheeler, B.R., & Hutch, R.J. (in press). Psychopathology of adolescents involved in Satanism. Social Casework.

Wheeler, B.R., Wood, S., & Hutch, R.J. (1988). Assessment and intervention with adolescents involved in Satanism. Journal of Social Work, 33(6): 547-550.

Appendix A: Survey Results

Law Enforcement Survey Responses

Of 261 surveys disseminated by the Virginia State Crime Commission to law enforcement agencies in Virginia, 164 were completed and returned. The information provided below represents a compilation of these responses. Because not all responses were quantifiable, some survey questions may not be reflected here.

Table 1

Number of law enforcement agencies receiving reports of ritual activity

Table 2

Law enforcement determination of report's actual link to ritual activity

Table 3

Number of reports, distributed between property crimes and crimes against persons

Table 4

Distribution of reports (over types of crimes) of crimes against persons

Table 5

Distribution of reports (over types of crime) of other crimes

Table 6

Agencies reporting officers' attendance at professional

workshops/seminars on ritual crime

Workshop participation



Number of agencies reporting



Table 7

Agencies reporting special policies addressing complaints

associated with ritual crimes

Special policies



Number of agencies reporting



Table 8

Survey respondents' reports of ritual crime broken down by region during one-year period*

* Regions are based on the Virginia State Police regional system.

Table 9

Survey respondents' reports of ritual crime broken down by region during five-year period*

* Regions are based on the Virginia State Police regional system.

School Division Survey Responses

Of 145 surveys disseminated by the Virginia State Crime Commission to public school divisions in Virginia, 135 were completed and returned. The information provided below represents a compilation of those responses. Because not all responses were quantifiable, some survey questions may not be reflected here.

Table 1

Number of school divisions reporting incidents of ritual activity

Table 2

School officials' determination of incident's actual link to ritual activity

* Denotes individuals who were subjected to but also perpetrated ritual crime. Percentages exceed 100 since some respondents reported in more than one category.

Table 3

Number of reports, distributed between property crimes and crimes against persons

Table 4

Distribution of reports (over types of crime) of crimes against persons

Table 5

Distribution of reports (over types of crime) of other crimes

Table 6

School response to incidents of ritual activity*

* Note that respondents frequently reported in two or more response categories.

Table 7

Survey respondents' reports of ritual crime broken down by region during one-year period*

* Regions are based on Virginia State Police regional system.

Table 8

Survey respondents' reports of ritual crime broken down by region during five-year period*

* Regions are based on Virginia State Police regional system.

Mental Health Survey Responses

Of 155 surveys disseminated by the Virginia State Crime Commission to licensed mental health professionals in Virginia, 62 were returned. The information provided below represents a compilation of those responses. Because not all responses were quantifiable, some survey questions may not be reflected here.

Table 1

Number of mental health professionals receiving reports of ritual activity

Table 2

Status of individuals involved in the ritual activity

Table 3

Number of reports, distributed between property crimes and crimes against persons

Table 4

Distribution of reports of crimes against persons

Table 5

Distribution of reports of other crimes

Table 6

Professionals' responses to incidents of ritual activity*

* Note that respondents frequently reported in two or more response categories.

Appendix B

Members of the Virginia State Crime Commission 1991

From the Senate of Virginia

Elmon T. Gray, Chairman

Howard P. Anderson

Elmo G. Cross, Jr.

From The House of Delegates

James F. Almand

Robert B. Ball, Sr., Vice Chairman

V. Thomas Forehand, Jr.

Raymond R. Guest, Jr.

A. L. Philpott

Clifton A. Woodrum

Appointments by the Governor

Robert C. Bobb

Robert F. Horan, Jr.

Rev. George F. Ricketts, Sr.

Attorney General's Office

H. Lane Kneedler

Appendix C

Ritual Crime Task Force Membership

Crime Commission Members

Robert C. Bobb, Richmond City Manager, Chmn.

Senator Elmon T. Gray, Sussex

Delegate Raymond R. Guest, Jr., Front Royal

H. Lane Kneedler, Attorney General's Office

Speaker A.L. Philpott, Bassett

Rev. George F. Ricketts, Sr., Richmond

Delegate James F. Almand, Arlington

Appointed by the Speaker of the House

Delegate Robert Tata, Virginia Beach

Appointed by Senate P&E Committee

Senator Elliot S. Schewel, Lynchburg

Appointed by the Crime Commission

Leonard G. Holmes, Ph.D.

Michael L. Wade, M.S.

Janet I. Warren, D.S.W.

Isaac K. Wood, M.D.


Ritual Crime Task Force Research Staff

Michael P. Maddox, Staff Attorney, Lead Researcher

D. Robie Ingram, Staff Attorney

Susan A. Bass, Research Analyst

Rod Belcher, Intern

Virginia State Crime Commission Staff

Frederick L. Russell, Executive Director

Dana G. Schrad, Staff Attorney

Sylvia A. Coggins, Executive Assistant

Gina L. Ford, Secretary

Katie Vawter, Intern


The following individuals offered substantial assistance to the Crime Commission Task Force investigating ritual crime. Numerous other persons also offered advice, expertise, and personal knowledge throughout the task force's study, such that not all contributors were able to be listed here. The contents of this report may not represent the view of all those listed below, but do reflect the time and efforts of such persons. The task force sincerely appreciates the contributions of all those who willingly gave time and exhibited the courage and commitment to make this a thorough and exhaustive study.

American Family Foundation

Dr. Michael D. Langone, Executive Director

City of Hamptom Police Department

Detective Jon Decker

City of Richmond Police Department

Detective B.C. Robertson, Jr.

City of Virginia Beach Police Department

Detective Don Rimer

Coalition for Religious Freedom

Daniel C. Holdgreiwe, Director

Crater Criminal Justice Academy

Boyd G. Griggs, Director

Federal Bureau of Investigations

Special Agent Kenneth Lanning

Office of the City Manager, City of Richmond

Joyce Smith Wilson

Patricia Pulling

Kathy K. Snowden

Town of Vienna Police Department

Sergeant Douglas H. Comfort

Virginia Commonwealth University

Dr. David G. Bromley

Dianna Gay Cutchin

Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services

Stephen E. Squire

Virginia House of Delegates, Computer Operations

Sharon Crouch, Systems Director

Darryl Bareford

Marcia Goodwin

Jacquelyn Johnson

Tim Knappenberger

Mary Elizabeth Pemberton

Virginia State Police

Detective Carl Deavers

Detective John Polak

Virginia State Sheriffs' Association

John W. Jones, Executive Director

Brenda J. Wagner


Michael P. Maddox is a staff attorney at the Virginia State Crime Commission, General Assembly Building, 910 Capitol Street, Suite 915, Richmond, VA 23219. This report is reprinted with permission.