Bloody Death-Pit or Anti-Santeria Vendetta?

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Things are just getting stranger in the case of a Philadelphia home that was raided by PSPCA officials after complaints about malnourished dogs were made. The home, which contains dead animal remains,  was initially said to be the base of “satanic worship and Santeria rituals”. This later was clarified to simply Santeria, and the home of Santero Ramon Cruz, who is apparently in Mexico recuperating from H1N1 flu. What doesn’t seem to be in dispute among reports is that an awful lot of bones and animal remains have been found.

“The officers found what was believed to be a human skull, but it turned out to be fake. But they did find what appear to be the remains of small monkeys. “The house was covered in bones,” Bengal said … Bengal said the man who lived at the house and probably performed many of the killings is believed to now be in Mexico. However, his wife may still be in the city and she is being sought for questioning, Bengal said.”

From the very beginning I’ve been skeptical of the reports I’ve been receiving because George Bengal, director of law enforcement for the Pennsylvania SPCA, has said some things to the press in the past that make me think he may have some biased notions of what adherents of Santeria (not to mention Satanists) actually do.

“Mr. Bengal said there is usually an increase in ritual animal sacrifices at this time of year because of  “a lot of high holidays that different groups celebrate.” But he said most of those sacrifices involve goats and chickens.”

Then, a commenter on this blog, who claims to know Ramon Cruz, spoke out on the matter.

“Baba Ramon is a highly respected Babalawo. He is not in this country and the person that was watching his dogs for him lost the only key to the house in this country and didn’t know what to do. PSPCA has been called out to Baba’s house in the past so this was no “huge find” for them nor anything that the organization was not clearly aware. They have personally walked through this same house before. It is a nosey neighbor that does not understand our religion that constantly calls PSPCA. This was not an intential act of animal cruelty. Baba Ramon loves his family pets and is completely beside himself that he’s unable to come back stateside to clear this up. This is clearly a case of media hype and public ignorance of our spirituality.”

Since this story emerged, it has now gone international. Getting coverage at CNN, and the Herald Sun in Australia (who re-inserted claims of “Satanism”). We also have more pictures from local news affiliates, though, again, they are more speculative and sensationalist than conclusive as to the true nature of the house.

So we have two competing narratives. One, is that Ramon Cruz, and possibly some others, have been engaged in a twisted orgy of animal sacrifice. Leaving an offal and blood-encrusted house that simply confounds local animal welfare officers.

“Chicken feathers covered the scene, and among the remains were satanic books, buckets of blood and approximately 100 knives, MyFox Philadelphia reported. It was not a one-time act. George Bengal, a director of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told reporters he couldn’t even identify some of the carcasses because they were so badly decomposed. Officers also found an AK-47 assault rifle at the Feltonville, Pennsylvania two-story house, though it was not clear that it had been used to kill any animals, the Philadelphia Daily News reported. “There’s all kinds of stuff in there,” Officer Jerry Czech of the Pennsylvania Game Commission told the paper. “Dead animals, dead critters, wax, feces, candles. It’s a nightmare.” It is not illegal to sacrifice animals for religious purposes as long as it is done humanely, Mr Bengal told reporters.”

The other narrative is that Cruz’s house has long been a target of the PSPCA, and that the malnourished dogs were the casus belli they were looking for in order to take down a known center of Santeria worship. So we have to decide, bloody death-pit, or anti-Santeria vendetta by biased officials? Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between? Reports say that Cruz has been out of the country for nearly a year, could the current state of the house be because no-one was taking care of the place while he has been stuck in Mexico? That certainly makes him negligent, but it also may explain reports of people going through the house, and remains scattered and “smeared” everywhere. Was his house vandalized? Answers may be months in coming. In the meantime, local media are feeding off the controversy, rarely seeking out alternative narratives.