Witchcraft and creepy packages: public spellcasting can have legal consequences

SYRACUSE, New York – In a bizarre series of stories first reported by Syracuse.com, that also serve as a cautionary tale about public spellcasting, police charged a 51-year-old woman with two counts of fourth-degree witness tampering, misdemeanors, after she allegedly used witchcraft and “hot foot powder.”

Around 3:30 p.m. on May 7, one of the Bakers’ neighbors observed a woman exiting a red Jeep Cherokee and sprinkling “a red powder” on the front step of the home of Mark Baker, the Baldwinsville village treasurer, according to the arrest report and supporting documents. Baldwinsville is north of Syracuse, New York on the Erie Canal.

Police tracked the Jeep Cherokee the same evening, and Jennifer L. Johnson, 51, of Baldwinsville, was subsequently charged on May 8, 2024, after allegedly being the person who cast a spell and threw “hot foot powder” outside the Baker residence. Johnson told police that she practices witchcraft and stated that she used a mixture of cayenne pepper, cinnamon, black pepper, and eggshells on the Bakers’ property. The mixture is presumed to be hot foot powder.

The Emita II passes through Lock 24 across from Paper Mill Island in downtown Baldwinsville [Photo Credit: Mccallusa – Public Domain

Hot foot powder is a traditional component in Hoodoo and other magic practices. It is typically used to drive unwanted people away from one’s home or life. The powder is often sprinkled around the target’s home, workplace, or path, with the intention that the target will leave the area and not return. Hot foot powder’s usual ingredients are a mix of cayenne pepper and other hot spices, black pepper, sulfur, and salt. Graveyard dust and ash are other common components.

Mark Baker collected some of the powder into a resealable bag. He handed the sample over to the police.

According to police documents, she used “this form of witchcraft” with the intent of persuading Mark Baker and his wife, Sandra, to abstain from pursuing legal action in an unrelated criminal case involving a village trustee and her wife.

But the incident with Johnson comes after another odd event.

According to police reports, the Bakers received unsigned mail from various parts of the country. The packages contained strange items such as a potato, figurines, and a small bottle of liquor. Some of the mail suggested that the sender was aware of the Bakers’ travel schedule.

Over a period of 5 months, Baker received over 30 anonymous pieces of mail from across the USA including Atlanta, Boston, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Wilmington.   The anonymous mail included all sorts of items from a small penguin figurine to a Trader Joe’s gift ward.

But in late January, the Bakers received another box with letters glued on it that read, “Say hello to my little friend. I call him Mark.” Inside was a small doll. The Bakers later told the police they were concerned, noting that Al Pacino says this phrase in the film “Scarface” before firing a machine gun.

Map showing the location of Baldwinsville within Onondaga County, New York. [Credit: Rcsprinter123 CC BY 3.0]

The mail packages continued and the case was cracked by a postal clerk. Village Trustee Donna Freyleue and her wife, Vickie, were charged in April with stalking and harassment for allegedly sending anonymous mail and packages to the Bakers over a five-month period. Freyleue had been elected to the Baldwinsville Village Board as a trustee in March 2024.

The women said the objects and mail were a prank. On the night of her arrest, Donna Freyleue stated that she believed Mark Baker would be “amused and entertained” by the anonymous mail arriving from across the country and would “enjoy the mystery,” according to court papers.

The Bakers were not amused. According to statements given to the village police, the increasing number of postcards and packages made the Bakers feel threatened and anxious.

The Freyleues were each charged on April 9, 2024, with fourth-degree stalking and harassment.   The offense is punishable by a maximum term of three months in jail and a fine of up to $500.

Johnson was apparently protecting the Freyleues.  “My reason for doing this was in the hopes of getting Mark and Sandra to stop any activity against Vickie and Donna,” she reportedly told police in a sworn statement. Johnson’s charge carries a penalty of up to one year in jail.

“I apologize for my actions,” Johnson told police. “I will not do anything else to bother Mark and Sandra Baker in any way, shape or form.”

Sandra Baker expressed her fear to the police, stating, “This entire incident has shaken me to the bones.”  The Bakers have secured orders of protection against both the Freyleues and Johnson.

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