The decapitated animals discovered in Park City in mid-December appear to have been killed in sacrificial ceremonies conducted by people practicing a faith that originated in Africa, an expert said in an interview, affirming a suspicion by local investigators that the animals were killed as part of some sort of ceremony.
Don Rimer, who spent 30 years as a law enforcement officer and now provides training in the fields of ritual crimes and the occult, said the decapitated animals are telltale evidence of people who practice a faith known as Santeria. Followers brought the faith with them to the New World when they were taken from Africa during the slave trade, first establishing themselves in the Caribbean region, he said. Santeria is a blend of ancient African religion and Catholicism, Rimer said.
A Utah state agency alerted Rimer to the Park City cases, he said. Rimer, who lives in Virginia Beach, Va., said the circumstances of the Park City discoveries resemble those of Santeria practices elsewhere. Rimer said people who adhere to the faith sacrifice animals and then place the carcasses close to transportation corridors like pathways, railroad tracks and streams in honor of the means slaves used to move about.
In the Park City cases, the dead animals were found just off Bonanza Drive and just off Kearns Boulevard. They are two of the busiest roads in Park City, and Bonanza Drive is situated close to the Rail Trail, a trail designed for nonmotorized forms of transportation built along the route of a historic railroad corridor.
The sacrifices are conducted to honor Santerian gods, known as orishas. There are 236 of them, Rimer said. He said adherents sacrifice the animals somewhere else and then bring them to the location of transportation corridor in tribute to the orisha. The sacrificial ceremonies are conducted on numerous different occasions, he said.
Rimer said the Santeria followers typically also sacrifice and then cook other animals as part of a feast at the same time the sacrifices are made in honor of the orishas.
"They're not leaving any violent message for anybody," Rimer said, adding, "There's no threat to anybody in the community."
The practice is protected by the Constitution's religious freedom clause, he said.
The Santeria adherents sometimes travel miles to leave the sacrificed animals in a location that is meaningful as a transportation corridor, he said. The adherents do not always live in the communities where the sacrifices are left, Rimer said.
There were two discoveries in Park City within four days of each other in mid-December. In the first case, seven dead chickens and a dead goat were found just off Bonanza Drice close to the Munchkin Road intersection. Most of the animals had been decapitated. In the second case, a paper bag with three dead chickens inside was found at the Park City Cemetery on Kearns Boulevard, with one of the animals having been beheaded.
Park City Police Department investigators found pieces of cloth tied to one leg of one of the chicken bodies discovered at the cemetery. The cloth pieces were of different colors. Rimer said the pieces of cloth signified the Santeria followers were honoring more than one orisha with the sacrifice.
The practice of Santeria in the United States had largely been confined to the Southeast throughout its history, Rimer said. Followers who were dislocated after Hurricane Katrina struck the region in 2005 brought the faith with them, he said. Since then, Santeria adherents have been reported to be practicing the faith across the United States, he said. In the West, the reports have been filed in states either bordering Utah or close to the state. They have included Arizona, New Mexico, Montana and Idaho, according to Rimer.
"It's not about getting attention. They're not trying to frighten anybody," he said.
The discoveries in Park City, though, were a shock, with a longtime member of the Police Department saying the cases were the first of their kind in Park City since at least the mid-1980s. The carcasses were turned over to Summit County Animal Control for investigation.