Murder for Magic

Some serial killers take lives for occult purposes.

Posted Aug 26, 2019

K. Ramsland
Source: K. Ramsland

I recently watched the opulent Netflix series Versailles, which featured the 17th-century “affair of the poisons” that involved a historical female serial killer. Although the series presented this character as Madame Agathe, the story was based on the reputed deeds of Catherine Deshayes Monvoisin, a.k.a., La Voisin. Teaming up with a priest, La Voisin reportedly provided poisons and participated in countless murders. Arrested in 1679, she implicated a number of members of King Louis XIV’s court in the poisonings, including his longtime mistress, Madame de Montespan.

The series exploits the rumors that babies were killed in black masses to acquire supernatural powers. One report claims that authorities exhumed the remains of 2,500 infants in La Voison's garden, but other sources dispute this. Still, she’s reputed to be linked to 1,000+ deaths. La Voisin was sentenced to death for witchcraft and poisoning and burned at the stake in 1680.

Whether or not the rumors about her were true, other serial killers have used human sacrifice to gain supernatural favors.

In Barcelona, Spain, police arrested Enriqueta Martí I Ripolles, a former prostitute, who’d allegedly kidnapped at least ten children between 1902 and 1912, to kill and dismember. She’d approach them in derelict parts of town and lead them away. Some she prostituted, but others she murdered, consuming their blood and using their fat, hair, and bones in her potions.  

On February 10, 1912, Enriqueta kidnapped Teresita Congost. A neighbor who’d helped search for the girl saw her through Enriqueta’s window and told the police. When they entered they found Teresita and another girl, Angelita. This captive told police that she’d seen Enriqueta kill a little boy. Detectives found bloodstained children’s clothing, children’s bones, and burnt body parts. In a locked room, they discovered jars containing blood, hair, and preserved human remains. In other flats under Enriqueta’s name, they found more remains, along with bones and skulls in a garden.

This bruja never got to trial. Cellmates in the prison lynched her, possibly rewarded by wealthy clients who wanted to prevent exposure of their dealings with her. It was rumored that she’d provided kids as young as three for pedophiles.

On a lesser scale, but possibly more bizarre, was an Italian woman who believed that sacrificing one life would protect another. A palm-reader had told Leonarda Cianciulli that her children would precede her in death. In fact, three miscarried and ten died young. She was left with four. She mourned and moved on until her eldest son enlisted in Mussolini’s army in 1939. Panicked, Leonarda knew she’d have to take extreme measures to keep him alive.

She selected a neighbor, fiftyish Faustina Setti, who lived alone. Leonarda pretended to have found Faustina a mate in another town and invited her for a farewell tea. Faustina drank and passed out. Leonarda used a hatchet to crack open her skull. She cut the body into parts, gathered the blood in a basin and dumped the hands, arms, legs, head, chest, and abdomen into the iron pot she used to make soap.

When the remains cooked down into a black sludge, Leonarda made more soap and dumped the rest into a septic tank. The blood she spread on pans to bake until she could grind it into powder. She mixed it with flour, eggs, sugar, chocolate, and milk to make cakes. She sent some to her son to consume and ate some herself.

Soon, Leonarda decided that if one sacrifice protected her son (which appeared to be working), two would seal the deal. She targeted two more women for the same gruesome treatment before she was caught. Oddly enough, a palm reader had told her that her palms said she’d end up in prison or an asylum. It turns out, she served time in both.

A male/female team in Mexico operated more recently. Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo was a High Priest in a dark and bloodthirsty form of Santeria, and Sara Maria Aldrete his priestess. Their murders were discovered after a 21-year-old college student, Mark Kilroy, turned up missing. In March 1987, he’d gone with classmates to Mexico. They were barhopping when Mark disappeared. His family got a tip about a drug raid on a homestead called Rancho Santa Elena. A search turned up an altar in a shed, along with a severed goat’s head, human hair and part of a human brain.

In this cult, human sacrifice was performed as protection against police attacks. Before any major drug deals, Constanzo and Aldrete consumed a human heart and brain. Kilroy had crossed the wrong person’s path. His headless torso was discovered in a mass grave containing the decapitated and mutilated bodies of fourteen other men and boys. Before the police could catch Contanzo, he ordered a cult member to shoot him. Aldrete ended up in prison.

So much for protection.

The allure of power is at the heart of this type of killing, along with a sense of immunity. It plays to narcissistic individuals who think they're special and above the law. They believe that the favor of supernatural entities endows them with status and provides them with skill and knowledge beyond that of ordinary humans.

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