Human Sacrifice in London?

By<a href="mailto:andrew.chang@abc.com">Andrew Chang</a>

Feb. 4, 2002 -- The body discovered in the Thames River on Sept. 21 last year raised alarm bells from the start. It belonged to a boy, aged 5 to 7 years old, of Afro-Caribbean descent, and it was missing its head, arms and legs.

Two weeks later, police found seven half-burned candles wrapped in a white sheet washed up on the southern shore of the Thames. The name Adekoye Jo Fola Adeoye was written on the sheet and the name Fola Adeoye was inscribed on the candles.

The names are Nigerian, common to the Yoruba people, police experts said, but they have not been able to trace them to anyone in London's vast African expatriate community.

This month, a South African expert in ritualistic killings performed a second autopsy on the body of the boy, and pronounced what many people had feared.

The discovery of the body, the nature of the wounds, and the way the boy was killed "are consistent with those of a ritual homicide as practiced in Africa," said Dr. Hendrick Scholtz.

Using Up the Blood and the Bones

Police in the United Kingdom are now considering the possibility that they may be facing the first "muti" murder ever committed there.

"Muti" is a South African word that means traditional medicine in general, said Phillips Stevens, an anthropology professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

"But in a modern context, it has come to mean pagan or occult," he said.

Muti is medicine used to "bring about a result," but that result can be bettering one's health, or fortune, or prospects. It is always based on the idea of taking energy from another living thing for your own.

At times, the energies provided by herbs or animals are enough. But human beings are believed to have the most energy.

And children, it is believed, have the most powerful energy. "They have not been contaminated, they have not grown up and used it for adult purposes, so they have not been used up yet," Stevens said.

Authorities said the body found in the Thames had its head and limbs severed with a sharp knife, and they have not yet been found. Its first vertebra, valued by practitioners of muti, was also reportedly removed.

If the boy was the victim of a muti murder, those parts would have likely been ground up, and his blood would have been drained for medicine, experts said.

The Screams Keep the Powers Fresh

Most of the body parts taken for medicine correspond directly with the powers desired, experts said.

For example, using eyeballs in a potion would be expected to increase foresight, brains would be expected to aid wisdom, and a heart — courage or sympathy, Stevens said.

In one case of muti murder in South Africa in the 1940s, a man who had difficulty fathering children tried to solve his problem by killing another man who had many children, and using his genitals in a medicine.

In another case, a butcher used a severed human hand to slap each of his products every morning before opening, as a way of invoking the spirits to beckon customers.

But the most gruesome part of muti is that the body parts are usually taken while the victim is alive, because death is believed to reduce the potency of the medicine.

In an alleged muti murder case that took place in South Africa last October, a gang was accused of removing the facial skin, genitalia, breasts, hands and feet of a young mother while she was still alive, local reports said.

The victim lived for an hour or more after the attack before dying from her wounds, investigators said. They said the parts were to be smeared over a person, or eaten, as a part of a get-rich-quick spell.

A Secret World

Growing up in Africa, Benjamin Ola Akande said it wasn't uncommon to read about as many as a dozen muti murders in a year.

"It's such a common practice the [newspapers] don't write about it anymore," said Akande, now a dean at Webster University in St. Louis.

The accused were usually business people looking to get rich, he said, and the victims were typically the homeless or lost kids — those who were most difficult to trace.

But Stevens said many of these stories were often apocryphal. The accounts of muti "correlate with times of social stress and social anxiety," he said.

He said muti stories had proliferated in South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1993, and in Nigeria with the start of democracy in 1998. Scotland Yard is also investigating the possibility of that the possible muti murder in Britain may in fact be the work of a pedophile, or a mercy killing.

But that's not to say muti murders are simple social phenomena. In some African markets, there are muti sections that offers items for sacrifice, among them animal parts, experts said.

Stevens said, "there's a belief if you really want to find human body parts you have to know how to ask for them." He added that many practitioners of muti, or sangomas, might even encourage this belief to enhance their aura, or the feeling that there is a secret underworld.

Nevertheless, there was near-universal agreement among those contacted by ABCNEWS.com that human sacrifice was by no means a part of African tradition. It is considered aberrant behavior, they said, and Stevens pointed out that murder is illegal in all societies.

To kill another human being for medicine is "a clear sign of desperation," Akande said.

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