Florida Sheriff’s Office Wrongly Blames Gruesome Murders on “Wiccan Ritual Killing” August 5, 2015

Florida Sheriff’s Office Wrongly Blames Gruesome Murders on “Wiccan Ritual Killing”

In a rather disturbing story coming out of Pensacola, Florida, three family members (a 77-year-old mother and her two sons in their late 40s) were found dead in their home last week.

Voncile Smith, 77, and her two sons, Richard, 49, and John, 47, were discovered when one of the son’s employers realized he hadn’t shown up for work.

Voncile and John both died of blunt force trauma and had their throats cut, police said. Richard was shot in the ear, “as he came into the house,” and had his throat cut, Hobbes said. Police believe a claw hammer was used to commit the murders, Hobbes said.

All of that is just horrific.

Making matters worse, however, is how the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office explained the motive behind the murders:

“It appears that this might be connected to some type of Wiccan ritual killing and possibly tied to the blue moon,” [Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Andrew] Hobbes told NBC News.

A “blue” moon is what it’s called when there are two full moons in the same calendar month.

When asked how the evidence suggests these are ritualistic or Wiccan killings Sgt. Hobbes said, “The injuries to the victims, the positions of the bodies and also the person of interest right now is also a practitioner.”

Let’s get a couple important things out of the way:

  1. The blue moon occurred on Friday, July 31. Authorities now say the family members were killed three days earlier, on Tuesday, July 28. So there’s really no connection there at all.
  2. Wiccans don’t do “ritual killing.”

Really, they don’t. People might find Wiccans scary because of the whole “Satanic Panic” craze, but Wicca doesn’t condone killing.

It makes as much sense as saying this was an “atheist ritual killing” — there’s no such thing, but once you put the idea out there, plenty of ignorant people will immediately latch onto it.

Peg Aloi, who writes for The Witching Hour on Patheos, is emphatic on this point:

… I am fairly certain there is nothing in any book on Wicca that has ever been published on Planet Earth that describes body positions consistent with ritual murder. But then I am not an expert.

Oh, wait. YES I AM.

… The weapon used is believed to have been a claw hammer, which caused the blunt force trauma that caused their deaths, but all three victims apparently also had their throats cut. Ms. Smith also had a gunshot wound to her head and neck area.

A hammer? Effective as a murder weapon, to be sure. But since when are hammers one of the ritual tools used in Wicca?

Heather Greene, Managing Editor of The Wild Hunt (a Pagan blog), explained to me the damage of such claims:

Based on the evidence offered publicly, it is impossible to know what exactly happened to that Florida family on Tuesday evening July 28.

Any suggestions that this violent crime had anything to do with the practice of Wicca, Witchcraft, or even the presence of the Blue Moon, is purely speculation. Unfortunately, national media reports have led to outlandish and potentially damaging claims for practicing Wiccans and Witches, all of which are based on those preliminary reports…

Greene also said:

there are no known rituals, full moon or otherwise, that include sacrifice or murder of human beings.

None of that has stopped the story from spreading. Which is kind of scary when you think about it since it means the killer(s) may still be on the loose.

Sharon Hill, a science writer, argues that the sheriff’s office royally fucked up by putting out this theory when there’s no evidence to back it up:

While there are details left to be uncovered, the irresponsible and premature comments by police managed to mistakenly reinforce a moon myth deeper into culture and wrongly insulted Wiccan followers. Even if they retracted or clarified their egregiously improper statements, the damage is done.

And if none of that convinces you, maybe you should hear what the victims’ family members told a local news station:

News 5 spoke to two family members who both said the “witchcraft” part of the story is bogus, and the Smith family were normal folks.

The relatives said Voncile Smith, the mother who was found dead, was a church-going woman who wasn’t “reclusive,” as officials stated — she just “kept to herself.”

… Smith relatives claim to News 5 that the “blue moon” aspect of Sheriff Morgan’s press conference has “nothing to do” with the murder of the Smith family.

Maybe the police can actually do some investigating next time before talking out of their asses.

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