Doc Mannix’s Patreon offers age-restricted subscribers-only case studies of related to the controversial and disturbing topic of so-called Occult Crime. This is a subgenre of True Crime that focuses on the phenomena of violent crime with esoteric religious motives and law enforcement’s role in crafting misconceptions about such crimes resulting in the Satanic Panic of the late 20th Century, and the perpetuation of such conspiracy theories as 2016’s Pizzagate…
True Crime is arguably the earliest form of journalism if one of the most maligned. The subject matter is invariably grim and there are some cases that are just exceptionally disturbing or weird. These cases tend to get classified as “occult” by investigators because it is a useful catchall phrase to describe anything outside the scope of ordinary experience, this is a reminder that reporting on these type of crimes has an uncomfortable history.
No examination of Occult Crime can begin without first addressing the distinction between it and religious persecution. In terms of crime, it is necessary to recognize that over the long scope of recorded history conquering peoples have employed the law to favor their own religions and to oppress those they conquered. As a matter of historical realism, making it illegal for people to practice their religion is an attempt to erase their culture and a matter of politics over religion. Europeans did this in the Americas with extreme prejudice, despite large and vocal communities preaching an absolute right to religious freedom.
For the purposes of this investigation, the modern concept of crime does not emerge until the 18th Century, when we see legal systems based upon reason supersede royal whim or religious dogma. In the U.K. the Witchcraft Act of 1735 modernized English Law by making it illegal to hunt and execute alleged witches, but it also made it against the law to say that magic and witchcraft are real. In practice the Act was applied arbitrarily as a tool of social oppression until its final repeal in 1951. In this legal climate, it was prudent for even the most innocent of kitchen witches to keep their practice to themselves resulting in a culture of secrecy that has become known as occultism.
The scientific study of crime as a social phenomena only began in the late 19th Century, and criminologists did not coin the term “occult crime” until the late 1980’s. This was in response to a growing moral panic over reports of modern day Devil worshipers perpetrating heinous acts for religious reasons. Prior to the 20th Century there was precedence for secret societies operating among the aristocracy, but their conspiracies and escapades were very often just extensions of their personal politics and class privilege. The king’s mistress hired a witch to poison her rivals, English lords invoked the Devil to terrorize Irish peasants; essentially the atavistic behaviors of a dying Feudal order. The atheism of Napoleon Bonaparte prompted a wave of Anti-Satanism panics in the Catholic nations he had conquered, and following the collapse of the Second Empire another wave overtook France culminating in the archetypal Satanic conspiracy prank. Starting in 1891, Leo Taxil published a series of fictional exposes that lampooned the gullibility of conservative Catholic reactionaries and the paranoid Anti-Freemasonry movement establishing the stereotypical tropes of Masonic Satanism that persist to this day. In 1897, Taxil exploded his own prank revealing how and why he had invented the entire fantasy from whole cloth. Despite being pure fiction concocted by Taxil and his co-conspirators, the detailed rituals they described would ultimately inspire copycats to reconstruct the invented rites.
During the same decade that Leo Taxil was deceiving the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church in France, a young Aleister Crowley was completing his formal education at Cambridge and developing a personal interest in occultism. Crowley was only eleven years old when his avowedly Evangelical father died of tongue cancer, prompting a crisis of faith in the boy that would end in a total rejection of Christianity. Crowley was far from the only influential occultnik of the early 20th Century, but his pursuit of celebrity was so sensationalized by his provocative moniker “The Great Beast 666” and prolific publications that he gained a singular infamy by the time he died in 1947. Crowley’s writings on the Left Hand Path and Black Magick would ultimately inspire individuals as powerful as the eccentric tycoon Jack Parsons whose attempt at the Babylon Workings may have caused his untimely death; to a washed up carnie named Howard Levey, who would reinvent himself as the founder of The Church of Satan in 1966, initiating the popularization of Satanism as legitimate religion. At the same time, this new religious movement and alternative lifestyle trend would be maligned as the source of a wave of murder, depravity, and societal collapse. Over the 1970’s rumors of Devil-worshiping elites and Satanic hippy cults became an increasingly common feature of campfire tales, urban myths, and B-horror flicks.
With the collapse of the British Empire and the American defeat in Vietnam, the English-speaking world was primed for its own version of the panics that gripped Europe a century earlier. In an American twist, the post-modern panic was not spread by reactionary clerics, or through a deliberate hoax, but by a licensed psychotherapist. In his Victoria British Columbia offices, the good doctor used hypnotic suggestion techniques to prompt a patient into fabricating a horrific abuse history based on supposedly repressed memories. Unlike Leo Taxil who sought to humiliate and discredit conservative politicians, Lawrence Pazder worked militantly to undermine skeptical realism and affirm the superstitious zeitgeist of the old order.
Unlike Dianna Vaughan who was an emancipated woman and enthusiastic accomplice in Taxil’s elaborate prank, Michelle Smith was a traumatized patient who Pazder exploited for personal and financial gain. Pazder published a bestselling book detailing the nightmarish fantasy world his neurotic patient had made-up to prolong their therapy, offering his services as a consultant to law enforcement agencies and seeking audiences at the Vatican. This grandiose phony provided his fraudulent expertise in numerous court cases sending dozens of innocent men and women to prison for crimes that had never occurred. Due to the many false accusations and preposterous lies spread during the moral panics of the late Cold War era, it is commonly accepted that ritualized abuse by Satanic cults is a paranoid delusion with no basis in real events. As the quacks and conspiracy theorists who promoted the idea were discredited and debunked, it became increasingly difficult to separate noise from signal.
Individuals inspired by some combination of social alienation and dilettante occultism have committed violent crimes later sensationalized in the media. These are generally not deeply religious individuals, so much as they are adolescent psychopaths with extremist sympathies. In lieu of joining a racist gang, they choose the path of the lone wolf which often intersects with Satanism both superficially and sincerely. As a religious movement that extols the empowerment of the individual and personal autonomy, Satanism has an easy appeal to the alienated loner. However, just as the lone wolf is an anomaly in nature, history indicates Satanists prefer safety in numbers. Secretive Taxil-inspired cults do exist, and sometimes they are implicated in serious crimes. In the later half of the 20th Century there was a sudden wave of bizarre crimes in North America and Western Europe. The Occult Crime Watch has compiled comprehensive profiles of the most notable cases documented over the past century.