February 8, 1981, in San Francisco, California, the headless body of Leroy Carter Jr. is found in a sleeping bag. Carter’s body did not initially stir concern as passersby believed he was sleeping. Upon closer inspection, it was found he had been beheaded, with two kernels of corn and a chicken’s wing pushed into his neck.
The clean cut used to decapitate Carter led investigators to believe a very sharp axe or machete had severed his head. Approximately 50 yards (45 meters) away was a box containing a slaughtered chicken. The body was soon identified as 29-year-old Leroy Carter Jr. from his fingerprints.
Due to the seemingly ritualistic elements of the murder, Detective Sandi Gallant was contacted to assist with the case. Gallant had been involved in the investigation of the mass murder and suicide in Guyana a few years before and had begun to research world religions and cults in the wake of the Jonestown massacre.
She suspected the killer was a practitioner of Palo Mayombe. This religion can be traced back to the year 1500 AD in the Congo Basin and involves black magic, according to palomayombe.org. To get additional insight, Gallant contacted Deputy Chief Medical Examiner Charles Wetli, an expert on Palo Mayombe and Santeria (a blend of Yoruba beliefs and Catholicism with an emphasis on rituals).
“Wetli noted,” Michael Newton wrote in his book The Encyclopedia of Unsolved Crimes, “that chickens are routinely sacrificed to various Orishas (gods) in the Afro-Caribbean religion, but corn is specifically sacred to the god Eleggua, ruler of gates and crossroads.”
Wetli predicted Carter’s head would be found near the location where his body was discovered, returned 42 days after Carter’s death. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Gallant explained pieces of the head would first be used in ceremonies for three weeks, utilizing a cauldron to perform the rituals. “At the end of those 21 days,” Gallant continued, “if the priest deemed it appropriate, he would actually sleep in an area with this head and with this caldron for another 21 days. Then, on the 42nd day, he discards the head in close proximity to where he took it from. To him, that was a sacred way of returning the head.”
Gallant passed along this information to her colleagues, who reacted with disbelief. Gallant told the Times, “We literally were laughed at by our homicide investigators and our chief of detectives. It was like, ‘Give me a break. This stuff doesn’t happen.’” As such, there was no surveillance of the area in place when the severed head was found on March 22, 42 days after Carter’s murder, left near the location where his body was discovered.