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San Francisco’s Unsolved Santeria Murder of 1981

On February 7th, 1981, LeRoy Carter Jr., a twenty-nine-year-old African American was walking through Golden Gate Park in San Francisco searching for a place to sleep. He found a secluded spot next to Alvord Lake where he slipped into his sleeping bag and went to sleep. The papers didn’t say much about the murder, those papers that did run the story relegated it to a small blurb hidden somewhere near the back. To many, it was just the story of a dead homeless man, and it was only the manner of his death that made it notable. Carter had been found decapitated, and evidence found at the scene pointed towards voodoo.

Alvord Lake sits at the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park, across from the iconic Haight Ashbury District. The epicenter of the Hippie movement of the 1960s, the Haight was filled with lost children living on the streets and searching for meaning and purpose. Some found that purpose, but as the 70s rolled on drugs, especially heroin, devastated the district. Free love and peace had been replaced by a growing epidemic of overdoses and crime.

However, during the 1980s the Haight made a comeback as a new generation moved in. There was a growing and proud homosexual community, a budding comedy scene that launched the careers of Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams, and white upper-middle class families, merging with Haight’s colorful past. A McDonalds opened at the far west end of the district, Haight-Ashbury was officially gentrified.

Just across the street, in the shadow of those golden arches, was Golden Gate Park. A popular spot for tourists, it was also a haven for thugs and junkies searching for victims and a fix. Police warned tourists to avoid the park. Leroy Carter jr. was an African American man who survived the Vietnam war only to return home with no direction or guidance. He found comfort on the streets, surviving day-to-day just as he had done in the jungles of Vietnam. Carter was a petty criminal with a vagrant’s rap sheet, doing what needed to be done to get by. There was nothing about his life that seemed to be linked to the occult or voodoo. From all outward appearances, it looked as though LeRoy Carter Jr. just picked the wrong place to sleep.

When the police found Carter’s body, he was still in his sleeping bag by the lake. His head was missing, sliced clean through. Two corncobs and a chicken wing had been jammed into his severed neck. Fifty-yards from the body police found the mutilated remains of several dead chickens. The case was assigned to SFPD Inspector Sandi Gallant. Gallant had recently headed up the department’s investigation into the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana and its connection to San Francisco. In doing so, she had become the department’s expert on cults and religious ritualistic killings.  Many of the cults surrounding San Francisco were born out of communal lifestyles of the late-60s and early-70s. Although most of these communes had either dissolved or learned to continue on as a peaceful assembly of likeminded spirits, a small minority had morphed into cults.

 

But LeRoy’s murder didn’t have the markings of your average white-bread Manson-esque hippie cult. The dead chicken pointed something not all that common in San Francisco.  Inspector Gallant turned to Dade County, Florida coroner Charles Wetli, the country’s leading expert on Santeria. Santeria was brought to the New World on slave ships. It began with the Yoruba people, an African tribe living in what is now Northcentral Nigeria. It developed in the Caribbean where it merged with elements of Christianity before coming to the southern coast of the United States. Sacrifice plays a major role in Santeria but mostly involves the use of live chicken but there are those underground sects who still seek out human victims.

 

Wetli informed Inspector Gallant that the ritual was not yet complete. If this was indeed Santeria, the killer would be returning to the scene of the crime 42 days later to return the body’s head. For the next 41 days, investigators sifted through evidence which all lead nowhere, but in the back of her mind Gallant knew day 42 was fast approaching. On March 22, 1981, Gallant and her partner were back in the park, staking out the spot where Carter’s headless body was found. Despite their vigilance, the killer placed the head in the weeds next to Alvord Lake without being detected. The killer had completed the ritual and gotten away yet again.

The head gave police no new leads into the murder, and the case went cold. Gallant eventually became an outspoken opponent of the popular role playing game Dungeons and Dragons, even giving lectures warning parents of its connection to occult murder and suicide. LeRoy Carter Jr.’s remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. To this day, LeRoy Carter Jr.’s murder remains unsolved.

 

 

 

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