The idea that people are possessed with demons or evil spirits is one the most widely held religious and spiritual beliefs in the history of the world. But because of advancements in science, demonic possession and exorcism are often thought of as archaic. The Vatican released its guidelines for exorcism in 1614, and in the past 400 years we have learned a lot about how the brain works. For example, mental illnesses like schizophrenia can closely resemble signs of possession.
Sadly, some people still take part in this dangerous and medieval ritual. In most cases, the people who are killed arent even the ones who are suffering from mental illness; theyre usually the ones performing the exorcism. Other times, there are genuinely sick individuals who become victims to delusional religious zealots.
Here are 10 examples of people who were tragically killed during exorcisms.
10 Susan Kay Clark
For some bizarre reason, amateur exorcists think that in order to exorcise a demon, they need to physically force it out. Even films about exorcisms rarely show the exorcist resorting to violence, so its a mystery why so many people seem to think that physical violence is needed.
A perfect example of this is the murder of 59-year-old Susan Kay Clark on February 1, 2008, in Odessa, Texas. Clarks husband, Jan Clark, was performing an exorcism on his wife by wrapping her up in a blanket and holding her to the bathroom floor, where she suffocated to death. When police got a tip from one of Jans friends, they entered the house and found Susans body wrapped in a blanket with a cross and a sword on her. Clark said he was trying to perform an exorcism when the demon entered his body, leaving her to die.
Jan pleaded guilty in 2010 and was given a life sentence.
9 Maxi Castro
In some cases, its not even people that are possessedsometimes its a place. Thats exactly what happened in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on May 31, 2013. The area has a population that is about 70 percent Buddhist, and there is a strong belief in black magic and exorcism. Professional exorcists like 32-year-old Maxi Castro arent uncommon. Castro was called to the home of a local school teacher, Wasantha Bandara, because she claimed there were evil spirits in her house.
While Castro had performed other exorcisms in the past, the one on that fateful day was very odd and dangerous. Castro believed that the house had evil spirits because someone had sprinkled human ashes around the house. In order to ward off the spirits, he began by sacrificing a cat. Then he dug a shallow gravenot for the animal, but for himself. He then had people bury him alive with a sword and gave them instructions that as soon they saw the sword breaking through the surface, they were supposed to pull him out.
After three hours, there was no sign of the sword, and the onlookers finally decided to dig him up. He was found unconscious. They immediately took him to a hospital, but he had already died.
8 Kyung Jae Chung
Kyung Jae Chung and her husband, Jae Whoa Chung, were missionaries who ran a Christian school in Bangladesh. The couple, along with an exorcist named Sung Soo Choi, often traveled to Los Angeles for church meetings.
While in LA, they enlisted the help of Jin Hyun Choi, deacon of the Glendale Calvary Presbyterian Church, and decided to perform an exorcism on Kyung Jae. The reason they thought she was possessed was because she acted spiritually arrogant and disobeyed her husband.
On July 4, 1997, the three men began the exorcism in a condominium in Century City. At first it started with prayers and hymns, but after two and a half hours, things escalated quite a bit. First they pinned her down and asked who she was. She said in a deep, harsh voice, Gundae, Gundae, which means Legion.
Things got even worse when she supposedly said, Ill get out when shes deada threat which they sadly obliged. Over the next four hours, they pressed down on her stomach and punched her before stomping her chest until it caved in. She broke 16 ribs and died from blunt force trauma.
The exorcist, Sung Soo Choi, got four years in prison, her husband got two years, and the deacon got three years probation, while Kyung Jae Chungs teenage daughters were left without a mother.
7 Kyong-A Ha
Kyong-A Ha was 25 years old when she came from South Korea to the Bay Area in February 1997. Her family met with Jean Park, a self-proclaimed reverend in a fundamentalist Christian sect. Park told her family that she could cure Has insomnia with an exorcism (but later told the police that Ha suffered from schizophrenia). Regardless, Park moved Ha into an upscale apartment that they used for a place of worship. After Ha tried to flee a few times, Park decided it was time to perform the exorcism.
Just before dawn on March 8, 1997, Park had three other women hold Ha down while Park and her mother, Hwa Ja Ra, each hit Ha 50 times, totaling 100 blows. Ha, who was muffled with a towel, had 10 of her ribs broken and defecated on herself before she died. Despite all this, Park supposedly told police that this was a victory for Jesus Christ.
Park, Ra, and the three female assistants were all charged with the murder of Ha.
6 Jocelyn Guzman-Rodriguez
Some people simply shouldnt have children, and you couldnt find a more perfect example of this than Eder Guzman-Rodriguez.
The 28-year-old father lived in Floyd, Virginia, and thought that his 2-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, was possessed by demons. The brutal exorcism was held on November 23, 2011. First, in order to go through with the exorcism, Guzman-Rodriguez beat and strangled Carmen Nolazcohis wife and the mother of Jocelynuntil she was unconscious to prevent her from stopping the exorcism. Thats when he turned his focus on the toddler.
Guzman-Rodriguez said that the baby made motions that she wanted to fight during the exorcism. Then he claims that the demon entered his own body, causing him to beat and strangle the little girl, which caused fractured ribs, scrapes, bruises on a lung, and bleeding. When the police arrived they found Bibles and other religious books surrounding the baby on the bed.
Guzman-Rodriguez pleaded guilty and was given a sentence of 20 years and 11 months. A terrible footnote to the story is that Jocelyns mother believes her husbands allegations that the babys death was at the hands of Satan and Guzman-Rodriguez is not responsible for beating and strangling the young child.
5 Charity Miranda-Martin
Charity Miranda-Martin was a depressed 17-year-old, which, really, isnt too unusual for a teenager. Her family, on the other hand, believed that this was a sign of demonic possession.
On January 18, 1997, at their home in Sayville, New York, Charitys familywhich consisted of her mother and two sistersperformed an exorcism. Over the course of seven and a half hours they tried to drive the demon out of her body. The mother then sent the youngest daughter (who was 15 at the time) out of the room and tried to smother the demons out of Charity. First she used a pillow, which failed to work, so she got a plastic bag and smothered the 17-year-old cheerleader to death.
After Charity died, the mother and two sisters all joined hands and listened to a Frank Sinatra recording, because it was a favorite of Charitys grandfather, who had passed away a week earlier. Then they prayed and read passages from Revelations.
The mother, Vivian, was found not criminally responsible by reason of insanity and was sent to Mid-Hudson Psychiatric Center.
4 Amy Burney
Most of the time, exorcisms are performed by professionals with the approval of the Vatican. That helps provide some measure of control over circumstances which, as weve seen, can become extremely dangerous. Needless to say, its usually a bad idea to take matters into your own hands, and that couldnt be more evident than with the tragic case of five-year-old Amy Burney
Amy, who moved from Miami to New York City when she was four, soon began missing a lot of school before vanishing altogether. Nobody was sure why until authorities investigated her disappearance and uncovered a brutal scene.
It turned out that her mom and her grandmother thought the girl was possessed by demons. That was when they tried their own home remedy for curing demons. Around April 27, 1997, they made the little girl drink a mixture of ammonia, pepper, vinegar, and olive oil, then taped her mouth shut. The girl died and they threw her dead body in the garbage.
3 Amora Bain Carson
Even from these few examples, its hard not to get the impression that, sometimes, the real demons are on the wrong side of the exorcism. Blaine Keith Milam and his girlfriend, Jesseca Carson, of Rusk County, Texas, are two of the worst offenders.
Milam, who was the boyfriend of Carson and not the father of Amora, thought that the 13-month-old girl was possessed by demons. Why he thought this was unclear, but the couple was trying to get money to pay for an exorcist. When they couldnt raise the money, the couple tried to expel the demons themselves about a month after Amoras first birthday, on December 2, 2008.
Despite being the youngest victim on this list, baby Amora unfortunately suffered one of the worst deaths. Amora was bitten 24 times, her ribs were broken, her liver was torn, and she received multiple blows to the head. At first, the monstrous Milam and Carson blamed the death on a dog attack, then a car accident. In reality, Milam beat the 13-month-old with a hammer and sexually assaulted her. Her injuries were so severe that the medical examiner couldnt determine which one specifically caused her death.
Jesseca Carson was given a life sentence without parole, while Milam is currently sitting on death row so that the state of Texas can exorcise the life out of his body.
2 Terrance Cottrell Jr.
At the age of two, Terrance Cottrell Jr. was diagnosed with autism. Like many other children who have autism, he acted outwhich led people at his church to believe he was possessed. When he was eight years old, Terrences mother, Patricia Cooper, brought him to Faith Temple Church of the Apostolic Faith in Milwaukee, where he was given nine special prayer sessions over a three-week span.
On August 2, 2003, at the storefront church, Ray Hemphill, who was a minister at the church, tried to perform an exorcism on the young autistic boy. Terrence, who hated to be touched, was held down by his mother and two other parishioners while Hemphill laid a cross on top pf the boys chest.
While it is unclear what happened from there, at the end of the two-hour exorcism Terrence wasnt breathing because he had been suffocated. Hemphill was sentenced to only two and a half years in prison for killing the eight-year-old boy.
1 The Children Of Zakieya Latrice Avery
The most recent and most horrible case on this list happened on January 17, 2014, in Germantown, Maryland.
Twenty-eight-year-old Zakieya Latrice Avery, a mother of four, was sharing a home with 21-year-old Monifa Denise Sanford, who she had met at church. The tragic event began on January 16, when a neighbor called police because one of Averys children had been left unattended in a car. By the time the police arrived, the child had already been brought inside. The police investigated and arranged for child protective services to visit the home.
But at around 9:30 the next day, police received another call saying there was blood and a knife in front of Averys home. When police arrived, they found a heartbreaking scene. Averys youngest children, one-year-old Norell Harris and two-year-old Zyana Harris, had been stabbed to death. Her older children, five-year-old Taniya Harris and eight-year-old Martello Harris, were also injured after being stabbed, but they would go on to survive the horrific ordeal.
Both Avery and Sanford claimed that the children were possessed and that they were trying to perform an exorcism. Whether that is true or not, it is a sad and disturbing end for two innocent children.
Robert Grimminck is a Canadian crime fiction writer. You can follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.