The recent investigation into the 1980 murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl wasn't the first time authorities have come across the possibility of satanic rituals in northwest Ohio.
Five years after the Mercy Hospital nun was strangled and stabbed, tips, surveillance, and an infrared aerial sweep of Spencer Township prompted Lucas County Sheriff James Telb and investigators to spend two days excavating a woody area in western Lucas County. They were looking for the bodies of 50 to 60 babies and children who reportedly had been sacrificed over several years during cult rituals.
"We hear these things for 4 1/2 months, we had to act on it," the sheriff told The Blade yesterday.
Investigators found nothing of substance, and the dig was abandoned.
But nearly two decades later, the allegations then loosely echo those of a woman who told local authorities last year that, as a child, she was an unwilling participant in rituals in which other children and animals were sacrificed or mutilated.
Later, in high school, she said she was used for sadomasochistic sex. Among the perpetrators, she alleged, was Father Gerald Robinson, who was arrested Friday for the 1980 murder of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl.
The woman's claims have not been confirmed by local investigators, but they were enough to lead authorities to reopen the murder investigation.
Sheriff Telb said yesterday he was not contacted by investigators reviewing the 1980 murder case, and he's unsure if there are any links between it and the 1985 tips about satanic rituals that his department pursued.
In fact, he acknowledged, children most likely never were sacrificed in the area they searched. A missing child who reportedly had been sacrificed, Charity Freeman, turned up years later in California. She had been abducted by her grandfather.
"If there were [human] bodies there, we would have found them," Sheriff Telb said.
Still, Sheriff Telb noted, surveillance reports on the area preceding the digs indicated some sort of ritual, and investigators found animal bones, knives, and a cache of children's clothing.
Investigators looking at Sister Margaret Ann's case have played down the possibility of a ritual involved with her slaying.
Still, like the 1985 search, the national media have descended on prosecutors and police, in part, because of the woman's startling allegations last year.
The timing of Sister Margaret Ann's murder on Holy Saturday possibly fits the pattern of a satanic sacrifice, two experts told The Blade yesterday.
"The whole crux of Satanism is to parody Christianity, to mock it, to reverse what is done in Christian rituals," said Raymond Buckland, who has written more than 40 books on the occult.
On Easter weekend, Christians around the world observe Jesus Christ's crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.
"Satanists will invert the Christian cross, use black candles instead of white. They will hold satanic masses with defrocked priests if they can find one," said Mr. Buckland, a self-proclaimed wiccan, or witch, who lives near Wooster, Ohio.
Bob Vanderhorst, a Toledoan who has researched cults and hate groups for more than 30 years, agreed that Holy Saturday would be a significant date for Satanists.
"Like any religion," he said, "there are 'fringe groups' and there are satanic fringe groups that sacrifice animals, and human sacrifice is not out of the question."
He said Satanists seek to sacrifice someone who is "pure" and "desecrate [them] with evil."
Blade Religion Editor David Yonke contributed to this report.
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