It is part of accepted colloquial speech to blame personal tragedy or personal weaknesses on “demons.” When someone commits suicide, people often speak about the dead’s battle with “their demons.” When someone commits a foul, bloody deed, another set of demons are invoked—the kind that warp minds and force otherwise good and decent souls to carry out murder.
Both the Christian and secular worldviews see demons as malefic parasites that destroy human goodness (they of course debate whether or not demons are real or just mental illness). Some criminals believe in demons, and some even believe in demons so much that they have blamed their behavior on demonic possession. The case of David Berkowitz, aka the Son of Sam, is the most well-known example of a serial killer blaming a demon for their actions. In that case, Berkowitz blamed the demon that had possessed Sam, his neighbor’s dog.
The following ten cases are nowhere near as famous as the Son of Sam, but they all feature murderers and the demons that supposedly drove them to kill.
SEE ALSO: 10 Alleged Exorcisms And Demonic Possessions
13-year-old Lauren Landavazo was walking with her friend, 13-year-old Makayla Smith, on September 2, 2016. The pair were walking home after school along a typically suburban footpath. At some point, the two girls were approached by a young man in a car. That young man was 20-year-old Kody Lott. Lott would later give two explanations for why he did what he did that day: he was jealous because Landavazo seemed to have a boyfriend and the devil wanted him to do it.
Regardless of which one is the truth, Lott opened fire on both girls with a .22 rifle. Smith, who managed to survive the ambush, told police that Lott made eye-contact with her first before pulling the trigger. Eyewitnesses also claimed that Lott shot Landavazo first before shooting her again after wounding Smith. At his 2018 trial, Lott repeated that it was the devil that had helped him to plan the shooting. The prosecution stuck with the idea that Lott was mentally unstable and angry over his inability to find a romantic partner. In one of the weirder aspects of the trial, Lott’s mother and stepfather sued the city of Wichita Falls, Texas in order to retrieve the murder weapon. According to them, the .22 rifle that Lott had used in the murder had been stolen from their apartment.
Lott was at first found mentally unfit to stand trial and was sent to the maximum-security unit of Texas mental hospital. Then, in September 2018, a Fort Worth jury found Lott guilty of the murder of Lauren Landavazo, plus they found him guilty of aggravated assault in the shooting of Makayla Smith. Lott, the man who claimed to have talked with the devil, was sentenced to life in prison.
According to his grieving family, 65-year-old Peyer Churm was a beloved father and grandfather. 17-year Tommy Smith did not care about any of this; the only thing he cared about on February 24, 2015 was getting the keys to Churm’s Range Rover. When Churm stepped in to stop the young punk from stealing his vehicle, Smith, who had already been convicted of a staggering 57 offenses, pulled out a knife and stabbed Churm in the head, back, neck, chest, and arms. The stabbing attack was so frenzied that Smith actually snapped the eight-inch knife in two.
Smith went on trial for attempted murder in March 2016. Smith told the Wolverhampton Crown Court that he was not responsible for his actions, as he had been possessed by a demon on that terrible day. The court more than likely did not buy this possession story, but they did take into account that Smith had been previously diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. As such, he was cleared of the charge of attempted murder. He was however convicted of grievous bodily harm and burglary. Churm was in the courtroom for Smith’s sentencing, even despite being blind in one eye and having survived a serious stroke as a result of Smith’s onslaught.
Rather than a jail cell, Smith was sent to a secure mental hospital for an indefinite period of time.
Believe it or not, in our secular age, exorcisms are on the rise. Last year it was reported that the Roman Catholic Church in the United States was seeing a rise in the overall number of exorcisms throughout the country. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis alone received 1,700 exorcism requests between January and December 2018.
Way back in 1974, one year after the release of the classic film, “The Exorcist,” an exorcism was carried out in the sleepy town of Osset, West Yorkshire, England. The possessed subject was one Michael Taylor, a 31-year-old married father of five children. Most who knew Taylor described him as a cherry fellow, although he was prone to fits of depression now and then. For the most part these black moods were the result of a back injury that made it hard for Taylor to maintain steady employment.
Things began to change in the Taylor household when they joined the Christian Fellowship Group, a local church organization. The previously irreligious Michael began regularly attending church services. One of the reasons for this dramatic change was 21-year-old Marie Robinson, the group’s preacher. Robinson convinced her congregation that “the power of God” could drive out their demons. Outside of these meetings, some in Osset began to claim that Robinson and Taylor were carrying on an affair.
The more Taylor became involved with Robinson, the more his attitude began to change. The once chipper man became easily irritated and foul-tempered. Things came to a head when Taylor and Robinson were found naked together. Taylor blamed this on an evil presence within himself, and a local Anglican vicar was called in to perform an exorcism. During an all-night ceremony in October 1974, the vicar and other ministers apparently drove out forty demons, including the demons of bestiality, incest, lewdness, and blasphemy. However, the exhausted clergymen decided to go home even though they still believed that three demons—murder, violence, and insanity—were still in Taylor.
A few hours later, Taylor was found covered in blood, which he claimed belonged to Satan himself. The blood in fact belonged to his wife Christine, whose mutilated body was later discovered in the Taylor home. Taylor was ultimately found not guilty by reason of insanity.
On September 10, 2015, a body was discovered inside of an abandoned car in the Whitestone section of Queens, New York. The body, which belonged to 28-year-old Angie Escobar, who had died after being stabbed some eighty times. The medical examiner in the case found that Angie had died four days prior to her discovery.
Before long the New York Police Department zeroed in on a suspect—31-year-old Luis Zambrano of Flushing, Queens. Zambrano was arrested on September 18th after fleeing to Virginia. Zambrano ultimately confessed to police that he had stabbed Escobar with a pair of scissors after the single mother admitted that she wanted to break off their relationship. In pleading guilty, Zambrano claimed that he had been possessed by a demon at the time of murder. Zambrano also blamed “trust issues” for his actions.
Zambrano was convicted of manslaughter in April 2016 and sentenced to twenty-years in prison. Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown also helped to convict Zambrano of an unrelated burglary charge, which added a further three years to Zambrano’s sentence.
Elizbieta Plackowska of Naperville, Illinois began hearing voices sometime before October 30, 2012. These voices told Elizbieta that her child and one of his friends were possessed and needed to die in order to find salvation. Elizbieta gave into these voices, and on October 30th, she killed 7-year-old Justin Plackowska and 5-year-old Olivia Dworakowski. Justin was Elizbieta’s son, while Olivia was spending the night at the Plackowska family home.
The case of Elizbieta Plackowska involved multiple possessions. First of all, Plackowska believed that her son Justin and Olivia were possessed by demons. At the same time, Plackowska was possessed by an entity that she called the “black shadow”. Of course, once Plackowska went to trial, her defense team turned her possession story into a plea of insanity. Dr. Phillip Resnick took the stand and testified that the 45-year-old accused murderer had suffered a psychotic episode prior to carrying out the gruesome crime.
As the trial continued, jurors learned the horrific truth that Elizbieta had stabbed her son 100 times and Olivia fifty times. The jury also learned that Elizbieta had originally told the police that an unknown stalker had carried out the murders after breaking into the family’s Naperville home.
Over five years after the murders, Elizbieta Plackowska was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of two counts of murder and one count of animal cruelty (she had killed the family dog and the Dworakowski’s dog on that horrible night, too). She is not eligible for parole.
Luton, England is a rough place. Earlier this year, crime studies in the UK found that the city has one of the highest burglary rates in all of England and Wales. Luton is also notorious as a popular home for some of the UK’s most fearsome jihadists. As recently as July 2019, a 28-year-old man and a 25-year-old woman were arrested in the city and accused of carrying documents implicating them in a forthcoming terror attack.
Luton was the scene of a different type of horror on May 26, 2015. That night, 32-year-old Jason Nelson, originally from Grenada, went to the home of 20-year-old drug dealer Jordan Maguire. The goal was to buy weed. However, Nelson didn’t buy anything that night. Instead he stabbed Maguire several times before fleeing into the night. Maguire managed to cling on to life long enough to die in the street like a dog.
After police arrested Nelson in Trinidad and Tobago and extradited him back to the UK, the ex-con was accused on other crimes in conjunction with the attack on Maguire. In the same night that he murdered Maguire, Nelson also sexually assaulted a 25-year-old female and a 60-year-old female, both of whom lived near Maguire at the Marsh Farm estate in Luton.
Nelson excused his actions by claiming that a demon had possessed on the night in question. It was the demon that had told him to kill Maguire, and it was the demon that made him rape a grandmother in front of her grandchildren. Nelson would later try to claim that he killed Maguire in self-defense, but, in October 2015, the Luton Crown Court sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole after twenty-seven years.
Brookline, Connecticut is the type of town were murder never happens. In fact, when 40-year-old Alan Bono was murdered on February 16, 1981, it was Brookline’s first homicide since the town had been founded 193 years earlier. The guilty party had stabbed Bono more than twenty times with a common pocketknife. The killer, 19-year-old Arne Cheyenne Johnson, went to trial proclaiming a most unusual defense—not guilty by reason of demonic possession.
Without the demon possession story, this would have been an easy, open-and-shut case. Johnson had stabbed his landlord Bono after the pair had gotten into a heated argument, and was then arrested by police just two miles away from the crime scene. However, the roots of the case’s weirdness began a year earlier on July 3, 1980. On that night, 11-year-old David Glatzel woke up screaming. He told his parents that he had seen a demon in his dreams—a demon with pointed ears, sharp teeth, and cloven hooves. David called his demon the Beast Man.
Given that David was not a fan of horror movies and not prone to nightmares, his parents took his claims seriously. Things became even worse when the nightmares continued, and scratches and bruises appeared all over David’s skin. At a loss about what to do, David’s sister Debbie asked her fiancé to help. That fiancé’s was Arne Johnson.
The Glatzell family and Johnson decided to contact Connecticut-based demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren as part of their final attempt to rid David of the Beast Man forever. The Warrens got the Bridgeport Diocese involved in the case, which ended with an exorcism. Johnson said at his trial that he had told the Beast Man to enter his body. Martin Minella, Johnson’s lawyer, used taped recordings of David’s exorcism and the testimonies of Ed and Lorraine Warren to support Johnson’s claim of demonic possession. The story became an instant sensation and lead to the publication of a paperback book called “The Demon Murder Case.” Two years later the book was turned into a television movie starring Kevin Bacon and Cloris Leachman.
Although convicted of the terrible crime, Johnson was released one month early from prison after only serving five years of his sentence. Connecticut authorities supported this decision by calling Johnson an “exemplary” inmate.
In February 2019, police in Kalamazoo, Michigan released the 2016 interrogation tapes of spree killer Jason Dalton. Dalton, 48, carried out one of the most inexplicable mass shootings in recent memory. On February 20, 2016, Dalton, an Uber driver, shot and killed 62-year-old Mary Lou Nye and her sister-in-law, 60-year-old Jo Nye; 74-year-old Dorothy “Judy” Brown; 68-year-old Barbara Hawthorne; and 53-year-old Richard Smith and his 17-year-old son Tyler. In between some of these drive-by shootings, Dalton continued to pick up passengers and drop them off at their destinations. 14-year-old Abigail Kopf and 28-year-old Tina Carruthers were also shot during Dalton’s rampage, but managed to survive.
During his interrogation, Dalton told detectives that the Uber mobile app began changing his personality. “I know you guys are going to have a hard time believing this, but it literally took over [my] mind and body,” Dalton told investigators. Dalton further elaborated that he saw “the symbol of the Eastern Star” inside of the Uber app, and a horned “devil head” regularly appeared on his phone’s screen whenever he logged on for work. In short, Dalton blamed his killing spree on the fact that he had been possessed by a demon hiding in the Uber app.
On Tuesday, February 5, 2019, Dalton was sentenced to life in prison by Kalamazoo County Circuit Court Jude Alexander C. Lipsey. The sentence did not come as a surprise, as Dalton had already plead guilty a month before. There was one surprise, as Dalton remained silent and remorseless throughout the proceedings. Besides the devil app justification, nobody has come up with a theory as to why Dalton did what he did on that awful night.
It is not easy to horrify the Russian public, but that is what happened in August 2008. In a forest outside of the city of Yaroslavl, four mutilated corpses were found. The bodies had been desecrated beyond belief, plus homicide investigators also learned that the victims, all of whom were teenage boys, had been robbed either before or after death. Still, despite this fact, the sheer brutality of the crime lead investigators to believe that robbery was not the motive.
The investigators were right. The crime had been carried out by six self-proclaimed Satanists lead by a young man named Nikolai Ogolobyak. Prior to the murders, the gang of Satanists had carried out several animal sacrifices, but felt that humans had to be killed in order to please Lucifer. Therefore, Ogolobyak and his brood killed and dismembered the four teenagers as part of an initiation ritual, and, according to some reports, also ate parts of their victims’ bodies.
In June 2010, following a trial which was closed to the public due to the gruesome nature of the crime, 21-year-old Ogolobyak was sentenced to twenty years in prison on charges of robbery, murder, and corpse desecration. The other five members of his group (four boys, one girl) were given sentences that ranged from eight to ten years.
The case of the Yaroslavl Satanists caused a stir in Russia, especially since all members of the gang belonged to the country’s much-maligned goth subculture. The Yaroslavl crime also occurred not long before the January 2009 drowning murder of a 16-year-old St. Petersburg girl, which was likewise the work self-proclaimed goths. One of the Yaroslavl killers also claimed that he had carried out the crimes in order to provide Satan with victims. All told, the Yaroslavl and St. Petersburg cases lead the Russian State Duma to propose several legal amendments that would regulate “emo websites” and bar any goth-affiliated teenagers from entering government buildings or schools.
At the tender age of 16, Sean Sellers was a practicing Satanist who regularly drank his own blood. According to Sellers himself, his descent into darkness began at around age seven. However, given his rough upbringing, one could say that Sellers was damned from the beginning.
Sellers was born in California to a 16-year-old mother and an alcoholic father, the latter of whom abandoned the family when Sean was three-years-old. Sean’s mother Vonda tried to bring stability to Sean’s life by marrying truck driver Paul Bellofatto. The desired stability never came, and by the time Sean was sixteen the family had moved thirty times.
Sean had other problems besides chronic moving. He suffered physical abuse at the hands of his mother and grandfather, while one of his uncles liked to humiliate him by forcing him to wear soiled diapers on his head. This punishment was made worse by the fact that Sean regularly wet the bed until age thirteen.
All of Sean’s rage and humiliation exploded on March 5, 1986. Wearing only a pair of black underwear, Sean crept into his parents’ bedroom and shot both in the face. Sean would later state that he was angry at his mother because she disapproved of his girlfriend and the fact that he had dropped out of high school. Prior to the murders, Sean had carried out an occult ritual.
The murder of Vonda and Paul Bellofatto was premeditated. Sean had stripped down to his underwear to avoid getting blood splatter on his clothes, and he tried to pose his victims in such a way as to make homicide investigators think that an unknown intruder was responsible. Such planning hinted at an experienced killer, which is what Sean was. A year earlier, Sean had shot and killed a Circle K convenience store clerk named Robert Paul Bower after the clerk had refused to sell him beer.
Sellers never hid the fact that he was responsible for all three murders. Convicted and sentenced to death, Sellers remains the youngest criminal ever sentenced to death in America since 1976. While languishing in prison, Sellers found fame as a born-again Christian and a crusader against the occult. At his trial and afterwards, Sellers maintained that he had embraced Satanism after becoming addicted to the fantasy roleplaying game “Dungeons & Dragons.” Sellers, who also claimed that he was at one time possessed by a demonic entity, became a fixture on television shows and conducted interviews with Geraldo Rivera and Oprah Winfrey. These interviews often saw Sellers speak as an “expert” on Satanism and occult practices.
On February 3, 1999, the state of Oklahoma finally carried out the death sentenced that it had promised thirteen years before. Two days before death, a petulant Sellers complained in his jailhouse diary that people kept bringing up the 1985 and 1986 murders: “I’m amazed at the self-righteousness I still encounter from people who don’t even know me,” Sellers wrote, “People…for one moment, get your eyes off my own sins and look at your own. You want to harp on something that happened 13 years ago. Thirteen years!” Sellers finished his diary by stating that he had repented for his sins and had served God ever since.
About The Author: Benjamin Welton is a freelance writer in Boston.