The Philadelphia Inquirer, Apr. 5, 2003
By Thomas J. Gibbons Jr., Inquirer Staff Writer
It was a death so bizarre that veteran city Homicide Division detectives, some with more than 30 years’ experience, couldn’t remember a similar case.
The body of Willie J. “Pete” Kent, a 60-year-old street person, was found Feb. 28 inside an abandoned rowhouse in North Philadelphia. His neck, which had a rope around it, bore vicious slice wounds. His torso had been nonsurgically cut open, and his heart, liver, one of his kidneys, and the top of his esophagus had been removed. Whether Kent was murdered has yet to be determined.
Investigators now say they have pretty much run down all of the usual leads and are turning to Dawn Perlmutter, a expert in occult murders, for help in the case.
“She is a specialist in crime scenes dealing with the occult and cults in general. That certainly is an avenue that we’re pursuing, although we’re not ready to say that this is what happened,” said Lt. Joseph I. Maum, the lead investigator on the case.
“We know very little as to what exactly happened to this gentleman, [including] how he died,” Maum said during an interview yesterday.
After checking to see whether law enforcement officers across the country had handled or could remember similar deaths and coming up empty-handed, Maum said, his detectives contacted the Middle Atlantic Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network, a law enforcement assistance group based in Bucks County. They were told Perlmutter might be of help in the case.
Perlmutter, who lives in Bucks County, said she did not want to discuss the Kent case publicly. She said she has been doing research into ritualistic crime and violence for about 15 years and working with law enforcement for about eight years.
“What I do is assist law enforcement officers in distinguishing between types of ritualistic crime or even determining if it is a ritualistic crime,” said Perlmutter, whose interest in the subject began when she studied religion and idolatry for her doctoral degree. That led to research on violence and image worship.
Maum said investigators have all but ruled out a connection between Kent’s death and the stabbing death of a 64-year-old homeless woman whose body was found Jan. 28 in a camper behind a vacant building four blocks from the spot in the 1500 block of North Eighth Street where Kent’s body was found.
From evidence in the crumbling rowhouse, police believe that Kent both died and was eviscerated elsewhere.
“There wasn’t much blood at all at the scene, which indicates to us that he was probably killed somewhere else and brought to that location afterward,” Maum said. Detectives have canvassed the neighborhood and searched numerous vacant houses in the neighborhood looking for a crime scene, all to no avail.
The fact that the heart was taken is vexing, Maum said. “With the occult murders, generally the heart is the first thing to go. So that’s one of the things that we’re looking at,” he said.
But, he added, “We’re a little leery of just saying this is definitely an occult murder or this is definitely some sort of ceremonial killing, because from what knowledge we have of these things, this doesn’t meet the criteria for it.”
At this point, Maum said, detectives are willing to try anything.
“Will this be the answer to our questions? Quite possible,” he said. “But it’s just as possible that this will be of little or no value to us.”