More than a dozen carcasses are discovered in a residential neighborhood, sparking a sheriff’s investigation into a possible case of animal cruelty.
More than a dozen mutilated animal carcasses have been found in a residential neighborhood of Lawndale, sparking a sheriff’s investigation into a possible case of animal cruelty.
Fourteen decapitated animals — including roosters, chicks, pigeons, a turtle and a goat — were found by animal control officers in an alleyway behind a home in the 14700 block of Mansel Avenue, said sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Beringer.
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Acting on a tip Wednesday morning, authorities found a pigeon and two baby chicks with their heads cut off packed in potato sacks and boxes in the alleyway, Lawndale animal control officer Kathleen Russell said. Inside nearby trash cans were other dead animals.
Sheriff’s investigators were brought in Thursday, said Mark Ares, Lawndale’s municipal services manager.
Property records show Rosa and Giovanni Villanueva bought the property in November 2004, but officials couldn’t verify if the pair lived in the home. The Villanuevas could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Neighbors said the home had been occupied by renters for the past few years.
Neither animal control officers nor police have made contact with the tenants, officials said. Nobody appeared to be home Thursday afternoon.
The current tenants have lived there only a short while and keep to themselves, neighbors said.
But one resident, who asked that his name not be used, said he called animal control officers Wednesday after finding dead chickens in the alleyway.
He has also observed the tenants practicing an early-morning ritual in a courtyard just outside the three-bedroom home’s front door, he said.
“They cut the heads of the chickens off, do a dance and sprinkle blood on the floor and then they wash it down,” he said.
Russell said animal control officers also found near the animal carcasses about a dozen tall, thick, glassed candles, suggesting some sort of religious ritual was involved. A couple of iconic statues were also near the front door of the home Thursday.
But Beringer said the investigation was too fresh to verify any religious connection.
The early-morning activity described by the resident sounded like Santeria, a centuries-old religion that blends African and Catholic beliefs, said Carlos Amarro, a Santero, or priest of Santeria, of 32 years based in Wilmington.
Animal sacrifice is a crucial part of Santeria, he said. Practitioners see sacrifice as literally feeding their saints, but animals are generally eaten afterward, not thrown away.
“We don’t condemn them doing that,” Amarro said of throwing the animals away, “but I’m trying to get them to eat them or use them. You do have to bury them sometimes in the ground.”
Followers of Santeria are often of Cuban descent, and Lawndale is home to many practitioners, he said.
But Russell said Wednesday’s discovery was the first she had seen of animal sacrifices in more than three years on the job in Lawndale. “This is one of the worst (animal cruelty cases) I’ve seen,” she said. “This is my first time. Never in Lawndale.”
In 1989, an Inglewood judge sentenced a Hawthorne woman to 45 days in county jail and ordered her to keep away from animals for three years after neighborhood children found dead chickens near her home. Officials with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said the live animals seized at the woman’s home were malnourished and sick. They also found evidence the dead animals were used in a Santeria sacrifice.