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South Beach Santeria? Decapitated animals wash up near condo, horrify residents

A goat and three chickens were decapitated in an apparent sacrifice and dumped into Biscayne Bay where they washed up behind a luxury South Beach condominium to the horror of residents.

“I don’t understand this – the mentality is savage,” said Kathryn Bookstaver, an 11-year resident of The Floridian condominium on West Avenue where the animals were found along the seawall. “It’s disgusting.”

Bookstaver and her neighbors, also faulted Miami Beach officials who left the animals to rot throughout Saturday and into Sunday morning.

A spokesman for Miami Beach police, Bobby Hernandez, said the department didn’t get involved because the dead animals didn’t appear to be sacrificed as a threat directed against any particular individual.

“If this happened on private property and appeared to be targeting someone, we would investigate,” Hernandez said.

“Unfortunately, this kind of thing does happen around here with all of the different cultures,” he said.

The dead animals were finally attended to by Richard Couto, a founder and investigator of the Animal Recovery Mission, a nonprofit that helps expose and stop animal-abuse cases. He hauled the animals out of the water and waited for the sanitation department to arrive and remove the animals.

Couto said the animals appeared to have been killed as part of a Santeria or Palo Mayombe rite. Santeria, which blends West African religious beliefs with Roman Catholicism, revolves around the worship of saints. Palo Mayombe, a more obscure religion, is associated with petitioning the spirits of the dead.

Animal sacrifice is legal, protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Since it can’t stop the sacrifices, he said, his group tries to ensure that the animals are treated humanely. But sometimes, before they’re sacrificed, the creatures are hog-tied or kept in plastic bags or sweltering pens, he said. That’s a crime because it’s unlawful to abuse animals, though it’s legal to sacrifice them in a religious ceremony.

The dead animals were found blocks from the section of South Beach which has been closed off to traffic to host Notre Dame and Alabama fans in town for Monday’s Orange Bowl game. Just blocks away, in an unrelated South Beach incident Saturday, police arrested a career criminal who shot and killed an acquaintance.

Couto said ARM has helped investigate and respond to animal-sacrifice cases throughout Miami-Dade County, from Hialeah to Miami Beach.

Nelson Reyes, a police officer who teaches a Miami police course in Afro-Caribbean religious practices, said the South Beach sacrifice could be related to Haitian Voodoo. He said it’s almost impossible to know more about the particulars of this sacrifice because other items associated with the ritual were washed away.

Generally, Reyes said, decapitated chickens are associated with a “cleansing” ritual and decapitated goats, rams or other four-legged animals are a sign of a spell cast for a beneficial effect.

Reyes said signs of Afro-Caribbean religious sacrifices can be found throughout Miami-Dade, from the Miami River to the train tracks at Flagler Avenue to the downtown courthouse to Sewell Park in Miami, where supplicants place apples near palm trees.

Except for the location of the animals in South Beach, “this really isn’t that big of a deal,” Reyes said.

But the sight and smell of four dead animals in the turquoise waters of the bay right near a condominium’s pool was a shock for residents of The Floridian. They were also outraged that the police, animal services and the sanitation department allowed the animals to rot for more than a day.

“You don’t throw plastic bottles and garbage in the ocean,” said Bookstaver as she walked her adopted Lahsa Apso dog, Lexi, on Sunday morning. “Why would someone do this to animals?”