The Human Equation

Serial killers, self-reliance, and everything in between

Female Cult Leaders Who Kill

Murder, money, and religion

Most serial killers, male and female, work alone. However, there are those who religious beliefs and murderous proclivities are intertwined, resulting in a systematic system for serial murder. Let's take a look at two female serial killer cult leaders, despite having lived 100 years apart, share some remarkable similarities.

April 3, 1912:  Clementine Barnabet and The Church of the Sacrifice  

In 1912, 18-year-old Clementine Barnabet shocked Lafayette, Louisiana when she confessed to personally axing 17 people to death as part of her devotion as high priestess to the Church of the Sacrifice. Seven entire families, 40 people in all, were killed by members of this religious group, which apparently believed that riches and immortality could be gained through human sacrifice.  Revenge also seemed to be a factor in a few of the murders, as Ms. Barnabet stated that at least two of the families had refused to obey "messages from God."

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Ms. Clementine stated that the murders mostly occurred on Sunday nights while the victims were sleeping. (However, even if the children woke up, this did nothing to dissuade the high priestess from continuing her slaughter until all family members lay in bits and pieces about the floor.) Few of the homes were robbed and many of the victims were strangers to the cult followers who killed them. The Church of the Sacrifice was apparently an equal opportunity cult; there were an equal number of male and female members and both genders equally participated in the murders.

Ritual Sacrifice:  A Dual Purpose

All of the victims were horribly mutilated, with limbs and heads being cut off and strewn over the house. Dismemberment would be followed by a sacrificial ceremony, with chants and rituals. Not only did the ritual sacrifice apparently satisfy the teachings of the Church, it also served to eliminate virtually any clue as to who killed the victims and why. Nothing was left behind by which the murderers could be identified; there never was a clew to indicate why the murder had been committed.

March 29, 2012:  The Meraz Matriach and La Santa Meurte

Fast forward 100 years. On March 29, 2012, eight alleged serial killers, members of the Meraz family who allegedly practiced human sacrifice in Mexico, were arrested for murdering three victims—two 10-year-old children and a 55-year-old adult. Their bodies—with throats and wrists cut with knives and axes—were found at the altar of the cult's ritual murder site

According to cult members, Silvia Meraz Moreno and her son, Ramón Omar Palacios Meraz, are the alleged cult leaders of the violent cult, which worships The Female Saint of Death, La Santa Muerte. The motive? Money. According to their cult leader, their blood sacrifice would be rewarded by Santa Muerte's revelation of riches and protection from harm.

Serial Killer Cults:  A Common Thread?

Unfortunately, we don't know much about the personal history that led up to Clementine's acts. We do know she lived at a time when life was very hard for African Americans, as illustrated by the El Paso newspaper's cruel comment that "in the rice belt, the life of a negro is held rather cheap." Undoubtedly, there was a pervasive sense of injustice, hopelessness, and lack of control. Unquestionably, she was poor.

Rather than strike out at her oppressors, though, Clementine chose to victimize her peers, clinging to the belief that human sacrifice would bring to her what was otherwise out of reach—wealth, immortality, and revenge.

So did Silvia Meraz. She, too, came from a background filled with prejudice and poverty, a family of garbage pickers who spent much of their daily existence struggling for ways to survive. And, like the Church of the Sacrifice followers in the early 20th century, Meraz's desperately poor dovotees likely felt much more comfortable relating to an outcast saint who can offer earthly rewards—and were willing to pay the costs.

Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D, is the author of Complete Idiot's Guide to Psychology.

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