Criminal Gangs and the Occult

No traditional Hispanic gang member I ever knew would have dug up Grandma from her tomb, or desecrated a church altar or a statue of the Madonna.

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Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. -- Deuteronomy 18:10-13

Throughout the long history of Los Angeles street gangs, their members have flirted with the dark side of evil. On the one hand, they claimed to be defenders of their race and neighborhood; on the other, they acted in league with the devil, both metaphorically and literally. This conflict can be seen in the mixture of religious and demonic symbols depicted on their tattooed bodies.

While most street gangs were not driven by evil spiritual motivation, in the ugly manmade hell of prison some of these gangs clearly turned to the dark side, with escalated violence being the result. The Mexican Mafia actually forbade its members from "picking up the Bible" or espousing any form of Christianity. Some members of the Aryan Brotherhood were followers of pagan witchcraft, or worshipers of the devil.

In taking on these new belief systems many gang members eschewed the moral codes they had previously ascribed to as part of their religious/superstitious upbringing.

Pagan Rituals and Stoner Gangs

In the 1980s, Cuban "Marielitos" brought Afro-Cuban cult beliefs into the Los Angeles drug and gang culture. Santeria, Voodoo, and Palo Mayombe followers became some of the most violent criminal gang members Los Angeles had ever seen. Across the city, small altars with caldrons or "gangas" of fruit, rum, and cocaine, as well as animal blood sacrifices, dotted the map. "Botanicas" (occult pharmacies) that sold the paraphernalia required for these rituals sprang up in every community.

Drug cartels from Mexico practiced their own rituals. "Brujeria" (witchcraft) altars with figurines of the bandit saint "Jesus Malverde" or "Santisima Muerte" (holy death) were common in cartel drug houses. Cartel members wore amulets and placed figurines of occult symbols in their cars. Some openly worshipped Satan.

During the heavy metal music era of the early- to mid-1980s, a new type of gang began to get the attention of gang cops in Los Angeles. Unlike the common "Cholo" gangs, these new gangs were made up of "Stoners," kids who wore black concert T-shirts, leather jackets adorned with spikes and studs, and long hair. They rejected the classic "oldies but goodies" in favor of AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osborne, and Motley Crew.

They also rejected the Cholo gang morals and code of conduct. The Hole Stoners, ELA Stoners, MS Stoners (later to evolve into MS-13), and others played by their own rules. Soon these new Stoner gangs outnumbered traditional gang members in East Los Angeles booking cages. In turn, they were ostracized by most Cholo gang members.


One day I was called to a local Catholic church where someone had stolen the five-foot Pascal Candle that stood before the church altar. For decades, the church had never experienced thefts of religious items. Investigation revealed that a Lott Stoner gang member had the candle. Accompanied by another gang detective, I knocked on the open front door and called out, "Police! We want to talk to you. Can we come in?" A voice inside said, "Come in."

Inside a dark room bereft of any furniture, I found the walls covered with heavy metal concert posters and beer bottles. Marijuana roaches were strewn on the Asian rug. In the middle of the room stood the Pascal Candle. It had obviously been used in some kind of ritual. The half drunk and disheveled stoner asked, "What are you looking for?" I pointed to the candle. "Take it!" he said. We returned the candle to the church and no one was prosecuted in this case.

One weekend, the ELA detectives called my OSS gang team out to the very large Calvary Catholic Cemetery on Whittier Boulevard. During the previous night a group of stoners had avoided the security cameras, an eight-foot chain link fence topped with razor wire, and witnesses, and broken into the mausoleum.

They played with several caskets and decomposed bodies and attempted to break into the tabernacle of the chapel altar. They also desecrated several religious statues. We soon discovered that the Home of Peace Jewish Cemetery across the street had also been vandalized. The Jewish flag and a mummified left hand of a male corpse had been stolen. All the stolen items had little monetary value, but a great deal of ritual magic and symbolic value.

At the Calvary Cemetery, the vandals had used the rotting slime from some of the corpses to write on the crypts "Stoners 13" and "Markos S 13." This was considered gang graffiti by the senior detectives, so they called in the gang detectives to handle the unpleasant disturbing incident.

But no traditional Hispanic gang member I ever knew would have dug up Grandma from her tomb or desecrated a church altar or a statue of the Madonna. No gang initiation ever required gang members to be buried in a casket with a rotting human body. And no superstitious Hispanic gang member would have stolen religious items from the church or attempted to steal the hosts from the tabernacle. This was sacrilegious and blasphemous even to hard core gang murderers.

The new Stoner gangs supposedly got their name from the original rock and rollers who first sold their souls to the devil, the Rolling Stones. Some said it was because they were always stoned out on drugs. Like the heavy metal bands they adored, a lot of the Stoner occult trappings were for show. They used the satanic symbols to intimidate others and upset their traditional conservative parents and teachers. Every day was Halloween.

Escalated Violence

In one of the most violent cases we investigated in L.A., a group of local Stoners went into the affluent areas of Hollywood, Brentwood, and the Marina to steal expensive cars. A Stoner would stand at a busy intersection with a huge rock and wait for a BMW or other expensive vehicle to pass. With the intention of injuring the driver, he would smash the rock into the window of the BMW as it passed and when it came to a stop or crashed, the others would rush the vehicle and shoot the driver and any passengers, throw them to the ground, and take the car. They would drive it back to ELA where they would take only the "Blow Punk" radio and then abandon the expensive stolen vehicle. They did this many times before they were caught and convicted.

As far as their real knowledge of the occult, most Stoners only dabbled in the world of ritual magic. Some were occult "Kooks" who followed the writings suggested by their heavy metal band heroes; they read books by Aleister Crowley, H.P. Lovecraft, and Anton LaVey.

However, there were also true believers who sought young neophytes to indoctrinate. In the homes of Stoners, we commonly found occult books by these authors and altars where animal sacrifices had occurred. Young followers were getting sick from ingesting blood and urine in occult ceremonies.

One of these heavy metal Stoners and true believers who delved deeper into the occult was a young man who had come to Los Angeles from El Paso, Texas. His true name was Richard Ramirez, but the world would later know him as the serial killer the "Night Stalker."


Today the Stoner groups are almost gone, but not forgotten. They now seem to have been replaced by the Goths and Vampires.

The Gothic movement began in England in 1970. Goth rock was a post-punk style influenced by bands like Bauhaus, The Cure, and The Sisters of Mercy. The movement follows the mixture of horror and romance of Victorian gothic fiction. Many claim to follow the American writer Edgar Allen Poe.

For both male and female members, pale face makeup, dark lipstick and clothing, large chains and crosses mixed with skulls, and mysterious occult symbols identify the Goth. The morose Goth look and Victorian clothing and jewelry are very popular with most kids. There are Gothic night clubs, and Gothic clothing stores. Methamphetamine and X-TC are their drugs of choice. They have their own magazines. You can see them hanging out at most malls and their most sacred place is the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland.

The most extreme groups of Goths physically alter their bodies and appearance with dark occult symbolic tattooing and scarification, body piercing, and filing their teeth into vampire-like fangs. Those few who claim to be true vampires are required to drink blood taken from their friends and lovers. From this extreme fringe the most dangerous individuals emerge.

Of all the criminal groups that I have worked over the more than three decades in law enforcement, the most credible attempts on my life have come from these occult true believers.

Be aware of these trends and beliefs. Gang members who take the occult seriously can be truly dangerous.

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Sergeant (Ret.)
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