Monday, April 7, 2014

Voodoo Funeral Home

A severed hand was discovered washed up on the shore of the Manatee River in Bradenton in November 1997. The Bradenton Police Department fingerprinted the grisly find, and a few months later, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime laboratory in Tampa successfully found a match. It was the hand of Willie Suttle of nearby Palmetto. Problem was, Suttle was listed as having died of natural causes at the age of 70 the previous summer and was buried.

Confused and concerned, the police decided to exhume Suttle's body from its grave at the New Memphis Cemetery in Palmetto. Sure enough, the corpse's left hand was missing. But it got even weirder - upon further inspection of the body, the coroner found internal organs removed and small, handmade, fabric voodoo dolls stuffed inside the abdominal cavity, along with some bizarre notes on paper.

"Be gone and may you rot in your grave," said one of the notes, addressing someone named Richard Woodie, who police later determined operated a funeral home in Bradenton. The note went on to invoke Damballah and said "Curse him as I curse him, spoil him as I spoil him, by the fire at night." Even if you don't believe in voodoo, can you imagine the sickening feeling of having Bradenton's finest show up at your door to tell you they just found a piece of paper cursing you, found by accident, sewn up inside a total stranger's buried corpse exhumed at the cemetery?

As detectives pieced together the evidence, they realized that many of the voodoo notes were attacking local funeral home directors. However, Green's Funeral Home wasn't named - and of course, they were the one who performed Mr. Suttle's embalming. Cops interviewed the culprit, one Paula Green-Albritton, who was an unlicensed embalmer. After about an hour and a half of being questioned, Paula finally cracked and admitted the whole thing.

The removal of Suttle's hand was part of what she called a voodoo "Helping Hand" ritual, in which she kept it as a good luck charm to bring prosperity and success. The names of her enemies were written nine times on each note, she explained, because she saw nine as the number of death. In addition to her competitors in the mortuary business, she also had her ex-husband's name included in the curse.

Suttle's hand was placed in a weighted plastic bag and thrown into the river in a second ritual, with various incantations muttered as it disappeared into the water. But she hadn't weighted it enough, and it didn't take long for the plastic bag to tear open and for the hand to wash up on the banks of the river. Had more care been applied to the wrapping of the hand, the crime would never have come to light.

Albritton was sentenced to a year in prison, but an appeals court later overturned the conviction on a technicality. The judge ruled her videotaped confession inadmissable because Bradenton Police had misspoken in promising her that she would not be prosecuted if her acts were found to be part of a religion protected by the U.S. Constitution. For her part, Albritton insisted that the purpose of the ritual was not just for her own benefit, but also to "bring peace" to her friend Willie Suttle, and that the deliberately hyperbolic handwritten notes on the voodoo dolls should not be taken seriously out of context.

One question I haven't heard answered because I haven't heard anyone asking it: how many other instances of this occurred that we just don't know about? Has anyone gone back and checked other burials handled by this funeral home? Apparently not, and why not?

Since you asked my opinion (you did, right?) - although I am very supportive of legitimate practitioners of Haitian Vodou, Santeria, and southern "Hoodoo"-style folk voodoo (which comes closest to what Ms. Albritton was trying to do), I believe the entire idea of going to such lengths to attempt magickal obliteration of one's enemies is completely wrong-headed and has just the opposite effect. You don't have to believe in Karma to understand that on some level, what goes around really does come around, and the only people who really get hurt by being consumed with hate are the haters themselves. If you really believe in the power of intention and the force of will, there's no need for all this convoluted Rube Goldberg ritualistic rigamarole, and by buying into it, one has already admitted their own weakness. In fact, I suggest that by applying all this mental energy - call them "attention units", if you will - one is actually giving energy and granting existence to the very people one is trying to psychically attack. Whether it's writing hate notes pinned to voodoo dolls, carrying a protest sign, or leaving psycho-stalker anonymous comments on someone's blog, you're only empowering the very people you oppose. I figured this out by the time I was twelve; some people will never get it.

The abyss is always going to gaze back, so don't bother gazing in - unless that's what you want.


  1. This is an interesting piece, thank you for posting it. As a Voodoo priestess and author, I do feel it was and is a freedom of religion issue. Did I miss a commentary from the victim's family? Ultimately I feel it should be their decision to prosecute.

  2. The state takes the case like in a domestic abuse the victim has no choice of prosecution. It's called abuse of a corpse!