STAMFORD, Conn. – Authorities investigating the theft of a 2-year-old girl's body from a Connecticut cemetery said Wednesday that evidence at the crime scene points to a possible ritual.
Stamford Capt. Richard Conklin said investigators are looking at the crime "as a ritualistic sort of thing." He cited beliefs such as Santeria, a Caribbean blend of West African beliefs and Catholicism, or Palo Mayombe, a religion originally from the Congo region of Africa and brought to the Americas by slaves.
"A lot of things point to it," Conklin said without elaborating.
Two men fishing in the Passaic River on Sunday in Clifton, N.J., found the child's body in a bag at the shoreline. An investigation led authorities to the grave of a girl who was buried in Stamford in 2007.
Margarite Fernandez Olmos, a professor at Brooklyn College and co-author of the book "Creole Religions of the Caribbean," said the body theft "doesn't sound like a Santeria practice." Some practitioners of Palo Mayombe, which has several names, may use a skull, she said.
"I have never heard of the entire body being taken," Olmos said. "It doesn't make any sense."
Conklin would not release the child's identity but said authorities believe she was properly buried. The child died of a pre-existing medical condition, he said, declining to elaborate.
Police do not consider the girl's family suspects and said they appeared shocked to hear that their child's body was not in the grave.
Donna Loglisci, Stamford's town clerk who signed disinterment papers permitting authorities to exhume the coffin, identified the girl as Imani Joyner. The girl was called a miracle baby by doctors in a 2006 article in The Advocate of Stamford because she survived more than two years even though she was born with semi-lobar holoprosencephaly, a condition that kept her brain from developing fully.
"We thought the interest in this particular baby might be the background, since it was labeled a miracle baby," Conklin said. "So that's why we believe this baby in particular might have been targeted and it might not be a random act. They would seek that mystic power, perceived power of it being a miracle baby."