The great Toledo cult dig

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Remember that Satanic cult that used to be out in western Lucas County?

Yeah, we don’t either. But for a few days in 1985, Spencer Township was firmly in the view of the national media as the Lucas County Sheriff’s Department conducted a large-scale dig for evidence of a Satanic cult.

The digging began on June 20, 1985. Earlier that morning, deputies raided a home at 915 S. Crissey Road in Springfield Township. They were looking for a number of things: up to a half-dozen shotguns, drugs, and cult paraphernalia. They were also looking for Leroy Freeman, 59, suspected in disapperance of his granddaughter, Charity. Neither had been seen in over two years.

They came away with a bible, a Raiders of the Lost Ark poster, a bone, two blank tapes, and two Ozzy Osbourne albums. The woman who lived there was questioned by police and released – and they apologized, she said. “She said a goat in her backyard, which deputies eyed suspiciously, had no Satanic connections. It was, she explained, only a pet,” the story said.

The location of the dig was nearby, at the end of Bemis Lane, just west of the notorious Spud’s Auto Parts. Notorious as in, it always gave ourselves and our friends the creeps to go there.

The dig was prompted by a three-month investigation by the sheriff’s department. A woman had told police she had witnessed the murders of children as part of rituals involving witches and Satan worshipers, Telb told a press conference that morning. The cult had apparently operated in the area since 1969 and had been sacrificing an average of five people each year.

Well, when word of a dig for bodies buried by a Satanic cult gets out, you know the media is going to show up – and not just 11,13 and 24.

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The search area.

By the next day, the media was all over the place – ABC, CNN, television stations from Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, radio stations, reporters from a dozen newspapers, the Associated Press, Time, Newsweek and – late in the day – a couple of reporters from the National Enquirer.

Sheriff Telb himself couldn’t believe the interest. “I guess if I had known it was going to turn out like this, I might have done things differently,” he told The Blade’s John Nichols.

Searchers had found very little, however and residents were skeptical. “I’ve been all through these woods – winter and summer – hunting and I’ve never seen anything out of the ordinary, certainly no devil worshipers. I’d have shot ’em if I had seen any,” one resident said.

Local witches had their say, too, in a story by Roberta de Boer with one of those headlines you rarely see anymore: Area Witches Express Doubt Of Sacrifices by Satanic Cult. A Detroit witch, Lady Circe, said that Toledo was a national focus of witchcraft in the late ’60s and early ’70s (which might explain a lot, if true).

By Friday, however, the dig had ended, with only some knives, a headless doll with its feet nailed to a board, and other assorted items having been found. Sheriff Telb was unembarrassed and felt the department had to act to prevent a possible sacrifice on the summer solstice, June 21. “We went for it and it didn’t cost us much at all.” A Tiffin Police captain, Dale Griffis, viewed the evidence as a definite sign of cult activity.

“We hear these things for 4 1/2 months, we had to act on it,” Telb told The Blade in 2004. Telb acknowledged children most likely never were sacrificed in the area they searched, and said Charity Freeman, the missing child who reportedly had been sacrificed, turned up years later in California, after having been abducted by her grandfather.

When you’re the sheriff, you can’t let those things go. The Blade weighed in anyway.

The Blade’s political reporter at the time, Chase Clements, viewed it as a valuable lesson for the new sheriff:

The sheriff certainly could have poked around in the Spencer Township sand without attracting the attention of the National Enquirer, and he could have executed an early morning search warrant looking for a fugitive without having to hold a 7 a.m. press briefing first. Those kinds of searches are done all the time without attracting much attention.

The sheriff does deserve good marks, however, for maintaining his sense of humor in the midst of the media circus. For four hours on Thursday, he conducted a nonstop press conference, going over the same speculation again and again as fresh reporters and camera crews arrived on the scene.

He could have even announced publicly that his crews were checking out the possibility that there was a body or bodies in those fields, without attracting undue attention. But throw 50 to 75 children and satanic cults into the equation, and reporters will show up.

He promised during the campaign that he was going to be open and accessible to the press, but whoever thought this was what he meant.

An editorial, The Great Cult Caper, said the same thing, and complimented the sheriff on keeping a sense of humor “in light of all the snickering this episode engendered.”

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