London police probe ritual killing of African boy

A young boy’s headless, limbless torso washed up in the Thames, signs of a gruesome, ritual slaying and a police hunt that reaches from England to Africa: the murder of Adam was no ordinary killing.

Detectives in London are hopeful the latest sophisticated forensic science techniques will one day lead them to where he grew up.

Aged five or six when he died, probably west African, he has no name, save for that given to him by police after his torso was found on the banks of the Thames in London on September 21 last year.

His head and limbs had been sliced off with surgical precision and have not been found.

A pair of girl’s orange shorts was slipped around his waist 24 hours later, then his killers waited at least another day before tossing his body into the Thames.

What most shocks is that he was seemingly well cared for, until one day he was laid horizontally or hung upside down and his throat cut so that his body was drained of all blood.

“This wasn’t a slash or a stab, this was a slaughter as you would slaughter an animal,” said Detective Inspector Will O’Reilly, leading the probe.

“It is extremely distressing if you put your mind to what that young child would have been thinking,” he told AFP.

“He would have been well aware of what was happening to him.”

So far no significant witnesses have come forward, no one claiming to know him, despite an appeal by former South African president Nelson Mandela.

While detectives have not ruled out other motives, such as sexual, they are actively working on the theory of a ritualistic murder.

Earlier this year they flew to interview South Africa’s occult crimes unit, the only one of its kind in the world, about ‘muti’ killings.

Muti killings usually involve the removal of the victim’s body parts for a potion concocted by a witchdoctor on behalf of a client who wants, say, to win a business deal or secure good luck. However, police do not believe Adam came from South Africa.

An arguably more likely theory is that of a voodoo-style murder, where the key element is death rather than the removal of body parts.

That could bring Adam’s origins closer to West Africa, fitting neatly with forensic evidence on pollen in his stomach.

Police are using an array of forensic techniques, checking for any signs of vaccination or exposure to disease and analysing his ancestral DNA.

They also include tests for his diet and the type of crops, animals, water and air purity of his home region.

“We are pretty optimistic of finding out where he spent the majority of his life and how long he was in the UK,” O’Reilly said.

“I can’t narrow it any further down at the moment other than it is looking like west Africa.”

O’Reilly is convinced Adams was alive in London before his murder. “He does not appear to have been starved, he was a well-nourished little child.

“Someone went to the trouble of giving him cough medicine which we know he probably consumed within 48 or 72 hours before death.”

The shorts were Chinese-made for the German branch of the Woolworth’s chain store, indicating how he may have been smuggled into Europe.

The colour orange is associated with a water deity worshipped by the Yoruba, Nigeria’s second largest ethnic grouping, but there are hundreds of West African tribes with similar beliefs.

Detectives are consulting international colleagues over similarly isolated cases in France, Greece, Italy and the United States.

They are also studying a 33-year-old case in southeast England where a baby girl had her head and limbs cut off in a suspected voodoo ritual.
None of the cases is thought to be linked.

A record 50 000-pound ($75 000/80 000 euro) reward has been offered by police for information leading to the conviction of Adam’s killers.

But for now, detectives have little idea who he was. His parents, O’Reilly said, “may not even know he is dead.” - AFP

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