Expert, artists scoff at devil link

August 14, 2003 

Bizarre, violent paintings found near where the bodies of Laci Peterson and her unborn son were recovered do not appear to be the work of Satan worshippers, a law enforcement expert in ritualistic crimes said Wednesday.

An attorney for the woman's husband, Scott Peterson, had said that the defense team was seriously studying the artwork in connection with the double-murder case.

But Fresno police Sgt. Bill Grove, who has studied ritualistic crimes for two decades, scoffed at the notion after reviewing several photographs.

"I see no imagery that would remotely indicate that these are associated with the occult, self-styled devil worship or satanists," Grove said of the graffiti-type paintings.

They are displayed at a remote tip of The Bulb, a peninsula jutting into eastern San Francisco Bay near where Scott Peterson said he fished on the day his wife was reported missing.

Men who claim to have had a hand in the art denied any cult influence. "I'm sorry for the defense if this is all they got," said Osha Neumann, a Berkeley civil rights attorney and sculptor who created some of the art. "This is like aliens doing the crop circles."

Neumann and Bruce Rayburn, who are members of a five-man artist collective known as Sniff, acknowledged the art is edgy, but rebuffed any link to the Peterson case. "There is no relationship to anything," Neumann said. "This is just sort of wild outsider art."

Grove said satanic art typically would include pentagrams, inverted crosses and desecration of Christian emblems. He didn't see any of those in the bayside paintings.

Grove acknowledged that goat-headed figures, devilish caricatures and scenes of beheadings and mutilations -- such as those in the bayside paintings -- often appear in art of the occult.

"But unfortunately, a lot of artists would depict that," Grove said. "You could look at some van Gogh paintings and other name-brand artists and you would find morbid scenes and headless bodies."

The bayside paintings include infants in water with umbilical cords attached and a man with an ax beheading a man in a boat and a woman with severed hands nearby.

Grove said, "I would assume that somebody could look at these and try to interpret them in ways they want to. But I see absolutely nothing in any of the drawings that would be characteristic of someone dabbling in this stuff." He said the paintings had no satanic symbols and lacked the abundance of sharp-edged weapons and active violence typical of satanic drawings.

Grove, a former president of the now- defunct California Ritualistic Crime Investigators Association, worked with prosecutors on a case involving three teen devil worshipers in San Luis Obispo who were convicted of killing and raping a 15-year-old girl in 1995. Grove helped link the crime to graffiti scrawled by the trio.

Bettina Warner, a Berkeley resident who has walked her neighbor's dog Spotty along the peninsula for four years, said the artwork has been aggressive but is simply a reflection of society.

"When Picasso started abstract painting everyone thought he was going too far," Warner said. "(The paintings) are a sign of society, and this is a violent society."

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