Join Date: Aug 2004
Local Time: 10:58 AM
FL Woman Arrested With Human Head In Her Carry-On
Ma'am, is that a skull in your bag?
By JERRY BERRIOS
Miami Herald, February 11
Myrlene Severe was returning from a trip to Cap Haitien, Haiti, when an alert Customs officer noticed there was something in her suitcase that she forgot to declare.
The skull was supposed to ward off evil spirits, she allegedly told shocked Customs officials. But instead of protecting her, the head landed her in jail.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport found the skull in Severe's luggage Thursday after her Lynx Airline flight arrived from Haiti. It was not clear if it was a manual search or an X-Ray scan.
Severe, 30, of Miramar, told them she got the ''package'' from a Haitian man and planned to use it to ward off evil spirits as part of her Vodou beliefs, according to an Immigration & Customs Enforcement affidavit.
The skull, which had black curly hair, was found nestled inside a cotton rice bag, tucked among a banana leaf, some dirt, small stones and a rusty iron nail.
It's against the law to bring human body parts into the United States -- unless you have proper paperwork indicating they are being used for scientific purposes, such as for medical research or transplant.
Severe, a native of Haiti, was arrested and charged with intentionally smuggling a human head into the United States and not having the proper paperwork, as well as bringing hazardous material on an airplane. Each count carries a five-year maximum sentence, meaning Severe could spend up to 15 years in federal prison if convicted.
The skull was delivered to the Broward County medical examiner who determined that it once belonged to a black male, roughly 40 years old or younger. ''Our conclusion, at this time, is that this is a skull that had been buried and taken out for a Vodou kind of ritual,'' said Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Joshua Perper.
During his 12 years as Broward's medical examiner, Perper has seen plenty of oddities, but he admitted this was his first Vodou skull.
Perper consulted with a local santeria and Vodou expert. ''The people who practice this particular type of worship, they go to the graves of their relatives and they believe they can ask for permission of the spirits of their relatives to take the skull out of the grave,'' Perper said.
Human bones, locks of hair, articles of clothing and other personal effects are all used at times in Vodou ceremonies, especially if someone is trying to do harm to another person, experts say.
Clotaire Bazile, a Little Haiti Vodou priest, said it's not uncommon for a skull to be used as part of a Vodou ritual designed to help someone who believes he or she has been possessed. For instance, one treatment calls for the skull to be washed in Haitian moonshine, along with a special plant. The person is later given a bath with the concoction. ''It's not for anything bad, it's to help the person,'' he said.
It's not clear what will happen to the skull once Perper finishes his examination.
Human body parts for medical research and study are usually packaged in dry ice or formaldehyde. But body parts without the required documentation are seized immediately, said Zachary Mann, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman. ''It is rare to see human remains for non-scientific purposes,'' Mann said.
Some of Severe's neighbors didn't seem surprised about Severe's predicament. Guerlain Desrouleaux, 47, said he has seen chickens, a goat and a fire in front of Severe's home. ''She does Vodou for a lot of people,'' he said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Lurana S. Snow set a $100,000 bond. Severe's lawyer Kenneth Hassett said his client was at the federal detention center in Miami, late Friday. Her arraignment is set for March 2 before U.S. Magistrate Barry S. Seltzer.
This article suggests that there are *no* circumstances under which skulls could be imported for use in religious rituals...so how do
Voudou and Santeria practitioners usually acquire them? On a trip to Miami a few years back, I poked into a Santeria shop (botanica) in Little Havana, and I'm sure I remember them selling human skulls (though I suppose they could have been fake). Anyone know whether and how US law accommodates these practices?