MARY ESTHER — Finding birds in a cemetery is nothing shocking, but finding seven dead birds — with their heads cut off — is bound to catch your eye.


Seven headless chickens were found Tuesday at Jesse Rogers Cemetery on U.S. Highway 98.

Gail Parker and her sisters were visiting their mother’s grave when they discovered the gruesome scene along the fence line in the back of the cemetery.

“It was extremely upsetting,” Parker said.

The chickens' heads were scattered around the carcasses and a new, shiny penny had been placed on at least one bird’s body.

According to Robert Herbstreith, the cemetery director, it isn’t the first time something like that has happened.

On the first Tuesday of March last year, the same day of this year’s discovery, five decapitated chickens were found in the same area. The city removed them then, but this year the bodies were gone when they went to clean up the site, Herbstreith said.

“It only happens one time out of the year,” he said. “Now that we can see it’s kind of an established pattern, we will definitely be watching out for it next year.”

An online search of decapitated chickens in cemeteries revealed that the strange discovery could be linked to voodoo or the Santeria religion, which still performs animal sacrifices.

“The Santeria religion is actually a mixture of voodoo and Catholicism, mixed with some other stuff,” said José Ortiz who was at Stone Soup when the Daily News called looking for information about alternative religions. Stone Soup is a "intuitive spiritual center"​ and store in Wright.

A native Floridian, Ortiz has practiced Santerism for most of his life. He said animal sacrifices are usually a part of a cleansing ceremony in which a person gets rid of negativity or “anything bad, like possession.”

The coin left on one of the chickens bodies is a symbol to show that the person’s soul and body is cleansed, according to Ortiz.

But instead of leaving the bodies at a cemetery, the Santeria usually take the animals to a crossroads of some sort after the ceremony. That, combined with the fact that more than two birds were found, leads Ortiz to believe it’s not connected to Santeria.

“When you’re dealing with more than one or two animals, that tends to point toward voodoo,” he said. “With voodoo, if they’re trying to cleanse a spirit out of a group of people, they’re going to use the same number of animals.”

When asked about the significance of the first Tuesday in March, Ortiz said Tuesday is usually the day of Shango, which is the warrior god of the Santeria religion.

“If it happened on a Tuesday, it’s because someone was getting ready for a court battle or needed some heavy protection from some really bad stuff,” he said.

That the chickens were in a cemetery made Ortiz believe whoever did this, was trying to “play with the dead.”

“That’s basically raising the spirit to do your bidding and your work,” he said.

The incident was reported to the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office, which also investigated last year's discovery. Deputies will patrol the area more frequently for the foreseeable future.