The city's official stance on the animal remains: "It's illegal dumping"

By Alex Heigl
Updated March 16, 2015 01:30 PM
Credit: Angus Osborn/Getty

Brooklyn’s Prospect Park is less famous than its Manhattan counterpart, Central Park, but the Brooklyn oasis is home to a specific and grisly phenomenon that may raise its profile: Severed goat heads keep turning up in and around the park.

The modern discoveries date back to at least 2010, according to Gothamist, but when the heads – and the story – resurfaced in March 2014, at least one local man weighed in claiming he remembered seeing a goat’s head in the park in the 1970s.

The heads usually turn up strewn around the park, more or less intact, though in one disturbing incident, it showed up skinned and hanging from a lamppost.

Warning: Disturbing image

Around that time, a park employee who worked in Prospect Park for over 25 years told DNAinfo that employees have found dismembered “goats, chickens, [and] dogs” in the park. “I remember back in the ’80s we had to get a dog out of the lake,” the witness added. “They just dumped the head. We never found a body.” Wildlife enthusiast Mary Beth Artz added in the same article that “A few years back cow tongues were found nailed to trees. Chickens are often seen, both dead and alive.”

Consensus seems to be that the animal remains are tied to Santeréa, a syncretic religion that combines aspects of Caribbean “voodoo” with Roman Catholicism. The neighborhoods surrounding Prospect Park have a large Caribbean population, and the remains found are consistent with certain santeréa rituals – decapitated rooster heads found last year were seemingly arranged on a clay dish with feathers around them.

Steven Gregory, a professor of anthropology at Columbia University, told Gothamist that “four-foot” animals are more commonly tied to significant events, like a certain deity’s birthday or the naming of a new priest. He adds that goats are considered more powerful than the more common sacrifice of a chicken.

“If someone has a health problem, or is moving into a new apartment, and there’s the belief there is a need for cleaning, chickens would be used to cede an altar,” Gregory said. “Goats are usually used for much larger events that are collective, more so than individual.” Despite that, goats are still a popular choice in New York City parks: Of 33 separate reports detailing animal heads and decapitated carcasses in parks from 2010-2014, nine were goat-related, half of which were reported in Prospect Park.

“Basically it’s one of the three things,” occult expert Marcos Quinones told New York magazine. “It’s Santeréa, or Vodou (also spelled “Voodoo”), or Palo Mayombe.” Quinones also elaborated on the significance of the cow’s tongue being nailed to a tree, calling it “a ritual to shut someone up.” (Quinones is an Evangelical Christian and an ordained minister; his uncle is a well-known high priest of Santeréa in Puerto Rico.)

Santeréa priest Equi Lade, who owns a botanica (a religious goods store), told New York that he doubts the heads are the work of a legitimate priest. “First of all, a priest wouldn’t throw up heads tied up like that,” he said. “That’s really disrespectful.” Lade theorized the skinned heads were the work of a Vodou Priest, though Bonmambo Domlage, a Vodou priest in Brooklyn, flatly denied the connection to New York: “That is not Vodou.”

Stephen Brown, a courts reporter at the New York Daily News, investigated a similar story involving smashed turtle shells, fires and bloodstained rocks in Prospect Park while working at the Brooklyn Paper in 2010, and eventually came to a prosaic conclusion. “I tend to believe many of the dead creatures in the park at that time were the work of twisted teens pulling pranks,” he told New York.

And Quinones is equivocal on the point as well: “It could just be a bunch of kids playing around, you never know,” he said. The NYPD apparently opened an investigation into the heads in November, according to New York, but a public information officer with the neighborhood’s precinct would only say that “no further information has been found out.”

The city’s official stance on the animal remains: “It’s illegal dumping.”