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Police found Michel's body slumped over in the passenger seat of his Nissan Pathfinder within the confines of the 70th Precinct. Someone had slashed his throat and cut off his penis, placing it in his hand. The grisly slaying, which remains unsolved, has the hallmark of a Haitian voodoo sacrifice, says an East Flatbush specialist in ritualistic crimes who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Asked why some Haitians see a similarity in Michel's death and the sodomizing of Louima, the source replied, "We've seen these crimes before in Haiti and in the Haitian community in America; they're both crimes of passion. They are meant to kill." Volpe was charged with handcuffing and beating Louima, and ramming the broken broomstick into Louima's rectum and mouth in a fit of rage in a bathroom stall at the 70th Precinct station house in August 1997. He mistakenly thought Louima had sucker-punched him in a disturbance outside Club Rendezvous in East Flatbush, where a popular Haitian band called the Phantoms was playing.
The phantoms Louima allegedly unleashed on the Volpes to avenge the attack on him were taken seriously, according to James Ridgway de Szigethy, a Volpe family friend, who associates with members of the right-wing National Police Defense Foundation. The suspicion that Louima is heavily into devil worship developed in de Szigethy's mind when he began to assume the role of "Occult Cop." For three years, de Szigethy and a group of reporters have been investigating allegations that the killers of club kid Angel Melendez dealt in the netherworld. De Szigethy also has been looking into the Santeria religion "as spread by [Cuban refugees], who Castro dumped in this country" during the 1980 Mariel boatlift.
"It was something that I'd suspected from the beginning about Louima," he says. "I suspected that he might be involved in the practice of voodoo." But de Szigethy could not find anyone in Little Haiti to confirm his eerie hunches. He recalls Louima giving him the willies on the first day of testimony about a night of torture at the hands of Justin Volpe. "I looked at his appearances and I just got a funny feeling."
He says that after Louima testified, he approached Robert Volpe about Louima's alleged association with satanic voodoo. "I said, 'Bob, you're gonna think I'm crazy.' " The elder Volpe grabbed de Szigethy by the arm and led him out of the courtroom. "No, I don't think you're crazy," de Szigethy quotes Volpe's father as saying.
According to de Szigethy, Volpe then pulled out "a little purple crystal . . . and a little vial of holy water." (A Haitian voodoo practitioner, who asks good spirits to do deeds for the living, says that the actual ritual seeking an order of protection from an enemy is performed when someone binds "a handful of small rocks soaked in lavender oil." After 10 days it is removed and placed in a jar of holy water labeled with the name of the person who threatens to do you harm.) The concerned father reportedly confided that Haitian spiritualists urged him to carry the emblems of good over evil at all times.
What happened next might cause even Papa Doc to spin in his grave. "He took a sprinkling of the holy water and made the sign of the cross on his forehead," de Szigethy claims. Convinced that Volpe's ritual somehow confirmed that Louima believes in the supernatural, de Szigethy contacted the Reverend William G. Kalaidjian, the controversial former NYPD chaplain who was forced to resign from the department last year after referring to assistant district attorney Thomas Hickey as a "fag."
"I want you to come into this courtroom because there is evil here," de Szigethy told Kalaidjian, who also is a member of the National Police Defense Foundation. Kalaidjian, who attended the trial as an observer, could not be reached for comment. (On the day testimony in the trial was canceled because a juror fell ill, de Szigethy says he also asked the Reverend Louis Gigante, brother of former reputed Genovese crime family boss Vincent "Chin" Gigante, to pray for the Volpe family.)
In addition to hawking the evil-Louima tale, de Szigethy advocated a temporary insanity defense for his friend's son. "When this whole thing started, everybody [asked], 'Why would some young man do such a strange and insane thing?' " he explains. "I looked into his background and although one source had called him a psycho I could find no evidence of mental illness on his part. [But] what would happen if Justin Volpe changed his plea from not guilty to guilty by reason of insanity?"
De Szigethy chided the NYPD for not considering the theory that Volpe's rumored use of steroids may have triggered violent outbreaks known as " 'Roid Rage."
"Unfortunately the NYPD does not test for steroids," he says. "The theory never took off." (The late Daily Newscolumnist Mike McAlary, the only reporter to interview Volpe, observed, "It was easy to see him as some version of Mark Fuhrman on steroids.")
The family friend pointed to the testimony of another Haitian immigrant, Patrick Antoine, who claimed Volpe punched him for no reason while police searched for suspects in the nightclub melee. Antoine testified that he, too, was taken into the bathroom by Volpe, where Volpe apologized for acting like a madman. "He told me he was sorry," said Antoine, who, like Louima, was arrested on an allegedly false charge of assaulting a police officer. "He told me he was like somebody who was going crazy." Antoine said Volpe then noticed that he was wearing a cross and asked if he believed in Jesus. "I said, 'Yes,' " Antoine recalled at the trial. "He told me he believed in Jesus, too."