London Witchcraft Murder Traced to Africa Child Trade

February 10, 2005

On Television: Watch National Geographic Explorer's The Witchcraft Murder, Sunday, February 13, 8 p.m. ET/PT, on the National Geographic Channel.

This story may contain information upsetting to sensitive or young readers.

In September 2001 a gruesome discovery was made in London's River Thames. The hideously mutilated torso of a small black boy was found floating through the city. The boy's arms, legs, and head had all been hacked off.

So began a stranger-than-fiction detective story that led U.K. investigators into a macabre netherworld of witchcraft and child sacrifice.

Murder squad detectives had nothing to go on: There were no reports of a missing child and no witnesses or crime scene. No face, fingerprints, or dental records remained that could help identify the boy. The police simply called him Adam. He was believed to have been between four and seven years old.

The investigation to discover Adam's true identity and bring his killers to justice is the subject of a National Geographic Explorer documentary, to be aired on the National Geographic Channel in the U.S. this weekend. It tells how the latest advances in forensic science led detectives across two continents in their dogged quest to solve Adam's murder.

"It is one of the most astonishing, horrible stories to happen in years and years in this country," said Richard Hoskins, who worked on the police investigation team.

The autopsy report concluded that Adam's throat had been slit. His body was then deliberately drained of blood.

With no clear leads, murder squad detectives at Scotland Yard in London called in forensic experts who used the latest scientific methods to examine Adam's bones, stomach, and intestines for clues. What they discovered became central to the investigation.

Ken Pye, a forensic geologist at the University of London, analyzed Adam's bones for trace minerals that are absorbed from food and water. Levels of trace minerals vary depending on which part of the world a person comes from.

Pye's tests revealed levels of strontium, copper, and lead two and a half times higher than would be normally expected in a child living in England. Using these trace minerals as his guide, Pye gradually narrowed down Adam's likely geographic origin to West Africa.

Stomach Contents

Extensive analysis of the contents of Adam's stomach and intestines pointed detectives in a similar direction. The forensic team found a strange, unidentifiable plant material. There was also a sandlike mineral and a substance that resembled small clay pellets. Added to this bizarre mixture were tiny particles of gold.

Plant anatomists were brought in to help identify the plant. The closest match, it turned out, was the Calabar bean—an obscure but highly toxic type of climbing vine from West Africa.

This proved a major breakthrough in the investigation, as it linked Adam's death to witchcraft in a region that's regarded as the birthplace of voodoo. Wade Davis, an anthropologist and explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, says dozens of poisons are traditionally used in West Africa.

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