Human Bones Found in Altar Bought on eBay

Police were investigating the source of the bones found in a Pasadena backyard on Sunday

By Patrick Healy
|  Monday, Feb 18, 2013  |  Updated 8:49 PM PDT
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Human bones were found Saturday in a Pasadena backyard. Patrick Healy reports from Pasadena for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Feb. 18, 2013.

Patrick Healy, Kristopher Li

Human bones were found Saturday in a Pasadena backyard. Patrick Healy reports from Pasadena for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Feb. 18, 2013.

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Human Bones Found in Backyard Altar

Pasadena police were investigating human bones found in an altar at a home of a woman who they said practices Santeria. Jane Yamamoto reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013.
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Some of the bones and a skull found Sunday in a Pasadena backyard are human, the Los Angeles Coroner's Office has confirmed.

A man who left the house Monday said that his sister's family had found the bones for sale on eBay, and that she purchased them for religious reasons.  The man identified himself only as Jose, declining to give his last name.

Police said they were pursuing a trespasser when they spotted bones atop the outdoor altar. Steer horns and other animal bones were visible, along with the human bones, candles and incense.  "The religious aspect of the case is not our focus--it's the bones," said Pasadena Police Lt. Ed Calatayud.  

Human skulls indeed are listed for sale on eBay.  On Monday, for example, one described as suitable for dental study was listed at  $710.

Jose said his sister practices Palo Mayombe, an offshoot of Santeria.

Studying images of the statues on the altar, an expert on Latin American folk religions  saw different symbolism.

"What caught my eye was that the backyard altar was obviously primarily an altar to Santa Muerte, the Saint of Death...whose cult has been mushrooming both in the United States and Mexico over the past decade," said R. Andrew Chesnut, PhD, Professor of Religious Studies and holder of the Bishop Sullivan Chair at Virginia Commonwealth University.  

"What it really is, is a fusion of medieval Catholicism and native Mexican folk religion,” said Chesnut, the author of "Devoted to Death:  Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint."

Santa Muerte has continued to grow, despite condemnation from the Catholic Church and from the federal government of Mexico, Chesnut said.  Santa Muerta is distinct from Santeria, but creation of  personal altars is a characteristic among followers of both, and in some cases altars are adorned with bones, both animal and human.

"The bones themselves are often believed to have special powers,” he said.

The coroner's office took custody of the bones and skull discovered in the 800 block of North Oakland Avenue.  At this point there is no indication of any crime, police said.  But the coroner will attempt to determine their origin.
 

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