As satanic messages and signs of the occult become more frequent at Southern California crime scenes, increasing numbers of police officers are taking courses on how to recognize them.
"At first the officers were kind of skeptical," said Darlyne Pettinicchio, a deputy Orange County probation officer who has taught such classes for three years. "They didn't want to believe that these things were going on. These, after all, are not 'normal' kinds of crimes."
But the police training program, which now includes a booklet outlining crime-related characteristics of satanism, quickly gained acceptance as evidence of the occult began turning up more frequently at crime scenes involving murder, arson, malicious mischief and sometimes child abuse.
Authorities say many of the crimes are committed by youths caught up in the philosophy of punk and especially heavy metal or hard rock music.
"Basically the music teaches that you don't have to listen to your parents, and that you should live life the way you want and screw the world," said Pettinicchio, who also is an associate director of the Back in Control Center in Orange.
Some teens, often rebellious to begin with, take album lyrics literally and begin to live them. They imitate what they see and "may end up out there somewhere doing rituals," said Pettinicchio, who added that sometimes means embracing Satan as a symbol of power. When that happens, the results can be chilling.
The most recent of such alleged cases involves "Night Stalker" defendant Richard Ramirez, accused of murdering 15 people and assaulting 17 others in Los Angeles, Orange and San Francisco counties.
Ramirez has a pentagram, a five-pointed star inside a circle that is associated with satanism, tattoed on the palm of his hand. He also liked to wear a cap with the emblem of a heavy-metal band on it.
Last year, a psychologist testifying in 16-year-old Donald Coday's trial said the boy admitted praying to Satan for guidance before shooting his father nine times "because he knew God would not help him."
And in 1985, Ronald Lampasi of Laguna Hills was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for sneaking up behind his father and shooting him in the back of the head. A subsequent search of the boy's bedroom turned up pentagrams, satanic drawings and a pact Lampasi, then 16, had made with Satan and signed in blood.