First came the 18-year-old La Puente machinist who shot himself with a .22-caliber rifle in 1984 while a tape of Ozzy Osbourne's "Diary of a Madman" blasted heavy metal anthems from his stereo.
The next year, a partially burned voodoo doll with pins in its groin and heart was found nailed to the back door of a Baldwin Park dressmaking shop.
Then, in 1987, seven people were arrested for ransacking an El Monte warehouse, where they painted "Suicidal Death Tribe" in giant letters on the wall and jammed a dead rat through the plaster.
Just last month, a Covina teen-ager pleaded guilty to charges of animal cruelty after he and a friend were accused of mutilating several cats and using the blood to scrawl "666" on an elementary school wall.
Perhaps, they were all just troubled youths hoping to shock the rest of the world into paying them attention.
But Randy Emon didn't think so.
Emon, a Baldwin Park police sergeant with 18 years on the force, saw a darker side to those incidents, a suspicion that has launched him on a bizarre and spiritually turbulent journey into the world of occult-related crime.
In the process, Emon has become a leading authority among a small but growing number of occult specialists whose expertise in such practices as satanism, witchcraft and Santeria is increasingly in high demand.
Through his course at Rio Hondo College and consulting jobs, he estimates he has trained more than 600 California police officers in recognizing ritualistic crimes. Adding church and civic groups, he figures that at least 20,000 people have heard him lecture about animal mutilation, necrophilia and human sacrifice.
Yet Emon, a "born-again" Christian and father of three, has also been beset by personal conflict as he has immersed himself in a subject that is the antithesis of all he believes.
Emon, 36, says his children have been possessed by demons just before he conducted seminars on the occult. He says his wife has broken out in rashes as she approached the boxes of demonic memorabilia that he stores in his garage.
And he says a pentagram, the five-pointed star often used as a symbol by satanists, once mysteriously appeared etched in his carpet, disappearing only after he dropped to his knees in prayer.
"You feel this stuff getting to you sometimes," Emon said. "I have seen firsthand the power that's there. I suppose, if I didn't feel a real calling to learn more about this, there would be a lot less pressure in my life."
These are notions that are sure to raise the eyebrows of skeptics. Warnings about supernatural forces and gruesome rituals often seem overly alarmist, if not flat-out fantasy.
But with the grisly drug-cult murders in Matamoros, Mexico, earlier this year and the self-styled satanism allegedly practiced by Night Stalker suspect Richard Ramirez, such notions have slowly begun to creep into the public consciousness.
Some experts now say they hear of so many cases involving blood-drained animals, abused children and dismembered corpses that they believe occult rituals will be the crime of the '90s.
"When you measure it against the tremendous gang and narcotic problems we have, it's still not a major issue," said Detective Patrick Metoyer, a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and a widely recognized expert in the field. "But it's something we had better be concerned with. Occult activity is definitely on the rise."
In the San Gabriel Valley, as elsewhere in the state, documentation is still usually piecemeal and anecdotal. No police department has an officer assigned exclusively to such crimes. And authorities readily concede that they're not always equipped to decipher the clues left behind from ritualistic acts.
That's where Emon steps in.
When two decapitated chickens were discovered last month next to several small wax figurines, coconut pieces and shreds of colored cloth near a dry riverbed in South El Monte, it was Emon who determined that they were the remnants of a ritual from the Afro-Cuban religion, Santeria.
No crime was committed because the animals appeared to have been slaughtered humanely, with a quick and clean cut, said Dan Sturkie, district supervisor for county Animal Care and Control.
"But prior to this, it would have looked to us just like someone's leftover dinner," Sturkie said. "Now we're recognizing things more often for what they are."
The same was true for Covina police who last April arrested two youths, aged 16 and 17, for allegedly mutilating at least seven cats, scrawling satanic symbols with the blood and leaving the tails in a box at the Covina Post Office.
"I guess the kids were able to convince the D.A. that it was all a joke," said Glenn Myers, the Covina crime prevention officer. "But it was still pretty scary behavior. Randy was able to look at some of the stuff and let us know that we had a real problem."