Police were pursuing a trespasser on private property in Pasadena, Calif., when they discovered a human skull and other bones in the home's backyard. A makeshift altar adorned with incense and candles contained the skull along with other human and animal bones, CBS Los Angeles reported. Police said that they were investigating the altar incident as "suspicious circumstances."
Authorities told NBC 4 Los Angeles that the woman who owns the home where the altar was found practices a form of Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religion that involves animal sacrifice among its customs. NBC 4 spoke to a man leaving the woman's home, who only identified himself as Jose. He said that his sister's family purchased the bones on eBay for religious purposes. There are, in fact, a number of human skulls available for purchase on eBay, most of them denoted as being sold for medical or dentistry studies. The one with the highest bid as of Tuesday afternoon was going for $710.
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Neighbors had mixed reactions to the grim backyard discovery. One woman who declined to be identified told CBS Los Angeles of hearing chanting coming weekly from the homeowner's backyard, and seeing cow and goat heads and "blood all over the place." But another neighbor had more sympathy, saying: "They are hurting no one. It's just a basic religious ritual they are performing."
The Pasadena Coroner's Office confiscated the bones, and police said there doesn't seem to be a crime committed. They are working to determine the origin of the bones. R. Andrew Chesnut, a professor of religious studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, studied photos of the altar and told NBC 4 that it honored a specific deity.
"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," Chesnut said. "What it really is, is a fusion of medieval Catholicism and native Mexican folk religion."
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