Barrington 'mini-panthers' find new homes


A handful of local “mini-panthers” have new homes in Barrington.

On Saturday, Barrington Animal Control Officer Patty Watson lead a cat adoption drive in conjunction with the St. John’s Pumpkin Junction Fair. She started the morning with five cats in need of adoption. Three were adopted within the first hour; a fourth was adopted by early afternoon.

All the cats were from Barrington, including from a pair of litters that were discovered in August. Officer Watson said the response was a welcome surprise, especially because most of the adopters were Barrington families.

Officer Watson said the cats had been living at the Warren Animal Hospital, and though they’re kept warm and well fed, nothing is better than a loving place to call home.

“The townspeople stepped up and helped out,” said Officer Watson, who unofficially dubbed the cats “mini-panthers” because of their black coloring.

While a pair of individuals reportedly stopped by the event earlier Saturday morning to protest adopting out black cats near Halloween, Officer Watson said all pet adoptions follow the same procedure to ensure that animals are going to a good home and good owners. Officer Watson said she also checked with East Providence Animal Control, which does not stall black cat adoptions during October.

“”We’re not just letting these cats go to anybody,” Officer Watson said. “They’re going to good homes.”

If you’re looking to rescue a furry friend, contact animal control at 437-3930.


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Police have closed the book on a bizarre 1991 Satanic cult case - of a graveyard desecration, animal cruelty and conspiracy - that resulted in charges against four men.

The end came Oct. 30 - the day before Halloween - when Michael H. Steele, 28, of Utton Avenue in Pawtucket, pleaded no contest to conspiracy to commit cruelty to animals. He was given two years unsupervised probation under a plea-bargain agreement.

Two other men had already pleaded no contest in the case. The fourth man committed suicide four months after his arrest.

The case began in early May 1991, when residents of the waterfront area had become increasingly alarmed by the bizarre behavior of people in and around the basement apartment at 198 Marlborough St.

In separate complaints to police, the residents reported that several men and a woman had been chanting and making other strange noises outside the building and had carried snakes into the apartment from the railroad tracks behind the house.

When Detectives Lawrence Campion and William Higgins went to the house, they were greeted by a gruesome sight.

Just to the left of the front door, the charred head of a black cat, its mouth agape in terror, had been clipped to one of the mailbox hooks used to hold newspapers.

"That's when we knew we had the right house," Campion, now East Greenwich's police chief, recalled recently.

They knocked on the door and were greeted by the woman renting the apartment, Linda VanWart, 26. The four men were inside.

According to police reports, VanWart was reluctant to speak with police until she stepped outside. Then she told the officers that two of the men, Joseph Almeida and Joseph P. Criscione Jr., had brought animal bones and a dead cat to her apartment, had threatened to kill her and her two roommates if she did not let them in, and were practicing Satanic rituals against her will.

VanWart's boyfriend, Mark Botelho, and their roommate, Michael Steele, also said they had been threatened by Almeida and Criscione, whom Botelho knew from school.

Based on the alleged threats, Almeida and Criscione were taken into custody. Criscione, 23, wearing a black sleeveless Batman T-shirt, had to be hospitalized for an alcohol overdose. Almeida, 24, the fingernails of his left hand filed to points and "666" and a cross burnt onto his left forearm, was taken to the police station without incident.

With VanWart's permission, police gathered up a number of objects from the apartment, including a snake carcass, two books - The Modern Witch's Spellbook and The Secret Life of a Satanist - lots of bones, a silver chalice, lists of police- and fire-scanner codes, and several containers of soil.

A call for help went out to Warwick police, where Detective Sgt. Edmund Pierce had built a reputation for specializing in crimes involving Satanic groups.

"We didn't know what we were looking at," said Campion. Pierce did.

PIERCE, WHO HAS since retired from Warwick and is now, coincidentally, a dispatcher for the East Greenwich department, looked at one container and said, "you've got grave dirt in there."

Almeida, surprised that police realized the dirt came from a grave, led police to the grave of Martin H. Diptmar and his wife, Charlotte Searing, in the East Greenwich Cemetery on First Avenue. Behind their gravestone, police found a five-inch-deep rectangular hole where the grass sod and the dirt beneath had been removed.

"I was going to take the dirt and make a pouch with it," Almeida said in a statement to police. "The pouch was for magic protection."

Almeida, who lived at 88 Ivy St. in Providence at the time, said some of the dirt had been taken to Criscione's home at 638 Wickenden St. in Providence. When police searched Criscione's home, they found a gravestone from a Broad Street cemetery, more bones, dirt or dust in small sacks, and literature about black magic and Satanism.

Other witnesses gave police more insight into what was going on in the apartment on Marlborough Street.

William Robinson Jr., then 30, of 279 School St. in North Kingstown, said he was with VanWart, Botelho, Steele and either Almeida or Criscione at VanWart's apartment when the group "said they were going to have a meeting and you can be one of us."

"The next thing I know they have Satan worship books, black candles, pictures, they shut the lights off. Linda said if I want to be one of them I would have to make my finger bleed and they would have to drink the blood," Robinson told police. "They went out and got spiders from the abandoned house across the street. They told me I would have to suck the blood, eat the spiders and have sex both ways, both with men and women. I said let me get the hell out of here. Linda said, 'Never say that word in my (expletive) house.' "

Robinson, in his statement, also told police that "While I was there, Mike put a snake in the microwave oven and turned it on and it shriveled all up."

After police started investigating Botelho and Steele for animal cruelty, the two men reported that they, along with Criscione and Almeida, had gone to the railroad tracks, set up an altar and performed a ritual sacrifice on a live cat.

"Joe Criscione rang the bell three times . . . Joe Criscione was saying the (ritual) words and Joe Almeida was repeating the words after (him)," according to Botelho's statement to police. After a reading for the ritual and another reading for Beelzebub, "Joe Criscione held up the cat and he was saying some weird languages and Joe Almeida held the cat's head and Joe Criscione held the rest of the cat and Joe Criscione cut the cat's head and he let the blood drain into the silver cup."

Botelho said the four men then drank some of the blood from the chalice.

Botelho told police that Criscione brought the cat back to the apartment and "was goofing around with it. It sounds crazy but he was talking to it. He said he could talk to it through his mind. He cut the head off and put it on the mailbox."

It was that weekend that neighbors decided to call police.

CRISCIONE WAS charged with breaking into VanWart's apartment and grave desecration. After he was found dead in his home on Sept. 26, 1991, he received a Mass of Christian Burial in St. Ann Church, on Hawkins Street in Providence, and was buried in St. Francis Cemetery in Pawtucket.

Botelho was given a two-year suspended sentence on May 29, 1991, for conspiring to kill an animal, but he was imprisoned for a year for violating probation from a breaking-and-entering case in Johnston.

On Feb. 3, 1992, Joseph Almeida pleaded no contest to one count of grave desecration, one count of cruelty to animals and one count of conspiracy. He received a three-year suspended sentence on the desecration count and a two-year suspended sentence on each of the other two counts.

Steele, who gave his address as 51 Villa Ave. in Cranston when he was arrested, was originally charged with grave desecration and animal cruelty in addition to the charge of conspiracy to commit cruelty to animals. All but the conspiracy charge were dismissed.

Copyright Providence Journal/Evening Bulletin Nov 18, 1998

Monday, October 15, 2012 | Report this

Great work, Patti. Congrats to the kitties and their happy tails!

Monday, October 15, 2012 | Report this

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

Monday, October 15, 2012 | Report this

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