Hoodoo hex on Interstate 20: The blinding of Myra Crawford demonstrates how racism and fear of demons linger side by side in pockets of the Old South

THE THREE sisters were on Interstate 20, just east of Dallas, in the early hours when it happened. Myra, who was driving, started to act strangely, trying to veer the car into oncoming traffic and off the sides of bridges.

Then the steering wheel squirmed into life and started to pummel her, before mutating into a monstrous demon. The apparition sprang from the dashboard, mounted the crazed Myra and began its possession of her.

It was exactly as the women had feared. The previous evening - 17 March, St Patrick's Day - they had fled from their hometown of Arcadia in northwestern Lousiana, convinced that an evil spirit was pursuing them.

Most of what is known of their journey - including a decision, halfway, to abandon their terrified children with strangers - has been told by the women to lawyers, friends and the police.

But only one thing was recorded for certain: Myra's admission, just after dawn, to a suburban Dallas hospital. Both her eyes were missing.

Four months on, the events of that night still haunt Arcadia, otherwise famous only as the place where Bonnie and Clyde were gunned down. It is a remote, neglected little town, population 3,000, where the racial divisions of Old South still linger. The Crawford sisters - Myra, 30, who will be blind for life, Doretha, 34 and Beverly, 35 - have retreated to a shuttered brick house on Evangeline Drive, a scrubby cul-de-sac on the black side of the railway tracks.

Neighbours, slumped in the boiling summer air on their porches, hesitate to talk of the affair. Some even run away, afraid, because this is hoodoo business. 'I'm scared of them - the hoodoo, the Crawfords and all of it,' says one young woman. 'They might want pull my eyes out.'

But the secretive world of black hoodoo - a rural variant of the voodoo religion practised in Haiti and even New Orleans - may soon be laid open for all to see if, as expected, authorities in Dallas decide this week to pursue charges of criminal blinding against Doretha and Beverly.

If they go ahead, they will be overriding the pleas of Myra, who wants no charges brought, and their instincts that this case will not find much of an echo in the jurisprudence. 'Without reservation, this is the most strange case we've ever had to deal with,' says Norman Kinne of the Dallas District Attorney's office. 'This is unusual as they get - at least, here in Texas; I don't know about Louisiana.'

Lela Washington, lawyer for the accused pair, confirmed that if prosecuted her clients would plead not guilty. Crucial to the defence would be the argument that all three women were victims of an evil hoodoo hex and the blinding was the work of the demon, or indeed of Satan himself.

She cites witnesses who heard Myra speaking in a man's voice during the possession, as well as testimony from doctors at the Dallas hospital that the whoever removed her eyes - termed 'bilateral enucleation' on her admission sheet - did it with clinical precision.

The Rev Norah Banks, a Baptist minister in Arcadia who has known the Crawford family for 16 years, is convinced that the women were indeed possessed and are innocent of any crime.

'Whatever happened was beyond their control,' he said. 'They were victims of some kind of voodoo or black magic - the conjuring up of demonic spirits.'

What set the sisters on their course originally was a visit by Beverly to a local hoodoo doctor called Benny in the hope of finding a cure for recurring headaches. She was told that she was suffering because she was under assault by demons who were trying to possess her. The revelation terrified the women, and soon afterwards their father, Chester, recommended that they flee and find sanctuary with another sister in Dallas.

But their journey was hellish from the beginning. Less than an hour after leaving Arcadia down the Interstate 20, they became convinced their car was hexed, so they dumped it and rented a replacement at Shreveport airport.

After checking into a motel in Tyler on the other side of the state line in Texas, the five children started to see things. It was then that the women ordered everyone back in the car, found a house with a cross in front of it and left the children at the door.

As they were getting close to Dallas the possession of Myra occurred. Beverly and Doretha apparently beat the car into submission and managed also to calm Myra.

The three then hitched a ride closer into Dallas in a lorry, and were directed to a house that also served as an ad hoc church. It is in this place, the home of one Maddy Bradfield, that Myra apparently lost her sight forever.

It is a sequence that rings entirely true to David Otto, a professor of religion at Centenary College in Shreveport. He notes that in voodoo teaching, when a person becomes possessed by a spirit, he or she becomes the spirit's horse.

'In hoodoo lore, the spirit is riding on your shoulders, and to rid the person of that spirit, you either cut the head off, which was not appropriate in this case, or you gouge their eyes out.

'You won't be a good horse any more because you can't see, and so the spirit leaves. If you believed in hoodoo, eye-gouging would have been the appropriate response to possession.'

Mr Otto is hesitant to answer the obvious question: almost two centuries after the introduction from West Africa and Haiti of voodoo and hoodoo to the American South, how widespread are these practices today? But he does venture that in rural corners such as Arcadia, reliance among blacks on hoodoo spiritualists, as a back-up to the Christian religion and medical doctors, is likely to be common still.

For a fee, the hoodooists offer a variety of services: they can look into the future, for example. But above all, they claim powers to cast spells, either evil or benign - for clients seeking a cure from sickness, say, or success in love or work.

The survival of hoodoo, Mr Otto suggests, is due in part to the continuing sense of disenfranchisement among blacks.

'You're a rural black, you are surrounded by a culture of white people that hate you and keep you impoverished,' he says. 'In that setting, hope may be hard to find, and so would any sense of power. Hoodoo becomes a supplement to Christian faith that one needs in order to find that power and authority - and that hope.'

Mr Banks also concedes that many in his community remain wedded to hoodooism; and he regrets it.

'How many exactly, I don't know, but there are some people on almost every level who believe in it to some degree on another,' he says. 'You can't tell just by looking. I think it's probably more prevalent than any of us would know about. It's out there.'

Take one couple, Tony and Pearl, who were raised in nearby Texarkana and now enjoy a middle-class lifestyle in Houston. Tony is a banker and Pearl a teacher. Bit by bit, they confess to a long-time practice of hoodoo.

Pearl has pieces of magic wood, which she chews, while burning candles, in her attempts to ensure good fortune. 'I think it's all a bit far-fetched, but you don't know what will happen if you don't do it,' she explains.

Tony has a small red bag his mother gave him, which he believes protects him against misfortune. He does not know what is in it, but keeps it moist with olive oil. They also relate other hoodoo practices, such as how girls can attract men for marriage by feeding them spaghetti that has been dipped in their menstrual blood.

And even back on Evangeline Drive in Arcadia, one woman, Mary, confesses to an upbringing steeped in hoodoo. As a child, one day she saw the hoodoo man leaving her home, she claims, his eyes burning red and horns jutting from his head. 'Once you've seen a demon, you never forget it,' she says.

(Photographs omitted)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Teeth should be brushed twice a day to prevent tooth decay
Bryan Cranston as Walter White, in the acclaimed series 'Breaking Bad'
footballChelsea 6 Maribor 0: Blues warm up for Premier League showdown with stroll in Champions League - but Mourinho is short of strikers
Those who were encouraged to walk in a happy manner remembered less negative words
Arts and Entertainment
Princess Olga in 'You Can't Get the Staff'
tvReview: The anachronistic aristocrats, it seemed, were just happy to have some attention
Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London