Hacked, slashed and castrated: How 'cannibal' cult leader ‘Black Jesus’ Steven Tari met his death

Papuan cult leader had been on the verge of an unexplained Israel trip before his grisly demise

Kathy Marks
Monday 02 September 2013 18:44 BST
Papua New Guinea, though predominantly Christian, retains a strong undercurrent of tribal religion
Papua New Guinea, though predominantly Christian, retains a strong undercurrent of tribal religion

Papua New Guinea’s self-styled “Black Jesus” died as he had lived, meeting a gruesome, violent end during which he was hacked and slashed to death with bush knives and also castrated, according to fresh details which emerged today.

It was also reported, bizarrely, that Steven Tari – an infamous cult leader and convicted rapist suspected of sacrificial killings and cannibalism – had been on the verge of flying to Israel by helicopter. His followers had bought a pig for a farewell feast last Friday, but Tari never got to sample it – he was killed on Thursday after being ambushed by dozens of villagers.

Quite what he was planning to do in Israel is not clear – nor how he expected to make the nearly 8,000-mile trip by helicopter. But it seems that his ritualistic murder last Tuesday of a 15-year-old schoolgirl, Rose Wagum, was the last straw for men in the remote villages in eastern Papua New Guinea, where Tari had been sheltering since escaping from prison last March.

According to The National newspaper, following the girl’s murder – and the attempted murder of a 14-year-old the following day – about 80 men came together to kill him and one of his followers, 15-year-old Matus Ogmaba.

On Thursday morning, they split into three groups, one of which set upon Tari as he was performing his morning ablutions. As the cult leader fled, he ran into a second group of villagers, who killed him – but only after he had wounded two of them. Meanwhile, the third group pursued and killed Ogmaba.

The men tied Tari’s neck with cane ropes, dragged him to an isolated spot and buried him in a shallow pit. The nature of his injuries was established after health and mortuary workers dug up his body. “He was chopped and slashed with bush knives on both arms and legs, chest and stomach, which revealed his intestines. He was also castrated,” said Juith Gawi, a doctor involved in the exhumation.

Convicted in 2010 of raping four teenage girls who had joined his sect, Tari was serving a 20-year sentence when he broke out of prison – along with 48 other men – in the town of Madang. The failed Lutheran pastor, who promised his thousands of followers prosperity and immortality, had been arrested in 2007 in the village of Matepi.

A criminal investigator, Ray Ban, told The National that Rose was murdered – in a “sacrificial” killing – after being taken to Tari’s camp in the village of Gal by her aunt, Merigin Wagum. Tari’s trial heard that many of the girls whom he raped and allegedly killed had been offered up to him by relatives who were cult members.

The 14-year-old girl was saved by the village men who subsequently killed Tari, according to Mr Ban. However, a 10-year-old girl who accompanied Rose and her aunt to Gal last week is still missing. Police said Merigin Wagum had acted as a “scout” for young girls and virgins whom she brought to Tari.

Rose, whose body has also been dug up, was found to have multiple stab wounds and slashes. Her aunt and father, Panu Wagum, who allegedly buried her, have been arrested and charged with being accessories to murder. Authorities are hoping that the cycle of violence has now ended. “Tari is dead and this cult worship dies with him,” Mr Ban told locals. “If I hear of any more cult worship here, I will return with my men.”

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