Guernica Magazine

Blood and Power: Investigating a Ritual Murder in Liberia

While a teenager is convicted of a gruesome killing, questions linger about occult violence among the power elite. The post Blood and Power: Investigating a Ritual Murder in Liberia appeared first on Guernica.
Illustration: Sarula Bao.

On the evening of September 22, 2015, James Zbeghn was unwinding in his home in the city of Ganta, a commercial hub about five hours north of Monrovia that lies at a crossroads between Guinea, Cote D’Ivoire, and the remote, dense forests of southeastern Liberia. As night fell, Zbeghn noticed that his son Cephus still hadn’t returned home. Cephus was a seventeen-year-old who earned small amounts of cash for the family by renting a motorcycle and ferrying people around Ganta. He rented the motorcycle he drove from a neighborhood entrepreneur, but generally he was home by then to return it.

Around the same time, another boy from the neighborhood, Jacob Vambo, dropped by Zbeghn’s modest family home in the quiet suburb. Zbeghn overheard Jacob’s conversation with another one of his sons, who was sitting near the house with a group of friends.

“Where’s Cephus?” asked Jacob.

Zbeghn was struck by his son’s confused reply: “You carried my brother today, you now come to ask me about him?”

Jacob seemed skittish, Zbeghn says, and intimidated by his son’s questions and the presence of his friends. He quickly left—without explaining where he’d last seen Cephus, which raised the suspicions of Zbeghn and the rest of his family.

James Zbeghn, father of Cyphus Yeawonyee, in Ganta, Liberia.

After Jacob left, the evening passed into night, and Cephus still didn’t come home. Zbeghn visited the police station the following morning to report his son’s disappearance. He was surprised to see that Jacob was already there, dealing with a separate matter, related to the theft of a package of palm oil. Zbeghn pulled an officer aside and explained what had happened the previous night, accusing Jacob of knowing what happened to Cephus and where he was. When questioned, Jacob feigned ignorance, but when Zbeghn, an officer, and the owner of Cephus’s rented motorcycle searched Jacob’s yard, they found the bike under a tarp.” It was missing the colorful distinguishing fiberglass coverings that protect the engine, which would have made the bike easier to recognize, but the owner could tell it was his.

At daybreak, Cephus was still missing, prompting Zbeghn to alert the local police. Jacob was arrested shortly thereafter. For three days, police investigators interrogated Jacob. Finally, he broke, offering a startling confession. Cephus was dead, his body left in Jacob’s family’s sugar cane farm about thirty minutes outside Ganta.

Sergeant Adolphus Zuah, commander of the police detachment in Ganta at the time, was one of the officers on the scene. He theorizes that Cephus and Jacob had set out to steal a goat from a nearby town, but that Jacob decided to kill Cephus and take his motorcycle instead.

But rumors that traveled around Ganta in the days following the discovery of Cephus’s body hinted at something much uglier than a run-of-the-mill robbery. Whispers of a gruesome crime scene, with body

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