“They were coming in seriously expecting to find bodies and human organs and have me and my roommates arrested for black-marketing human remains,” said Ender Darling, the self-styled witch whose Facebook posts attracted a team of heavily armed lawmen to a Mid-City home earlier this year. “You should have seen their faces when they walked into the house and found a bunch of sleeping hippies.”
Darling, whose given name is Devon Marie Machuca, said agents with the state Attorney General’s Office overreacted that January morning, seizing a phone and laptop and grilling the witch about an offer to ship “left over” specimens to interested parties.
Darling, who does not identify as a man or woman, played down the early-morning raid, describing it as an overblown “waste of time.”
It’s unclear whether Darling or others will be charged in connection with the Jan. 28 search. So far, Darling and the other occupants of the home have received only summonses for marijuana possession.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Jeff Landry declined to comment, saying the investigation is ongoing.
However, court records obtained by The New Orleans Advocate show the authorities recovered at least 11 bones and four teeth from a “fishbowl type” container inside the South Solomon Street house.
“I had them on an altar,” Darling, who has since moved to Florida, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It was just a bunch of little shards of bones and pieces of teeth I had picked up off the ground. I said (to the agents), ‘Here you go. There’s probably human bones in there, but I know better than to give you that answer.’ ”
The Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation in December after Darling on Facebook reported collecting washed-up bones from a “poor man’s graveyard.” Investigators believed the reference was to Holt Cemetery, the historic potter’s field on City Park Avenue, based in part on photographs Darling later shared privately with prospective customers.
“Most graveyards around here are full of above ground graves because we live in a fishbowl,” Darling wrote in the Facebook post, which has since been deleted. “But there happens to be a graveyard where it’s all in-ground graves. For those of us who are too poor to afford above ground burial.”
The post noted that “femurs, teeth, jaws (and) skull caps” regularly turn up in the graveyard after it rains. “This is where I go to find my human bones for curse work and general spells that require bone. I find human bones are easier (to) work with for me rather than animal bone. I can relate and work with the energy they carry if that makes any sense.” Darling wrote.
The Facebook post asked whether anyone would be interested in buying superfluous remains, or “basically cover shipping (costs) to where ever you happen to be.”
“I know human bones aren’t easy to come by,” Darling added, “and I usually have left overs.”
Adam Stevenson, president of the organization Save Our Cemeteries, said the removal of bones is a problem at several New Orleans graveyards.
“I can’t speak to the black market trade in human bones, but I do know that vandalism, regrettably, is an issue that we deal with, and a lot of that vandalism involves the exposure of human remains,” Stevenson said in an interview. “We’re talking about taking Uncle Joe’s femur, and it’s an obscenity.”
The authorities suspected Darling of trafficking in human remains and, in an application for a search warrant, cited several state statutes that may have been violated, including a law that forbids the removal of a “dead body of a human being or any part thereof from a cemetery space.”
A team of at least four state investigators conducted “periodic surveillances” at Darling’s Solomon Street home over a six-day period in January.
Investigators also subpoenaed all correspondence from Darling’s Facebook profiles, a request that yielded more than 12,000 pages of information. The messages indicated the witch had been obtaining bones from a graveyard beginning on Nov. 16, “primarily acting alone, but also with a roommate,” court records state.
Two of Darling’s former roommates, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they had nothing to do with Darling’s bone collection or related rituals. “I think she thought she had way more power than she actually had,” one of them said.
Darling communicated with several people expressing interest in the bones, giving them the Solomon Street address on at least seven occasions, according to the search warrant application. One person received two photographs of remains, including an image that depicted at least a dozen bones and “a portion of a human femur.”
In the interview, Darling acknowledged sending off a box that contained “one human tooth and two shards” but stressed that it wasn’t about making a profit.
“I wasn’t selling anything,” Darling said. “It was, ‘You cover how much it takes to ship it.’ This is me passing along something I feel nature has given me. I don’t want money for this.”
Darling’s Facebook post prompted outrage online and led to Darling and other residents of the house receiving a flood of threats.
The self-styled witch even moved away from New Orleans in part out of concern over a daughter. “People were getting really serious about this, and it was all over me picking up bones,” Darling said. “It’s a very special place to me, but my physical safety is more important.”
Darling uses human bones for “energy work” — not merely curses but also healing rituals — a purpose the witch said is far better than having the remains merely “laying on the ground” after a heavy rain.
“It’s easier for someone to connect with something that has human energy in it,” the witch said. “That’s what I use them for.”
Late last year, Darling was pilloried online and accused of showing disrespect for the dead by collecting human remains from graveyards. But Darling said residents of New Orleans should be ashamed of the state of unkempt graveyards in which bones wash up regularly.
“I’m sorry I care more than you care about your dead,” the witch added.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.