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A Killing, A Torture & A Death Sentence For Ritual Murder


A Killing, A Torture & A Death Sentence For Ritual Murder

By Dr. Lans Gberie.

Alhaji Bockarie Kallon was sentenced to ‘suffer death’ by the circuit court sitting in Bo on 24 August 2002. He was 70. Mr. Kallon had been convicted of murdering, for ritual purposes, a 9-year old boy, Brima Kposowa, two years earlier. Judge Olu Ademusu, presiding, noted, apropos of the severity of the crime and the death sentence, that ritual killing was “becoming rampant” in Sierra Leone. “The sentence of the court upon you,” Mr. Ademusu told Mr. Kallon, “is that you be taken from this place to a lawful prison, and thence to a place of execution, and that you there suffer death by hanging until you are dead. And may the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

Mr. Kallon was then taken to Pademba Road Prison and gaoled; I have found no record anywhere of what happened to him next. He might have died forgotten in the prison shortly after (he was 70), as so many condemned prisoners have; but he almost certainly was not hanged.

As part of an ongoing research into ritual killings, I recently read the trial records of this case, known as ‘Abubakar Kallon vs. the State’. Meticulously bound, they run to 193 pages: consisting of the transcripts of police statements taken, court testimonies, a so-called forensic report, the Judge’s summing up for the juries and Foremen, and the verdict and sentencing statement. The trial appeared to have followed all the formal rules of such proceedings; it certainly was ponderous. But it is hard to say that it was fair.

The police report containing the statements of several accused persons upon which the case was built were obtained through torture of almost medieval severity; the doctor who did the ‘forensic examination’ was not a pathologist and his report was inept and ridiculous; and the involvement of certain powerful local forces who were certainly not beyond suspicion with respect to their culpability in the crime raises the probability of a mistrial.


The context of the trial is of more than incidental interest. The body of young Brima Kposowa, who had been missing for several days from the village of Temede in Bumpeh District, was found after an apparently intensive search in early May 2000. At almost exactly this moment, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels had abducted 300 United Nations peacekeepers and killed some, triggering a massive crisis for the UN’s budding peace operation in Sierra Leone. The Kamajors, then a very powerful pro-government force combating the RUF, was active in the Temede area. Their spiritual leader, Alieu Kondewa, appears in the pages of the trial records; he and the local chief ordered the Kamajors to apprehend four people in connection to the disappearance; they arrested those four people even before the body was found. They four were taken to a police station in Bo. The Bo police, under Karrow Kamara, then despatched a team to the village to search for the missing boy. The police team joined the Kamajors in this search. The body was found in a swamp some distance away from the village: it had not been hidden or buried, suggesting that if it was murder there was no real attempt at cover up.

The police then brought Dr. Brima Kargbo, a senior medical officer attached to the Bo Government Hospital, to examine the body where it had been found. This was on 5 May. He was not a pathologist. His report, tendered to the court as Exhibit A, is confusing: it outrages chronology and sequencing, not to mention probability. He said he found the body “lying and almost decomposing”, and that he conducted the examination on the spot. “Looking at the corpse I did not see the head,” he said. Upon further search, he said, “we found the head under a shrub about two to three yards from where the deceased was lying.” The search party had to wait for the doctor to look for the head? Though the body was decomposing, Dr. Kargbo’s report does not mention that it was smelling, something that surely would have led the search party earlier to the head, which must have been similarly decomposing. The body appeared to have been purposively decapitated: “the heart and liver were not seen,” Dr. Kargbo said.


In one of his statements – which he later recanted in court because he claimed, credibly, that it had been extracted from him through torture – Mr. Kallon had claimed that he had removed those body parts after killing Kposowa to take to Guinea, there to be used by some unnamed ‘Meresin’ men to make ‘borfina’. This ‘borfina’, a powerful concoction, would have aided him in his quest to become a Paramount Chief.

The word ‘borfina’ is massively resonant in the literature relating to the Human Leopard phenomenon: it entered the popular imagination after the British colonial authorities set up a special commission court to try several dozen cases relating to mysterious killings attributed to ‘human leopards’ in 1912. Sir William Brandford Griffith, a former governor of the Gold Coast, was summoned from his retirement in London to preside over the commission. He described the ‘borfina’ as “a terrible fetish” which must be “frequently supplied with human fat” to remain potent. He later ventured the opinion that the incidental uses of human flesh by the Human Leopards was not “to satisfy any craving for human flesh nor in connection with any religious rite, but in the belief that the victims’ flesh will increase their virility.” He drew this conclusion from the fact that “all the principal offenders were men of mature age, past their prime.”

I shall return to the Griffith commission, his fatuous opinion, and the details of what was almost certainly a terrible mistrial that led to the hanging of a large number of perfectly innocent men during a moment of colonial hysteria. Griffith won international renown as a champion of Western civilization in one of the barbarous corners of the world for this trial; it earned him obituary notices in the Times of London and the New York Times upon his death.

In Mr. Kallon’s trial, several people, including the parents of Kposowa, were charged with being accessory to the murder of the boy. Karrow Kamara, who was then officer in charge at the Bo Police Station, was the chief statement taker. He emerges from the pages of the trial records as a vicious torturer of demented cruelty. His preferred method was to use a plier, a club, and other blunt heavy instruments to beat up witnesses and the accused; he had the ear of one witness sliced off; he put out fire from cigarettes on their faces; and he had the mother and aunt of Kposowa so severely beaten that they bled through their genitalia, in which he then inserted a cocktail of meshed pepper – causing such pain, the aunt said, that it reminded her of when she was circumcised…

(To be continued)


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