A church custodian is murdered in the dead of night, his mutilated corpse, bearing vicious stab wounds to his head and side mimicking those of Jesus Christ on the cross, is left in front of the altar. On the ground, in the victim's blood, is written the word 'Satun'. The slaying on Halloween of 53-year-old Charles Jacobs, janitor at the Mormon church in the quiet, church-going town of Paarl, east of Cape Town, is the latest in a long string of murders that reflect an obsession with satanism which goes back deep into South Africa's apartheid past. Jacobs' murder, inevitably dubbed the 'crucifixion killing', was probably just a botched burglary, police say, but to relatives in the town it was the work of the devil. His brother, Ivor, who found the body, describes the scene at the church as 'a place filled with evil. We saw a dark spot on the floor. The word 'Satun' was written in my brother's blood.' In murder-blase South Africa the killing's satanic overtones made it exceptional. Official police denials of any occult link and that descriptions of Jacobs' injuries are wildly exaggerated have been drowned out. To the police, the 'crucifixion' was nothing more than a clumsy attempt to disguise the motives for the killing, as well as an anguished interpretation of the murder scene by relatives. Two men have already been arrested, a defrocked priest whom Mormon elders fired after they discovered he had lied about being ordained, and an unemployed man. The crucifixion killing is the latest to be proclaimed occult-linked and reflects the unique hold the concept of satanism has on the South African psyche. In September, a deranged Western Cape farm worker named Willem Mouers slit his three-year-old daughter's throat, hours after telling neighbours about 'dark forces' that haunted him. Unable to explain his mental breakdown, local residents turned to the only answer they believed would fit - that he was possessed. When several slaughtered pet dogs turned up in an affluent Pretoria suburb in June, locals interpreted the events as proof that a satanic coven was loose in the capital. The fact that the pet killings took place at the time of the winter solstice, a high point in the occult calendar, seemed the clincher. 'Pets' death linked to satanism' screamed the Pretoria News. The belief that malevolent dark forces lurk on the periphery waiting to strike runs deep in white South African society. Last year, M Web, the country's largest internet service provider, offered a package for blocking Internet access to sites that included occult subjects. The belief of lurking occultism goes back to the apartheid era, when a blend of Christian fundamentalism and virulent anti-communism fostered free-ranging paranoia, particularly among whites. During the 1980s, at the height of the liberation war, wandering preachers would regularly visit all-white schools to warn children on the dangers of satanism, and through a convoluted logic, its links to communism. Using props such as KISS album covers, candle stubs and other paraphernalia 'recovered' from covens' lairs, these preachers would frighten and, perhaps unintentionally, titillate their captive audience with lurid descriptions of black mass, blood sacrifice and uninhibited sex. Satanism was taken so seriously, the South African police set up an anti-occult unit to investigate crimes linked to satanic rituals. The Occult Related Crime Unit was set up in 1992 under Superintendent Kobus Jonker. He became well known as the top occult hunter, dubbed by the press as 'The Hound of God', 'God's Detective' and 'Donker [Dark] Jonker'. The unit was disbanded in 1997 after human rights groups protested that the country's post-apartheid constitution guaranteed religious freedom, a definition broad enough to include satanists, should they exist. Despite the unit's disbanding, the South African police have continued to keep a website that has a page devoted exclusively to satanism and the occult, and Superintendent Jonker is still the police's resident occult expert. James Lottering, a former detective who ran the occult unit's Eastern Cape branch until the occult unit was disbanded, now conducts exorcisms from a church in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth. He calls himself a pastor but his bull-necked physique, close-cropped hair and hard, penetrating eyes make him seem far more like the ex-cop he is rather than a soft-edged man of God. 'A normal policeman cannot really investigate these cases because he does not have the background. So they have consultants to help,' he explains. For a policeman, building a case against a satanist is challenging. 'If a person commits a crime and says 'Satan made me do it', by law that person must produce the demon to testify on his behalf in court. But that of course he cannot do. The court cannot take the word of every person that claims to be demon possessed.' Instead, Mr Lottering and his colleagues settle for building a criminal prosecution, but also spare time to try to save the possessed man's soul. 'If a person is demon possessed, ja, I can help him free himself of this thing, but I can't help him in court.' Mr Lottering was also once a member of the apartheid government's feared security police when finding communists, not satanists, was a priority. To some, the switch from hunting communists to hunting satanists is not surprising. 'The only thing worse than having an enemy is not having one,' says a psychologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, Dr Gavin Ivey, who has published a paper on the phenomenon. 'These guys are just a waste of taxpayers' money.'