‘Black Jesus,’ a Cult Leader and Ex-Lutheran Who Raped and Murdered Girls, is Himself Killed

Five months ago, Papua New Guinean cult leader Steven Tari, who liked to refer to himself as “Black Jesus,” did it again. Every time he’d been caught for his shocking crimes — which included rape, murder, and (according to many) ritual cannibalism — he’d managed to escape. His most mindbending getaway had occurred some eight years ago, when he

…escaped prior to his trial with the help of a Lutheran pastor, Logan Sapus, who had been assigned to counsel him but became converted to Tari’s cult instead.

Other attempts followed, but Tari was always quickly recaptured. Until this March, when he broke out of prison with dozens of other inmates — and went home. According to the Independent,

The charismatic cult leader, who wore white robes and is said to have regularly drunk the blood of his “flower girls”, quickly returned to his home village of Gal.

Given Tari’s violent, psychotic past, the villagers had reason to be apprehensive, to say the least — although some of them, among as many as 6,000 people in the superstition-ravaged nation, took his every word as the gospel.

But enough was, apparently, enough, and the other day, some of the saner ones ended his reign of terror:

After killing one woman and attempting to murder another, the inhabitants of the village, which is in Madang province, are said to have finally snapped, surrounding Tari and one of his henchmen and hacking the pair to death.

It has not yet been established if the murdered woman was killed as part of a blood sacrifice, but it is considered likely as Tari was said to have been attempting to resurrect his cult following the spell in prison.

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder and Main Mischief Maker of Moral Compass, a site that pokes fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards.

  • Brooke Lester

    Especially interesting is how, according to the cited artcile, the villagers appear to have “kill[ed] one woman and attempt[ed] to murder another” before going after Tari!

    > After killing one woman and attempting to murder another, the inhabitants of the village, which is in Madang province, are said to have finally snapped, surrounding Tari and one of his henchmen…

    Go and learn the meaning of “misplaced modifier”, John Hall of the Independent.

    • stoneyage

      That one slapped me hard. So glaring.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      Had to read it a few times myself. Ugh.

    • CB

      lol! With misplacement of responsibility so common in religious societies, it very well could have been that the villagers murdered a few people and then punished someone else for it!

      … I think you’re right, though, the moral outrage here was clearly grammatical.


  • Tom

    Every time something like this happens, I always marvel at how such cults manage to get established at all. Then I remember that we’re a social species with an inbuilt tendency to follow and defer to the charismatic, and psychopaths are very good at being charismatic. We naturally seem to associate confidence and boldness with trustworthiness and leadership; which today, in a culture supposedly based on rational thought, tends to get translated into assuming someone’s right about something without actually proving it. Ironically, the best rational analysis can often by by those who are not naturally confident and therefore need to prove everything to themselves; this then acts as a disadvantage when they try to explain it to anyone else, as it sets off instinctive “not trustworthy” flags that must then be overcome by reason – and if the audience isn’t very good at reason to begin with, frequently can’t be overcome at all.

    Unfortunately, we don’t seem to have developed any innate ability to
    distinguish the charisma of a genuinely good character with a tendency to lead well, i.e. boldness and confidence, from a simple lack of regard for others or self doubt,
    which seem to be common traits of psychopaths. I wonder, is our tendency as a species to produce a few percent of psychopaths purely a parasitic mutation, or was it actually beneficial at some point in our history? Prior to the development of rational thought and the ability to elect leaders by conscious analysis of their thoughts or behaviour, maybe a few psychopaths here and there were a useful way of guaranteeing the population would always have a natural leader they would tend to follow and would, despite their flaws, hold that society together? Maybe the psychopaths even came first, and the followers are the later mutation that tended to produce strong communities around the leaders? It seems reasonable that asocial species would arise before the social ones, after all.

    • Tom

      Damn, should have posted this on Pharyngula instead – where I’d probably get blasted for indulging in armchair evo-psych, pure speculation though it is.

      • WetCoastAtheist

        … no need to go to mangina country, there’s only sorrow there.

        • C.L. Honeycutt

          Your creepy fear of things you consider unmasculine is noted.

        • Tom

          See what I mean about a negative response to introspection and self-criticism?

        • ragarth

          As opposed to Doucheville, where you take up residence?

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        Nah, as long as you’re not derailing a thread, you’d spark a good discussion.

      • Artor

        Drop it into the Thunderdrome over there and see what you get.

    • CB

      I would say no! Psychopathic behaviour was absolutely beneficial at one time in our history, at least to the tribe led by the psychopath.

      If you have friendly relations with a neighbouring tribe, you’ll never expand into their territory, but if you commit genocide on them, it’s all yours!

      It only stops being beneficial when more of the psychopathic behaviour is directed inward rather than outward, which seems to have been the case here.

      I would even say the religious impulse itself evolved to allow tribespeople to selectively suspend their morality in order to follow a psychopathic leader.

      • Tom

        Funny you should mention selective suspension of morality as a potentially useful trait – I just recently heard about studies where they’ve apparently shown that it’s not exactly that psychopaths are incapable of empathy, but that for them it’s a conscious choice whether to feel it or not – they can still apparently deliberately choose to activate the empathic parts of the brain that are involuntarily activated in empathic situations in non-psychopaths. I’m still not sure if that’s more or less terrifying than people who just can’t empathise at all.

        • CB

          That would make perfect sense if the religious impulse represented a kind of specialisation in human societies.

          The psychopathic leader chooses the best course for the society regardless of morality, and the followers simply carry it out without question. This confers selective benefit.

          I think I’m more disturbed by the death toll it took for the villagers to put an end to the madness in this story… though I guess that’s also a function of the personal security of the society in question. If you don’t know whether or not you’re going to die tomorrow, maybe joining a murderous cult looks slightly more attractive, I dunno. Better to stay on the psychopath’s “good side”? :S

  • busterggi

    I can’t see why Christians would have a problem with symbolic cannibalism, its part of their own tradition & does the nature of the host matter if they truly believe in transubstantiation?

    • Lori

      Many Christians don’t believe in transubstantiation, they believe that communion is purely symbolic.

      • sk3ptik0n

        He probably meant Catholics.

  • Anna

    Yikes. I’m not in favor of vigilante justice, but in this case I’m not sure what else could have been done. This was clearly a dangerous individual, and the government seemed unable to keep the population safe from his violent crimes.

    • midnight rambler

      Vigilante justice, combined with a vengeance culture and overwhelming superstition, is pretty much the rule in much of New Guinea. It’s a fascinating but deeply disturbing place.

      • Anna

        Jared Diamond talks a lot about New Guinea in The World Until Yesterday. I hadn’t thought about it much before, but he points out that vigilante cultures tend to thrive in places where people cannot rely on the government to protect them, or in places where there is no appointed leader with the power to enforce laws. Thus you have never-ending cycles of revenge killings in many tribal societies.