On 21 September 2001, the dismembered torso of a young boy was discovered floating in the River Thames in London. Estimated to be just 5 or 6 years old, he was wearing only a pair of bright orange shorts. It was a discovery that would spark an investigation spanning more than 10 years in efforts to identify him, find out why he had been killed and by whom and it would lead investigators into the dark world of human sacrifice, child trafficking, and ritual homicide.
In the weeks after the September 11 attacks in New York, the media and the public were reeling in the aftermath of tragedy and being flooded with reports of terrorism and threats around the globe. Police were keen to ensure the investigation into who this little boy was and what happened to him remained in the public eye so they chose to give him a name. A murdered child with a name would resonate more with the public than a nameless victim. At a press conference, Commander Andy Baker told reporters:
“His name is Adam and until we can identify him and his family, we will act as his family”.
The post-mortem on Adam’s remains revealed the horrifying details of the last hours of this child’s life. His throat had been slit and his blood drained before his head and limbs had been removed from his torso using skill and precision. Forensic analysis of his intestines and stomach contents gave rise however to more questions than answers. Small ground-down plant matter particles were found along with grains resembling sand and clay pellets. Strangely, there were also tiny particles of gold.
Experts were called in to try and identify this material and shed light on why it may have been ingested. Dr. Hazel Wilkinson of the Jodrell Laboratory at Kew Gardens in Surrey was able to determine the plant-like material was in fact Datura seeds and particles of the Calabar bean. Datura is a sedative which can also cause hallucinations, while the Calabar bean is a toxic climbing vine native to West Africa and causes paralysis across the body. It is a paralysis which would prevent any ability to move, however, it is not a painkiller nor would a child be unconscious after taking it. This means Adam was most likely awake, conscious, and able to feel the pain as a knife cut through his small body.
Alongside tests on what Adam may have ingested before he died, police requested analysis on the trace minerals within his bones and his DNA in order to try and identify where he was from. The results suggested Adam was not British nor had he been raised in the UK. He was most likely West African, specifically Nigerian arriving in the UK only months before he was killed. The discovery of the Calabar bean in his stomach also provided a link to West Africa, narrowing the area down further to where this plant grows and leading police to Benin City in Nigeria.
The city of Benin is widely considered to be the home of Voodoo where it is recognised as an official religion. It is a way of life for the majority of the Benin people and animal sacrifices and the use of herbs and plants for healing are widely practiced within the region with sacrifices largely being given to gain a connection with the spirit world or seek protection from a threat of some kind that is causing concern.
Knowing the origins of Adam, his stomach contents, and the precise manner in which his body had been dismembered led the police to question if Adam had been trafficked to the UK for the sole purpose of being killed in a sacrificial ritual murder. West Africa has rates as high as 200,000 children a year that are trafficked out of the country, with 40,000 of those either coming from or passing through Benin and sold for slave labour or into sex work. If someone in the UK believed in the power of such sacrifices and had the means and the contacts, this is an act which could have easily been arranged.
This announcement led to the media reporting that ritual child killings were taking place in the UK striking fear across the country. Speculations and assumptions were made accelerating the horror of the case and creating images of brutal child sacrifice. A bag of while candles and cloth washed up on the shores of Thames only adding to the images people had of ritual homicide being carried out in the nation’s capital.
“Human sacrifice is believed to be the most “empowering” form of sacrifice — and offering up a child is the most extreme form of all. Thankfully, in Africa, it is very rare.”
There are different types of ritual homicide that have been seen in West African regions. One is often referred to as multi-killing; acts of murder and mutilation carried out to sacrifice a human to obtain their body parts. These parts are then used in medicines and potions within witchcraft and a child sacrifice could symbolise more power than an adult one. This, police initially thought, may have been the fate of Adam.
Police consulted experts in religion and human cultural sacrifice practices to try and gain more information about what may have happened to him. The second largest ethnic group in Nigeria are the Yoruba people who worship almost 400 ancestor gods they call ‘Orisha’, they discovered. The Yoruba river goddess ‘Oshun’ is associated with the colour orange and police thought this may be why bright orange shorts were placed on the body before he was dumped in the Thames. Comparing the plant content found in Adam with some of the known rituals of West Africa, Dr. Wilkinson concluded that this little boy may have been sacrificed in this way to provide someone with power and money.
Police also believed a skilled person in these sacrifices, such as a priest or a witch doctor was brought in to dismember the body of Adam due to the precision used. This was not an amateur haphazard dismemberment. Whoever did this knew what they were doing and they had done it before. The orange shorts Adam was wearing were traced and found to be manufactured in China and sent only to stores in Germany leading police to believe the child was trafficked through Germany to get to the UK, a route they have seen traffickers use in the past.
They eventually discounted the theory of a multi-killing after learning this is a practice common across South Africa, rather than West Africa where the combined forensic evidence from Adam was pointing. Furthermore, the genitals of the young boy were not taken which would be expected in a ritual murder for medicine as such body parts are considered extremely powerful.
Criminologist and African religion expert, Dr. Richard Hoskins gave his thoughts on what may have happened in this case. “Adam’s body would have been drained of blood, as an offering to whatever god his murderer believed in,” he said. “The gold flecks in his intestine were used to make the sacrifice more appealing to that god.” Dr. Hoskins also believed that the dismemberment of Adams body was part of the sacrificial ritual including the knife used and the precision of the cuts to his body.
In 2002, London police flew to Johannesburg in South Africa and with the help of Nelson Mandela made a public appeal for any information which may identify Adam.They also travelled to Nigeria to follow up on any reports of missing children in the hope of finding out who Adam was, but they were unsuccessful.
It was later that same year that the first possible clues to Adam’s identity came to light, however, it would be a further nine years before any real identification could be made. A Nigerian woman by the name of Joyce Osiagede was arrested in Glasgow when she tried to claim asylum for herself and her two daughters. She appeared confused and was ranting, talking of ceremonies, sacrifices, and religion.
The Metropolitan Police picked up on her case and after a search of the flat she had been living in, they found clothing that was similar to the shorts Adam was wearing. She was arrested but no evidence could be found to link her to the murder and she had a long history of mental health problems. She was deported back to Nigeria.
For 10 years this case remained on file with no developments towards finding the true identity of Adam and what had happened to him.
In March 2011, a television crew found Joyce Osiagede in Nigeria and she told them in an interview that she knew who the boy was. She used to care for a 6-year-old boy called Ikpomwosa while she lived in Germany she said, after his parents had been deported from Germany back to Nigeria. She told them that after a year of looking after him she had given the young boy to man called ‘Bawa’ who she believed had taken him to London. She also identified a young boy in a photograph as Ikpomwosa, however it was confirmed some time later this was the child of a friend of hers who was very much alive. It appeared her identification of Adam was false.
Two years later, in 2013, Joyce Osiagede made further contact with the television crew saying she now wanted to tell them everything that she knew. She told them the boy’s real name was Patrick Erhabor and the man she had handed him over to was in fact Kingsley Ojo, a convicted people smuggler who had been arrested in England in 2002 and deported back to Nigeria. Ojo was also a man looked at closely by police in relation to this case before he was deported with a belief he may have been involved in trafficking Adam into the country. Joyce Osiagede was not a reliable witness and had purposely misled the investigation before, however, adding all the information together police believed they had finally found the real identity of Adam.
This is not the first time that a human torso has been found floating in the River Thames in London. Just one year before the infamous Jack the Ripper was murdering and butchering prostitutes around the streets of Whitechapel, in 1887 a female torso was found in the River Thames. Over the next few months, further body parts appeared believed to belong to the same corpse. The dismemberment had been skilled and not haphazard but investigators could not determine what had killed this woman.
A year later, in 1888, more body parts were found in London’s central river. These were determined to have belonged to a different body, again female. First one arm was found, then the other arm and then her torso, although these parts were found in various locations around the city rather than all floating in the River Thames. A third woman’s torso was found in 1889 next to railway arches on Pinchin Street, now known as the ‘Pinchin Street Murder’. The women were never identified and the police had no idea who was dismembering them or why. No one knows what the story behind these bodies is but it is widely theorized that these women were murdered and dismembered by a serial killer operating in London in those 3 years from 1887 to 1889.
16 years after this young boy’s torso was found floating in the River Thames his murder remains unsolved. While his identity is now believed to be Patrick Erhabor, police are no closer to finding out who was behind his gruesome death. They are confident this child was brought into Britain to be a human sacrifice and was murdered and dismembered as part of that sacrificial ritual. It seems, however, that his killer or killers may never be found.