Matt C. Abbott
December 3, 2007
Priest aided investigators in nun's murder case
By Matt C. Abbott

The following is Chapter 25 of David Yonke's book Sin, Shame, and Secrets: The Murder of a Nun, the Conviction of a Priest, and Cover-Up in the Catholic Church (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2006), which will be available in paperback on February 15, 2008. It is reprinted with Mr. Yonke's permission. [Warning: contains disturbing descriptions.]

Chapter 25

Sergeant Forrester called Father Michael Billian at the Catholic Center in Toledo and said he had a few questions about the occult. He offered no further explanation, but the chancellor assumed it had something to do with the Father Robinson case.

Father Billian suggested he call Father Jeffrey Grob, a Roman Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago who was researching his doctoral dissertation on the ritual of exorcism. Father Grob was the associate vicar for canonical services for the archdiocese and also served as assistant to the exorcist.

Sergeant Forrester called Father Grob and ended up talking with him for nearly two hours. Two weeks later, he drove to Chicago to meet with the priest, and after that Father Grob made several trips to Toledo to examine the crime scene and evidence, and to consult with the cold-case team. From the start, Father Grob told detectives that there were strong indications that Sister Margaret Ann Pahl's murder had been an occult killing.

"People who prefer to worship beings other than God will seek a reversal of all things sacred," Father Grob said. "They take something that's sacred and turn it upside down, literally. They defile the very thing that is sacred."

For Christians, he said, the cross symbolizes the death of Jesus, their Messiah, who sacrificed his life by being nailed to a cross 2,000 years ago. For Satanists and others who are out to mock Christianity, the inverted cross is a powerful symbol. Sister Margaret Ann's killer had taken a cross and placed it, upside down, over her barely beating heart while the nun lay immobile on the sacristy floor, then plunged a dagger nine times into her chest, tracing the outline of the anti-Christian symbol of an upside down cross.

It wasn't just a coincidence, Father Grob told them.

"There are two ways to interpret the inverted cross," he said. "The more ancient understanding of the inverted cross is of St. Peter who, according to tradition, was crucified on an inverted cross. When it came time for him to be executed, he felt he was not worthy to die on the cross as the Lord did, so he asked that he be crucified on an inverted cross.

"It's been part of the Catholic tradition. Unfortunately, the other way to look at it is that for centuries now the image has been usurped and is used in satanic worship."

The killer could have stabbed the nun in the shape of an inverted cross as a means of mocking St. Peter, whom Catholics revere as the first Pope, thereby mocking the Roman Catholic Church.

Or, he could have been making a symbolic reference, or paying homage, to Satan, the lord of evil, the fallen angel.

The murderer also may have intended the inverted cross as a double meaning
mocking both the Catholic Church and Jesus Christ, Father Grob said.

Were there other symbols of an occult killing, the detectives asked him.

"Where does one begin?" he replied.

"We're talking about a woman who had consecrated her life to God, who was the bride of Christ, who was, I presume, in a virginal state, forsaking all others. To be so degraded and violated, it was not only an affront to the person of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, but it was an affront to so many things," Father Grob said.

The more pure the sacrifice, the greater the power it brings to satanists and other anti-Christian worshippers, the priest said.

Just as God told the Israelites to bring him animals without defect for sacrifice,
satanists seek to bring their lord a perfect sacrifice.

"When we talk about Sister Margaret Ann Pahl, she wears a wedding band,"
Father Grob said. "She believes she has consecrated her life to God and God alone.
Her killer took what was innocent and sought to destroy it."

Father Grob said it also was significant that the killer covered Sister Margaret Ann with an altar cloth before stabbing her.

In Catholic liturgy, when the priest consecrates the bread and wine literally transforming them into the body and blood of Christ he does so over the altar of sacrifice, which is covered with a cloth.

"The altar cloth is something to cover the altar, the place where the sacrifice is going to take place," Father Grob said. "When the altar cloth was placed over the dying or deceased person, the person herself then becomes the altar of sacrifice."

The penetration of both the altar cloth and the victim's flesh with a blade is itself a dark symbol, he said.

"In this image of penetration, you are stabbing through something that is sacred," Father Grob said.

The victim's blood also was part of the ritual, representing a mockery of the blood of Christ and the Sacrament of Communion, he said.

"You are committing an affront to God, to the altar, to Communion, and to Sister Margaret Ann," he said.

Crime scene photos showed what appeared to be blood marks on the nun's forehead. Father Grob suggested that the killer had "anointed" his victim with her own blood, using the blood to make a sign of the cross on her forehead possibly an upside down cross.

"In the larger picture of all these symbols, I think that again it is a reversal of what normally would be done for a good Catholic person going to be with God. Instead of anointing her head with oil and performing the sacrament of the sick, he anoints her by marking her with her own blood. It's another travesty."

The time and the location of the slaying also were extraordinarily significant, he said.

The nun was murdered on Holy Saturday, during the most sacred time of the year for followers of Jesus.

And the killing took place in the sacristy, the room where preparations are made to celebrate Mass.

According to tradition, Jesus was crucified on a Friday and rose from the grave on Sunday.Holy Saturday is the day between those monumental events. At the time when Christians are mourning the death of their Savior and anticipating his resurrection, it would be a powerful time to kill one of God's most devout followers as an affront to God and to all who believe in him.

Following Roman Catholic tradition, the Holy Eucharist, which is the very embodiment of Christ, is removed from the chapel's tabernacle on Good Friday and carried in a procession into the sacristy, where it remains until his resurrection on Easter.

"The transfer of the Blessed Sacrament to the sacristy makes it a place of decorum, a place of genuflection," Father Grob said.

A final act of rebellion and degradation was still to come, the priest said, when the killer carefully folded Sister Margaret Ann's dress up to her chest and pulled her undergarments down.

As she lay there, helpless and exposed, he violated her. In her autopsy, Dr. Fazekas stated that the victim's hymen was intact but that there were abrasions on the inside of her vagina.

Police did not know what the killer used to violate the nun, but there was speculation that it could have been the same cross the killer used for a template when he stabbed her over the heart.

With all the symbols surrounding the nun's murder, investigators still had one disturbing question: Could a Roman Catholic priest actually be involved in satanic worship and commit a ritual sacrifice?

"As a Catholic, I believe the devil exists," Father Grob said. "Just as there are those who give their lives to God, there are those who have given themselves over to the devil. Priests are not immune from such temptation."

The priest said that the preponderance of symbols had convinced him that the killer was someone with extensive knowledge of Catholic and Christian ritual.

"All these different things were done to her within a specific context," he said.

"These aren't random acts. If you take them in isolation, they can be lots of things. If I see an inverted cross here and a soiled altar cloth over there, and something else over here, you can say, OK, there's a problem. Maybe there are extenuating circumstances.

But all these things done in this case, clearly it was committed by someone with specialized knowledge of ritual.

"A religious sister would certainly have such knowledge. A priest would have such knowledge. Perhaps a seminarian. I would be surprised if Catholics in general would have the aggregate meaning of all these things when put together," he said.

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© Matt C. Abbott

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Matt C. Abbott

Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic columnist with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication, Media and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, and an Associate in Applied Science degree in Business Management from Triton College in River Grove, Ill. He has worked in the right-to-life movement and is a published writer focused on Catholic and social issues. He can be reached at

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