Is there any monster in this world worse than man?
The residents of the small, south Louisiana town of Ponchatoula discovered in 2005 there were monsters committing unspeakable acts to children and animals. The evil was reportedly carried out inside a church.
A splinter cult reportedly formed by leaders and members of the Hosanna Church became the salacious heart of a child sex abuse scandal that rocked and shocked the community following newspaper and broadcast reports of devil worshipping and occult rituals involving animal blood and pentagrams.
Last month, Nic Pizzolatto, the South Louisiana-reared creator of HBO’s critically acclaimed pulp-thriller True Detective, told an Entertainment Weekly reporter that viewers of his show can piece together parts of the plot and forthcoming ending by Googling the words “Satanism,” “preschool,” and “Louisiana.” Pizzolatto then said, “You'll be surprised at what you get.”
His hint points to the Hosanna Church scandal from 2005.
A staff writer at The Baton Rouge Advocate, my editors sent me to Ponchatoula to investigate, meet people, and find out whatever I could about the church and what may have happened. The area was unfamiliar to me. I covered other parishes but was sent there because the reporter who usually covered the area was out on vacation. I spent a few days in Ponchatoula, met some locals and wrote three articles for my newspaper that ran in May and June of 2005.
Everyone I met said they couldn't believe what we were all reporting.
I couldn't help but think of the cliché of neighbors telling the media that the guy who turns out to be a serial killer was always so nice, quiet, and normal. But looking back, it's unclear if members of the community I interviewed were more traumatized and disturbed by the accusations of the occult or the actual sex crimes themselves.
Back in May 2005, Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards told The Baton Rouge Advocate that members of the Ponchatoula cult accused of sexually abusing children and animals said they carried out the practices for years as part of a devil worshiping ritual involving cat blood.
“This is hard to talk about and harder to believe, but some of the suspects have told us their intention in all of this was devil worshipping,” Edwards told the Baton Rouge newspaper.
Most of the community, with a population of just more than 6,000, were in disbelief when the media reports first surfaced.
Ponchatoula was known then and still today as “America's Antique City” with its concentrated downtown area lined with antique shops. The town is also recognized internationally for its Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival.
“We are in disbelief about of all of this. Never in a million, million years would we have guessed that Louis was capable of these things. Somewhere along the line, things went wrong for him,” community member Judy Hooter said in the Advocate in 2005.
The Louis she mentioned is Louis David Lamonica.
Lamonica was 45 in 2005 when he walked into a neighboring sheriff’s office on May 16 of that year and confessed to detectives that he had sex with children and animals. Lamonica was the pastor of Hosanna Church right before it closed two years before in 2003. He went on trial in August 2008 after he was charged with four counts of aggravated rape of his sons when they were ages 11 or younger.
According to trial testimony reported by The Baton Rouge Advocate, an hour-long confession by Lamonica to detectives was played to jurors where Lamonica talked about the occult activities.
The cult began in 2000, Lamonica told deputies, with the dedication of an infant girl to Satan by placing the child in a pentagram, sacrificing a cat, and sprinkling the girl with its blood. “And then, (we) stopped worshipping God and worshiped Satan," Lamonica told the deputies in the confession.
The cult began in 2000, Lamonica told deputies, with the dedication of an infant girl to Satan by placing the child in a pentagram, sacrificing a cat, and sprinkling the girl with its blood.
He went on to tell detectives that Hosanna had two churches—one for God, in the sanctuary, and the other for Satan, in the youth room. Lamonica said his sons were selected for sexual abuse and cult members—including women—all participated.
Both of Lamonica’s sons recanted the allegations that they were raped. Lamonica was one of seven people indicted in the case, and was later convicted of the crimes and sentenced to life in prison.
All these years later, it’s still unclear if the devil worshipping and occult details that were given to detectives ever actually happened. There was no physical evidence, such as the existence of pentagrams on the floor or buried remains of sacrificed animals, presented at Lamonica’s trial.
Were stories made up by those accused to hide the truly evil acts alleged in the indictments?
District Attorney Scott Perrilloux, who prosecuted Lamonica, told The Baton Rouge Advocate in 2008 that the case was never about satanic cults.
“This case, from our perspective, had nothing to do with a church or a cult or any sort of high pressure situation. This case is about child abuse and molestation,” Perrilloux said.
The people of Ponchatoula were also left wondering if the occult had anything to do with the crimes.
“I honestly don't know if those things happened or not,” said Pat Ory, a member of the community who knew Louis David Lamonica but left Hosanna Church in 1997 when the church was called something else.
“It took a while for us to even go back to a church after all of that,” Ory said recently. Ory recalled the Hosanna Church scandal as “very stressful.”
The defense theory in the Lamonica case was that there was a cult at the church but it had nothing to do with worshiping the devil. Defense attorney Michael Thiel presented testimony at the trial that the cult was Christian but it held the members in such power that Lamonica falsely confessed.
The jury disagreed.
No one knows for sure what kind of impact this story had on Pizzolatto and how it may fit into the True Detective storyline. But the Hosanna Church scandal is a story that proves once again that the monsters we should be scared of most are the ones that live right next door.