Cockfighting & murder occur together worldwide
FORT WORTH, Texas––Fort Worth Star-Telegram reporter Deanna Boyd mentioned almost as an afterthought the murderous history of Robert Eugene Coleman, 56, one of three alleged cockfighters arrested on February 28, 2016:
“Tarrant County court records show Coleman had previously been sentenced to 20 years in prison in 1998 for the fatal shooting of his wife, Sheila Coleman. Jurors found Coleman acted in ‘sudden passion’ when he shot and killed the 33-year-old woman during an argument inside their Fort Worth apartment the day after Christmas 1996. The couple’s teen daughter and 8-year-old son witnessed the shooting.”
More murders even than dogfighting
Indeed, by itself, the Coleman killing was old news. But in context it was part of a syndrome: no other common human use or abuse of animals appears to be more closely associated with homicide than cockfighting. Not slaughter, not vivisection, not hunting and trapping, not even dogfighting, though crime data also links all of these activities to elevated murder rates––or, in the case of vivisection, to the relatively rare instance of murders committed by people of high educational status.
The open question in all such linkages is whether one set of facts has anything to do with the other. Correlation does not prove causation, as every grade school science student should realize upon becoming aware that the bell ringing to end a classroom period does not necessarily end the teacher’s explanation of the homework assignment.
Motivation & impulse
Perhaps activities involving killing animals lower the inhibitions of the participants against killing in any context.
Perhaps involvement in activities such as hunting merely means that the participants tend to have quicker access than most other people to firearms, the most common instruments used in homicide.
And of course certain activities are more likely than others to attract the involvement of young men, especially the “unaffiliated males of lower socio-economic status,” as sociologists describe them, who are statistically most likely to become either murderers or murder victims.
In comparing rates of participation in relatively common pursuits, such as cockfighting, slaughter work, and hunting, with relatively rare events such as murder, perhaps the most likely explanation for elevated rates of overlap among the participants is cultural.
In other words, the same cultural values and attitudes which permit routine violence toward animals in specific contexts may also produce greater violence toward humans in extreme situations, such as emotion-driven interpersonal conflict.
Also of note is that none of the possible explanations for the associations of violence toward animals with homicide are mutually exclusive. Any or all may be involved in any given case.
Mexican mass murders
What is evident is that murders and even mass murders related to cockfighting are scarcely isolated incidents.
On January 23, 2016 for instance, “Two children ages 11 and 16 were among four people killed in Ensenada when gunmen stormed a crowd of several hundred spectators gathered to watch a cockfight,” reported Sandra Dibble for the San Diego Union-Tribune. “An additional 15 people were wounded in the attack,” which occurred at the Póker Palenque cockfighting arena.
“This would not be the first time gunmen interrupted a cockfight hosted by Póker Palenque,” Dibble recalled. “In December 2009 about 10 masked gunmen broke into the same arena, abducting two people, according to a report by the news website Ensenada.net.”
Twelve dead in where?
The death toll from the Póker Palenque murders was exceeded several times over on November 9, 2015.
Recounted Allen Garcia for Agence France-Presse, “Twelve people were killed, including two minors, and five others were wounded when a gunfight erupted between armed civilians at a cockfight in Cuajinicuilapa, the state prosecutor’s office said.”
Added Garcia, “The area is not known for the type of violence that has plagued other parts of Guerrero, such as the Pacific resort of Acapulco or mountain regions of the interior beset by drug cartel turf wars.”
Eight killed for dogfighting debt
Dogfighting has also been linked to mass murder in recent Mexican cases. Chihuahua state general prosecutor Jorge Gonzalez Nicolas in November 2013 told media that police had arrested two suspects in the alleged dogfighting-related murders of a family of eight, and were seeking a third suspect.
Two men, three women, a six-year-old, and a four-year-old were allegedly gagged, bound, and stabbed to death. A two-month-old baby was spared.
The murders reportedly resulted from a dispute over a gambling debt of $115.
But the association of cockfighting with murder goes well beyond Mexico, which according to the NationMaster international data web site rates 26th in murders per million people among the 193 nations for which murder statistics are available. (See http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Crime/Violent-crime/Murder-rate-per-million-people.)
Comparing Google search hits on cockfight+[nation] with the NationMaster murder data reveals that cockfighting has high cultural prominence in 21 of the 25 nations with higher murder rates than Mexico, and in 25 of the 31 nations with murder rates exceeding 200 per million people, from Honduras (913.5 murders per million) to Panama (206 murders per million).
Where the U.S. rates
The U.S. at 42 murders per million people, is very close to the global average murder rate.
Cockfighting has elevated cultural prominence in the U.S., comparable to the cultural prominence it has in nations where it is legal, largely because cockfighting has now been illegal in every state since 2007. Cockfighting raids tend to be reported, and are now routinely prosecuted.
Cockfighting is far less often discussed in the media serving nations where it has been illegal for much longer, or where it never was known to be popular.
NationMaster also offers a page of “Interesting observations about Crime > Violent crime > Murder rate per million people.”
- Honduras has had the highest violent crime > murder rate per million people since 2008.
- El Salvador has ranked #2 in violent crime > murder rate per million people since 2009.
- Jamaica has ranked in the top 3 for violent crime > murder rate per million people since 2004.
- Venezuela has ranked in the top 6 for violent crime > murder rate per million people since 1999.
- Guatemala has ranked in the top 6 for violent crime > murder rate per million people since 2003.
- South Africa has ranked in the top 11 for violent crime > murder rate per million people since 1995.
- Colombia has ranked in the top 12 for violent crime > murder rate per million people since 1995.
- Saint Kitts & Nevis has ranked in the top 7 for violent crime > murder rate per million people since 2008.
- Trinidad and Tobago has ranked in the top 11 for violent crime > murder rate per million people & 2005.
- Belize has ranked in the top 15 for violent crime > murder rate per million people since 2000.
Cockfighting has very nearly the status of a national sport in all 10 listed nations.
Cockfighting also linked to murder in nations with low murder rates
But cockfighting is also associated with murder in nations not known for particularly high homicide rates, including the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia, with rates of 54, 50, and just 23 murders per million people, respectively.
Mass murder interrupted a cockfight reported attended by more than 100 spectators on April 14, 2012 at Barangay Lawili, near Aleosan, North Cotabato, the Philippines. A hand grenade lobbed into the cockpit killed three people and wounded 33, North Cotabato senior police superintendent Cornelio Salinas told John Unson of the Philippine Star.
“Text messages have been circulating purporting that the bombing could have been perpetrated by jihadists preaching against gambling, drinking liquor, prostitution, and usury,” wrote Unson.
But confirmed jihadist attacks on cockfights are almost unknown, apart from suppression of cockfighting by the Taliban in Afghanistan circa 1996-2003, while other cockfighting-related murders are commonplace.
Miri, Malaysia, near the affluent small nations of Singapore and Brunei, was shocked in July 2014 when multiple armed assailants joined in shooting a 45-year-old participant in a cockfight in a wooded area about 10 miles from town.
A sensational case in Thailand was the November 2013 murder of gamecock trainer Sombat Srijomkwan, 46, in Suphan Buri, Thailand.
Cockfighter Sittihorn Homedaeng, 27, allegedly shot Sombat Srijomkwon after finding him eating one of Sittihorn Homedaeng’s gamecocks.
At least five men have been killed at U.S. cockpits in the past five years, including Ramiro Garcia, 49, his brother Juan Santos Garcia, 53, and Arturo Buentello Garza, 42, who were among 12 people shot at a cockfight 20 miles northeast of McAllen, Texas, on April 20, 2012.
That was the first triple murder known to have occurred at a U.S. cockfight since August 1998, when Miami-Dade police responding to an anonymous tip found three dead men at the scene of an illegal cockfight.
Burst of killings in 2012
But the McAllen killings closely followed the April 7, 2012 death of Miguel Bonilla Rojas, 24, from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound at a cockpit in Royal City, Washington, and the February 26, 2012 fatal shooting of Luis Rodriguez, 21, at a cockfight near Athens, Texas.
In addition, murder suspect and previously convicted cockfighter Pedro Reyes-Lopez, 43, was among 53 people who were apprehended in a series of early March 2012 raids on cockfights in and around Phoenix, Arizona.
Also allegedly involved in drug trafficking, Reyes-Lopez was charged with killing Jose Diego Gutierrez-Reyes in September 2010. Gutierrez-Reyes had reportedly fathered two children with Reyes-Lopez’s former wife.
Triple killer’s execution commuted for Pope
Relatively few U.S. cockfighting-related murders draw more than local notice, but one was briefly spotlighted in January 1999 when Missouri governor Mel Carnahan commuted to life in prison the death sentence of triple killer Darrell J. Mease, 52, at request of Pope John Paul II.
Mease was to have been executed for shotgunning his former employer, alleged methamphetamine maker and cockpit operator Lloyd Lawrence, 69; Lawrence’s wife Frankie, 56; and their paraplegic grandson William, 19, in 1988.
All three were shot first from ambush, at a distance, then shot again at close range in the face.
Police said Lawrence had accused Mease of stealing methamphetamine.
Pope John Paul II asked that the sentence be commuted because the execution was to have coincided with a papal visit to St. Louis.