Was Lola Daviet's Murder Motivated By Witchcraft?
Zouhri Children, Tasfih & Culture-Bound Psychosis
Over the past few weeks I’ve been inundated with messages asking me if the murder of Lola Daviet was motivated by some kind of witchcraft or belief in magic. The wound is still fresh for my French friends and I don’t want to be distasteful in coldly analysing Lola’s death, but many people want answers and an explanation. What I want to do is lay out the facts as best we know them and see if there could be any substance to the claim that her death was motivated by a belief in witchcraft.
As far as a timeline for her death has been made public this is what we know:
12 year old Lola Daviet was last seen entering an apartment building in Paris at 15:17 on October 14th, 2022, following a woman. At 16:48 this woman, Dahbia Benkired (24 years old), then left the apartment carrying two suitcases and a trunk. Lola’s body was discovered by a homeless man inside the trunk, which had been left outside the building. At 16:30 Lola’s father had reported her missing, having failed to come home from school. Many of these details are confusing, between different news reports, but this seems to be a general timeline of events.
Benkired was arrested after police discovered duct tape and box cutters in or around the apartment. The description of Lola’s body is that she was naked, bound at the hands, feet and mouth, and her throat cut and mutilated. Initial news reports described post-it notes on her feet with the numbers “1” and “0”, but this was later changed to red pen. The official cause of death has been listed as asphyxiation.
The fragments of Benkired’s interview with the police make for disturbing reading. It seems that she lured or ordered Lola upstairs, before making her take a shower. She grabbed her by the hair and forced her between her thighs, to perform cunnilingus, during which Benkired says she had an orgasm. Somewhere in this horror she taped Lola’s mouth and nose shut, which is most likely the cause of death. She then drank a coffee, listened to music, and then attempted to decapitate or mutilate Lola’s body, almost removing her head using scissors or a knife. After which Benkired claims to have drunk some of Lola’s blood and preserved some in a bottle. The police have not confirmed if this bottle has been found.
Her interview is made more confusing by some incoherent and strange statements, including that it was all a dream, not reality, that she was fighting a ghost or a mysterious attacker, that she could never hurt a child, and that pictures of Lola’s body made her feel nothing:
"It doesn't make me hot or cold. I too was raped and saw my parents die in front of me”
Benkired’s sister apparently informed the police that she had been waking during the night a few days prior to Lola’s murder, saying nonsensical things. The police conducted a psychological assessment of Benkired and decided she was mentally stable enough to be held under normal custodial procedures. Benkired claims the murder was motivated by a personal dispute with Lola’s mother, who refused to issue her with a building pass to her sister’s apartment. Her lawyer has denied the killing was racially motivated.
Benkired arrived in France in 2016 and was known to the police only as a victim of domestic abuse in 2018. At the time of Lola’s death she was in the country illegally, and had been ordered to leave France in August, but she was not detained since she had no criminal record.
Picking this case apart to look for motivations connected to religion, faith or witchcraft is, on the face of it, not easy. Clearly elements of the murder do not make sense, in particular the sexual aspects, the labelling of her feet with numbers and the consumption of blood (assuming we believe everything that she said during her interview). If Lola had simply been killed, without any of these disturbing additions, it would appear like a revenge killing for a personal dispute. But the incoherence, strange story and weird additional and gratuitous nature of Lola’s death, make one suspicious that other motives were at play.
In other witchcraft related murders I’ve looked at there are some consistent patterns:
The victim is the source of some malevolence, either by being a witch or possessed or something else
The victim’s body, age, sex or some other attribute makes them the object of a ritual, eg their internal organs can be turned into medicine or the way they are killed fulfils some religious requirement
Lola’s murder does not fit either of these, since she was used as the object of personal sexual gratification, and then haphazardly disposed of with little to no ritualistic aim. Benkired seems to have acted alone, apart from a confusing report that an older man was arrested for helping her transport the body.
But then, why drink her blood, force her to perform sex acts and why write numbers on her feet?
In 2016, a 9 year old boy was discovered bleeding to death in Sidi Abed, Tissemsilt Province in northern Algeria. It transpired that the boy had been kidnapped and assaulted for the purposes of extracting his blood, but why?
A medieval belief, common to Morocco and to a lesser extent, Algeria, is the existence of a special kind of child - a Zouhri - the offspring of a union between a woman and djinn spirit. These children are marked by distinct eye or hair colours, certain lines on the palm and tongue or head. Since unrecovered buried treasure in the desert belongs to the spirit world, the belief amongst some North Africans is that a blood sacrifice of a Zouhri child will lead them to great wealth. The details of this practice seem murky at best, but certainly reports in the press suggest that a number of children in Algeria and Morocco have disappeared and have been labelled as Zouhri children.
Beyond this, the practice appears to be tangentially linked to modern organ-trafficking networks, a subset of the general human and contraband smuggling and trafficking between Africa and Europe. Whether this link is real or merely an overreach I can’t say, but certainly organ-trafficking is a common-place problem across the Maghreb and Middle East, with poor children sometimes killed for their organs. Interpol’s Overview of Serious and Organized Crime in North Africa report from 2018 lists Algeria amongst the offending nations - in 2008 the country had to use military police to break up an organ-trafficking ring run by a university professor.
Although the Anglophone world has not linked the Zouhri phenomenon to Lola’s death, social media and even civil officials have made the connection across France and the rest of Europe. According to some circulating pieces, the French magistrate George Fenech made this statement:
“This reminds me of the story of the Zouhri children, blondes with blue eyes, considered to be the custodians of powers in Algeria (…). They are kidnapped, sacrificed and their blood is drunk (…). On this poor girl there was the number 1 on the sole of her left foot and the number 0, it is exactly the satanic rite of the Zouhri of North Africa”
Personally this seems overwrought, there is very little detailed information on the Zouhri phenomenon and the connection to organ-trafficking seems tenuous at best. But it can’t be denied that certain aspects of the case superficially line up with Lola’s murder. Given that several news pieces reported witnesses hearing Benkired talking about organ-trafficking when she left the building, and that a man was arrested for allegedly transporting Lola’s body in his car, the temptation is to jump from blood drinking Zouhri child to organ harvesting conspiracy. But running against this narrative is the sordid sexual assault, botched mutilation and chaotic disposal of Lola’s body.
If we entertain the Zouhri hypothesis seriously then we have to imagine Benkired was a well connected profit-seeker, who saw an opportunity to use a medieval ritual and a young body to her advantage. Her behaviour seems to testify to the opposite - a homeless, unstable, unemployed single woman who unnecessarily violated a child for her satisfaction.
So what else could explain her bizarre behaviour?
Tasfih, Virginity & Psychosis
One phenomenon we can look at is the North African magico-religious practice of ‘tasfih’.
Tasfih is a virginity ceremony conducted mainly in North Africa, particularly Tunisia and Algeria, although not a lot of data exists for how widespread the practice is. Before the age of 13 a girl must be ceremonially ‘locked’, to protect her purity. This is done by her mother and an older woman making incisions into the girl’s thighs and then making her eat wheat grains or raisins soaked in her own blood. The trauma of this experience is enough to make women suffer all manner of sexual dysfunction throughout their lives, and the psychiatric literature is full of case studies relating to tasfih.
Women interviewed by the Independent gave some revealing testimonies:
Fatima told Independent Arabia about her feelings when recounting how “the taste of blood mixed with the sweetness of raisins still remains in my mouth to this day“.
”I never believed in these superstitions, but in my first romantic relationship I had mixed feelings as I was haunted by the memories of cuts and bleeding. In successive relationships, I wasn’t even able to reach the euphoria during sexual intimacy.”
Now this might be entirely unrelated, but it is telling that the themes of a young girl, tasting blood, thighs and sexual gratification all appear during Lola’s torments and murder.
Second to this we can look at the Francophone psychological concept of ‘Bouffée délirante’.
Bouffée délirante is described as an acute psychotic disorder, characterised by:
an acute, brief nonorganic psychosis that typically presents with a sudden onset of fully formed, thematically variable delusions and hallucinations against a background of some degree of clouding of consciousness, unstable and fluctuating affect, and spontaneous recovery with some probability of relapse
Alongside this we can add some other descriptors from Pichot:
sudden onset: 'a bolt from the blue'.
manifold delusions without recognizable structure and cohesiveness with/without hallucinations.
clouding of consciousness associated with emotional instability.
rapid return to pre-morbid level of functioning
age: usually between 20 and 40 years of age.
onset: acute without prior mental illness (with the exception of previous episodes of bouffée délirante).
past history: no chronic mental disturbance after resolution of the BD episode.
typical symptoms: delusions and/or hallucinations of any type. Depersonalization/derealization and/or confusion
The literature on bouffée délirante describes North Africans as vulnerable to the condition, particularly after they have migrated to France, where a new environment and the culture shock can provoke a an acute form of psychosis. If Benkired had overstayed her visa, was ordered to leave but did not, was homeless and unemployed and suffered a series of sexually related traumas, from tasfih to rape, and watched her parents die in front of her - then she would be likely to suffer some form of mental breakdown.
Of course, this is not an excuse nor a justification, purely a speculative approach to explaining her actions. Had she been removed from France by the authorities, then Lola’s murder would not have happened.
I have no evidence of course that Benkired underwent tasfih as a child, nor any evidence more than was presented for any psychological breakdown. But her hallucinatory stories, lack of affect, derealisation and inconsistency do match some of the descriptions for an acute psychotic episode. Culture and psychological pathology are highly interlinked, and so how her hallucinations or feelings of persecution manifested would depend on her background. With the belief in magic, witchcraft and sorcery still prevalent in parts of Algeria, this may have contributed to how she viewed Lola and her family. If the Zouhri children story was familiar to Benkired, then she may have attempted to act it out in some way, or believed in its power in some way.
It also seems the case that some form of sexual jealousy, fantasy or need for gratification played a part here, potentially bound up with Islamic Algeria’s emphasis on virginity and/or sexual abuse she suffered in the past. But this is again speculation.
My instinct, based on the little information we have, is that Lola’s savage murder wasn’t the result of some organised ritual, or any overt belief in witchcraft or magic, but rather a horrible complex of mental pathology bound up with sexual fantasy. The murder seemed relatively disorganised, unplanned and unstructured, the disposal of her body without premeditation. I don’t have a good explanation for the numbers, but given that psychosis is hardly rational, we never have a good explanation.
As the facts come into public view we may get a completely different story of motive and means, but for now I don’t think this is a witchcraft case in the same vein as those I’ve previously described, nor of the Maghrebi Zouhri murders.
This was a shocking and depressingly preventable murder, of a young girl with her whole life ahead of her. Those to blame are obviously the murderer herself and the French authorities for failing to remove her, even when her visa had been noted as expired. It’s a damning indictment of many Western countries that illegal, homeless and unemployed people can slip through the cracks for many years. I hope the Daviet family can eventually find some peace in this world, may it start with justice.