The body of Pazuzu Algarad, née John Alexander Lawson, hadn’t even been moved to the morgue Wednesday before the idle speculation began about his suicide in Central Prison.

Devil worshipper. Halloween is just around the corner. The full moon was Tuesday night. Coincidence?

Surely you remember Pazuzu Algarad. He’s the one with the strange facial tattoos and the teeth that had been filed to points. The guy who is charged along with two others in the killings of two people and burying them in the backyard of a house he shared with his mother and girlfriend.

Algarad was found unresponsive early Wednesday morning at Central Prison in Raleigh with a wound on one of his arms.

He was taken to the prison hospital and declared dead. The North Carolina Department of Public Safety said he apparently died from suicide. That’s what’s known — or at least what’s been released to the public that pays the bills — at this point.

Like just about everything else in the case of State v. Algarad, his death by his own hand raises more questions than answers.

None of them, not the really important ones, have a thing to do with devil worship, the dark moon or ritual animal sacrifices.

No, the more relevant ones have to do with the competence of investigators and those charged with safeguarding a disturbed young man they knew to be a suicide risk.

Disturbing information

The story of Algarad unfolded in slow motion a little more than a year ago when the skeletal remains of two men were found in shallow graves in the yard of a house where Algarad lived in Clemmons.

The victims, Joshua Frederick Wetzler and Tommy Dean Welch, had been missing for more than five years. Arrest warrants allege that Algarad killed Wetzler in July 2009 and that Amber Nicole Burch, Algarad’s girlfriend, helped bury the body. A separate warrant alleges that Burch killed Welch in October 2009 and that Algarad helped bury the body.

Following the grim discovery, Algarad and Burch were charged with first-degree murder and accessory after the fact to first-degree murder. A third person, Krystal Nicole Matlock, was charged with being an accessory after the fact.

In the days and weeks afterward, we learned through an inspector with the Forsyth County Department of Housing and Community Development — not the sheriff — that the inside of the house was, to put it mildly, squalid. Feces and assorted debris littered the inside; bizarre graffiti had been scrawled on doors and walls.

We also learned that Algarad had been interviewed by state psychiatrists in 2010 as part of a mental-health evaluation after he had been charged in Yadkin County with being an accessory after the fact in an involuntary manslaughter case. He pleaded guilty in 2012, and was sentenced to between 10 and 12 months in prison and placed on five years of probation.

The psychiatrists learned that from the age of 17 Algarad had practiced some sort of “Sumerian” religion that required him to perform some sort of ritual every month during what he called “the black moon” and which included the sacrifice of a small animal.

Small wonder, then, that as word spread about Algarad’s death that chatter would begin about connections to Satanism.

And why wouldn’t it? Whispers about devil worship and speculation about ritual suicide are far sexier than sober discussion about mental health, the risk of suicide and whether official safeguards to prevent the same had somehow failed.

Long time to wait

Lost in the devil worshipping narrative — perhaps by design — is the fact that professional investigators from the sheriff’s office had received tips and information about the missing men as far back as 2010.

They had heard, too, that Algarad had performed animal sacrifices and rituals in the house.

The sheriff had enough information, in fact, to persuade a judge to authorize a search warrant for the Clemmons house. The contents of that search warrant, and the underlying reason for it, were sealed Feb. 26, 2010.

How convenient. Investigators had enough to go looking but couldn’t come up with anything for five long years, despite the fact that two men were buried in shallow graves in a backyard in Clemmons.

Five years is a long time, especially for the families of those two men to wait for answers.

Neither the sheriff nor his mouthpiece, Chief Deputy Brad Stanley, has commented. It’s still an ongoing investigation, you see.

That was the same dodge offered up Wednesday afternoon at the sheriff’s office for a news conference about Algarad’s suicide.

We don’t know. We can’t talk about it. We don’t have that information.

Here’s what is known, from the N.C. Department of Public Safety: Algarad, 36, was found unresponsive in his cell at Central Prison shortly after 3 a.m. He was taken to the prison’s hospital and pronounced dead at 4:20 a.m. He had a wound on one of his arms.

He had been moved to Central Prison for his own safety. Rumors, always unattributed and never substantiated, made the rounds afterward that he had tried to commit suicide in the Forsyth County Jail — perhaps by biting his own wrist with those filed-down teeth. How is it, then, that someone charged with first-degree murder, someone who had been moved for his own safety, was left alone long enough to finish the job? Remember, the Department of Public Safety did report that Algarad had a wound on his arm.

Did he have a weapon? If so, how did he get it? In a cell where he had been placed for observation?

The State Capitol Police department is conducting an investigation, as it should. Presumably, it will come up with some answers.

The suicide of Pazuzu Algarad, like the investigation into the crimes with which he was charged, has raised (so far) more questions than answers. None of the important ones have anything to do with Satanism, and everything to do with justice.

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ssexton@wsjournal.com (336) 727-7481

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