3-year old mystery of severed pig’s head found at their Olivette home remains unsolved


Shmuel and Deb Israeli were living in Olivette in 2019 when they found a severed pig’s head in the center of a spray-painted pentagram in front of the door to their home.

Ellen Futterman, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The picture in this case is shocking, extremely graphic, and bound to upset many readers. That’s why you need to scroll down to see it – I wanted to prepare you before looking.

Pig head
This was the scene in front of the Israelis’ home in 2019: A severed pig’s head left in a spray-painted pentagram, with the Romanian words for ‘Christ is humiliated’ and ‘Dracula’ above and below. Police were not able to find the person(s) responsible.

By the same token, the picture is central to this story. The decision to include it wasn’t made lightly. Now, in roughly 1,000 words, I’ll explain.

This story begins the morning of Aug. 24, 2019, as Deb Israeli was brushing her teeth before she and her husband, Shmuel, were to be picked up by cab for the airport. They were headed on vacation to Hilton Head, S.C.

“My husband yelled for me, and it wasn’t like ‘Hey, the taxi’s here,’” said Deb Israeli over lunch recently. “It was kind of a concerning yell for me. I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll be right down.’ And he was like, ‘No, come now.’”

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The severed pig’s head

At the front door of their Olivette home, the couple was greeted by a pig’s head in the center of a spray-painted pentagram. Tealight candles were placed strategically on each of the pentagram’s five points. Foreign words were spray-painted above the pentagram and the name “Dracula” below it.

“I had no words,” said Israeli, 56, remembering the horror at seeing what was left at her doorstep. “Truthfully, I didn’t even realize what I was looking at. I immediately said, ‘We have to call the police.’ The candles were still burning. This couldn’t have happened that long ago.

“By now, the cab driver had arrived, and he, too, was in shock.”

Police left speechless

Olivette police officers also were left speechless. They took pictures and collected evidence, which included two sets of matches. The assumption was that likely two or more people were involved in the vandalism.

The Israeli have three adult children; their son works for the Department of Defense. Israeli took a picture of the foreign words and sent them to her son, hoping he might have a colleague who could translate them.

“In five to 10 minutes, he called back,” said Israeli. “He said, ‘Mom, it says Christ is humiliated in Romanian.’”

The Israelis, who belong to Kol Rinah, weren’t sure how to react. The whole thing seemed surreal. Yes, they are Jewish, but so were most of their neighbors at the time. Was it because their last name is Israeli? Was this personal?

The Israelis’ across-the-street neighbor and good friend said she would take care of the clean-up and encouraged the couple to go on their vacation. But the neighbor wondered why the Israeli dogs hadn’t barked or reacted in some way.

“Our dogs have no manners – they bark at everything, even a plastic bag that flies across the yard,” said Israeli, referring to Ryan, their American foxhound, and Cash, a beagle/basset mix. “I explained that we had taken the dogs to the kennel last night. So, was someone watching our house? Was this planned? There were just so many questions.”

Waiting for answers

Suffice it to say, the vacation to Hilton Head was far from relaxing.

“We were curious as to whether this was a Jewish thing versus a Muslim-Middle East thing, only because Shmuel grew up in Israel, looks Middle Eastern, and speaks with a heavy accent. He could easily be mistaken for Arab,” said Israeli, a registered nurse whose specialty is pain management.

She also wondered if she was the target. Left-leaning, she is public about airing her views on social media as they relate to politics and Judaism.

“Why would someone do this to us, I kept thinking. It was just so bizarre.”

Israeli called her neighbor while on vacation to see if she had heard anything more. She also called Olivette police to see if they had made any headway.

The FBI and ADL

“No one had any answers but apparently the police contacted the FBI and either they contacted the ADL or Olivette police contacted the ADL, and that when Karen (Aroesty) called me. She was astounded, shocked and wanted to know how I was doing. I didn’t really know what to say. I didn’t understand what this was all about.”

At the time, Aroesty was the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, a post she left last May. Israeli said she had been asked by Aroesty to keep the vandalism “as quiet as possible” so as not to “contaminate” the investigation. Israeli also added that she remembers the incident being labeled as a hate crime.

“You know you start off by making phone calls like every hour, then every day, then every week. But over the past nearly three years, nothing has come from this,” said Israeli. “I didn’t really have high expectations that they would find who did this. No one around us had a Ring (video doorbell camera) or anything like that. Who would have thought this would happen in our neighborhood?”

Why speak up now?

So why is Israeli speaking up now?

“My cousin’s daughter is at University of Illinois-Champaign/Urbana where recently there had been some notices going around campus regarding COVID and the Jews – like it’s some conspiracy that the Jews caused COVID. So that started me thinking, this isn’t over.

“I want people to be aware and vigilant,” Israeli continued. “Even in the comfort of your own home, in a relatively large Jewish populated area, this is happening. It is not happening someplace else –it’s here. I just want people to be careful because this is still out there. I understand now what terror feels like. This is very personal.”

Aroesty remembers the Israeli vandalism case well, calling it “very unusual,” but added “these things do happen.” More often, she notes, it is antisemitic graffiti spray-painted on a garage door or sidewalk — not a pig’s head in a pentagram.

The horror

“The horror of what Deb and Shmuel had to deal with was truly different,” said Aroesty. “Things happen, but not that often, but that’s the whole point – they can destabilize a whole neighborhood.

“The pig’s head and the candles and the drawing and the religious language – it could have been anti-Islam as much as antisemitism. The violence around the pig’s head was really horrible.”

Aroesty acknowledges while there are “always growing to be people who will do this kind of thing,” they are “few and far between.” She says one of the best ways to confront this kind of activity is for neighbors to get to know one another better.

“When someone comes to your house you feel so violated,” Aroesty said. “I think all neighborhoods – Olivette is not unique – have that obligation so that people can support each other, especially during these days when we’ve all been inside our little bubbles.”

Olivette Police Chief David Wolf, who happens to be Jewish, agrees. He explained that at the time, police had investigated a few different possibilities but none panned out.

“On the one hand, you have optically how it looks,” he said. “On the other hand, we had people take a look who said it definitely was the work of amateurs who didn’t know what they were doing. The symbolism and mix of symbols didn’t really seem to go together. We couldn’t even really pinpoint that it was specific to the Israelis.”

See something? Say something

Like Aroesty, Wolf encourages neighbors to watch out for one another. If they see something, they should say something.

“The more eyes on the street that the police department has the better,” added Wolf. “Certainly, neighbors looking out for one another and being aware of strange vehicles or strange activity is extremely important.”

Especially now, as COVID restrictions have loosened, and people are getting out and reuniting in person. Perhaps it’s time to make meeting new neighbors –and visiting the ones we know — a priority.

After nearly three years and no arrests or leads, the Israelis are fairly confident they will never know who is responsible for the crime. They no longer live at the address where it happened; they had planned to move to St. Charles County to be closer to one of their daughters and her family before the vandalism occurred.

“As I think back on this hateful act, I am encouraged by the selflessness of my neighbors and friends who cared enough to help and comfort our family,” said Deb Israeli, when I asked her what stands out in the aftermath. “I believe it is incumbent on all of us, a moral imperative, to remember no one walks alone. What happens to one of us happens to all of us.”