Voodoo hexes follow murdered lovers?

By James Quiggle
January 1, 2002
If you believe frightened relatives, you could almost hear jungle drums boom-booming darkly when Josephine Gray's two husbands and a lover died from gunshots.

Gray mixed a deadly brew of guns and voodoo that killed three men, scammed nearly $170,000 in life insurance money and terrorized witnesses into silence for years, prosecutors believe.

She scrubbed floors and mopped gym floors as a custodian at schools in suburban Maryland, near Washington. But Josephine also was a flamboyant woman with a strong personality. She wore tight skits and heavy makeup, and attached herself to quiet men she could easily dominate and murder for their life insurance, officials say.

Josephine was married to Norman Stribbling. But soon after she began having an affair with Robert Gray, Norman ended up dead in his car with .32-caliber bullet in his head in 1974. Police charged them with murder but couldn't make it stick in court because witnesses mysteriously recanted their testimony or simply disappeared.

Whatever the elusive truth, Josephine and Robert walked away with Norman's $16,000 life-insurance payout, and used the money for a down payment on a house.

They finally married in 1974, but Robert didn't last either.

Her teenage cousin Clarence Goode moved in with the couple during the mid-1980s, and soon they began an affair.

Robert then got spooked, convinced Josephine was trying to kill him. He was driving along one day when she pulled up in her Cadillac and pointed a gun out the window at him, he told police. Robert put the car in reverse and sped off. Another time, he told family members, she chased him through the house with a gun and escaped by leaping from their second-floor balcony.

Didn't matter, because he too ended up dead, shot with a .45-caliber handgun as he entered their apartment in 1990.

Once again police couldn't make murder stick. Frightened family members and other witnesses refused to cooperate, believing she'd zap them with voodoo hexes. Josephine and Clarence pocketed Robert's $51,000 life insurance proceeds.

Clarence didn't learn from Robert's experience, however, and let Josephine take out a $100,000 policy on his life.

Big mistake, prosecutors say.

The relationship soured and Clarence bolted in 1996. But before long he was found stuffed in the trunk of his car, dead from a 9mm handgun. A family member discovered a black voodoo doll with real hair among Clarence's possessions afterward. Police taped her performing an incantation and talking with a "voodoo doctor," and found voodoo ritual materials in her home after his murder.

Still, frustrated police got nowhere once again because witnesses stayed silent, and Josephine collected the $100,000 insurance payout.

Finally they arrested Josephine again last month, determined to make yet another push for conviction. She now faces murder charges in the deaths of Norman and Robert, plus federal charges related to the insurance money.

Witnesses are beginning to speak freely now. Josephine is being held without bond, and the witnesses feel they're safe from hexes now that she's behind bars.

Did Josephine scam life-insurance money by murdering these quiet, intimidated men? Did she control them with voodoo curses? Did she even practice voodoo, or were family members simply a terrified and superstitious bunch? Josephine may have a perfectly reasonable explanation for everything. The courts will decide.

Whatever the truth, Josephine still insists she's no voodoo queen. With a possible 40 years in federal prison and $20 million in fines, she'd better be right.

"I do not practice voodoo and I do not practice witchcraft," she says. "Just because I go and buy a lucky charm to play the lottery and buy herbs, or take olive oil and anoint myself, that's in the Bible."

View previous "Fraud Cases of the Month"

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