Classification: Serial killerCharacteristics: Adolfo Constanzo and Sara Aldrete are believed to have directed human sacrifices, mutilations and other rituals involving human organs in the belief that the rites would protect their drug-smuggling ring
Number of victims: 5 - 15
Date of murder: 1987 - 1989
Date of arrest: May 6, 1989
Date of birth: September 6, 1964
Victims profile: Men (competing drug dealers, family members of drug dealers and cult members)
Method of murder: Shooting - Stabbing with machete
Location: Matamoros, Mexico
Status: Sentenced to a six-year term on conviction of criminal association in 1990. Convicted of multiple slayings in 1994 and sentenced to 62 years in prison
She attended high school in Brownsville, Texas, United States, while still living south of the border, and gained resident alien status so she could attend Texas Southmost College. She was known among her peers as a good student. She is 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) tall and studied physical education, preparing to transfer to a university to earn a physical education teaching certification.
Adolfo Constanzo, a Cuban American fortune-teller and religious cult leader, introduced her to witchcraft and dark magic. He gave her the nickname "La Madrina", Spanish for "godmother", and initiated her into his cult, which was a conglomeration of Santería, Aztec warrior ritual, and Palo Mayombe, complete with blood sacrifices. Costanzo sexually assaulted and killed drug dealers and used their body parts for religious sacrifice ceremonies in an old warehouse near Matamoros. Many of his victims' body parts were cooked in a large pot called a nganga. Costanzo made Sara Aldrete second-in-command of his cult, and directed her to supervise his followers while he was out shipping marijuana over the border into the US.
In 1989 the killings grew more frequent and gained attention when affluent American tourist Mark J. Kilroy, a University of Texas student on Spring Break, was abducted. Costanzo, Aldrete and the rest of the cult went on the run when detectives discovered their 'shrine'. They found human hair, brains, teeth and skulls at the site of the murders. Eventually, the police found their hideout in Mexico city on May 6, 1989. After a shootout, Costanzo and one of his accomplices were shot and killed by another member of the cult, apparently at Constanzo's behest.
Aldrete was convicted of criminal association in 1990 and jailed for six years. In a second trial, she was convicted of several of the killings at the cult's headquarters, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. If Aldrete is ever released from prison, American authorities plan to prosecute her for the murder of Mark Kilroy.
Aldrete Said to Confess Role in Ritual Slayings
Los Angeles Times
May 11, 1989
MEXICO CITY — Alleged satanic cult "witch" Sara Aldrete Villarreal has confessed to involvement in some of the ritual slaying of 15 people near the U.S. border and also exhibits signs of having a split personality, U.S. law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
In private, Aldrete loses that "charming aspect" she exhibits when she faces television cameras and seems to revert to another self, talking in detail about the cult's rituals, officials said.
"I would say she has three personalities," a source at the Mexico City attorney general's office, who insisted on anonymity, said in an interview. One personality comes out when she faces the cameras and denies any involvement in the human slayings, another emerges when she talks to police and "the third one comes out when she talks to herself," the source said.
The Houston Chronicle quoted U.S. Customs agent Oran Neck as saying that Aldrete has "confessed to conspiracy and involvement" in the killings.
Neck, who spent several days in Mexico City assisting investigators, told the paper that "Sara has kind of lost touch with reality. . . . Her dual personality is coming up pretty strong right now. When you talk to her without the TV cameras there, she's pretty truthful.
"She's giving a lot of data with great detail to investigators. . . . It seems like when the cameras come on, she kind of reverts back to this nice, young, clean-cut kid from Texas Southmost College," Neck said.
"When the cameras were there, she was real nice. When she was with us, she was the same ol' witch," Lt. George Gavito, a U.S. investigator who accompanied Neck to Mexico City, said.
Aldrete, 24, and five other cult members were arrested in a Mexico City apartment hide-out Saturday afternoon after a shoot-out with police.
Leader in Cult Slayings Ordered Own Death, Two Companions Say
The New York Times
May 8, 1989
The leader of a drug-smuggling cult that is believed to have killed 15 people and buried their bodies along the United States-Mexican border ordered his own killing when the police closed in on him, two of his companions said today.
Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo was shot to death Saturday after the police appeared outside the Mexico City apartment building where he was staying with Sara Aldrete and five other suspected cult members.
Ms. Aldrete, a 24-year-old former honor student at Texas Southmost College in Brownsville, said Mr. Constanzo ordered Alvaro de Leon Valdez to kill him and his right-hand man, Martin Quintana Rodriguez.
Ms. Aldrete, who has been described as the ''witch'' of the cult, Mr. de Leon Valdez and three others arrested after the shootout were presented to journalists today at the office of the Mexico City Attorney General. They stood behind a 3-by-6-foot table bearing confiscated cult items and black clothing. 'He Went Crazy, Crazy'
Mr. de Leon Valdez said he shot Mr. Constanzo and Mr. Quintana with a machine gun after Mr. Constanzo ordered him to do so and hit him when he resisted. ''He went crazy, crazy'' when the police came, Mr. de Leon Valdez said of Mr. Constanzo.
''He grabbed a bundle of money and threw it and began shooting out the window,'' Mr. de Leon Valdez said. ''He said everything, everything was lost.'' He recalled Mr. Constanzo's saying, ''No one's going to have this money.''
Giving her recollection of the events, Ms. Aldrete said Mr. Constanzo ordered Mr. de Leon Valdez to kill him ''because it was the end and he wanted to die with Martin.''
She referred to Mr. Constanzo, 26, as ''El Padrino,'' or the godfather. Did Not See Shooting
Ms. Aldrete said she did not see the shooting or the killings of 15 people whose bodies were found on the Santa Elena Ranch outside Matamoros along the border in April. She said she did not know about those killings until she saw news of them on television.
Mr. Constanzo and Ms. Aldrete are believed to have directed human sacrifices, mutilations and other rituals involving human organs in the belief that the rites would protect their drug-smuggling ring.
Mr. de Leon Valdez, 22, said he took part in the killing of Mark Kilroy, a Texas college student, and of some of the others on the ranch. But he and Ms. Aldrete indicated that Mr. Constanzo did most of the killings on the ranch.
Asked who killed Mr. Kilroy, Ms. Aldrete said, ''Adolfo".
Appearing calm, Ms. Aldrete said she was sorry about the death of Mr. Kilroy and the others. ''If I had known it was like this, I wouldn't have been in it,'' she said of the cult.
Mr. Constanzo and Ms. Aldrete, missing since the first 12 bodies were uncovered on the ranch April 11, were among 11 people indicted in the United States. Ms. Aldrete, Mr. de Leon Valdez and the others were being held in Mexico on charges including homicide, criminal association, wounding a police agent and damage to property, an assistant Attorney General, Abraham Polo Uscanga, said.
The bodies of Mr. Constanzo and Mr. Quintana were found slumped inside a closet in the apartment. Their shirts were smeared with blood. Relief Expressed in the U.S.
The Matamoros Murders
By Jason Kovar
"I think the suspects must be possessed by the devil. That would be the only explanation for such bizarre actions."
So voiced the mother of slain victim Mark Kilroy, found murdered in Matamoros Mexico in April of 1989. Kilroy had been spending time over the Mexican-American border during spring break, when he suddenly disappeared. Missing for weeks, Kilroy's parents turned up the heat on the Mexican government, causing an all out search for the missing boy. Eventually, he was found murdered, along with another grisly discovery. The investigation into the disappearance of Kilroy had accidentally led authorities to a graveyard of people who were all recently missing as well.
The bodies of dozens of people were found mutilated and sacrificed in occult rituals used for blessings over drug manufacturing. Carlos Tapia, Chief Deputy of Cameron County, Texas, remembers his shocking investigation. He stated:
"I thought in my twenty two years of law enforcement I had seen everything. I hadn't. As we drew near, you could smell the stench...blood and decomposing organs. In a big, cast iron pot there were pieces of human bodies and a goat's head with horns."
Authorities also discovered an assortment of "voodoo paraphernalia," a blood splattered altar of sacrifice, cheap rum, human body parts, animal bones, chicken and goat heads, as well as the witch's cauldron filled with the foul mixture of blood and flesh.
The human sacrifices offered to Satan were people who were abducted off of the streets, locals and otherwise. Tapia sheds some light on those who performed homage by human sacrifice to their god:
"In their wicked, distorted minds there was no seriousness. They thought they had performed some kind of heroic deed for the Devil. They believed that by sacrificing innocent human beings, their loads of marijuana would have an invisible shield of protection from law enforcement officers. They were moving an average of one thousand pounds a week across the border."
The ringleaders of the group, Adolfo Constanzo and Sara Aldrete, were both immersed in the occult and sold out to its application in order to gain prosperity. Carl Raschke, considered a leading authority on the occult, sets forth:
"Constanzo, like his American counterparts who had steeped themselves in the fashionable black arts as dictated over the years by such magical luminaries as Aleister Crowley and Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, could only be called a Satanist."
Constanzo's group was wound up in a voodoo type religion known as Santeria. Santeria encapsulates a ritualistic magic that slowly evolved to become a major religion in the Central America's. Its foundation is the occult and it's basic tenure parallels Satanism as defined by the chief Satanist of the twentieth century, Aleister Crowley. Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, author of Santeria: African Magic in Latin America, and devout follower as well defines Santeria through comparison:
"The English magician Aleister Crowley defined magic as the ability to effect changes in consciousness in accordance with the will of the magician. This definition agrees with the magical principles of Santeria."
Constanzos and Aldrete's actions resulted from obedience to occult powers. Santeria's all encompassing philosophy of Crowley's motto, "Do What Thou Wilt," allowed them the liberty to snuff out the lives of innocents. In the occult and Satanism there is no overall value system, no universal rules concerning sex, drinking, drugs, lying, etc. Professor Mercedes Sandoval, of Miami-Dade Community College underlines this very point. She says, "Santeria has no moral stance. It doesn't make judgements in your life. It doesn't say no to anything."
What led to the gruesome mass sacrifice of so many people in Matamoros? The motivations for the deranged killers sprouted not only from the Crowley-like Santeria, but also the big screens of Crowley-like Hollywood. Constanzo was known for giving psychic readings to many musicians and famous Hollywood celebrities. But aside from this, the greatest factor that most influenced him was a movie called The Believers. This film was actually a major contributor for inspiring Constanzo and his cronies to recapitulate what they viewed.
In 1987, director John Schlesinger made The Believers, starring Martin Sheen and Jimmy Smits. The film was about a New York City cult that sacrifices children to gain money and power and clearly bases much of its ritualism on Santeria. According to the confessions of the accused, their distinct style of religion had been based on the supernatural Hollywood movie. Occult researcher Carl Racshke confirms:
"It is not at all surprising that Constanzo and Sara Aldrete were infatuated with the movie The Believers. The magical practitioners in the film are portrayed as insuperable and almost all knowing."
The Matamoros group used the principles outlined in the movie as a springboard for executing their occult beliefs. Serafin Garcia, close participant with Constanzo and Aldrete totally succumbed to the message in the film. After being arrested, Garcia confessed to George Gavito the gravity of the situation. Gavito recalls:
"I remember I didn't understand what he was telling me. I said, 'Is it Santeria?' And he said, 'Yeah, yeah, Santeria, voodoo, man.' And then he kept on saying, 'The Believers, The Believers, The Believers.'"
Although unfamiliar with the ins and outs of Santeria, The Believers programmed Garcia and provided a mind-altering influence for his torturous slayings. Gavito adds:
"Elio made [Serafin] Garcia a priest, but Garcia didn't really know what he was practicing because all he had on his mind was the movie."
Sarah Aldrete, called the most "wickedly depraved" of the bunch by an interviewing officer, used the movie to recruit members into avenues of the occult. Rolling Stone magazine wrote:
"[There is]...a story making the rounds that tells of the night Aldrete persuaded three male friends to screen a video of The Believers. After the film, say the students, Aldrete stood up and began to preach in strange tones about the occult. 'They had been drinking and they just thought she was trying to be spooky,' says one student who knows the boys, 'but they look back on it now and think she must have been serious.'"
Satan's messages are without a doubt absorbed by the world and used as elusive tools for reconditioning. Incidents such as this proves that even movies that are not blockbuster types with full blown special effects have incredible potency to muster the sinful nature within man. Chief Deputy Carlos Tapia warns: "Don't get caught unawares like we did... Do yourself a favor. Save your kids!" Sadly, when the news of the sacrifices broke, instead of people avoiding evil and saving their kids, they jeopardized them and gravitated to it. Gary Provost, in his documentary The True Story of the Satanic Cult Killings, wrote:
"In video rental shops everywhere, clerks noticed a run on the film The Believers. When news stories reported that the movie had been used as a recruiting film by Constanzo's youth cult members, the stores had thousands of calls for the film."
If Hollywood says human sacrifices are acceptable, then acceptable they must be! Sadly, Mark Kilroy and a host of others had to lose their lives as a result. Don't allow your brain to be twisted and programmed by what the world defines as acceptable and innocent shows. Spend time with the Lord, learn of Him and let each day of your life be a devotion to Him.
By Michael Newton
Matamoros, Mexico—an easy drive or stroll across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville, Texas—has been a popular hangout for vacationing college students since the 1930s. It is a typical border town, with all that implies: prostitution and sex shows, abundant alcohol and drugs, rampant poverty and crime. Each spring, some 250,000 students descend on Brownsville and Matamoros en masse, cutting loose after finals, relishing the extra kick of sowing wild oats on foreign soil. Those who came to celebrate in March 1989 didn’t know that Matamoros had logged 60 unsolved disappearances since New Year’s Day. If they had known, few would have cared.
One who made the scene that spring was Mark Kilroy, a pre-med junior from the University of Texas. Friends lost track of him in Matamoros, in the predawn hours of March 14, 1989, and reported his disappearance to police the next day. Unlike the others who had disappeared over the past 10 weeks, Kilroy was an Anglo with connections, including an uncle employed by the U.S. Customs Service. His disappearance conjured memories of the Enrique Camarena murder four years earlier, involving Mexico’s sinister “narcotrafficantes.” The heat was immediate and intense, spurred by a $15,000 reward for information leading to Kilroy’s safe recovery or the arrest of his abductors. American officials kept a close eye on the case, while Matamoros police interrogated 127 known criminals—a process frequently involving clubs and carbonated water laced with hot sauce, sprayed into a suspect’s nostrils.
It was all in vain.
Some of those held for questioning were fugitives, and so remained in jail, but none of them had seen Mark Kilroy. None could solve the mystery.
During the same time period Mexican authorities were busy with one of their periodic anti-drug campaigns, erecting roadblocks at random and sweeping border districts for unwary smugglers. The operations were designed to leave the wealthy druglords unscathed and to target their henchmen and runners
One of those people lower on the totem pole, and well known in Matamoros, was Serafin Hernandez Garcia. The 20-year-old was the nephew, and lackey, of local drug baron Elio Hernandez Rivera. On April 1, 1989, Serafin drove past a police checkpoint outside Matamoros, seemingly oblivious to uniformed officers guarding the highway. They pursued him, their quarry still seeming to ignore, until he led them to a rundown ranch nearby. A quick search of the property revealed occult paraphernalia and traces of marijuana. Eight days later, returning in force, police arrested Serafin Hernandez and another drug dealer, David Serna Valdez. In custody, the pair seemed relaxed, even defiant. Police could not hold them, the prisoners insisted; they were “protected” by a power over and above man’s law.
Still, the two remained in jail while detectives quizzed a caretaker at the ranch. The caretaker readily named other members of the Hernandez drug syndicate as frequent visitors what was known as Rancho Santa Elena. Another one-time visitor was none other than Mark Kilroy, identified from a school photograph. In custody, Serafin Hernandez freely admitted participating in Kilroy’s abduction and murder—one of many committed over the past year or so at Rancho Santa Elena. The slayings were human sacrifices, he explained, executed to secure occult protection for various drug deals. “It’s our religion,” Hernandez explained. “Our voodoo.”
Hernandez identified the leader of his cult—El Padrino, the Godfather—as Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo, a master practitioner of the African magic called “palo mayombe.” It was Constanzo who ordered the slayings, Hernandez explained, and El Padrino who tortured and sodomized the victims prior to killing them and harvesting their organs for his ritual cauldron.
Police returned to the ranch with Hernandez in tow. He readily pointed out the cult’s private graveyard and then when asked, used a shovel to unearth the first of 12 bodies buried in a tidy row. All the victims were men. Some had been shot at close range and others hacked to death with a machete. One of the bodies was Mark Kilroy, his skull split open, his brain missing. Detectives entering a nearby shed found the cult’s cast-iron kettle called a nganga brimming with blood, animal remains and 28 sticks—the “palos” of palo mayombe—which Constanzo’s disciples said they used to communicate with spirits in the afterlife. Floating in the pot with spiders, scorpions and other items that could scarcely be identified, they found Mark Kilroy’s brain.
Police knew they were looking for a madman now—a wealthy one at that, surrounded by disciples who were cunning and well armed. The only thing they didn’t know about Adolfo Constanzo, was where in the world they could find him.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Born in Miami on November 1, 1962, Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo was the son of a 15-year-old Cuban immigrant, the first of her eventual three children by three different fathers. When he was six months old, Delia Aurora Gonzalez del Valle had her son blessed by a Haitian priest of “palo mayombe,” accepting the father’s judgment that her son was “a chosen one” and “destined for great power.” Adolfo was still an infant when his mother moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and while he was reputedly baptized a Catholic, serving briefly as an altar boy, the family’s true faith remained a dark secret. Gonzalez immersed herself in palo mayombe and taught her son likewise, trusting his magic education to practitioners in San Juan and nearby Haiti. In 1972 the family returned to Miami for good, Adolfo starting his full-time apprenticeship with a Haitian priest in Little Havana.
His mother, for her part, was a habitual criminal, arrested 30 times on various charges ranging from trespassing to shoplifting, convicted of check fraud, grand theft and child neglect. But the charges never seemed to stick, and she always escaped with probation, crediting the law’s failure to her mystical religion. She left a string of rented houses in Miami vandalized, bloodstained and littered with the remains of sacrificial animals. Neighbors whispered that Delia was a witch, and those who angered her were likely to find headless goats or chickens on their doorsteps.
Constanzo followed in his mother’s footsteps, cruising Miami gay bars in his teens, indulging in petty crime. A poor student of anything but black magic, he graduated near the bottom of his high school class and dropped out of junior college after one embarrassing semester.
His interests lay elsewhere, learning the secrets of witchcraft from his mentor. Together they robbed graves to stock the priest’s caldron and spilled blood over voodoo dolls to curse their enemies. palo mayombe is an amoral religion, drawing no line between “black” and “white” magic, leaving each practitioner to choose his own path without prejudice. Drug dealers frequently trusted its tenets to protect their outlaw enterprise, but Constanzo’s godfather had stern words of advice for his protégé. “Let the nonbelievers kill themselves with drugs,” he counseled. “We will profit from their foolishness."
By 1976, his mother later claimed, Constanzo had begun to display psychic powers, predicting future events with amazing accuracy. Months before the 1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley, Constanzo reportedly predicted the event and proclaimed that Reagan would survive his wounds. Constanzo didn’t have as much luck foretelling his own future, which included two arrests for shoplifting in 1981, one case involving the theft of a chainsaw.
By early 1983, Constanzo had chosen his patron saint, pledging himself to Kadiempembe, his religion’s version of Satan. With his padrino’s blessing, he devoted himself to the worship of evil for profit. His final initiation included ritual scarring, his mentor wielding the knife to carve mystic symbols into Constanzo’s flesh. “My soul is dead,” he proclaimed, at the climax of that ceremony. “I have no god."
The apprentice was ready to lead.
A modeling assignment took Constanzo to Mexico City in 1983, and he spent his free time telling fortunes with tarot cards in the city’s infamous Zona Rosa, a popular hangout for prostitutes. Before returning to Miami, Constanzo recruited his first Mexican disciples, including Martin Quintana Rodriguez, homosexual “psychic” Jorge Montes, and Omar Orea Ochoa, who had been obsessed with the occult from the age of 15. In short order, Constanzo seduced both Quintana and Orea, claiming one as his “man” and the other as his “woman,” depending on Adolfo’s romantic whim of the moment.
In mid-1984 Constanzo moved to Mexico City full-time, seeking what his mother referred to as “new horizons.” He shared quarters with Quintana and Orea, in a strange ménage à trois, collecting other followers as his “magic” reputation spread throughout the city. It was said that Constanzo could read the future, and he also offered limpias—ritual “cleansings”—for those who felt enemies had cursed them. Of course, it all cost money, and Constanzo’s journals, recovered after his death, document 31 regular customers, some paying up to $4,500 for a single ceremony. Constanzo established a menu for sacrificial beasts, with roosters going for $6 a head, goats for $30, boa constrictors for $450, adult zebras for $1,100, and African lion cubs listed at $3,100 each.
True to the teachings of his Florida mentor, Constanzo charmed wealthy drug dealers, helping them schedule shipments and meetings on the basis of his predictions. For a price, he also offered magic that would make gangsters and their bodyguards invisible to police, bulletproof against their enemies. It was all nonsense, but smugglers drawn from Mexican peasant stock and a background of brujeria (witchcraft) were strongly inclined to believe. According to Constanzo’s ledgers, one dealer in Mexico City paid him $40,000 for magical services over three years’ time.
At those rates, the customers demanded a show, and Constanzo recognized the folly of disappointing men who carried Uzis in their armor-plated limousines. Constanzo was well established by mid-1985, when he and three of his disciples raided a Mexico City graveyard for human bones to start his own bloody caldron. The rituals and air of mystery surrounding Constanzo were powerful enough to lure a cross-section of Mexican society, with his clique of followers including a physician, a real estate speculator, fashion models, and several transvestite nightclub performers.
Perhaps the most peculiar aspect of Constanzo’s new career was the appeal he seemed to have for high-ranking law enforcement officers. At least four members of the Federal Judicial Police joined Constanzo’s cult in Mexico City: one of them, Salvador Garcia Alarcon, was a commander in charge of narcotics investigations; another, Florentino Ventura Gutierrez, retired from the federales to head the Mexican branch of Interpol. In a country where bribery permeates all levels of law enforcement and federal agents sometimes serve as triggermen for drug lords, corruption is not unusual, but the devotion of Constanzo’s disciples seemed to run deeper than simple greed. In or out of uniform, they worshiped Constanzo as a minor god, their living conduit to the spirit world and ambassador to Hell itself.
In 1986, Ventura introduced Constanzo to the drug dealing Calzada family, then one of Mexico’s dominant narcotics cartels. Constanzo won the hard-nosed dealers over with his charm and mumbo-jumbo, profiting immensely from his contacts with the gang. By early 1987 he was able to pay $60,000 cash for a condominium in Mexico City and buy himself a fleet of luxury cars that included an $80,000 Mercedes Benz. When not working magic for the Calzadas or other clients, Constanzo staged scams of his own, once posing as a DEA agent to rip off a Guadalajara cocaine dealer and then selling the stash through his police contacts for a cool $100,000.
At some point in his odyssey from juvenile psychic to high-society wizard, Constanzo began to feed his nganga, or caldron, with the offerings of human sacrifice. No final tally for his victims is available, but 23 ritual murders are well-documented and Mexican authorities point to a rash of unsolved mutilation-slayings around Mexico City during the same period, suggesting that Constanzo’s known victims may be only the tip of a malignant iceberg. In any case, his willingness to torture and kill total strangers—or even close friends—duly impressed the ruthless drug dealers who remained his foremost clients.
In the course of a year’s association, Constanzo came to believe that his magical powers alone were responsible for the Calzada family’s continued success and survival. In April 1987 he demanded a full partnership in the syndicate and was curtly refused. On the surface, Constanzo seemed to take the rejection in stride, but his devious mind was plotting revenge.
On April 30, 1987 Guillermo Calzada Sanchez and six members of his household vanished under mysterious circumstances. They were reported missing on May 1 and police noted melted candles and other evidence of a strange religious ceremony at Calzada’s office. Six more days went by before officers began fishing mutilated remains from the Zumpango River. Seven corpses were recovered in the course of a week, all bearing signs of sadistic torture: fingers, toes and ears removed; hearts and genitals excised; part of the spine ripped from one body; two other corpses missing their brains.
The vanished parts, as it turned out, had gone to feed Constanzo’s nganga, building up his strength for greater conquests yet to come. By July 1987 he already had his next targets in mind.
Sara Maria Aldrete Villareal was born on September 6, 1964, the daughter of a Matamoros electrician. She crossed the border to attend Porter High School in Brownsville, where teachers remember her as a model student and a good kid. She maintained her star-pupil status in secretarial school, instructors urging her to attend a real college, but romance intervened. On Halloween Day in 1983 Aldrete married Brownsville resident Miguel Zacharias, 11 years her senior. The relationship quickly soured and five months later they were separated, moving inexorably toward divorce.
Late in 1985 Aldrete applied for and received resident alien status in the United States. Her next step was enrollment at Texas Southmost College, a two-year school in Brownsville. Admitted on a “work-study” program that deferred part of her tuition, Sara began classes in January 1986 as a physical education major, holding down two part-time jobs as an aerobics teacher and assistant secretary in the school’s athletic department
By the end of her first semester Aldrete stood out physically and academically. Standing at 6-foot-1, she was unusually tall for a Mexican woman and her grades were excellent. She was one of 33 students chosen from TSC’s 6,500-member student body for listing in the school’s Who’s Who directory for 1987-88. Aside from grades that placed her on the honor roll, Aldrete also organized and led a Booster Club for TSC’s soccer team, earning the school’s Outstanding Physical Education Award in her spare time.
With the breakup of her marriage, Aldrete had moved back home with her parents in Matamoros, constructing a special outside stairway to her second-floor room in the interest of privacy. She was home most weekends and during school vacations, looking forward to completion of her studies and the transfer to a four-year school that would bring her a P.E. teaching certificate. Attractive and popular with men, in 1987 she was dating Gilberto Sosa, a drug dealer associated with the powerful Hernandez family.
Aldrete was driving through Matamoros on July 30, 1987 when a shiny new Mercedes cut her off in traffic, narrowly avoiding a collision. The driver was apologetic, suave and handsome. He introduced himself as Adolfo Constanzo, a Cuban-American living in Mexico City. There was an instant chemistry between them, but Constanzo made no sexual overtures. He noted with pleasure that Aldrete’s birthday was the same as his mother’s.
In fact, the meeting was no accident. Constanzo had been watching Gilberto Sosa, weighing his connections. The meeting with Sara Aldrete was carefully stage-managed, as was their burgeoning friendship and her gradual introduction into the occult. Two weeks after their first encounter, Constanzo met Aldrete and Sosa in Brownsville, pointedly refusing to shake Sosa’s hand. Days later, an anonymous caller told Sosa that Aldrete was seeing another man. Jealous, he refused to accept her denials and broke off the relationship. She turned to Constanzo for solace, surprised when he told her he had seen the break-up coming in his tarot cards.
Constanzo finally took Aldrete to bed, but their sexual union was short-lived. He made no secret of his preference for men, and Aldrete grudgingly accepted it, already hooked on the religious aspect of their relationship. By summer’s end, Aldrete’s TSC classmates found her dramatically changed, an overnight expert on witchcraft and magic, eager to debate the relative powers of darkness and light. In private, Constanzo called her La Madrina, the “godmother” of his growing cult. He probed her links to the Hernandez clan, predicting that leader Elio would soon approach her for advice about a problem. When Elio did so, in November 1987, Sara introduced the dealer to El Padrino.
Season of the Witch
As it happened, the Hernandez family was ripe for a takeover, torn by internal dissension and threatened by outside competitors. Using every “magic” trick at his disposal, Constanzo persuaded Elio and the rest that palo mayombe could solve all their problems. Enemies could be eliminated in the course of sacrificial rituals; those rituals, in turn, would keep the family and its employees safe from harm. If they were faithful to Constanzo, his disciples would become invisible to the authorities and bulletproof in combat. In return, all he asked was 50 percent of the profits and effective control of the family.
Constanzo’s rituals became more elaborate and sadistic after he moved his cult headquarters to Rancho Santa Elena, 20 miles outside Matamoros. There, on May 28, 1988, Constanzo shot drug dealer Hector de la Fuente and a farmer named Moises Castillo, but the sacrifices didn’t satisfy him. Back in Mexico City, on July 16, he supervised the torture and dismemberment of Raul Paz Esquivel, a transvestite and former lover of cult member Jorge Montes. The gruesome remains were dumped on a public street, found by children who ran shrieking to summon police.
Mutilation and pain were essential to palo mayombe. Blood and viscera fed the nganga, manipulated with sticks as Constanzo tuned in the spirit world. The demons he served were more likely to smile on a sacrifice that died in agony. “They must die screaming,” El Padrino told his flock. As for the point in nearly every sacrifice where Constanzo sodomized his victims, that was simply a fringe benefit of playing god.
On August 10, 1988, in reprisal for an $800,000 drug rip-off, rival narcotics dealers kidnapped Ovidio Hernandez and his 2 -year-old sons. Constanzo’s ghoul squad kidnapped a stranger two days later and tortured him to death at Rancho Santa Elena, chanting prayers for the safe release of Hernandez and son. When the hostages were released on August 13, without a peso’s ransom changing hands, Constanzo claimed full credit for the triumph. His star was rising, and Constanzo paid little attention to the suicide of his disciple Florentino Ventura in Mexico City on September 17. (Ventura also killed his wife and a friend with the same burst of gunfire.)
In November 1988, after 35-year-old ex-cop and cult member Jorge Valente de Fierro Gomez violated El Padrino’s ban on using drugs, Constanzo made him the group’s next offering to Kadiempembe, a bloody object lesson in obedience. Competing smuggler Ezequiel Rodriguez Luna was tortured to death at the ranch on Valentine’s Day 1989; two other dealers, Ruben Vela Garza and Ernesto Rivas Diaz were added to the grisly list when they wandered into the ceremony uninvited. Nine days later, the cult kidnapped another stranger, never identified, but he put up such a fight that Constanzo ordered Elio Hernandez to shoot him without the customary rituals. On February 25 the prowling cultists accidentally kidnapped Jose Garcia, Elio’s 14-year-old cousin, slaying him before they recognized the error.
By that time Constanzo was sitting on 800 kilos of marijuana stolen from another gang, but felt he needed one more sacrifice to guarantee safe shipment across the Rio Grande. Another ritual was staged on March 13, 1989, but the victim’s suffering was insufficient for Constanzo’s taste. “Bring me someone I can use,” he told his minions. “Someone who will scream."
The next morning, they brought him Mark Kilroy.
Constanzo’s psychic powers must have failed him in March 1989, for he was stunned by the reaction to Mark Kilroy’s disappearance. Not even the Calzada family slaughter had produced such an outcry, most observers concluding that drug dealers and their lackeys were beyond protection of the law, a violent death their just reward. Some of Constanzo’s victims had never been reported missing; three of them, later unearthed with the rest at Rancho Santa Elena, have never been identified.
But Mark Kilroy was different. He came from an affluent family with political connections. More to the point, he was an Anglo tourist whose fate threatened to become an international incident. Local police wanted to solve the case quickly, before their tarnished reputation suffered any further damage.
Constanzo, for his part, still had 800 kilos of marijuana to move across the border. To safeguard the shipment, he staged one final sacrifice at the ranch, choosing Sara Aldrete’s old lover as the guest of honor. Gilberto Sosa died screaming on March 28, 1989, and the dope was safely transported on April 8, despite Serafin Hernandez leading police to the ranch one week earlier. Constanzo’s mules collected $300,000 for the load, while El Padrino congratulated himself on his magical powers.
The protective shield of magic was lifted the next day. Four members of the Hernandez family were arrested on April 9, before they could give Constanzo the cash from his last big deal. The ranch began surrendering its buried secrets on April 11, the butchered remains of 15 victims unearthed over the next six days. (Besides the first 12 buried in the cemetery, three more were found in a nearby orchard.) Constanzo went on the lam, traveling with Sara Aldrete, male lovers Martin Quintana and Omar Orea, and a Hernandez family hit man named Alvaro de Leon Valdez—”El Duby” to his friends. Miami beckoned, but informers told the DEA Constanzo might run home to mother, and the heat in Florida persuaded him to remain in Mexico City, shuttling from the home of one disciple to another.
The discoveries at Matamoros were tailor-made for tabloid television circa 1989. Geraldo Rivera aired a special prime-time segment on the case, while TV journalists flew in from the United States, Europe, and even Japan. Constanzo was “sighted” as far north as Chicago, where rumors placed him in league with the Windy City Mafia. Sara Aldrete was “seen” lurking around schools throughout the Rio Grande Valley, word-of-mouth reports claiming she had threatened to kidnap and murder 10 Anglo children for each of her disciples jailed in Mexico. An alternative church at Pharr, Texas, was burned by nightriders after tales spread that its congregants were witches in thrall to Constanzo.
Still lawmen scoured the border in vain for El Padrino and his entourage, barely mollified by the April 17 arrest of gang patriarch Serafin Hernandez Rivera in Houston. Searching the house where he had been hiding, they seized weapons and cash, but found no occult paraphernalia. Constanzo and his closest aides, meanwhile, had simply disappeared.
'They'll Never Take Me'
Constanzo read betrayal in his tarot cards on April 18, 1989. He knew informers must have sold out Serafin Sr., and now he eyed his friends more warily. He kept an Uzi close at hand and rarely slept for more than a few minutes at a time. Increasingly, he threatened those around him with a power exceeding that of the police. “They cannot kill you,” he insisted, “but I can.”
On April 22, nocturnal arsonists struck at Rancho Santa Elena, burning Constanzo’s bloodstained ritual shed to the ground. The next morning he flew into a rage, watching on television as police conducted a full-dress exorcism at the ranch, sprinkling holy water over the graves and smoldering ashes. Constanzo stormed about the small apartment where he slept with Aldrete and the others, smashing lamps and overturning furniture, a man possessed.
On April 24 police arrested cultist Jorge Montes, raiding his home three blocks from the site where the Calzada family was slaughtered in 1986. Like the others arrested before him, Montes spilled everything he knew about the cult, naming Constanzo as the mastermind and chief executioner in a string of grisly homicides.
Three days later, Constanzo and his four remaining cohorts settled into their last hideout, an apartment house on Rio Sena in Mexico City. Aldrete, fearing for her life, penned a note on May 2 and tossed it from a bedroom window to the street below. It read:
Please call the judicial police and tell them that in this building are those that they are seeking. Tell them that a woman is being held hostage. I beg for this, because what I want most is to talk—or they’re going to kill the girl.
A passerby found the note moments later, read it, and kept it to himself, believing it was someone’s lame attempt at humor. Upstairs, in the crowded flat, Constanzo began laying plans to flee Mexico with his hard-core disciples, perhaps starting fresh somewhere else. “They’ll never take me,” he assured his followers.
Those plans unraveled on May 6, 1989, when police arrived on Rio Sena, going door-to-door and asking questions. As luck would have it, they were searching for a missing child—a completely unrelated case—but when Constanzo glimpsed them from a window he panicked, opening fire with his submachine gun. Within moments, 180 policemen surrounded the apartment house returning fire in a fierce exchange that lasted some 45 minutes. Miraculously, the only person wounded was an officer struck by Constanzo’s first shots.
When Constanzo realized that escape was impossible, he handed his weapon to El Duby and issued new orders. As the hit man later told police, “He told me to kill him and Martin. I told him I couldn’t do it, but he hit me in the face and threatened that everything would go bad for me in hell. Then he hugged Martin, and I just stood in front of them and shot them with a machine gun."
Constanzo and Quintana were dead when police stormed the apartment, slumped together in a closet, Constanzo dressed in shorts as if for a day at the beach. The three survivors—El Duby, Orea and Sara Aldrete—were promptly arrested and rushed off to jail. In custody, El Duby admitted shooting Constanzo, but he cheerfully informed police, “The godfather will not be dead for long."
Mexican authorities were less concerned with Constanzo’s impending resurrection than with making charges stick against the surviving cultists. El Duby’s case was open-and-shut, his confession recorded on two murder counts, but Sara Aldrete first posed as a victim, betraying herself when she protested too much, revealing intimate knowledge of the cult’s bloody rituals.
In the wake of the Mexico City shootout, 14 cult members were indicted on various charges, including multiple murder, weapons and narcotics violations, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. In August 1990, El Duby was convicted of killing Constanzo and Quintana, drawing a 35-year prison term. Cultists Juan Fragosa and Jorge Montes were both convicted of Raul Esquivel’s murder and sentenced to 35 years each; Omar Orea, convicted in the same case, died of AIDS before he could be sentenced. Sara Aldrete was acquitted of Constanzo’s slaying in 1990 but was sentenced to a six-year term on conviction of criminal association. La Madrina insisted that she never practiced any religion but “Christian Santeria”; televised reports of the murders at Rancho Santa Elena, she said, took her completely by surprise. Jurors disagreed, and in 1994, when Aldrete and four male accomplices were convicted of multiple slayings at the ranch. Aldrete was sentenced to 62 years, while her cohorts—including Elio Hernandez and Serafin Jr.—drew prison terms of 67 years. American authorities stand ready to prosecute Aldrete, El Duby and the Hernandez clan for Mark Kilroy’s murder, should they ever be released from custody.
But is their evil vanquished, even now?
A grisly list of cult-related crimes remains unsolved in Mexico. From prison, Sara Aldrete told reporters, “I don’t think the religion will end with us, because it has a lot of people in it. They have found a temple in Monterrey that isn’t even related to us. It will continue.” Between 1987 and 1989, police in Mexico City recorded 74 unsolved ritual murders, 14 of them involving infant victims. Constanzo’s cult is suspected in at least 16 of those cases, all involving children or teenagers, but authorities lack sufficient evidence to press charges.
Referring to those cases, prosecutor Guillermo Ibarra told reporters, “We would like to say, yes, Constanzo did them all, and poof, all those cases are solved. And the fact is, we believe he was responsible for some of them, though we’ll never prove it now. But he didn’t commit all of those murders. Which means someone else did. Someone who is still out there."
Pictured is a caldron containing bones, a turtle shell, the head and claws of a rooster,
a goat's head and a horseshoe.
Graves at Cult's RanchMultiple graves which held the bodies of ritually sacrificed murder victims at a cult in Matamoros, Mexico.
Twelve human bodies were found at the cult site, including the body of missing college student Mark Kilroy.