Episode 41 | Voodoo, Murder and Human Sacrifices | A Death Cult in Mexico (PART 2)
The kidnapping and murder of American Mark Kilroy.
Constanzo persuaded the Hernandez family that all their problems would be solved by Palo mayombe. He offered to act as the Hernandez gang’s high priest in exchange for 50 percent profits and control of the family. Elio, awed by the charismatic, wealthy, educated Constanzo agreed.
Now, with his very own murder headquarters at Rancho Santa Elena, Constanzo’s rituals took on a whole new dimension. He started to make up the religion as the mood struck him; a dash of Santeria here, a cup of Palo Mayombe there, a sprinkle of voodoo everywhere. The members of the cult would smoke ritual cigars, drink ritual rums and pray to deities. The rituals themselves entered a new level of elaborateness and sadism. He demanded victims to scream and plead for their lives. Constanzo claimed that mutilation and pain were essential to be an acceptable sacrifice to his nganga. They must die screaming,” he would tell his flock claiming that the nganga fed on their screams of terror. And Constanzo would do anything to get them to scream, including raping them before the kill. He took on a new persona, he was to be called, El Padrino -the godfather.
In reality, Constanzo used his rituals for much more than power or protection. He used them as an excuse to eliminate anybody who crossed him as well as competitors: rival drug dealers, dirty cops who didn’t fill their part of the deal. This had the added effect of inspiring fear of his wrath. As there is no record of ngangas needing screams, we can deduce that at this point, Constanzo had attained a new level of depravity and derived pleasure from the screams himself.
Between May 1988 to March ’89, Constanzo would shoot drug dealer Hector de la Fuente and a farmer named Moises Castillo, He would Supervise the torture and dismemberment of the former lover of one of his cult members, a transvestite called Jorge Montes. The remains were dumped in the streets and discovered by some children playing nearby. A stranger would be kidnapped and tortured as retribution for the safe release of a gang member and his 2 sons. Ex-federales and Cult member Jorge Valente de Fierro Gomez would be sacrificed for using drugs; 14-year old Jose Garcia was kidnapped by Elio Hernandez’s own cousin. It was an error that was only found out after the boy had been decapitated. That did not stop the sacrifice though, they still proceeded to remove his heart and lungs… the list of killings goes on and on, leading up to the murder of American college student Mark Kilroy.
Constanzo had stolen 800 kilos of marijuana from a rival gang. His first sacrifice to guarantee the safe shipment of the package had been a bust because to Constanzo a victim needs to scream and he hadn’t. “Bring me someone that will scream,” he told his minions.
12 hours later, Mark Kilroy was tied up and handcuffed on Rancho Santa Elena.
Just a few days before, a young, handsome, athletic pre-med student at the University of Texas, was just one of the thousands of students in the US who all had one word on their lips and hips: SPRING BREAK! It was a time to let loose from the stress of school and enjoy a few days of partying, sex and booze before graduating into the world in debt.
And Mark was not planning to be left out. He and his trio of friends were ready to paint the town red: Bill Huddlestone, Bradley Mose, and Brent Martin. They had all been friends since middle school and, even though they had all gone to different colleges remained close friends; Bradley, who had finished his exams first, headed down to Austin to pick up Kilroy. The duo then headed to Santa Fe to pick up Huddlestone and Martin.
With all four packed and ready, the red mustang made the 9-hour drive to South Padre Island. They checked into Sheraton Hotels and Resorts the next morning and got ready for a spring break to remember. If only they knew.
There were beer sponsors, free movies, concerts, surf-simulators, Miss Tan line contest…. God bless! Everything college students could need. They partied, did tequila poppers and body shots, worked on their tans, and got ready to go into Mexico where drinks were cheaper and the legal drinking age was 18 … the ultimate magnet for college students. The strip of Matamoros attracted almost fifteen thousand college students during spring break. Sidewalks, streets, nightclubs were all packed to the rafters. The group went bar hopping, basking in the nightlife of Matamoros.
By night, Matamoros was the fun town that sold cheap beers and cheap beers tantalized their American neighbors. By day, it was a poor, dangerous town where people vanished, never to be seen again. In just 3 months, over 60 people had gone missing, seemingly into thin air. No one knew what had happened to them. But the students who trooped into the town for spring break had no idea of this troubling fact.
For two days, the friends followed the same routine as more and more American students arrived. After a day of fun on the US side, they would park their car close to the Gateway International Bridge, cross the US-Mexico border on foot into the town of Matamoros, and continue partying, were drinks, women, and drugs were flowing like wine.
Kilroy’s handsome 6-foot frame drew the attention of several women at the bar and the group of friends lost sight of him for quite a while. When they eventually saw him, he was talking to the second runner up from the Miss Tan-Line Contest. At 2 am, Huddlestone suggested they call it a night and head back to their rooms at South Padre Island. But the town was still teeming with thousands of students and, try as they might, the four could not walk together as a group.
Moore and Martin walked ahead, while Huddlestone tailed Kilroy and Miss Tan-line number 2. When Miss Tan line said her good-nights to Kilroy, Huddlestone hurried to catch up with him. Then it came, the familiar tinge of pee that you can’t hold back- especially after the load of drinks they’d consumed. He hurried past Kilroy to a nearby alley where he relieved himself. By the time he came out, Kilroy was gone. Huddlestone caught up with the other two and they searched the area till 4.30 am - the bars closed and the street cleared.
Thinking he had missed them as well and returned to the car, the trio crossed the bridge back to Brownsville. The red glint of the mustang was there but, no Kilroy. Maybe he had left for the hotel with someone else, tired of waiting for them? Miss tan line No. 2? After all A tan-line contest runner up ain’t too shabby! They returned to their hotel rooms, expecting to see him the next day.
The morning brought no change. Kilroy was nowhere to be found. It was time to call the police.
“Give it time, they always show up; hungover and worn for wear but always they did,” the police said. But Kilroy didn’t. And, he never would.
While his friends had been looking for him in the desolate streets of Matamoros, Kilroy had been kidnapped on the orders of Constanzo. He was handcuffed and bundled into a pickup by three members of the cult. They would drive him to the Rancho Santa Elena where they left him. In the early afternoon, Constanzo and his disciples would come for him. Kilroy would be raped and killed by a blow of a machete to his head. His brain would be found in Constanzo’s nganga with pepper, garlic, scorpion tail, roasted turtle, and a goat’s head. A few feet away, his body was buried; His spine hooked with a wire, would mark the spot.
When news reached James and Helen Kilroy that their son was missing, they swung into action. Flying straight to Texas They distributed over 20,000 leaflets across the Rio Grande Valley, offering a $15,000 reward for information concerning his whereabouts, and leading the search for their son. They met with Texas officials including the Attorney General, Governor William Clements, and Senator Lloyd Bentsen. On Sunday, March 26, the Kilroy case was featured on “America’s Most Wanted.” There was an outpouring of mail and telephone calls but no solid leads. The Kilroys returned to Santa Fe a few days later with a promise from the police not to give up the search for their son. But it was to no avail, the case went cold for weeks.
Then, the case would be broken wide open by the most bizarre sequence of events.
Crossing the Mexican border from Texas, a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck driven by 20-year old Serafin Hernandez Garcia aka Serafin Jr. made its way to Rancho Santa Elena; The Hernandez family ranch in Matamoros. His father, Serafin Sr managed the Texas branch of the Hernandez family’s smuggling business. But, Serafin Jr. didn’t work with his father. He worked with Elio Hernandez, his father’s brother. Elio was older than him by just 2 years but had seized power on the Hernandez business when it started to fall apart after Saul’s murder.
He also worked with the Cuban. Or El Padrino, as he demanded to be called and you dare not disobey him. Serafin Junior shuddered remembering the screams of Jorge Valente de Fierro Gomez, the cult member who had been killed for using cocaine. But El, Padrino was satisfied, the 800kg of cocaine had been safely delivered. All the human sacrifices of the past weeks had paid off.
El Padrino, who had given them the protection that made them invisible and invincible. Making them the strongest drug family in Matamoras. His mind drifted to the present as a roadblock manned by Mexican Federales came slowly to his view on the Matamoros-Reyonas highway, it was the border crossing between Texas and Mexico. Any other person would have stopped. But, Serafin was not any other person. He was a follower of El Padrino and had shared in the ritual that made it impossible for these mere policemen to see him.
He floored it, right through the roadblock!
Left in his dust and staring after him in shock, Juan Benitez Ayala, the Commandante heading the operation ordered his officers on a high-speed chase that ended at on the outskirts of Matamoras, inside a ranch: The Hernandez Ranch.
Serafin had not just led any old Federales straight to the family ranch and headquarters of the drug operation for the Hernandez cartel, he had led federales who were specifically rounding up drug mules and cartels. So certain was he of the power of Constanzo’s rituals he had believed the police could never enter the premises.
The Federales began searching of the ranch, turning up thirty kilos of Marijuana and firearms. In the distance, they noticed a lone shed on the property. As Officers approached the wooden structure, a foul stench enveloped them. A peep inside had them backing away as quickly as they had come and running away. The Candles, an altar, and cauldron all pointed to one thing and they wanted no part of it.
They had no idea of the beginnings of what they had just stumbled on. Rituals for protection by drug-runners were rampant in Mexico. But, while witchcraft was not a criminal offense, possession of marijuana was; Serafin and the ranch's caretaker, were arrested.
Under interrogation, Serafin described the location of another base of the organization: a luxurious mansion in Matamoros where other co-conspirators could be found. Some officers went to the residence and arrested his uncle, Elio Hernandez, and 2 others. They were all taken into custody.
As they filed into the police station, the ranch caretaker, noticed a missing-person flyer. On it was a picture of the missing Mark Kilroy.
Then he said the words that would blow the case wide open: “I know him,” he said, “he was tied up in a trunk at the ranch. I gave him bread, egg, and water.”
But when they asked him where Kilroy was now, the old caretaker denied knowing anything. Ayala’s eyes fell on the four other arrests of the day. He would get them to talk.
Under interrogation, one by one they all denied knowing anything about Kilroy. Each one, that is until they got to Serafin. The interrogation began.
Well, interrogation is a strong word because Serafin spilled his guts admitting that he and the others had kidnapped and taken Kilroy under the commands of El Padrino… Again, without duress or threats. The Federales could neither make head nor tails of it. If only all cases were this easy, they must have thought.
Throughout the night, he riddled the interrogators with their life of crime with a perverse kind of pride, telling about the black magic, torture, and, most of all, the human sacrifice.
On April 11, Ayala, led a small army of policemen to the ranch to verify the claims of their four suspects. In the procession were the suspects themselves. The officers quickly narrowed in on the shed they had fled from the day before. According to Mexican culture, a curandero or white witch had been called to cleanse the shack of the devil.
Inside its red tar-paper walls, they found blood covering the floors, as well as an nganga brimming with iron and wood spikes, a charred human brain, a section of the spinal cord, a horseshoe, a roasted turtle; all floating in a thick goo of blood and body parts. Black candles, cigar butts, and bottles of a banned cheap liquor littered the ground in front of the wooden shack. Just outside the door was a large oil drum that they believed was used to boil the victims. Three small caldrons and a machete lay close by. They contained severed heads of goats and chickens, thousands of pennies, congealed blood, human hair, some bones, and some gold beads.
One witness described the scene as a “human slaughterhouse.” The remnants of white candles, peppers, and garlic pods used by the white magician to purify the site lay at the entrance
Ayala could not believe what he was seeing, so it was true!
“Where is Kilroy?” Ayala asked the suspects. They were led to a certain location and a ditch digging machine proceeded to excavate the area. Two bodies were found: One of which was cut open and missing a heart. But they weren’t Kilroy. Serafin spouted out, “I know where he is!” He led them to a spot where a piece of wire rose defiantly from the ground. Without any prompting, Serafin explained that the other end of the wire was attached to Kilroy’s spine and that once the body was decomposed, they could easily pull out the vertebrae.
“Why?” Ayana asked.
“to make into a necklace,” Serafin replied flippantly.
Whether out of anger or disgust at his nonchalance, Serafin was made to dig up the body. Twenty minutes later, to there horror there lay the remains of college student Mark Kilroy. His heart and brain, cut out… legs chopped off above the knee.
“was that part of your ritual?” Ayana asked Serafin.
“No,” he explained, “it just made him easier to bury.”
Throughout the day, more and more bodies were dug up in the presence of now-gathering onlookers, reporters, and international journalists even from as far as Japan. They all gathered even as the stench of decaying bodies permeated the area. Several of them had on surgical masks or tied handkerchiefs across their faces to keep from gagging.
As the days went on the dig progressed, all around Matamoras, people missing their loved ones traveled long distances to Rancho Santa Elena or to funeral homes that were housing excavated bodies. In their hearts, they hoped for the worst just to get closure on their missing loved ones. Isidoro and Ericada Garcia identified the body of their fourteen-year-old son, Jose Luis at one such funeral home. They could only identify him by his favorite football shirt, a gray and green tshirt. His lungs, brain, and head were missing. At Rancho Santa Elena, Hidalgo Castillo Vasquez would find the body of his son 52-year old Moises Vasquez who had gone missing weeks before; he was the 15th body to be uncovered on the ranch. Among the bodies were two renegade federal narcotics agents and two who would never be identified.
On April 12, Ayala officially paraded the suspects to the public in the courtyard behind the Federales Headquarters. Over 250 international Journalists were packed in to behold the spectacle. The four suspects freely answered questions about their role in the murders without reservation. Elio proudly revealed that he was the ordained executioner priest. He even displayed his many badges of office; arrow-like cuts made with hot blades that scarred his shoulders, back arms, and chest. “The marks,” he said, “were given to selected cult members with the authority to perform human sacrifices.” A Mexican reporter would write that Elio had challenged Ayala to shoot him: “Go ahead, your bullets will just bounce off!”
Ayala explained the ritual that the cult members performed to get their imagined invincibility. Constanzo the ‘high priest’ would slit the victim’s throat or head with a machete. Then the brains, hearts, lungs, and testicles would be boiled in an iron kettle. The foul brew would then be passed among the members to be drunk. Then the remains would be buried.
The scope of the crimes of Constanzo and Aldrete were still being uncovered while, the hunt for them had begun.
For weeks, the Police searched Constanzo’s various homes and properties in Mexico City, but could not find the couple. They would, however, find more bodies that they attributed to Constanzo, bringing the number of known victims to 23. They would also find and arrest more members of the cults. The police put up wanted posters and offered rewards but, weeks went by with no luck. They suspected Constanzo would go to Miami to hide with his mother and were focused there. But sources started to reveal that Constanzo, Aldrete, and three others had gone back to Mexico.
To revive the search, they went to a local anthropologist who specialized in Santeria and Palo Mayombe to get ideas on how to smoke Constanzo out. He suggested that they burn the shack and the nganga. So, with a TV crew filming them, they did just that. The filthy shack went up in flames, and the nganga was dumped out and set aflame as well. In Mexico, Constanzo watched in horror as his nganga burned on TV. It was the beginning of the end.
On May 6, 1989, local police received a tip about an address that Constanzo could be hiding in. It was in the Veronica Anzures neighborhood. There they showed around pictures of the wanted duo, a shoemaker was certain he had seen Aldrete. Then they saw him. A man leaving a supermarket after paying with US dollars. Way to lay low. It was De Leon aka El Duby. The policemen tailed the man to an apartment.
They maintained surveillance of the fourth-floor apartment, certain that Constanzo was somewhere within. Finally, on May 6, 1989, police surrounded the building. Constanzo noticed the officers and opened fire at the officers. The police returned fire as Constanzo alternated between shooting, flinging wads of paper money and gold coins out the window, and burning some of the money on a stove in the apartment. For 45 minutes both sides exchanged gunfire and then, there was silence. Cautiously, police made their way to apartment number 13. There, they found two bodies with multiple gunshot wounds. One of which was Constanzo. Both were dead.
But not from the shoot-out.
In a final act of defiance, Constanzo had demanded one of his followers, El Duby, kill him and his lover, Martin Quintana, together with the last of their bullets. In the bedroom, Aldrete cowered in a corner. She, El Duby, and three other cult members surrendered and were taken away. Only one policeman had been injured.
A total of fourteen cult members faced charges that ranged from homicide to drug-running, possession of narcotics, police impersonation, involvement in organized crime, desecration of a body, amongst others. Mexico does not carry the death penalty or a parole system. Prisoners can only petition for a reduction in their sentences after several years.
Salvador Garcia Alarcon, former police chief of the Federal Judicial Police was indicted for drug trafficking and as the group’s police contact. Aldrete also claimed Constanzo had killed two men at his behest. But, no links could be found and he was not charged for those.
Cult members Elio, Serafín Jr., Martínez Salinas, and Serna Valdez were sentenced to 67 years each. This was later petitioned to 50 years. Aldrete was sentenced to 62 years. The judge would explain that her lesser sentence was because she was not charged with using military-exclusive weaponry.
In all, Aldrete participated in the murders of at least thirteen people including her ex-boyfriend, Gilberto Sosa. Whom she lured to the ranch and supervised a slow death that included cutting off his nipples with scissors and boiling him alive.
Ovidio Hernandez Rivera and Maio Fabio Ponce Torres were also charged with Kilroy’s murder, and remain at large.
In 2003, Aldrete began denying committing the murders and claiming she had been kidnapped. In a dorm she shares with half a dozen women, she teaches other prisoners English, plays on the prison volleyball team, and runs a hamburger stand from her cell. She has begun petitioning for an earlier release but, American authorities plan to prosecute her for the murder of Mark Kilroy if or when she gets out in 2039. Like most prisoners, she has also published a book. “I am at peace with my soul,” she says in an interview in 2014. “I am clean.”
Kilroy’s parents have since forgiven Aldrete but added that they believe she is too dangerous to be released,
Yet, one of the biggest tragedies lies in the aftermath. The media framed the cult and its practices as the result of Satanism. Neglecting the ‘whys’. While the real culprit, drug usage and the clandestine activities that go on in the drug world to get users that puff of an addicting high, escaped the limelight.
But the Kilroys did not lose sight of this. Mark’s parents started a foundation using the $10, 000 they had hoped to use to get information about their missing son. During the summer, the foundation hosts summer camps that offer a wide variety of sports. Promoting activities that would take kids’ minds off drugs. The foundation also provides scholarships to children at risk, summer programs, and at-risk youth interventions. He also wrote a book “Sacrifice” where he shares heart-wrenching accounts of his search for his son. The funds from book sales go into the Mark Kilroy Foundation.
20 years later, on the anniversary of the murder of their son, Kilroy’s parents are at Rio Grande Valley and Matamoros to thank the locals who helped them search for Mark. Helen Kilroy wears a cross she received from a woman in Brownsville when she was searching for him, she touches it fondly as she says, “It’s a reminder that the Lord was involved in everything.”
As for the devil’s ranch where Kilroy and others were sacrificed, One Sunday afternoon, when no one was watching, the Federales slipped out there with a curandero. He went, mumbling incantations, sprinkled salt on the ground, and made the sign of the cross. Then federal sloshed gasoline over the shed and burned it to the ground. For a long time after, people would be sited on the farm, digging away at the cursed ground, trying to find their missing loved ones.