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Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo

Born in Miami on November 1, 1962, Adolfo Constanzo was the son of a teenage Cuban immigrant. He was still an infant when his widowed mother moved to Puerto Rico and married her second husband. There, Adolfo was baptized a Catholic and served the church as an altar boy, appearing to accept the standard tenets of the Roman faith. He was 10 years old when the family moved back to Miami. His stepfather died a year later, leaving Adolfo and his mother financially well-off.

By that time, neighbors in Little Havana had begun to notice something odd about Aurora Constanzo and her son. Some said the woman was a witch, and those who angered her were likely to discover headless goats or chickens on their doorsteps in the morning. Adolfo’s mother had introduced him to the Santería religion around age nine, with side trips to Haiti for instruction in Vodun, but there were still more secrets to be learned, and in 1976 he was apprenticed to a practitioner of palo mayombe. His occult “godfather” was already rich from working with local drug dealers, and he imparted a philosophy that would follow Adolfo to his grave: “Let the nonbelievers kill themselves with drugs. We will profit from their foolishness.”

Constanzo’s mother recalls that her son began displaying psychic powers about the same time, scanning the future to predict such events as the 1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan. Be that as it may, Adolfo had problems foretelling his own future, including two arrests for shoplifting—one involving the theft of a chainsaw. On the side, he had also begun to display bisexual inclinations, with a strong preference for male lovers.

A modeling assignment took the handsome young sorcerer to Mexico City in 1983, and he spent his free time telling fortunes with tarot cards in the city’s infamous Zona Rosa. Before returning to Miami, Adolfo
collected his first Mexican disciples, including Martín Quintana, homosexual “psychic” Jorge Montes, and Omar Orea, who had been obsessed with the occult from age 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.

In mid-1984, Constanzo moved to Mexico City full time, seeking what his mother called “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 they had been cursed by enemies. 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. Adolfo established a menu for sacrificial beasts, with roosters going for $6 a head, goats for $30, boa constrictors at $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 dealers and their hit men invisible to police and bulletproof against their enemies. It was all nonsense, of course, but smugglers drawn from Mexican peasant stock, with a background in brujería (witchcraft), were strongly inclined to believe. According to Constanzo’s ledgers, one dealer in Mexico City paid him $40,000 for magical services rendered over three years’ time.

At those rates, the customers demanded a show, and Constanzo recognized the folly of disappointing men who carried Uzi submachine guns in their armor-plated limousines. Strong medicine required first-rate ingredients, and Adolfo 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 nganga—the traditional cauldron of blood employed by practitioners of palo mayombe. 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.

At first glance, the most peculiar aspect of Constanzo’s new career was the appeal he seemed to have for 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, was a commander in charge of narcotics investigations; another, Florentino Ventura, retired from the federales to lead the Mexican branch of Interpol. In a country where mordida (bribery) permeates all levels of law enforcement and federal officers sometimes serve as triggermen for drug smugglers, corruption is not unusual, but the devotion of Constanzo’s disciples ran deeper than cash on the line. In or out of uniform, they worshiped Adolfo as a minor god, their living conduit to the spirit world.

In 1986, Ventura introduced Constanzo to the drugdealing 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, Adolfo staged scams of his own, once posing as a DEA agent to rip off a coke dealer in Guadalajara and 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 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 and elsewhere during the time 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, Guillermo Calzada 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 elapsed 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 sex organs excised, part of the spine ripped from one body, and two other bodies missing their brains.

The vanished parts, as it turned out, had gone to feed Constanzo’s cauldron of blood, building up his strength for greater conquests yet to come.

In July 1987, Salvador Garcia introduced Constanzo to another drug-running family, this one led by brothers Elio and Ovidio Hernandez. At the end of that month, in Matamoros, Constanzo also met 22-year-old Sara Aldrete, a Mexican national with resident alien status in the United States, where she attended college in Brownsville, Texas. Adolfo charmed Sara with his line of patter, noting with arch significance that her birthday— September 6—was the same as his mother’s. Sara was dating Brownsville drug smuggler Gilberto Sosa at the time, but she soon wound up in Constanzo’s bed, Adolfo scuttling the old relationship with an anonymous call to Sosa, revealing Sara’s infidelity. With nowhere else to turn, Sara plunged full-time into Constanzo’s world, emerging as the madrina—godmother or “head witch”—of his cult, adding her own twists to the torture of sacrificial victims.

Constanzo’s rituals became more elaborate and sadistic after he moved his headquarters to a plot of desert called Rancho Santa Elena, 20 miles from Matamoros. There, on May 28, 1988, drug dealer Hector de la Fuente and farmer Moises Castillo were executed by gunfire, but the sacrifice was a disappointment to Constanzo. Back in Mexico City, he directed his drones to dismember a transvestite, Ramon Esquivel, and dump the grisly remains on a public street corner. His luck was holding, and Constanzo narrowly escaped when Houston police raided a drug house in June 1988, seizing numerous items of occult paraphernalia and the city’s largest-ever shipment of cocaine.

On August 12, Ovidio Hernandez and his two-yearold son were kidnapped by rival narcotics dealers, the family turning to Constanzo for help. That night, another human sacrifice was staged at Rancho Santa Elena, and the hostages were released unharmed on August 13, Adolfo claiming full credit for their safe return. His star was rising, and Constanzo barely noticed when disciple Florentino Ventura committed suicide in Mexico City on September 17, taking his wife and a friend with him in the same burst of gunfire.

In November 1988, Constanzo sacrificed disciple Jorge Gomez, accused of snorting cocaine in direct violation of el padrino’s ban on drug use. A month later, Adolfo’s ties to the Hernandez family were cemented with the initiation of Ovidio Hernandez as a fullfledged cultist, complete with ritual bloodletting and prayers to the nganga.

Human sacrifice can also have its practical side, as when competing smuggler Ezequiel Luna was tortured to death at Rancho Santa Elena on February 14, 1989; two other dealers, Ruben Garza and Ernesto Diaz, wandered into the ceremony uninvited and were promptly added to the sacrifice. Conversely, Adolfo sometimes demanded a sacrifice without rhyme or reason. When he called for fresh meat on February 25, Ovidio Hernandez gladly joined the hunting party, picking off his own 14-year-old cousin, Jose Garcia, in the heat of the moment.

On March 13, 1989, Constanzo sacrificed yet another victim at the ranch, but he was gravely disappointed when his prey did not scream and plead for mercy in the approved style. Disgruntled, he ordered an Anglo for the next ritual, and his minions went on the hunt, abducting 21-year-old Mark Kilroy outside a Matamoros saloon. The sacrifice went well enough, followed two weeks later by the butchery of Sara Aldrete’s old boyfriend, Gilberto Sosa, but Kilroy’s disappearance marked the beginning of the end for Constanzo’s homicidal cult.

A popular premed student from Texas, Mark Kilroy was not some peasant, transvestite, or small-time pusher who could disappear without a trace or an investigation into his fate. With family members and Texas politicians turning up the heat, the search for Kilroy rapidly assumed the trappings of an international incident, but in the end Constanzo’s own disciples would destroy him.

By March 1989, Mexican authorities were busy with one of their periodic antidrug campaigns, erecting roadblocks on a whim and sweeping the border districts for unwary smugglers. On April 1, Victor Sauceda, an excop turned gangster, was sacrificed at the ranch, and the “spirit message” Constanzo received was optimistic enough for his troops to move a half ton of marijuana across the border seven nights later.

And then, the magic started to unravel.

On April 9, returning from a Brownsville meeting with Constanzo, cultist Serafin Hernandez drove past a police roadblock without stopping, ignoring the cars that set off in hot pursuit. Hernandez believed el padrino’s line about invisibility, and he seemed surprised when officers trailed him to his destination in Matamoros. Even so, the smuggler was arrogant, inviting police to shoot him, since he believed the bullets would merely bounce off his body.

They arrested him instead, along with cult member David Martinez, and drove the pair back to Rancho Santa Elena, where a preliminary search turned up marijuana and firearms. Disciples Elio Hernandez and Sergio Martinez stumbled into the net while police were on hand, and all four prisoners were interrogated through the evening, revealing their tales of black magic, torture, and human sacrifice with a perverse kind of pride.

Next morning, police returned to the ranch in force, discovering the malodorous shed where Constanzo kept his nganga, brimming with blood, spiders, scorpions, a dead black cat, a turtle shell, bones, deer antlers—and a human brain. Captive cult members directed searchers
to Constanzo’s private cemetery, and excavation began, revealing 15 mutilated corpses by April 16. In addition to Mark Kilroy and other victims already named, the body count included two renegade federal narcotics officers—Joaquin Manzo and Miguel Garcia—along with three men who were never identified.

The hunt for Constanzo was on, and police raided his luxury home in Atizapan, outside Mexico City, on April 17, discovering stockpiles of gay pornography and a hidden ritual chamber. The discoveries at Rancho Santa Elena made international headlines, and sightings of Constanzo were reported as far away as Chicago, but in fact, he had already returned to Mexico City, hiding out in a small apartment with Sara Aldrete and three other disciples. On May 2, thinking to save herself, Sara tossed a note out the window. 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, read it, and kept it to himself, believing it was someone’s lame attempt at humor. On May 6, neighbors called police to complain of a loud, vulgar argument in Constanzo’s apartment— some said accompanied by gunshots. As patrolmen arrived at the scene, Constanzo spotted them and opened fire with an Uzi, touching off a 45-minute battle in which, miraculously, only one policeman was wounded.

When Constanzo realized that escape was impossible, he handed his weapon to cultist Alvaro de Leon Valdez—a professional hit man nicknamed “El Duby”—with bizarre new orders. As El Duby recalled the scene, “He told me to kill him and Martin [Quintana]. I told him I couldn’t do it, but he hit me in the face and threatened me 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, arresting El Duby and Sarah Aldrete. In the aftermath of the raid, 14 cultists 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 30-year prison terms. Cultists Juan Fragosa and Jorge Montes were both convicted in the Esquivel 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 murder in 1990 but was sentenced to a six-year term on conviction of criminal association. Constanzo’s madrina insisted that she never practiced any religion but “Christian Santería”; televised reports of the murders at Rancho Santa Elena, she said, took her by complete surprise. Jurors disagreed in 1994 when Sara and four male accomplices were convicted of multiple murders at the ranch; Aldrete was sentenced to 62 years, while her cohorts—including Elio and Serafin Hernandez—drew prison terms of 67 years.