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.