Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Adolfo Constanzo

Witch Hunt

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.

Elio Hernandez Rivera, arrest at ranch
Elio Hernandez Rivera,
arrest at ranch

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.

Mexican wanted poster of Constanzo & cult member
Mexican wanted poster of
Constanzo & cult member

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.

Like magic.

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