They were dubbed "Los Narcosatánicos" by Mexican newspaper El Universal, which, translated into English, means The Narco-Satanists. Others referred to them as “The Matamoros Cult,” for the border town where their compound was located, or simply “Palo Mayombe,” the name of the Afro-Cuban religion they warped to their own bloody ends.
Shepherded by charismatic cult leader Adolfo Constanzo and his “witch,” Sara Aldrete, they are responsible for 15 murders, maybe more. Their victims were tortured then ritualistically slain. Human sacrifices, they believed, bestowed supernatural powers upon them and their associates in Mexico's infamous drug cartels.
The group was featured on Season 1 of “Deadly Cults” on Oxygen. With Season 2 premiering on April 26, here’s a look back at one of the most horrifying groups showcased on the series.
Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo was born in Miami, Florida in 1962. His mother was a Cuban immigrant and both she and Adolfo’s grandmother were “Santeras,” priestesses in the Santeria religion, according to a feature in Rolling Stone magazine.
Santeria, like Haitian Vodou, is a syncretic religion which blends elements of Christianity with polytheistic religions brought from West Africa to the Caribbean during the Atlantic slave trade. Adherents seek favor with different representational deities and make offerings to them, including food, with ritualistically slaughtered chickens being the most common, according to the BBC.
In Miami, Constanzo’s neighbors complained of dead animals being left at their doors after confrontations with his family. His mother was later arrested for harboring 27 animals in her small apartment, which had floors smeared with blood and feces, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Constanzo allegedly studied Vodou and Palo Mayombe, which traces its roots back to the Congo River Basin. In Palo Mayombe, offerings are made to the gods in a ceremonial cauldron known as a “nganga,” which contains consecrated sticks and bones. While these are most often sourced from animals, followers of Palo Mayombe have been blamed for grave robberies, including the theft of bones and body parts at three South Florida cemeteries in 2018, according to the Miami Herald.
Fair-skinned and handsome, Constanzo worked as a male model before moving to Mexico City in 1984. There, he began offering spiritual cleansings and magic spells to the city’s elite, including celebrities and politicians. Drug cartels also sought him out for “mystical protection” during smuggling runs and turf wars, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Openly bisexual, Constanzo had multiple male and female lovers who he began recruiting into his cult. They referred to him as “El Padrino,” The Godfather. Among them was a tall, pretty college student named Sara Aldrete, who would become his second in command and was known as “La Madrina,” The Godmother.
Sara María Aldrete Villareal was born in 1964 and grew up middle class in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, near the border with the United States. She attended high school and later college across the Rio Grande River in Brownsville, Texas.
At Brownsville’s Texas Southmost College, Aldrete was a straight A student and a cheerleader for the soccer team. She was also fascinated by the occult and knew people in the Mexican drug trade through Serafin Hernandez Garcia, who attended Texas Southmost with her, and his uncle, Elio Hernandez Rivera, whom she dated, according to the magazine Texas Monthly.
The Hernandezes were members of a large family with relatives on either side of the border who made their money smuggling marijuana. Mexican authorities claim that at the height of their power they smuggled as much as a ton per week and that their distribution network stretched “from Mexico to Michigan,” according to the news service UPI.
Presiding over this criminal enterprise was Saul Hernandez Rivera, Elio’s older brother. Following his 1987 assassination, the family was beset by arrests and infighting. Elio emerged as the gang’s new leader and turned to Constanzo for supernatural help and guidance. Aldrete took part in his initiation ceremony, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Increasingly, the members of the Hernandez gang fell under Constanzo’s sway. He became their high priest and further enmeshed himself in their operations, performing ritualistic animal sacrifices that he claimed would help their business prosper and protect them from “police and bullets,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
Constanzo and his followers eventually set up operations at Rancho Santa Elena, property owned by the Hernandez family in Matamoros and less than a mile from the border. According to Constanzo, the greater the sacrifice, the greater the power it bestowed. Soon he was demanding human victims to offer up to the gods.
The cult’s first victims were rivals in the drug trade, members of other gangs, or corrupt cops, who were brought back to the ranch where they were tortured and ritualistically slain. Body parts were put in the nganga and boiled, making a foul brew that cult members then drank, believing it made them invisible and bulletproof. Some wore necklaces made from their victims' vertebrae.
Constanzo made Elio Hernandez an “executioner priest,” branding his chest and arms with sacred marks. Hernandez once ordered his henchman to bring him the first male they could find for sacrifice. It was only after lopping off his hooded victim’s head with a machete that he realized he had killed one of his own nephews, according to Texas Monthly.
In early March 1989, Constanzo ordered his followers to bring him an “Anglo male” for his next human sacrifice, according to Salt Lake City’s Deseret News. He believed this offering would grant even greater supernatural powers to himself and his followers.
Mark James Kilroy of Santa Fe, Texas would fit most people’s idea of the “all-American” male. Tall and athletic, with sandy blond hair, he attended the University of Texas in Austin, where he was studying to become a doctor.
When classes let out on March 10, 1989, Kilroy and three friends traveled to
South Padre Island, Texas for spring break. They planned to spend their days at the beach and their nights partying south of the border. Kilroy had just turned 21.
In the early morning hours of March 14, cult members snatched Kilroy off a side street in Matamoros where he had been barhopping. He was taken back to the ranch, possibly tortured and sodomized, then slain by Costanzo with a machete chop to the back of his head, according to New York’s Daily News. His brain and spinal column were then removed for ritual use and his body was dismembered for easy burial.
Unfortunately for Costanzo and his followers, they could have hardly picked a worse victim. Kilroy’s uncle was a special agent with the U.S. Customs Service and within days his disappearance was reported by UPI and investigated by multiple law enforcement agencies from both countries.
Believing himself to be invisible, Serafin Hernandez Garcia drove past a police roadblock in Matamoros on April 1, 1989. Authorities gave chase and he led them straight back to Rancho Santa Elena.
An initial search of the property turned up 65 pounds of marijuana and a ritual shed which contained Constanzo’s nganga. Mexican police allegedly refused to continue the investigation until a healer known as a “curandero” came and purified the site to cast out any evil spirits, according to Texas Monthly.
A caretaker on the property said he recognized Kilroy from a photograph police showed him. His body was exhumed, along with 14 others, according to Oklahoma’s Tulsa World newspaper. Police forced members of the Hernandez gang to help dig up the bodies of their victims.
By April 13, Elio and Serafin Hernandez and two other gang members had been arrested and confessed to multiple murders, according to The New York Times. Their high priest and his closest confidants, however, evaded capture for another month.
Mexican police eventually tracked Constanzo, Aldrete, and several other cult members to an apartment building in Mexico City. On May 6, 1989, Constanzo spotted a police car outside the building, picked up a machine gun, and began firing.
''He grabbed a bundle of money and threw it and began shooting out the window,'' cult member Alvaro de Leon Valdez told authorities, according to The New York Times. ''He said everything, everything was lost.”
Following a 45-minute gun battle, Constanzo ordered de Leon Valdez to shoot him and his lover Martin Quintana Rodriguez, rather than let them be captured alive. He did as he was told, riddling them with machine gun fire.
Aldrete was apprehended as she tried to flee the apartment. “He said, ‘Let’s all die.’ But I didn’t want to die,” she told authorities, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In May 1994, Sara Aldrete was sentenced to 62 years in prison, according to the Associated Press. At the same time, Elio and Serafin Hernandez and two other cult members were sentenced to 67 years in prison which was reduced to a 50-year sentence in 1998, according to The Brownsville Herald newspaper.
For more shocking true stories of “Deadly Cults,” tune in Sunday, April 26 at 7/6c for the season premiere on Oxygen.
From April 22 to 26, Oxygen takes viewers inside some of the most terrifying cults in history.