Mexican and U.S. authorities, convinced all the sacrificial victims of a drug smuggling cult have been found, Saturday turned to the manhunt for two cult ringleaders and 11 other people believed to have participated in the slayings or the smuggling.
Mexican authorities, in charge of the investigation at the cult's Santa Elena Ranch, 20 miles west of Matamoros, and U.S. officials both said Saturday they believe the 13 bodies already found in shallow graves Tuesday and Thursday included all of the victims."At this point, we have no reason to believe there are any more," U.S. Customs agent Oran Neck said Saturday.
With that development, the primary law enforcement effort turned to the two-country manhunt for 13 suspects, including the cult's El Pa-drino, or "godfather," Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo, 26, of Brownsville, Texas, and Sara Aldrete, 24, possibly Constanzo's lover who was identified in confessions by some of the suspects as the main recruiter of new members for the cult.
U.S. and Mexican authorities have issued arrest warrants for Constanzo and Aldrete and 11 other people suspected of participating in the sacrifices, the smuggling ring or both.
U.S. authorities said another four people, who were not immediately identified, likely would be named in arrest warrants early next week.
Neck has said the investigation might eventually uncover two or three dozen members of the drug ring, but he said he remains convinced only a dozen were involved in the slayings.
He also said he remains convinced authorities soon will find ringleaders Constanzo and Aldrete.
"I have never seen such massive publicity on anything. I've gotten calls from all over the world," Neck said. "Everybody knows what they look like. It's pretty hard to hide in this world. It's a hell of a manhunt."
In Miami this weekend, a woman identified by friends and relatives as the mother of Constanzo denied in two appearances that she reared her son in the Santeria religion, which four members of the cult already in custody said the group practiced. She said she believed her son and Aldrete were innocent.
The four suspects, arrested Sunday at the ranch during a drug bust by Mexican federal police that led to the uncovering of the grisly sacrifices and cult rituals, origionally said 14 people had been killed. Subsequent interviews, however, indicated 13 would be the final number.
"They pretty well have confessed in Mexico," said Lt. George Gavito, chief investigator for the Cameron County sheriff's department.
"I think you know how they operate over there," Lt. George Gavito, chief investigator of the cameron county sheriff's department, hinting that Mexican police use firmer methods of interrogation than police on the U.S. side.
"There's a difference in confessing in Mexico and confessing here," Gavito added. "Take it from there."
U.S. authorities had offered heavy equipment and manpower to undertake an extensive excavation of the ranch grounds to be certain there are no more bodies.
The four suspects held in a Matamoros jail said the group began practicing Santeria, an African-influenced Caribbean religion that includes animal sacrifice, about 14 months ago, Gavito said. They switched to Palo Mayombe, which uses human bones, nine months ago, about the time the recruitment began.
"I'm not a Santeria or anything," Constanzo's mother said. "I have my saints, my Virgin Mary, my Santa Barbara, and I put my candles up. That's not Santeria. We are Catholics. My children are Catholic."
She also appeared in silhouette on tape on WSCV Spanish-language television Friday night.