Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Santa Muerte: Inspired and Ritualistic Killings

Borderland Beat
Dr. Robert Bunker authored a three part report on Santa Muerte for the FBI Bulletin.  On this post I have combined all three parts. 
Prominent in Dr. Bunker’s end notes is the name Tony Kail.   

Mr. Kail has been involved in researching religious cultures for over twenty years. He has served as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) on unfamiliar religious cultures and extremists groups to numerous public safety agencies; he has authored several books on religious cults including Santa Muerte.
I was reminded of a question that derived out of the Jose Treviño trial, I asked Mr. Kail  about it:

Chivis: In the Treviño trial Mamito’s Santeria religion  became a part of his testimony;
The witness was  asked why defendant Colorado Cessa sent him cigars.  "He sent me cigars because of my faith," he further elaborated saying "Santeria is based on the Lacumi beliefs of the Yoruba in Africa... then it came through Cuba with slaves. I sent people to do a cleaning on the part of Colorado."  

He was asked about ritual of animal sacrifice which he ignored probably because it was posed more as a statement than a question, the last remark on District Attorney's Gardner's redirect was, "Santeria doesn't justify killing people...” It was met by silence and Judge Sparks excused the witness.

Chivis: What is the significance of the cigars?
Kail: The use of Santeria is fascinating. The cigar in Santeria is used for two reasons. One it is used as an offering to deities such as Elegua. The smoke from the cigar is blown into the face of the cement stone representing the deity. Cigars may be left in his shrine as well for some of the other deities.

Secondly, it is used in cleansings. The smoke from the cigar is blown by a Santero/Santera onto the body of a client to cleanse them of negative energy. The priest may start at the head and move down the body of the client to cover them with smoke. This cleansing is known as a 'despojo'.
I have seen some cases where cigars were used as a tool to cleanse objects representing clients. For instance, a Santero could take a photo of a client and blow smoke onto the photo while praying to the orishas to cleanse the client.
The act follows a spiritual law observed in magico-religious cultures known as the law of similarity. This law states that if you affect and object that is similar to a person or object, then it will affect it. Affecting the photo would affect the person in the photo.
Chivis: How prevalent is the practice of Santa Muerte among Narcos? And..

1) Is it an accurate statement to say that the majority of Santa Muerte Followers are good people living within the boundaries of law?

2) What becomes so confusing is the 'hybrid' nature of these cults, how does this manifest?
3) It appears that Los Zetas has the largest narco following of Santa Muerte, in my state of Coahuila controlled by Zetas, there are many shrines, I have seen 5 shrines myself and the government allows them to stand, even on public land.

Kail: Santa Muerte does seem to be very popular among the narcos. However, the majority of her followers are law abiding citizens who go to her for matters relating to love, social oppression and healing. The narcos are very attracted to her as she has been 'demonized' and creates fear among many communities. There is evidence that she is worshiped among narcos like Zetas and street gangs like the Latin Kings. She is called upon by some police in regions of Mexico that I have seen.
The term 'hybrid' is perfect. Yes, there appears to be a 'Frankenstein' religious culture that the narcos have built that takes pieces from African traditional religions and Latin American folk religions. I have seen evidence of these organizations using Cuban Santeria also known as Regla de Ocha, Palo Mayombe aka Las Reglas de Congo, Puerto Rican Espiritismo, Mexican Curanderismo as well as others. They will take artifacts and rituals and use them for selfish purposes.
I believe they practice 'cultural misappropriation' and take a traditional culture like Santeria that is practiced worldwide without any connection to drugs and misuse the sacred rituals of this religious faith.

I have spoken with ritual specialists who tell stories of people who seek them out to buy their services to perform rituals to harm their enemies. Some of these are members of drug trafficking organizations. Sadly, when groups like this are arrested, members of these faiths that do NOT commit crimes are given a bad name.

I continue to see elements of the magico-religious cultures in the narco culture and in reports of narco activity.
Mr. Kail's books can be found on Amazon or his website.
“La Santisima Muerte,” performed by Necrophobic, from the album Death to All

Santa Muerte: Inspired and Ritualistic Killings by Dr. Robert Bunker
The narcotics wars in Mexico have increased in scope and intensity beginning with President Felipe Caldéron’s December 2006 de facto declaration of war against the cartels and gangs. The deployment of Mexican military forces in counterorganized crime and stability and support roles directly responded to the loss of the country’s control within many regions—identified as areas of impunity—of the country.

Since this conflict began, over 45,000 people have died in the fighting, and the areas of impunity have grown to include wide swaths of territory constituting hundreds of locales now under control of the cartels. The criminal insurgencies waged by the cartels and gangs, centered on a strategy of securing nongovernmental interference with their illicit narcotics and other criminal economic activities, have received much attention and debate. Far less has focused on some of the darker spiritualistic parts of the drug wars.

One component entails the rise of the cartel and gang narcocultura (drug culture) variant of the Cult of Santa Muerte (literally translated as “Holy Death”).2 This variant of the cult promotes greater levels of criminality than the more mainstream and older forms of Santa Muerte worship. Sometimes it can be so extreme that it condones morally corrupt behaviors—what many people would consider as resulting from an evil value system that rewards personal gain above all else, promoting the intentional pain and suffering of others, and, even, viewing killing as a pleasurable activity.

While addressing the rise of such dark spirituality requires a balanced perspective (e.g., avoiding a repeat of the Satanism scare of the 1980s), enough ritualistic behaviors, including killings, have occurred in Mexico to leave open the possibility that a spiritual insurgency component of the narcotics wars now exists.
Not all of the narcotics leaders, their foot soldiers, and assassins have remained religious or, alternatively, embraced secularism.
But, evidence suggests that the numbers of defections to the cults that worship a perverted Christian god (e.g., La Familia Michoacána and Los Caballeros Templarios) and the various unsanctioned saints (e.g., Jesús Malverde, Juan Soldado, and Santa Muerte) have grown for years

This rise in deviant spirituality has not come as a surprise. Mexico still contains a significant population of persons living in poverty and feeling disenfranchised by a government system perceived as being based on patron-client relationships and the influence of wealthy ruling families. This underclass produces a disproportionate amount of unsanctioned (folk) saint worshipers—though only a small percentage of them end up as killers for gangs and cartels. Still, many of these men and women who brutalize, torture, and kill others need a way to rationalize their activities.
If not offered solace via mainstream Catholicism, they will seek comfort elsewhere.3 While the adherents of a more benign drug saint, such as Jesús Malverde, can engage in nonreligious killing, others who worship Santa Muerte increasingly appear unable to separate their criminality from their spiritual beliefs.
For U.S. law enforcement agencies, the rise of a criminalized and dark variant of Santa Muerte worship holds many negative implications. Of greatest concern, the inspired and ritualistic killings associated with this cult could cross the border and take place in the United States. 
Dark Spirituality
Santa Muerte ideology has developed in Mexico for approximately a half century and has spread into the United States and Central America. The cult’s popularity has increased with its ties to illicit narcotics trafficking in Mexico in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As a “saint of last resort,” Santa Muerte always has had a following among those who live in extreme circumstances.
As one expert explains, “The Santa Muerte cult could best be described as [following] a set of ritual practices offered on behalf of a supernatural personification of death…she is comparable in theology to supernatural beings or archangels.”4

 The cult appears to have more European than Aztecan origins, with some individuals describing Santa Muerte as a new age Grim Reaper-type goddess, a bad-girl counterpart to the Virgin of Guadalupe.5 Her imagery includes that of a robed skeleton carrying a scythe and globe or scales. Part of her popularity results from her characterization as nonjudgmental (amoral) and a source of supernatural intervention for her followers who engage in the correct rituals and provide the proper offerings and sacrifices.
Over half of the prayers directed at her include petitions to harm other people via curses and death magic.6 Still, many Santa Muerte followers appear benign—typically poor, uneducated, and superstitious individuals who practice a form of unsanctioned saint worship mixed with varying elements of folk Catholicism.
However, a sizeable minority of worshipers follow the fully criminalized variant of Santa Muerte worship steeped in narcocultura. The harsher version has gained popularity in Mexico as the criminal insurgencies taking place in the country have spread and intensified. For most of the cartels’ foot soldiers and their gang associates, brutal deaths prove almost certain. Such a form of imminent mortality facing adherents makes the worship of Santa Muerte spiritually dark.

The death of someone’s enemies, protection from harm (or, at least, hope for a quick and glorious death), cultivation of a dangerous reputation, and ability to enjoy the benefits of fabulous riches—including the company of beautiful women—become paramount. With the stakes so high, the sacrifices and offerings to Santa Muerte have become primeval and barbaric. Rather than plates of food, beer, and tobacco, in some instances, the heads of victims (and presumably their souls) have served as offerings to invoke powerful petitions for divine intervention.
Table 1. Santa Muerte Color Significance
Love and passion
Power against enemies
Personal protection
Response to injustice/legal issues
Attempt to attain wealth
Peace and harmony in life
Spiritual harmony and concentration
Removal of negative energies
Transformation of negative events to positive opportunities
Luck and success
Seven colors
Properties of the colors gold, silver, copper, black, purple, red, and green
This table serves only as an example. Applicable groups may be syncretic, drawing on multiple belief systems and having different meanings for the same characteristics.
Source: Tony Kail, Santa Muerte: Mexico’s Mysterious Saint of Death (La Vergne, TN: Fringe Research Press, 2010): 128.
While not a fully developed religion, Santa Muerte has self-proclaimed priests, temples and shrines, and many ritualized elements. Mexican authorities arrested one high priest, Romo Guillén, on kidnapping charges in December 2010. Individuals in his gang posed as members of the Los Zetas Cartel.7 In 2009 he called for holy war against the Catholic Church. During that same year, the Mexican army destroyed numerous Santa Muerte shrines. Members of the Catholic Church and the army see the growth of this cult as a dangerous development.8

Santa Muerte rituals vary, and worshipers disagree about some of the symbolism and the proper procedures to gain the spiritual and physical results petitioned. However, adherents generally consider Santa Muerte a jealous and vengeful deity who demands that her followers conduct the rituals and sacrifices properly to avoid her divine wrath.
Candle magic, herbs, oils, amulets, spiritual energy, and various mystical items play an important role (table 1). Often, the colors and mixtures of items employed determine ceremonial intent and arrangement of the altar. Components of the rituals also hold importance. Candles help to focus worshiper concentration and act as a conduit so that Santa Muerte receives the prayers.
Smoke blown, alcoholic drink spit out, and narcotics smeared on statues are thought to help activate them. The bases of candles and statues also may have items or artifacts embedded in them and may be anointed with oils and herbs to enhance their power.
More extreme forms of worship involve bowls of blood—animal and human—at the altars and smeared on the religious icons and on the devotee as part of a blood pact.9

Part 2:

Killings in Mexico
Similar circumstances have helped link killings in Mexico to Santa Muerte worshipers. While such incidents—including those with ritualized components—represent a small minority of murders perpetrated by Mexican cartels and gangs, enough allegedly have taken place to generate alarm.


  • In the rough neighborhood of Tepito, Mexico City, in 2004, authorities arrested a local car thief who later died in prison. A powerful criminal figure, he killed virgins and babies once a year and offered them as sacrifices to Santa Muerte to gain her favor and magical protection.10
  • During 2008 in Nuevo Laredo, Gulf Cartel enforcers captured Sinaloa Cartel members, took them to public Santa Muerte shrines, and executed them. Analysis by a U.S. law enforcement officer suggests that the perpetrators killed them as offerings to Santa Muerte.
  • In Ciudad Júarez in 2008, authorities found decapitated and stacked bodies at crime scenes in five separate incidents. Links were inferred to Santa Muerte worshipers.
  • In December 2009 and January 2010 in Ciudad Júarez, perpetrators murdered individuals in apparent Santa Muerte ritual killings. Regarding one incident, authorities found at the crime scene the remnants of an apparent altar and the words “Santa Muerte” and cuídanos flakita (take care of us, skinny) spray painted. In the second crime, gang members burned a victim behind a house containing an altar and a small Santa Muerte statue. Interviewed neighbors said that the killers—part of the Hillside 13 Gang—asked for “something big”; as a result, the perpetrators performed multiple human sacrifices.
  • In Culiacan in January 2010, a suspect placed a decapitated head by the tomb of deceased cartel leader Arturo Beltran Levya. Earlier, after Beltran Levya was killed in his apartment, authorities found items related to the cult of Santa Muerte, suggesting that one of his former fellow gang members may have presented the head as an offering.
  • In April 2010 in Camargo and Miguel Aleman, perpetrators tortured and decapitated individuals, carved the letter “Z” into their chests, and placed the victims’ heads on the roof of a desecrated, graffiti-covered roadside chapel. Based on the graffiti messages, the victims belonged to the Gulf Cartel. The perpetrators comprised members of the Los Zetas Cartel, which has embraced Santa Muerte as its patron saint. Many of the group’s members have tattoos of her image on their upper arm or chest.
  • In Cancun in June 2010, investigators found the bodies of six tortured victims, three with their hearts cut out and with the letter “Z” carved into their abdomens, in a cave outside of the resort city. Presumably the killers belonged to the Los Zetas Cartel, and the victims belonged to a competing group.
  • In July 2011 in Ciudad Júarez, Mexican police discovered a skeleton dressed as a bride at a Santa Muerte altar in a house used to hold kidnap victims. The perpetrators left two skulls and numerous cigarette packs as offerings. The circumstances behind the origins of the skeleton and skulls—if they were prior cult victims—remain unknown.11............................continues on following page................

Additional incidents allegedly have occurred involving victims with their skin and hearts removed. Other cases have included individuals castrated and beheaded while alive, lit on fire and burned to death, and butchered and quartered. Sometimes, authorities found only the victim’s skin. It remains unclear if these violent killings represent the acts of secular psychopaths or those following some sort of ritualized spiritual purpose.
Over five centuries ago, worshipers offered the skins of human sacrifices to the Aztec gods. It has not been confirmed whether some Santa Muerte worshipers have revived this practice.
These ritualized killings bring back memories of the 1989 murder of an American college student in Matamoros. Investigators found the victim’s brain in a ritual black cauldron, or nganga, belonging to a local marijuana-smuggling ring that practiced an extreme form of Palo Mayombe.
This gang offered over a dozen people, including the victim, as human sacrifices to ensure the magical protection of its members. An old crime scene photo displays a Santa Muerte statuette among the ritualistic tools belonging to the group.12  An incident once considered anomalous now serves as an early event warning of the growing influence of narcocultura in Mexico.
Finally, the massacre of Santa Muerte-worshiping cartel members may represent the broadening of spiritual violence in Mexico: “A report of mass murder in the northern State of Sinaloa revealed that over 50 victims were discovered with tattoos and jewelry depicting Santa Muerte.”13 This event took place before 2007 and characterizes a failed raid on Sinaloan-controlled territory being brutally avenged.
Murders in the United States


In the past, inspired and ritualistic killings occurred primarily south of the U.S. border in Mexico. What may have served as the turning event was the October 2010 Chandler, Arizona, beheading incident—though at least one earlier murder exists:14
During 2005 and 2006 in south Texas, Gabriel Cardona Ramirez, a kill team leader for the Los Zetas Cartel, engaged in multiple homicides.

Relating to one incident: “In a telephone conversation with convicted Zeta Sicario Rosalio ‘Bart’ Reta intercepted by DEA agents, Cardona bragged about how he slashed…two teenagers with a broken bottle, gathered their blood in a cup, and made a toast to the Santisima Muerte, or death saint. He later disposed of their bodies in a barrel filled with liquid fuel, a method known as a guiso, or stew.15
However, the more recent Chandler event gained considerable media attention and became thoroughly documented due to the police incident report released to the media. During the early hours of October 10, 2010, a cartel kill team stabbed and beheaded Martin Alejandro Cota “Jando” Monroy, 38 years old, in his apartment. Earlier, Monroy had stolen marijuana and methamphetamines from the PEI-Estatales/El Chapo drug trafficking organization and fled from Mexico to avoid his own murder.
Initially, he had been captured by the Los Relampagos enforcement/kidnapping group sent by the cartel, but he talked his way out of being killed by offering a house he falsely claimed to own as collateral for the stolen narcotics. Via the El Gio Syndicate, the cartel sent three operatives to the Phoenix, Arizona, area to locate and watch Monroy until orders to kill him came through.
The operatives befriended Monroy and moved in with him before the murder. Prior to the killing, Monroy, a neighbor, and the three killers spent the night drinking at a local bar and talking about Santa Muerte. Earlier, Monroy bragged that he had protection from death, previously died five times and came back, and could kill someone by just looking at them.16
A written report, videotape, and photographs documented Monroy’s murder, which featured his body and severed head laying in his living room. The police incident report noted the Santa Muerte imagery at the crime scene.17.....................continues on next page
The written report listed burning candles and a small statue and picture of Santa Muerte. It did not mention the colors of the candles, statue, or the nuances of the photo (though this information should exist in video footage and photographs), and no items were collected for processing as evidence.18
This suggests that authorities treated the crime scene solely as a secular homicide and did not focus on the spiritual potential surrounding the killing. If nothing else, the kitchen directly opened up to the living room, suggesting that the lit candles illuminating the Santa Muerte shrine cast their glow on the killers and the victim during the beheading.
Since the Chandler incident, two other killings (one confirmed as Santa Muerte-linked and one possible) allegedly have occurred within the United States.
In April 2011 local law enforcement officers investigating a dozen killings in Chicago, Illinois, identified multiple suspects as Santa Muerte followers. Two had Grim Reaper tattoos. Santa Muerte shrines were found in the homes of the arrestees, who slit their victims’ throats in some of the killings.19
In September 2011 a man in Sullivan City, Texas, was found stabbed and burned to death in the remains of his trailer. Next to the rubble stood a small shed containing a Santa Muerte shrine with still-lit candles. Presumably, the shrine is associated with the homicide victim, but the motivation behind the crime remains under investigation.20
Having only four documented (three confirmed) Santa Muerte homicide related incidents is encouraging, particularly because the Mexican cartels have operatives in over 1,000 U.S. cities.21 Methodological issues pertaining to the possible underreporting of such killings—because authorities misidentified them or the media did not report them—and the crossborder potentials of the Santa Muerte-linked killings still pose concern.

Part 3 Law Enforcement Investigations

Law enforcement professionals who encounter SantaMuerte artifacts and related narcotics cult paraphernalia at crime scenes should not dismiss them hastily. Such items provide insight into the spiritual orientation of suspects, arrestees, persons of interest, and potential victims of Santa Muerte-linked killings.
For instance, an altar containing blood, bones, burned plastic police figurines, and black statuettes and candles will determine different worshiper intent than one containing a rainbow statuette, blue and bone candles, and offerings of various types of fruit.
Some Mexican cartels, such as Los Zetas, consider Santa Muerte their patron saint; for this reason, the more specific the information gathered the better. While understanding the ritualistic nature of a homicide ultimately may not help to convict a suspect for the specific crime investigated—though additional charges may be warranted due to its premeditated nature—doing so will help provide baseline criminal data that authorities can use at the regional law enforcement intelligence center level.
Officer performance and safety issues, primarily those of an emotional or mental nature, need consideration during investigations of crime scenes involving Santa Muerte altars and ritualistic activities—even benign ones. Peace officers in cartel training have stated that they will have nothing to do with such Santa Muerte artifacts as altars, candles, statues, amulets, pictures, and sacrificial items because they consider them evil and, as a result, will not enter dwellings that contain them.
In fact, Santa Muerte informational training can prove so stressful for some law enforcement
and public safety officers that they can become physically ill and pass out. This has happened during training more than once.22 Programs and writings concerning wellness and spirituality in policing can provide “spiritual armor” against dark ritualistic crime scenes and altars containing human remains.23

While U.S. law enforcement personnel in some parts of the nation, such as southern Texas, are familiar with Santa Muerte worshipers working for the cartels, officers in other areas know little about such cartel members. Introductory booklets and reports, subject matter experts, and training programs can provide useful background on this growing cult.
Training also is offered by local High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) centers whose Mexican cartel and gang-focused training increasingly has narcotics saint content. Such training is being provided by the Los Angeles HIDTA and other entities in the southern border state areas.
Investigative support programs pertaining to Santa Muerte related killings still emerge as the need for them is being identified nationally.  This means that additional training and resources provided by local, state, and federal organizations may become available to U.S. law enforcement officers in the future.
While no certainty exists that Santa Muerte-inspired, much less ritualistic, killings will spread within the United States, recent trends suggest that they will occur at least sporadically. For U.S. law enforcement officers, it proves far better to be prepared and vigilant than caught off guard.
The latest variant of the Cult of Santa Muerte promotes extreme, corrupt, and criminal—even evil—behaviors. Law enforcement agencies need to provide a balanced, yet vigilant, response.
The rise of a fully criminalized and dark variant of Santa Muerte worship holds many negative implications. Of greatest concern, the inspired and ritualistic killings associated with this cult could emerge across the border and manifest domestically in the United States. 
About the author:
Dr. Bunker has worked with the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and currently serves with the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College and as an adjunct faculty member with Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. At the time of the writing of this article the author was serving as an instructor with the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area

So many followers yet no where to worship.

Many of the Santa Muerte faithful have made the Mexico City pilgrimage  to what is the most famous La Niña Blanca (aka Santa Muerte) altar.  Enriqueta Romero tells of her journey that began in the 1985 earthquake of DF and resulted in her creating a home altar to honor La Niña Blanca,  that huge crowds of people visit each month to worship.

Despite of the Catholic Church not sanctioning  Santa Muerte, until last month there had been no official condemnation or comment from the Vatican about the cult.  The fact that a Vatican Council President issued a statement in May of this year was huge news, and illustrates  the word ballet the Cardinal was forced to dance, as the majority of Santa Muerte followers are  also devout Catholics. 
The church is in a position of dichotomy, they on the one hand wants it clear to Catholics the Vatican rejects Santa Muerte, yet it does not want to appear it is rejecting the worshipper.

It is a fact that churches of the world are losing followers at a startling rate, including the Catholic dominated Mexico.  Clearly, the Vatican would not want to provide another reason to alienate followers.
Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi: "It's not religion just because it's dressed up like religion; it's a blasphemy against religion," said the president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture.

Dr. Bunkers Endnotes (1)
1 “La Santisima Muerte,” performed by Necrophobic, from the album Death to All, Regain Records, 2009. The influence of Santa Muerte is expanding into some English-speaking musical genres. An additional concern is the promotion of alleged rituals, such as “blood baptism,” derived from wearing bloody human skins taken from sacrificial victims.
2 Initial disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the FBI, DOJ, the Futures Working Group, Police Futures International, or any other institution or organization. Additional disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
3 Catholic priests in Mexico also are under siege. Since 2006, 12 have died, 1,000 have been extorted, and 162 have been threatened with death. See Joseph Kolb, “Mexican Priests Face Death, Extortion from Drug Cartels,” Catholic Register, October 6, 2011, (accessed August 27, 2012).
4 Kevin Freese, The Death Cult of the Drug Lords: Mexico’s Patron Saint of Crime, Criminals, and the Dispossessed, (accessed August 27, 2012).
5 E. Bryant Holman, The Santisima Muerte: A Mexican Folk Saint (Edward Holman: 2007).
6 Alfredo Ortega-Trillo, “The Cult of Santa Muerte in Tijuana,” San Diego News Notes, June 2006.
7 “Mexican Holy Death Sect Leader Arrested,” Fox News Latino, January 5, 2011, (accessed August 28, 2012).
8 “Holy War Against the Catholic Church,” California Catholic Daily, April 9, 2009.
9 Tony Kail, Santa Muerte: Mexico’s Mysterious Saint of Death (La Vergne, TN: Fringe Research Press, 2010): 128.
Endnotes (2)
10 Story provided to a researcher by a local Santa Muerte follower.
11 First compiled in 2009, this listing has increased with the inclusion of newly occurring, as well as identified, incidents. See Pamela L. Bunker, Lisa J. Campbell, and Robert J. Bunker, “Torture, Beheadings, and Narcocultos,” in Narcotics Over the Border, ed. Robert J. Bunker (London, UK: Rouledge, 2011), 166; and Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Societal Warfare South of the Border?”

Small Wars Journal (May 22, 2011), New incident sources include: “Another Slaughtered in Honor of the Holy Death,” Noticieros Televisa (January 10, 2010), (accessed August 28, 2012); “Indetifican Cabeza ‘Ofrendada’ en Tumba de ‘El Barbas,’” (January 18, 2010),  (accessed August 28, 2012);

Mail Foreign Service, “Drug Cartel Victims Discovered with Their Hearts Cut Out Close to Mexican Resort of Cancun,” Daily Mail (June 7, 2010), (accessed August 28, 2012); and Daniel Borunda, “Skeleton, Santa Muerte Altar Found at Alleged Kidnapping Site in Juárez,” El Paso Times, July 15, 2011, (accessed August 28, 2012).
12 Tony M. Kail, “Crime Scenes and Folk Saints,” Counter Cult Apologetics Journal 1, no. 1 (2006): 4.
13 Ibid.
14 Bunker, “Torture, Beheadings, and Narcocultos,” 166.
15 Jason Buch, “Zeta Gets Life,” Laredo Morning Times, March 6, 2009 (also posted as “Zeta Blood Lust: Three More Cartel Members Plead Guilty in Major Fed Case” and mirrored on a number of Web sites). See (accessed August 28, 2012).
16 Laurie Merrill, “Chandler Beheading Tied to Mexican Drug Cartel,” The Arizona Republic, March 2, 2011, (accessed August 31, 2012).
17 Publicly released report from the Chandler, Arizona, Police Department.
18 Ibid.
19 Frank Main and Kim Janssen, “Sources: Two Charged in Double Murder Suspected in 10 Other Killings,” Sun Times, April 2, 2011, (accessed August 31, 2012).
20 Stephanie Bertini, “Santa Muerte Shrine Found Outside Sullivan City,”, September 21, 2011.
21 Accusations have focused on recent Arizona shooter Jared Loughner as being a Santa Muerte follower. These appear unfounded even though he had a skull shrine with offerings in his back yard and engaged in other bizarre activities. While he may have had an affinity for Satan or the Grim Reaper, such associations do not mean that Loughner, a mentally unstable individual, is a Santa Muerte follower; and U.S. Department of Justice, National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat Assessment 2011 (Washington, D.C.: August 2011): 8
 Endnotes (3)
22 Sessions conducted by U.S. Marshal Robert Almonte.
23 Samuel L. Feemster, “Wellness and Spirituality: Beyond Survival Practices for Wounded Warriors,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, May 2009: 2-8; “Spirituality: An Invisible Weapon for Wounded Warriors,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, January 2009: 1-12; and “Spirituality: The DNA of Law Enforcement Practice,” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, November 2007: 8-17.

Additional Resources
Kevin Freese, The Death Cult of the Drug Lords: Mexico’s Patron Saint of Crime, Criminals, and the Dispossessed,
Tony Kail, Santa Muerte: Mexico’s Mysterious Saint of Death (Seattle, WA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing, 2010).
Tony Kail, Magico-Religious Groups and Ritualistic Activities: A Guide for First Responders (Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2008).
Internet Resources
Robert J. Bunker and Pamela L. Bunker, Santa Muerte and Mexican Narcocultos (Quantico, VA: FBI Academy, Quantico, 2011),
Thank you to my buddy the fearless Lacy ....
Thank you to Tony Kail and Dr. Robert Bunker


  1. Alot of pistoleros have a santa muerte ring on.or tattoos.they ask the santa muerte to protect them from bullets and death..and in return they continue to do more bad things. They say to themselves since im doing bad things why ask god for favors ?? So instead they pray to her.

  2. Tony Krail or Kail? I am asking because his website says Kail.

  3. Thank you! I have this brain freeze with respect his last name I continue to want to change it...:)

  4. BROWNSVILLE - A man is being held in federal custody without bond after he was caught trying to smuggle more than 900 pounds of marijuana by the Sarita checkpoint Tuesday, court records show.

    Border Patrol agents stopped Conrado Gauna and found 938 pounds of marijuana in his tractor-trailer, court records show.

    Agents said Gauna admitted to driving the vehicle from Brownsville and was on his way to Houston. He confessed he was going to get paid $50 for each pound of marijuana he smuggled.

    Gauna made his first court appearance at the Brownsville federal courthouse on Wednesday. krgv

  5. Release the Kraken !!!!!!!!

    This is some scary ****

  6. this is a dope ass article, this is way more revealing than 20 reports of narco activity, it is and does cut right through the viel to see what is going on with these behaviors. really good to put it up here, it looks like it took a lot of typing

  7. now isn't this just peachy. the more you peel this onion.
    i think as these beliefs stick around longer and longer these become really obscure cults, piece mealed and grafted from the mainstream the more sophisticated and twisted the murders will become..

  8. I was initiated into the saints' cult a long time ago; not a follower. What is here is a true representation of this malignant pseudo-Christian, zombie, voodoo culture.

  9. That stuff is just plain old devil worship.god is going to exact his vengeance on says in the last days satan will be running to and fro devouring whom he can and he is doing it.his time is short

  10. These people are as bad or worse than the KTemplar idiots. They just make up some collage of bits and pieces of other religions to fit what they want as and end. I actually know quite a few Africans from the Youraba tribe that were spread out from Nigeria to Sierra Leon and Ivory Coast. Nicest people in the world. Nothing like these animals. All this bologna is derived from greed, perpetrated by tacky people. Karma is a bitch and she will visit all of them.

  11. Thanks for this posting Chivis! I had been doing some independent research to identify when and how often narco gang members are committing violent murder and mutilation to gain favor with Santa Muerte. Adopting these beliefs, along with cocaine and meth use, seem to be large factors in encouraging cartel killers to engage in highly abhorrent, violent behavior.

  12. Great story Dr. Búnker, Chivis

    The concerns over the increasingly influential Santa Muerte cult in narco culture are not unfounded; in fact, I would venture to say that the Santa Muerte cartel followers are actually inspired to carry out their grisly murders by the grim reaper like cult symbol. I've done some religious studies of my own, and in Christianity, God represents life. While Satan represents death and all the evil that are the causes of death. For all practical purposes, Santa Muerte is the manifestation of Satan. In other words, as a symbol of Satan, the murders of cartel Santa Muerte worshipers victims are ritualistic sacrificial killings in the name of Satan. They are in honor of Satan. It is my belief, and of people who study secret societies, that powerful people find ways to carry out ritualistic blood sacrifice killings as sacrifiices to Satan. The diety Moloch, a bull-like diety,, is a popular secret society diety; hence, the popularity of bulls as sports mascots and official symbols of finance companies. Ancient middle eastern peoples worshiped Moloch-Ammonites-including the ancient 10 tribe nation of Israel; guess what was one of the rituals they practiced: human sacrifices-specifically the burning of babies. Guess where they got the symbol of the star of David from : the star of Moloch. Maybe all the cartel deaths in Mexico are really a front for ritualistic human sacrifices in the name of Satan.

  13. I guess my post about Mexicans being part negro was a bit too much for you to swallow. That's okay you don't post it, you are part Negro after all. ;)

  14. Great Story Chivis , very informative and educational. Thanks

  15. I am also positive that the Santa Muerte worship itself has significant ties to the pre-Spanish Central American great civilizations' own versions of human sacrifice to appease the almighty god of death, such as the Aztecs sacrificed their people to Mictlantecuhtli.

  16. R.i.p Don Arturo Beltran Leyva,seguiran callendo cabezas en su honor

  17. Viva el botas blancas!!!!!!

  18. Like Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" ... these people really do not know what they are doing! May the Lord have mercy on their souls, and may they repent and turn to God before it's too late.

    1. The devil is on the loose now but only for a while as he will be bound for a 1000 yrs gods time and he is trying to take as many souls with him as possible.his time is short.if these ppl dont change as someone once posted on here that hell was about to have an immigration problem not just from mexico either.most of the prophecies are coming to pass.

  19. I remember about the chandler murder I was living in chandler in that time people were scared cause that has never happened in that area but nothing was known about the Santa muerte in this and if they knew about it it would make it spookier

  20. "There is no other god,satan killed him"

  21. This is amazingly comprehensive, I am still not finished, and I was engrossed in the video watched it twice. The question and answer intro with Kail was a very nice touch.

    This gives me a different perspective on the cult, good people can be duped in the name of religion, I did not know that most Santa Muerte followers are honest, good people. In that sense it is harmless, narcos are another story.

    Once again, excellent effort chivis!

  22. One of the most famous practitioners of this form of belief is"Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo,El Padrino de Matamoros"As Chivis said in her article Palo Mayombe.Its kind of similar to some forms of voodoo/Christianity etc all mixed together.All over the world people try to use magic to alter their fortunes and hurt enemies.White Magic,Black,The Left Hand Path,intelligent people too.Heard of Aleister Crowley,the Great Beast in the UK and Europe?Drinking human and cats blood and performing rituals?Adolfo Constanzo,his mother was Cuban and he became hugely influential with police and capos in Matamoros,so these kind of beliefs are all over the world in some form.That was a good read girl.

  23. Like Mark Kilroy who died in a ritual in Matamoros back in the late '80's. Not too far away there was a little boy killed and dismembered in a ritual in Donna, TX. I think his name was David, but not sure.

  24. can I please have the source where you got the info of the Aztecs allegedly skinning people in the sacrifices?

  25. Hola Chivis. Been out of the country and just read this article. Outstanding as always!I have often wondered about this subject for many reasons,mostly the narco aspect. You gave me a complete and comprehensive answer. What's scary now to me is how prevalent the grim reaper tatoo is. I have seen it in on men in Texas,Illinois,New York.Columbia,Brazil, Guatemala,Cuba and in many EU countries. Far be it for me to judge anyone but all these men looked scary. Keep up the great work Chivis. You are greatly needed,as are all at BB. Thanks and peace to all innocents.Texas Grandma.(P.S. to any I've offended. I also work with ex-cons and drug dealers. Most are stand up guys caught in mental illness and substance abuse. I don't judge. The guys I'm referring to look like crazed killers,the grim reaper tatoo,usually on the neck doesn't help! Just saying.....)

  26. You wana talk about cults and then speak about lord this lord that. don't you see thats another fake cult aswell. jesus ain't gone do nothing cause he aint here we are. if the lord dosent have a last day because he's not there. our politicians and government will be the ones to give us the last days because of how reckless and careless way they treat this earth...lord my ass keep it together people and focus on real stuff that are affecting us not in sum dingus fantasy of a savior in the heavens. we livin this hell and they are just watchin eatin popcorn

    1. I feel sorry that you think there is no God, I will pray for you tonight. And trust me, ifyou think this earth is hell then you have no idea what's coming to people who aren't with God. May God bless you, you may not want to know about Him, but he sure wants to know you.

  27. JESUS CHRIST vencio ala can too,IF u become a CHRIST loyal soilder.

  28. you can not understand until you are in it

  29. Don't judge on something you don't know about. Narcos always have been eccentric and animilastic,must one persons action brand everybody who believes in a diety,narcos pray to jesus and la guadalupe,what's the difference?

  30. As a student of the bible and its prophetic teachings I've come to this conclusion: there is a heavenly father and Jesus Christ is his son. Just by evaluating what I've learned through many years of study. For example, the book of revelation talks about a scarlet colored beast that has a whore that rides it. This beast lies on a city located on top of 7 mountains. Guess what city lies on top of 7 mountains : Rome.

    1. You forgot to mention the Holy Spirit : / but yes we all have to keep our eyes opened and seek God above all... I believe we're heading into the end of times like the book of revelation has said.

  31. @1:42PM
    Worship of Jesus and La Guadalupe do not require brutal human sacrifice to gain favor. Practitioners of Santa Muerte by and large may be harmless, but the combination of the ethics behind Santa Muerte worship and the ethics driving cartel operations are a deadly combination that encourages massive human rights violations including mass murder of innocents. If you still think all religions are the same, please spend some time at least browsing the main tenants of worship in a variety of human belief systems. There is a broad spectrum and human sacrifice is an extreme religious practice in any form.

  32. So if some thugs wear a crusifix and do something evil,does that mean the crusifix made him do it?or maybe its the individual hiding behind the crusifix and using it as protection?blame the individual as the sole promoter of his evil doings instead of pointing fingers at dietys..

  33. Fuk that bitch!!!!!!

  34. I had someone do black magic on me , using la santa muerte. Here in the America a lot of people that practice witchcraft use santa muerte to either do harm or cure you , trust me i've been thru this shit before , a picture of me was buried in the cementary on somebody's grave , I was told they use la santa muerte to try n make me kill myself , what they didn't know was that god has always protected me from evil , I dont wish what I went thru to anybody not even my worst enemy cuz someone else would either kill themselves or just loose it n g , o crazy

  35. @2:18 and 5:15 It all breaks down the individual using the image really,anybody can be religious bible thumping and still be a cold blooded killers. History shows you that,david killed in the name of God aka Yaweh so did our forefathers,anybody would kill to survive just because these cartels are Mexican does not make them automatically ritualistic killers,they use these means as protection from an early Death just like people have done for thousands of years. Its all in the human mind if you want to be a sheep or a wolf.

  36. Read 2 Kings 19:3,God sent his angel to smote the camp of assyrians, why would God do that?Why would God create something and then plan to destroy it?God created the Angel of Death since the beginning and followed his and every order why would he be against his Angel just because some human being killed another in its name?If you really think about it everything befalls on the humans actions and choices he makes how can a image inspire to kill if the human being had his mind filled with violence and depression and decided to kill for a living and uses various methods to stay alive as long as he can no matter of his religous beliefs.there is cold blooded killers in the US who are atheist who is to blame there the big bang theory??

    1. First off if ur half smart u wld realize that the bible has 2 gods the old testament god doesnt take crap n is vengefull n the new testament god forgives n sacrificed his own son for humanities the old testament jehova will kill n if im not mistaken i think jehovas angel of death is actually the archangel gabriel.

    2. Isnt the angel of death in chrisrianity the archangel gabriel.who is archagels michaels muscle.

  37. i was watching a little documentary about the night time photographers in mexico city, where each papers photographer try to beat the other news paper photographers to each scene to get the scoop first and they showed a few killings but what i thought was really interesting is that at each one they rolled up to, a few little lit candles were set close to the body on the ground. they didnt go much into it but,,,

  38. sigue viva la wera

  39. all religion is garbage and dirty. and its hands full of blood. its a human thing.

  40. reta and cardona are dangerous kill them chivis

  41. @11:04 PM
    Yes, many religions for long periods practiced human sacrifice. Yes, people of all religious backgrounds are mass murderers present day. The difference is that trained, highly armed, numerous narcos are killing innocents brutally for Santa Muerte to gain favors and are only held accountable for their butchery, by and large, by one another TODAY. Do not misunderstand me, I am aware of many of the vicious struggles concerning religion globally, from Myanmar's ugly internal conflict between Buddhists and Muslims to the budding religious strife between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. All of the depraved human rights violations in the world are unproductive, dehumanizing and unacceptable. The difference is rise and immediate threat of random, deadly Santa Muerte worship is important to understand because it is a more immediate threat to my family. Uncontrolled, unpunished mass human sacrifice is just across the boarder.

    1. Thanks for partly agreeing with me,S.M. worship does not ask for blood or human heads its how you want to do it,if you decide to be a vengeful killer you will pay for your actions no matter what you believe in,just because narcos pray to S.M. does not mean they are killing for this diety,what you should be worried about is a crazed gunman who kills for no reason like many US gunmen in the past if you are going to judge narco culture examine every religion and culture and then make an educated opinion,no offense and good luck living in border,I wish the best.

  42. June 12, 2013 at 10:03 PM

    No. I've never read a documented case of cartel members killing in the name of Satan. And I've never heard people comparing the Santa Muerte with Satan. As a matter of fact most people that I know who actually worship S.M. are very Catholic and despise Satan. For example, best-friend has a rosary tattooed on his chest/neck and he has the Santa Muerte tattooed on his right arm. I just don't like the way people jump to conclusions and think they're on to something when in matter of fact they don't know what they're talking about and are ignorant. So yeah, no.

    "Maybe all the cartel deaths in Mexico are really a front for ritualistic human sacrifices in the name of Satan."

    Just stop. You don't even know what you're talking about. You come off as a conspiracy spouting idiot.

  43. I am catholic been all my life, yet i pray to botth , however the people i know who are big in st. M are not into human sacrifice..
    I guess everyone versions differ but my statue has the 7 colors cause im aiming for all things not just one... And i was told the black is for bad things to be done..
    Also any bad thing you ask her to do you will have the same or equal bad somehow sometime in your life...
    I strictly pray make offerings for good things i want..
    P.s. im a white boy from chicago
    And also practice santaria i wear many different colored beaded necklaces each for a specific reason...

  44. June 15, 2013@3:46 a.m.

    Its funny how you mention the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church just came out and condemned the worship of Santa Muerte. So your friend is actually contradicting himself by worshing Santa Muerte, a idol the Catholic Church strongly condemns. There is only one god the father, the son, and the holy spirit. Read Ephesians 6:12. The book of Revelation ch.2:9 talks also about those that call themselves Jews and are not Jews, but are of the synagogue of Satan. I agree some of the cartel murders are probably not related to Satanic worship; however, reference to Satan are all over the place. Look how many sicarios named nick named Diablo; Cocaine has the name of the first murderer after creation in it(Cain; maybe Satan's son);nick named the devil's dandruff; z is the 6th letter of the Greek alphabet and 26th of the Latin, combine them and you have 666. Whether you want to believe or not, most powerful people in the world are secret society members. Both Bush's, Clinton, sec. of state Kerry, Mx. Pres. Zedillo were Yale graduates and members of the campus secret society Skull and Bones. Mx. Pres.'s Madrid, Gortari, Fox, Calderon, Pres. Obama, and Romney are all Harvard graduates. Secret Societies are worshippers of Satan. I wouldn't hesitate to say that the top cartel leaders are members of secret societies or from the proper bloodlines: common last names. Murder is an evil act, especially if its done for money or for reasons having to do with drug trafficking.

    Look up these secret societies: Fremasons, llluminati, Skull Bones too name a few. Knights Templar were an medievel quasi-secret society

  45. During Loyzola's term as police chief, all Santa muerte merchandise was prohibited in Tijuana. Cops wouldnt really enforce new rule because a great majority were devout followers. I noticed a lot of female dancers nowadays have muerte on ankle or back shoulder, sometimes whole back.

  46. Allelujah Aeen AllahuAckbar

  47. There is only one god, and that is death


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