MATAMOROS, Mexico -- Four members of a drug-smuggling ring Wednesday publicly confessed their roles in the ritual slayings of at least 12 men whose bodies were found on a Mexican ranch, saying, 'That's our religion.'
U.S. Customs Service agents, meanwhile, found more human remains near a ranch 20 miles west of the border city Matamoros, and would search for more. The suspects have indicated at least two more bodies could be found.
Mexican police arrested a fifth suspect Wednesday and were searching for a shadowy Cuban 'godfather' who led the ring, whose members practiced quasi-religious sorcery and performed human sacrifices to make themselves invulnerable to arrest and even death.
Mexican and U.S. officials allowed reporters Wednesday to tour Rancho Santa Elena, where the bodies were found. Severed heads of goats remained on the ground in front of the wooden shack where authorities said victims were killed and mutilated, sometimes after torture.
A cast-iron cauldron containing human brains boiled in blood, a section of spinal cord and a horseshoe still blocked one doorway into the shack. Visitors held handkerchiefs to their faces to ward off the stench. The smell was even stronger near a dirt road where Customs Service agents found more human bones.
'We just came over here looking around the area and came across these bones sticking out of the ground,' agent Lewis DeAnda said. 'They'll come and make another dig here.'
Mexican authorities later paraded four handcuffed suspects before a crowd of about 200 reporters at the Matamoros office of the Federal Judicial Police.
'That's our religion, the voodoo,' said suspect Serafin Hernandez Garcia, 23, of Brownsville, Texas, a U.S. citizen accused of directing the kidnapping of victims for human sacrifice.
Elio Hernandez Rivera, 22, of Matamoros, whose father owned the ranch, said cult members killed Mark Kilroy, 21, of Santa Fe, Texas, for luck. The March 14 disappearance of the University of Texas pre-medical student during a spring break trip led to a search that ended with the discovery of the grave.
'They killed him to get more protection. I didn't kill anyone,' said Hernandez Rivera, who said he prevented Kilroy from escaping after he was kidnapped at gunpoint one block from the bridge separating Texas from Mexico.
'I'm guilty. I was ordered to dig the graves and bury (Kilroy),' said suspect Sergio Martinez, 23, of Matamoros.
Mexican narcotics police serving a search warrant arrested four men at the ranch Sunday and confiscated 65 pounds of marijuana. The other suspects were identified as Sergio Martinez, 23, of Matamoros, and Domingo Reyes Bustamante, age and address not disclosed, who was arrested Wednesday.
During a news conference Wednesday, Customs agent Oran Neck and many other U.S. and Mexican officers identified the ringleader as Adolfo De Jesus Constanzo, a Cuban national who is in his late 40s and a resident of Matamoros.
Constanzo is known to his adherents as padrone, or 'godfather,' a term that has no organized crime connotation.
Neck said Constanzo imported the cult of Santeria from Cuba and that he and members of his group practiced it at the ranch and apparently at a home in Matamoros.
Meanwhile, Kilroy's father, James Kilroy, said at a news conference in Brownsville that despite his son's death, the publicity generated by his disappearance helped authorities 'find this group of people ... such that they're not doing it anymore. That's what's important.'
'The reason we're not worried about Mark is because Mark was just a good young fellow,' a visibly composed Kilroy said. 'The way he was, the way we were when we were with him, he made us proud. We loved him a lot.
'We feel that the father in heaven loves him more than we ever did, and he's taking good care of him,' the victim's father said.
Kilroy said his said his son never tried drugs and said it was ironic that 'it was narcotics that killed Mark. So when people stand there next to you and try to tell you that a marijuana cigarette doesn't hurt, they're wrong. Marijuana is what killed Mark.'
At a separate news conference in Brownsville, Cameron County Sheriff's Lt. George Gavito said U.S. arrest warrants were issued charging Constanzo and Sara Villareal Aldredte, 24, also of Matamoros, with aggravated kidnapping in the disappearance two weeks ago of a second U.S. citizen.
The name of that victim, whose body was found at the ranch, was withheld until his family can be notified.
Mexican police obtained a search warrant for Aldredte's home early Wednesday and found an altar similar to one found in a wood shack at the ranch where the sacrifices were carried out. The house was splattered with blood and contained cultish images, police said.
Neck, who was present when the mass grave was uncovered Tuesday, said Wednesday the four men believed the human sacrifices would make them invulnerable. '(The suspects) showed absolutely no remorse,' he said. 'They were actually talking to us, giggling. They just couldn't understand what all the commotion was about.'
Authorities began digging at the ranch -- first with shovels, then a backhoe -- and by the afternoon they had found three bodies in one grave, two in a second and and seven buried in a third ditch.
'These individuals truly tell us that they believe that by having human sacrifices, they could put a spell above themselves and around themselves to protect them from being apprehended by police,' Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox said in Brownsville.
'It would protect them even from bullets, from any kind of harm. Even when the police initially started interviewing them, they believed they could confess, do anything they wanted, without any danger.'
The 12 victims, all male, included two members of the drug smuggling ring who were tortured and killed in revenge, officials said. The remaining 10 apparently were killed quickly, either with a bullet to the head or a quick chop with a machete. All the victims were dismembered.
Officials said there was no evidence of canibalism.
'Ten of the 12 victims were definitely picked at random for their sacrifice,' Neck said. 'Two individuals ... had been killed for reprisals connected with their drug operation. They were tortured prior to their death, which was different from the others.'
One suspect said Kilroy was abducted at gunpoint, driven to the ranch and fed bread and water for 12 hours, then sacrificed, apparently with a blow from a machete. After his death, Kilroy's legs were amputated at the thigh.
Neck said the drug ring was shipping about 2,000 pounds of marijuana a week into the United States. 'On the scale of things,' he said, 'it's not the largest marijuana smuggling operation in Matamoros, but it's not petty.'
The discovery at the Rancho Santa Elena is the second involving mass burials along the Rio Grande in the past two weeks.
The bodies of nine men and three women were found March 29-30 on a ranch about 3 miles west of Agua Prieta in the Mexican state of Sonora, across the border from Douglas, Ariz. Authorities said five of the bodies were in a 20-foot-deep well and the others were in a nearby sewage hole.
They described the killings as 'torture-slayings,' saying at least one of the men had been beaten almost beyond recognition and the fingers of one woman had been cut off. All of the dead were Mexican citizens.
Authorities said the slayings were drug-related, but there was no evidence of religious sorcery.