MATAMOROS, Mexico -- A drug smuggling ring whose members kidnapped and sacrificed humans in voodoo rituals for protection from harm and arrest is believed to be twice as large as initially suspected, investigators said Thursday.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on Thursday joined a massive, two-country investigation that was already underway into the uncovering Tuesday of 12 mutilated corpses from eight graves on a ranch 20 miles west of Matamoros on the Rio Grande.
Mexican authorities were scheduled to begin another execavation at the Santa Elena Ranch in the belief, based on confessions by five suspects already in custody, that at least three more bodies were still buried there, probably in the corral area of the well-kept property.
U.S. Customs agent Oran Neck Thursday said he notified the Mexican Judicial Federal police of the discovery by one of his agents of what might be a human bone sticking out of the ground at a site across a dirt road from where the 12 bodies were found.
Four suspects, who publicly confessed Wednesday to their role in the group's rituals, and a fifth suspect were being held in the jail in Matamoros, located across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas, as Mexican authorities searched for at least six more suspects believed to have participated in the human sacrifices.
U.S. and Mexican authorities stepped up their search for two key suspects -- Adolfo De Jesus Constanzo, 26, who the jailed suspects called El Padrino, or the godfather, and for Sara Aldrete Villarreal, 24, of both Brownsville and Matamoros.
Constanzo, a native of Miami, was also called El Cubano because of his Cuban parents.
Aldrete Villarreal, described as a 6-foot-1, attractive blonde, apparently led a double life, as a drug smuggler and voodoo cultist in Mexico and as a respected student on the U.S. side. One of three voodoo altars found in suspects' homes was found at her Matamoros home.
'We have an intensive manhunt through two countries here,' said Lt. George Gavito, chief investigator for the Cameron County sheriff's office.
'The key to the whole thing is these two subjects -- El Padrino and the lady,' Neck said. 'When we have those two, we can unravel a lot more.'
'It looks as if she (Aldrete Villarreal) was leading a double life. One life was the one in Matamoros. In the United States, she was a student at Texas Southmost College (in Brownsville), involved in sports, an honor roll student. She made straight A's.'
Neck said both are believed to be in the United States, but that authorities do not know whether the two are together.
'Her actual role in the heiracy of a group as not been determined,' Neck said.
Neck said investigators now believe the ring smuggled at least a ton of marijuana into the United States each week, explaining the DEA's entry into the case.
'It's probably a larger drug trafficking ring than we initially thought,' Neck said. 'There could be two or three dozen members.'
But Neck said authorities still believe only 10 or 12 members were involved in the cult rituals, based loosely on the Cuban religion Santeria. The victims were killed and their brains and blood boiled in a 30-inch-wide iron caldron in a shack on the ranch. The shack also contained an altar, pots containing goat heads and chicken feathers, and votive candles, black cigars and Mexican liquor.
Neck said all of the gang members maintained wealthy lifestyles, and none had criminal records.
Police had still not identified the body of one of the victims believed to be a U.S. citizen who was abducted by gang members in Brownsville, taken to the ranch in Mexico and killed. Constanzo and Aldrete Villarreal were charged in the United States with aggravated kidnapping in connection with that crime.
A memorial service was scheduled Thursday night in Brownsville for the other U.S. victim, Mark Kilroy, 21, a University of Texas student who disappeared in Matamoros March 14 during a spring break trip to the border. The search for Kilroy had attracted national publicity in the weeks before his mutilated body was found with the other 11.
Most of the victims were believed to be Mexicans.