MEXICO CITY -- Police Tuesday arrested another suspect linked to a drug smuggling cult blamed for as many as 23 deaths in Mexico City and along the U.S. border, and said five people picked up earlier had named several Mexican celebrities as members of the gang.
A statement issued Tuesday night by the Mexico City attorney general's office said Federal Judicial Police arrested Salvador Antonio Gutierrez Juarez, alias Jorge Monte, 54, Tuesday morning in the city's posh Pink Zone area.
The statement said Gutierrez 'admitted that he had taken part in the killing of a man known only as La Claudia, whose mutilated body was found in Mexico City's southern Tlalpan neighborhood last year.'
It was the latest arrest of suspected drug cult members, whose leader or 'godfather,' Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo, was killed during a shootout Saturday in Mexico City. Five associates of Constanzo were arrested Saturday.
The cult's 23 alleged victims include 13 killed in ritual slayings at a ranch near the border city of Matamoros, two slain execution-style nearby and eight whose bodies were found in and around Mexico City.
Gutierrez Juarez and a second suspect, Omar Francisco Orea Ochoa, said Constanzo offered to initiate La Claudia into his cult, then killed him, the attorney general's office said.
Juan Diaz, a spokesman for the attorney general's office, said La Claudia's body 'had the top of its skull chopped off with a machete, a hole made in the back, and the spinal chord extracted to make a necklace with, as they had done with their other victims.'
Thirteen of 15 bodies -- including that of a U.S. college student - found near Matamoros had been mutilated in what cult members said were human sacrifices aimed at protecting Constanzo's drug-smuggling operation.
The attorney general's statement also said the five people arrested Saturday told authorities Monday that several well-known Mexicans had been involved in Constanzo's cult. But authorities said they would not question all of those named based simply on the statements of those detained.
'... The simple verbal accusations made by the detainees against several entertainment figures do not determine the criteria of the law to call on them to make statements,' the statement said. But it said police had been ordered to question one of them, singer Oscar Athie.
The attorney general's statement also said Sara Aldrete Villarreal, called the 'witch' of the cult, told police that Constanzo's mother, Aurora Gonzalez del Valle of Miami, knew of her son's activities in Mexico, and that the case could have repercussions in other U.S. cities.
The statement quoted Aldrete as saying del Valle is a 'godmother' of Santeria, a primitive Caribbean religion of West African origin that sacrifices animals but not humans.
The cult's activities began coming to light April 9 with a drug bust at the Rancho Santa Elena outside Matamoros. Mexican police found evidence of human sacrifices there, and four people arrested there confessed to the killings and directed investigators to several graves on the ranch.
Thirteen bodies have been dug up, and two more were found on a nearby ranch.
Alejandro Montes de Oca, another official at the attorney general's office, said Monday night there was 'reason to believe' that Constanzo was involved in the deaths of six people whose bodies were found in a canal on the outskirts of the capital in May 1987, and two others found elsewhere around the city.
De Oca said six bodies, apparently including La Claudia's, were found floating in the Rio de Zumpango canal and showed some indication that they may have died as 'sacrifices.' He would not elaborate.
Constanzo and his main assistant and homosexual lover, Martin Quintana Rodriguez, were shot to death by another follower in a Mexico City apartment Saturday at Constanzo's request because he believed police were closing in, according to two suspects.
Alex Perez, sheriff of Cameron County, Texas, in a telephone interview from Brownsville, across the Rio Grande from Matamoros, dismissed reports that Constanzo may not have been killed in Saturday's shootout. He said the body was positively identified through fingerprints.