The kidnapping of four Americans in Mexico has drawn renewed attention to a horror abduction in the same cartel-controlled border town of Matamoros more than 30 years ago.
Mark Kilroy was 21 years old when he vanished on spring break vacation in 1989.
A search dragged on for almost a month before Kilroy’s remains were found in a mass grave along with other victims. He was found to have been abducted, tortured and killed by a drug-smuggling satanic cult.
The Texas college student and a group of friends had entered Mexico on 14 March of that year at Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, intending to go bar hopping, according to The Washington Post.
Kilroy vanished that night and his remains were found on 11 April 20 miles away at a ranch alongside 14 others.
Almost 34 years later, Matamoros is once again the site of global attention after the kidnapping of four American tourists from South Carolina. Two of the tourists were found dead four days later, and two were rescued.
The four Americans - Latavia ‘Tay’ McGee, Shaeed Woodard, Zindell Brown and Eric James Williams - entered Mexico last week for one of them to undergo a cosmetic procedure when they were ambushed and shot at by armed men believed to be members of a local drug cartel.
The group were then forced into a pickup truck and hidden from US and Mexican authorities for four days before they were found at a “stash house” on 7 March. Ms McGee and Mr Williams were rescued after watching Woodard and Brown die.
Matamoros is located in the state of Tamaulipas, which the US State Department has under a “Do Not Travel” advisory due to cartel-related violence.
AsThe Post describes it, Matamoros is “a city where killings and disappearances are so common they rarely make headlines”.
Kilroy’s story underlines how long that has been the case.
About three weeks after Kilroy disappeared, Mexican police detained a man on a Marijuana violation, leading to his family’s ranch being searched for further drugs but they instead discovered what officials said was a “human slaughterhouse,” according to a Los Angeles Times report from that year.
Authorities found an altar with candles, animal skulls, and human remains on 11 April. The Post reported at the time that among the bodies found there, Kilroy’s dismembered remains were found.
His spine had been taken out and his legs had been cut off. The brains, blood, and hearts of the victims were found in an iron cauldron.
Local news reports stated that the cult “believed human sacrifice ensured supernatural protection for their drug-smuggling operation”.
The cult was called Los Narcosatánicos – the narco-Satanists – and they conducted their horrific acts on the family ranch, which was reportedly also used as a base to smuggle about 1,000 pounds (454 kg) of marijuana to the US every month, according to The Post.
The leader was named as Cuban American Adolfo de Jesús Constanzo. Cult members called him “El Padrino” or the godfather.
Gary Cartwright wrote for the Texas Monthly in June 1989 that he “introduced various forms of mind control in the guise of religious mumbo jumbo. As Charles Manson had used the Beatles song ‘Helter Skelter,’ the Cuban used a movie called ‘The Believers,’ in which a father and his son are caught in a web of black magic”.
Investigators believe that Constanzo tortured Kilroy and then killed him with a machete.
An international manhunt ensued for the people guilty of the murders of at least 15 people found on the ranch.
The cult leaders and his acolytes fled to Mexico City, where Constanzo is reported to have ordered his own shooting alongside his top follower in May of 1989, the Associated Press reported at the time.
Law enforcement had been set to launch a raid on an apartment where the two men’s bodies were found littered with gunshot wounds.
At least five members of the cult received long sentences, the AP reported.
James and Helen Kilroy, the parents of the 21-year-old, created a nonprofit battling substance abuse. Their son was an honour student who had the hope to become a doctor.
Months after the killing of his son, the father told Rolling Stone, “we’re definitely putting our energy into the fight against drugs”.
“For that reason, we don’t look back. We try to look forward,” he added.
Friends and family of the 21-year-old have been warning others travelling to Mexico about safety concerns.
The US State Department increased its warning level for Matamoros following the abductions last week to its highest level, telling Americans not to go there.