Borderland only scratches the surface of the truth.

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A lot of times, horror movie villains are so evil, so sadistic, and for no reason at all, they seem ridiculous. It just stops being realistic. The 2007 film Borderland, about a group of college kids who stumble upon a human sacrifice cult in Mexico, has that problem, except it’s compounded over a whole group of people.

Well, you know what they say about truth: it can be more disturbing than fiction. Adolfo Constanzo, the leader of the real-life version of the cult, wasn’t just a serial killer. His cult was responsible for so many murders, his followers were serial killers too, each of them much more brutal and sadistic than your run-of-the-mill psychopath.

Constanzo’s Childhood

Adolfo Costanzo

Adolfo Costanzo

Adolfo Constanzo’s childhood was so fucked up, his mother’s autobiography probably could have been called “How to Raise a Serial Killer.” Born in Miami in 1962 to a 15 year-old mother, he grew up in Puerto Rico with two younger step-siblings. Though he briefly served as a Catholic altar boy, he and his mother secretly practiced a religion called Palo Mayombe, which is a descendant of West African traditions. The religion involves the use of a Nganga, a consecrated cauldron filled with spiritually powerful items, such as earth and human bones. Constanzo and his mother would often travel to Haiti for his religious education.

In 1972, the family moved to Miami, where his mother married a man involved in the drug trade. He and his mother were often arrested for petty crimes. When their neighbors gossiped about them, they would leave them headless chickens, dead geese, and goat heads on their doorsteps as a threat. Meanwhile, Constanzo became the apprentice of a local sorcerer, and came to believe that he had psychic powers, supposedly foreseeing the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981.

The Witch Doctor

In 1983, Constanzo moved to Mexico City and soon recruited his first disciples. He started offering his services as a witch doctor, casting spells for gangsters that were supposed to give them magical powers and good luck. These spells all involved the sacrifice of animals, often times exotic ones such as zebras, snakes, and lion cubs. Drug lords and corrupt government officials apparently liked the spectacle because the rituals were so violent.

Constanzo's Nganga

Constanzo’s Nganga

Though this was a lucrative business, Constanzo wanted to add human remains to the ingredients for his spells. At first he robbed graves, but he wanted fresh ingredients. Mutilated bodies started to turn up around the city. Constanzo would skin and/or dismember his victims alive, making sure to kill them in the most painful way possible. The body count during this period is unclear, but he tortured and killed at least 20 people during this time.

Escalation

Sara Aldrete

Sara Aldrete

Believing his spells were the cause of the cartels’ success, Constanzo demanded to become a full partner of the Calzadas, a prominent family. When they rejected him, family members started to vanish. Their bodies would turn up later with parts missing: ears, toes, even brains and in one case, a spine. Constanzo ended up partnering with the Hernandez family instead.

Reasoning that he needed a female follower to help lure male victims, he seduced and recruited Sara Aldrete, the girlfriend of a crime boss, nicknaming her “La Madrina” and making her his high priestess.

He moved with his followers to Rancho Santo Elena, an isolated house in the desert which served as the base of operations for his drug business. There he continued carrying out his human sacrifices undetected, believing the powers he gained from them made him immune to discovery. The Mexican police never bothered to investigate them until Mark Kilroy, an American college student, disappeared. Under pressure from US authorities, the Mexican police found and raided the ranch. They found Kilroy’s brain in a nganga along with other body parts. 15 mutilated bodies were unearthed at the ranch as well.

Some of the objects found at the ranch.

Some of the objects found at the ranch.

Constanzo escaped, but was soon tracked down. When the police had him surrounded in an apartment in Mexico City, he ordered Alvaro de Leon Valdez, one of his followers, to shoot him dead. Valdez, Sara Aldrete, and the others were taken alive and convicted of multiple murders.

Constanzo’s final murder count is uncertain, but some put it as high as 70. And while his inner circle are all dead or in prison, it’s possible his religion lives on. As Valdez said when he was taken, “El Padrino will not be dead for long.”

Now that’s a story to tell around a campfire.

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About The Author

I saw 'Mars Attacks!' in theaters when I was five. I still think it's the greatest horror movie for five year olds ever made.