In February, 2017, police in Texas discovered the body of a 15-year-old girl who was kidnapped and then murdered because she had insulted her captor’s satanic shrine. Her captors had tattooed what was described as a “Grim Reaper” from her knee to her ankle prior to murdering her. The police stated that the kidnappers were members of MS-13, a gang known for extreme violence and involved in drug trafficking.
At first blush, this story appears to be nothing more than a horrendous example of some satanic lunatics fulfilling their demented fantasies. However, I believe this story illustrates a dark side of the drug trade that is not well-known or understood.
Black Magic, Jesus Malverde, & Santa Muerte
There are many examples of folk icons and symbols associated with drug trafficking culture that play a scary role in the drug trade. The true dark side of this culture was thrust into the public sphere in the 1980s when authorities in Matamoros, Mexico, discovered 15 bodies that had been sacrificed to one of these religious figures associated with drug trafficking. Drug traffickers routinely seek spiritual help from “brujas” (witches) in the form of curses against their enemies, including law enforcement. Although formal religions completely denounce these “saints,” drug traffickers wholeheartedly believe in their power.
Jesus Malverde is the patron saint of drug dealers and is often seen in the form of shrines in drug trafficker homes or on keychains and necklaces. Drug traffickers offer cigarettes, money, marijuana, and many other items of values to Malverde shrines to protect them from rivals and law enforcement. Law enforcement that come across a location or person with Jesus Malverde paraphernalia can be confident they are dealing with a drug trafficker.
Santa Muerte (Saint Death) is a saint worshipped by many in the drug trafficking underworld. Santa Muerte is believed to protect drug traffickers from harm and is also offered many items of value in exchange for that protection and help. Santa Muerte can be seen in the same forms as Jesus Malverde; shrines, tattoos, necklaces, and keychains.
While not recognized by the Catholic Church, there are some believers in Santa Muerte who are not involved in drug trafficking. Still, Santa Muerte has become a virulent force within drug trafficking culture. Santa Muerte is always a skeleton wearing a colored robe, carrying a scythe, and she is often seen holding or standing on a globe. The robe color varies depending on the protections desired by the owner.
In a time when it seems that the United States is involved in an ever-increasing trend towards drug legalization and a decrease in a desire to enforce drug laws it is important to remember that drugs do not only cause harm to the user. Thousands of people have been murdered in Mexico as drug cartels fight to make more money and to control territory vital to their business. In addition to the obvious dangers associated with the drug trade, there are more covert and insidious threats lurking in the drug underworld.
While looking for news stories as examples for this article I found one that stated there have been no confirmed sacrifices to Santa Muerte. The story of the 15-year-old girl in Texas did not call the demon to whom she was sacrificed “Santa Muerte” but I am willing to venture a guess that the “Grim Reaper” tattooed on her leg looked a lot like Santa Muerte. Additionally, MS-13 is strongly linked with several Mexican drug cartels, includin the Sinaloa Cartel, Los Zetas, and La Familia Michoacana.
Gangs in the U.S. associated with Mexican organized crime have imported these dark religious ideologies. Any drug cop with some experience can likely provide many examples of running across shrines and offerings to Malverde or Santa Muerte, and it’s important that law enforcement recognizes that threat for what it truly is.
Society increasingly strives for social justice and environmental sustainability in what we source and use. People think on a global scale when it comes to race, gender, salaries, animal farming practices, and environmental impact as they source their products. Good for them. But many of those same people, who fight for their right to use whatever drug they choose, are either unaware or ignore the fact that their drugs are not responsibly sourced. Black magic, ritual sacrifices, and entire religions have developed within the drug trafficking culture, and we have all seen many examples of horrible things people can do when they believe it is divinely warranted.