Sounds impossibly lurid, but it's true
arrested a poor family in the Mexican copper mining town of Nacozari. The Meraz family lived in a shack with a dirt floor. The women are suspected of earning money through prostitution. The men in the family eke out a meager living as trash pickers. You can perhaps glimpse the desperation of such crushing poverty, the uncertainty, the constant threat of danger.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, or so they say. But how desperate would you have to be, to engage in human sacrifice in the hope of gaining a saint's protection?
The Meraz family are being accused of having lured three people to their deaths in the last three years: two 10 year-old boys, and a 55 year-old woman. The victims were killed, their throats and wrists cut, and their blood smeared on an altar to Santa Muerte, a sort of rogue saint who is gaining popularity among criminals and the very poor.
Police unearthed the body of one of the boys, whose remains had been buried in the dirt floor of the bedroom of one of the Meraz family's daughters. The discovery led them to the remains of the other boy and the older woman.
Santa Muerte ("Saint Death") is, to say the least, a controversial figure. Santa Muerte is a sort of translation of the Grim Reaper. Her origins are unclear, but her popularity has been steadily on the rise over the last twenty years or so. Time Magazine sums up her core audience as "Mexicans who had become disillusioned with the dominant Church, and in particular the ability of established Catholic saints to deliver them from poverty."
Santa Muerte is a little like The A-Team. When the regular saints can't help you… call on Santa Muerte!
Unlike Santeria, the worship of Santa Muerte is unregulated, and unconstrained by a framework of priests and priestesses. Worship of Santa Muerte takes place one-on-one, just you and the saint and the offering you bring her.
Criminals, particularly members of the drug cartels, have become notorious for offering human sacrifice to Santa Muerte. In 2007, the bodies of three men were found abandoned at a Santa Muerte altar. They had been shot elsewhere and brought to the altar, but no other ritual indications were found. Nevertheless, they are assumed to be sacrifices to Saint Death.