Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Adolfo Constanzo

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Born in Miami on November 1, 1962, Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo was the son of a 15-year-old Cuban immigrant, the first of her eventual three children by three different fathers. When he was six months old, Delia Aurora Gonzalez del Valle had her son blessed by a Haitian priest of "palo mayombe," accepting the father's judgment that her son was "a chosen one" and "destined for great power." Adolfo was still an infant when his mother moved to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and while he was reputedly baptized a Catholic, serving briefly as an altar boy, the family's true faith remained a dark secret. Gonzalez immersed herself in palo mayombe and taught her son likewise, trusting his magic education to practitioners in San Juan and nearby Haiti. In 1972 the family returned to Miami for good, Adolfo starting his full-time apprenticeship with a Haitian priest in Little Havana.

Constanzo's home in Miami (Timepix)
Constanzo's home in Miami

His mother, for her part, was a habitual criminal, arrested 30 times on various charges ranging from trespassing to shoplifting, convicted of check fraud, grand theft and child neglect. But the charges never seemed to stick, and she always escaped with probation, crediting the law's failure to her mystical religion. She left a string of rented houses in Miami vandalized, bloodstained and littered with the remains of sacrificial animals. Neighbors whispered that Delia was a witch, and those who angered her were likely to find headless goats or chickens on their doorsteps.

Delia Gonzalez Del Valle mugshot (Timepix)
Delia Gonzalez Del
Valle mugshot

Constanzo followed in his mother's footsteps, cruising Miami gay bars in his teens, indulging in petty crime. A poor student of anything but black magic, he graduated near the bottom of his high school class and dropped out of junior college after one embarrassing semester.

His interests lay elsewhere, learning the secrets of witchcraft from his mentor. Together they robbed graves to stock the priest's caldron and spilled blood over voodoo dolls to curse their enemies. palo mayombe is an amoral religion, drawing no line between "black" and "white" magic, leaving each practitioner to choose his own path without prejudice. Drug dealers frequently trusted its tenets to protect their outlaw enterprise, but Constanzo's godfather had stern words of advice for his protégé. "Let the nonbelievers kill themselves with drugs," he counseled. "We will profit from their foolishness."

Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo as young adult (Timepix)
Adolfo de Jesus
Constanzo as young
adult (Timepix)

By 1976, his mother later claimed, Constanzo had begun to display psychic powers, predicting future events with amazing accuracy. Months before the 1981 shooting of President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley, Constanzo reportedly predicted the event and proclaimed that Reagan would survive his wounds. Constanzo didn't have as much luck foretelling his own future, which included two arrests for shoplifting in 1981, one case involving the theft of a chainsaw.

By early 1983, Constanzo had chosen his patron saint, pledging himself to Kadiempembe, his religion's version of Satan. With his padrino's blessing, he devoted himself to the worship of evil for profit. His final initiation included ritual scarring, his mentor wielding the knife to carve mystic symbols into Constanzo's flesh. "My soul is dead," he proclaimed, at the climax of that ceremony. "I have no god."

The apprentice was ready to lead.

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