LeRoy Carter Jr.
On February 8th, 1981, the beheaded body of a homeless man was found in San Francisco’s scenic Golden Gate Park. The man, later identified as a Vietnam veteran with a track record of petty crimes, had fallen on hard times. How did he become a victim of - what appeared to be - human sacrifice?
Heading into March of 1989, Mark Kilroy was a pretty average 21-year old college student at the University of Texas.
Every March, as Spring Break approaches, college students around the country begin to make their plans for the time off. Some choose to stick close to home, while others - like Mark and his friends - decided to make an adventure out of it. This year, they decided to go big, and vacation along the Texas-Mexico border in an area called South Padre Island - roughly 185 miles south of Corpus Christi.
For the first couple of nights, they decided to stick close to the place they were staying, enjoying themselves along the beach and at nearby bars. But that Sunday, they decided to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, and visit some foreign soil for an evening. They had such a good time, in fact, that they decided to do the same thing the following night - March 13th, 1989.
Several hours later, as everyone began stumbling back home - intoxicated, no doubt - Mark's friends realized that he wasn't anywhere to be found. In the parade of college students crossing the border, heading back to flophouses and rental homes, he had gotten separated from his friends. They had to assume that he'd find his way back home, because - in that day and age - there were no cell phones to call.
Unfortunately, the friends of Mark Kilroy assumed wrong. The following morning, Mark failed to show up or call any of them, and he was reported missing to local police.
Mark Kilroy seemed to have disappeared straight into thin air. His case struggled to gain any headway, especially when the tourists and Spring Breakers began leaving, taking away any information that they could share with law enforcement. Even Mark's friends began to return to their everyday lives; now just absent a friend.
Mark's case was featured on "America's Most Wanted," where it gained international recognition, but his case would remain rudderless... until the following month.
On April 1st, 1989, south of the Mexican border, a vehicle blew through a routine traffic checkpoint. Police followed the vehicle to its destination: a ranch house out in Santa Elena. Police detained the driver, and conducted a compulsory search of the home. There, they found a large amount of narcotics... as well as items which, they believed, were occult in-nature.
About a week later, police returned to the ranch house, and conducted a more thorough scan. They believed the home might have been used for drug dealing, and arrested everyone that was present: not only the people living on the property, but farm workers as well.
While questioning everyone involved, a farmhand confessed that he had seen the missing college student on the ranch - a young man he later identified as Mark Kilroy. Obviously, this intrigued investigators, who had grown perplexed over the disappearance of the American college student.
Further interrogations yielded even more answers. Albeit, terrifying answers.
One of the other people that law enforcement had detained told investigators that they were part of a drug-dealing cult, which had sacrificed Mark Kilroy during one of their rituals. He was one of their most recent victims, but he most definitely wasn't their first.
The cult, this detainee claimed, was led by a young man named Adolfo Constanzo.
Constanzo was just 26 years old: a charismatic young man that his followers had nicknamed "The Godfather." He had grown up in a mixed religious household, with one parent practicing Catholicism and the other, voodoo. Because of this, he had grown up with a warped sense of religion, which continued to evolve during his adolescence.
When he began dealing drugs, Constanzo began to incorporate his skewed religious beliefs, which derived heavily from Palo Mayombe - a religion that utilizes sacrificial offerings. Constanzo and his followers began making animal sacrifices to increase their luck... but as time went on, and their business dealings got bigger and bigger, they decided that bigger risks were necessary.
About a year before the death of Mark Kilroy, this group had purchased a home out in Santa Elena, and began sacrificing humans. At first, they targeted victims who wouldn't be missed -primarily, the homeless and nameless - but then the decision was made to go after someone with a "good" brain, as some followers would later describe.
An American; in particular, a good-looking, educated American.
Mark had been singled out by Constanzo and his followers as he walked towards the border. They pulled up in a truck and asked him if he wanted a ride home; and when he got close enough, two men jumped out and threw him into the vehicle.
Kilroy, because of his size and athleticism, was actually able to break free and escape... but another vehicle was waiting to stop him and complete the kidnapping.
Taking 21-year old Mark Kilroy back to the ranch house, Constanzo and his followers proceeded to torture and dismember the young man for several hours. You can look up the details online, but... to save you the misery, let me just say that it was rough. Approximately twelve hours after being detained, Mark Kilroy was killed by Constanzo via machete; and several of his body parts were then harvested to complete the ritual.
After his death, Mark Kilroy's remains were disposed of, and buried along the fifteen or so other victims that Constanzo and his followers had sacrificed in the preceding months.
Adolfo Constanzo and a handful of his followers managed to elude capture for several weeks, having been betrayed by some of their own following the drug bust at their ranch home. But the next month - May of 1989 - found the rest of the group cornered in a Mexico City apartment. Constanzo prepared to go out shooting, but quickly ran out of ammunition and cowardly asked one of his followers to shoot him. His follower obliged, ending Adolfo Constanzo's life before he could face justice.
The remaining members of Constanzo's group were arrested, charged, and eventually convicted for the murder of Mark Kilroy (among others). Some have since passed away, while others remain behind bars.
The death of Mark Kilroy remains a tragic example of religion-gone-awry: spiritual beliefs distorted by eager psychopaths. And, for many that bought into the Satanic Panic scare of the 1980's, it might have even felt like vindication: proof that their worst fears were becoming a reality.
Despite the family and loved ones of Mark Kilroy receiving answers, they had to learn the horrible truth about Mark's final hours... hours marked by pain and misery. However, at least they were able to give the young man's story some closure, and were able to rest easy knowing that the offenders would not hurt anyone else's son, brother, and friend.
For other victims, those answers - and that closure - simply don't exist.
This is the story of LeRoy Carter Jr.
Alvord Lake is a small body of water, right on the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park; smack-dab in the middle of San Francisco.
This area, which is near the iconic Haight-Ashbury district, had once been known as a hotbed of the hippie movement. However, as the 1960's melted into the 1970's, the drug-of-choice for park regulars had switched from the psychedelics... to heroin. What had once been a beautiful tourist trap, which was considered a haven to free-thinkers and free-lovers, was full-up on destitute’s of all shapes and sizes.
The homeless population in Golden Gate Park continued to surge as the 1970s raged on and veterans returned from Vietnam with a multitude of untreated mental conditions. It was estimated that anywhere between 40 and 200 homeless were living in the park at any given moment, a revolving population derived from the area's thousands. The area around Golden Gate Park became known less-and-less for its beautiful scenery and its attractions, and more so for petty crimes and muggings.
It even got to a point, in the late 1970's, that police even began advising tourists to stay away from the scenic park.
It was this burgeoning chaos that invited in LeRoy Carter Jr., an Vietnam vet that returned from the war without any real direction guiding his life.
LeRoy Carter Jr. was born on September 17th, 1951, in the state of Louisiana.
His early life isn't documented nearly at-all, but in the 1970s, Carter found himself embroiled in the overseas conflict. He served in the United States Marine Corps. as a Private First Class, before returning home a wayward son.
Upon his return to the states, Carter began living on the streets as a transient. He soon fell upon the area of San Francisco, which was very homeless-friendly... relatively. There, he became engulfed in some small-time trouble, engaging in petty crimes that earned him a healthy-looking rap-sheet. Because of the nature of the crimes - stuff like stealing, thievery, loitering, etc. - it seems apparent that Carter wasn't a criminal by-choice... his crimes make him look more like a desperate man struggling to stay afloat.
Despite his struggles living as a tramp, nothing seemed overtly wrong or conspicuous in Carter's life leading up to February of 1981. LeRoy Carter Jr. had fallen on hard times, but there was nothing that made him stand out from the thousands of other Vietnam veterans that were struggling to adapt to the new world order: where mental illness remained untreated, and the recession of the 1970's sucked away many of the prewar resources.
On February 7th, 1981 - a Saturday - Carter was just another homeless vagabond looking for a place to sleep. He ended up walking through his normal haunts of Golden Gate Park, before settling upon a nice spot near Alvord lake - along the eastern edge of the park, near Stanyan Street. This spot was not only secluded, but quiet, and would allow LeRoy to get a good night's sleep close to the water. He decided to camp there for the evening, and began unfurling his sleeping bag.
As he lay down to rest, LeRoy Carter Jr. had no idea what his grisly future had in-store.
Several hours later - in the morning hours of Sunday, February 8th, 1981 - San Francisco Police Officer James Dougherty was called out to Golden Gate Park.
A young woman had turned in a backpack she found at the park - a tan bag, which was described as being "spattered with blood." Inside, police could find nothing conspicuous - just a black coat and two shirts - but wanted an officer to check out the area anyhow.
Officer Dougherty arrived at Golden Gate Park around noon, as rain poured all around him. Hoisting an umbrella above his head, Officer Dougherty began combing through the park, venturing towards the area that the backpack had been found. He was looking for any sign of trouble at all; any disturbance, no matter how big or small, to simply wrap up this call and get back inside his warm patrol vehicle.
There, in Golden Gate Park, Officer Dougherty found the remains of LeRoy Carter Jr.
The young man - or rather, what was left of him - was found inside his sleeping bag, where had gone to sleep some time before. The area around his body was surrounded by a large pool of blood, but that was just the beginning of what police would quickly learn was an incredibly gruesome crime scene.
LeRoy Carter Jr. had been brutally murdered, with his head severed from his body. In fact, his head was missing from the scene altogether, and would not be found in the ensuing search, which was quite extensive, combing through every inch of Golden Gate Park.
It would later be revealed that the severing of Carter's head had been "expertly" done, with the wound being described as precise. It is believed that - whoever the killer was - they had sliced clean through Carter's neck, with a weapon believed to either be a very sharp ax or machete. In fact, a deputy coroner later remarked that:
"The cut was very clean, like an expert did it."
In lieu of a head, two kernels of corn and a chicken wing had been jammed into the opening provided by Carter's severed head. Some articles describe the corn as being "two corncobs" instead of kernels, but I believe that is just a misprint. Nonetheless, this was an odd detail that would inform much of the later investigation.
Police would later admit to finding the remains of a mutilated chicken roughly fifty yards away from the body; which explained where the chicken wing had come from, but very little else.
Police would later float the idea that they believed this to be a sacrificial murder - perhaps committed by a cult or rogue religious faction - but it was through that the death was recent. Carter's remains had not been at that scene for any more than twenty-four hours, putting his estimated time-of-death in the late night to early morning range of the preceding day.
A thorough search of the region around Golden Gate Park failed to turn up any sign of the victim's head, nor any murder weapons. The only way that police were able to identify LeRoy Carter Jr. as this murder victim was due to fingerprints... which police had on-file because of Carter's criminal record.
Very few details were ever released to the press in this case, but Sergeant Mike Pera told eager reporters:
"It appears the victim was sleeping in the bushes... when person or persons unknown to us at this time came along and decapitated him."
Sandi Gallant was an investigator with the San Francisco Police Department, who was called in to begin investigating the murder of 29-year old LeRoy Carter Jr.
Gallant had recently worked on cases related to Jonestown founder Jim Jones, whose followers had just committed mass suicide down in Guyano a little over a year prior. Jones had extensive ties to the region surrounding San Francisco, and there were multiple loose ends that Gallant had been working on: acquaintances of the church, possible survivors, financiers, and much more.
Because of her work on the Jonestown-related cases, Sandi Gallant had become known as the closest thing to a cult expert within the San Francisco Police Department. She had become their go-to for any cases that involved the occult; due, primarily to her interest in the field. At this point in 1981, she had already embraced her nickname as the "cult cop."
The emergence of cults in the region had not started with Jonestown, and would not end there. Gallant had been trying to figure out how known religious and spiritual movements, which had cropped up around the Bay Area in the mid-1960's and early 1970's, were affecting change in the region. Primarily, changes in criminal behaviors and patterns.
After looking at the case file of the recent decapitation in Golden Gate Park, Detective Gallant noted similarities between this case and some sacrificial rituals performed in the religion Santeria. In particular, she began focusing in on offshoots that were tied to black magic rituals; known examples being Palo Mayombe, which mix Santeria with other beliefs, such as Aztec blood rites, Haitian-style voodoo, Catholicism, and sometimes even devil worship.
Unfortunately, as she perused the case file, Sandi Gallant realized that she knew very little about Santeria. She would need to consult an expert before she could float any theories to her superiors about what might have happened to LeRoy Carter, and who might be responsible.
Santeria was a religion that evolved out of central Nigeria, over five-hundred years ago. The Yoruba tribe is known for originating the belief system that eventually became Santeria, which was then brought over to the New World via slave ships.
Over the next several hundred years, Santeria continued to evolve in the Caribbean and in small pockets along the southern coast of the U.S. As the religion evolved, it began to include more aspects of the region, incorporating not only certain Christian beliefs, but also voodoo.
Sacrifice played - and plays - a major role within Santeria. This is mostly limited to small animals, like chickens and goats... but on the rare occasion, alarm bells go off when a decapitated or dismembered animal is found in a public place.
Rarely, if ever, do believers of Santeria dabble in human sacrifice. When those streams do cross, it is usually believed that the practitioners use Santeria as an excuse to indulge in homicidal urges.
To this day, approximately 20,000 United States residents practice Santeria, but it remains a relatively obscure religion, veiled in a kind of obscure secrecy usually reserved for cults. Perhaps that is why it there is so much innuendo and rumor surrounding it, such as black magic and human sacrifice.
Detective Sandi Gallant was well-aware of the reputation that Santeria had, especially in the early 1980's - as the "Satanic Panic" craze really began to kick off. So, she decided to consult Charles Wetli, a man believed to be one of the leading experts on Santeria in the U.S. Wetli worked on the other side of the country, as the coroner of Dade County, Florida.
Wetli was consulted on the unsolved murder case from Golden Gate Park, and noted that it bore all of the hallmarks of human sacrifice. Together, the two began to formulate a theory, based on the death of LeRoy Carter Jr. being a Santeria-esque ritual. If it was, they postulated, the ritual was likely not yet complete.
Following her consultation with Charles Wetli, Sandi Gallant returned to her superiors with multiple theories about the unsolved murder from Golden Gate Park.
The murdered young man whose body they found - minus the head - had been killed in a sacrificial ritual, performed by practitioners of Santeria or some zealous offshoot. At least, that is what Gallant told her bosses, before going into some more detail.
Gallant claimed that the killers had likely decapitated the victim, LeRoy Carter Jr., in order to obtain his head. Then, they had used the head to create some kind of ritualistic brew, using parts of his brain and - possibly - even his eyes and ears, which would also be consumed.
Sandi Gallant claimed that this process took three weeks - approximately 21 days - a period of time which would then be doubled, before the head was returned to the scene of the crime. As she later told the LA Times:
"At the end of those 21 days, if the priest deemed it appropriate, he would actually sleep in an area with this head and with this cauldron for another 21-day period. Then on the 42nd day he discards the head... in close proximity to where he took it from. To him, that was a sacred way of returning the head."
Gallant believed that, in total, this ritualistic process took six weeks - 42 days - before the skull would be returned to the place that the victim was killed. In this case, that would be in Golden Gate Park, along Alvord Lake.
Unfortunately, this theory seemed to fall on deaf ears. Gallant - who herself wasn't even a huge believer in this theory - says that her caution was virtually ignored.
"We literally were laughed at by our homicide investigators, and our chief of detectives. It was like, 'Give me a break. This stuff doesn't happen.'"
Unfortunately, that stuff did happen.
On March 22nd, 1981 - 42 days after the murder of LeRoy Carter Jr. - Sandi Gallant and her partner returned to the scene of the crime: Golden Gate Park.
Some newspaper reports state that the pair staked out the area throughout the day, but by Gallant's own admission, they were skeptical of the belief that the killer - or killers - would return to the scene. They weren't actively monitoring the area - because, after all, if they and their own superiors doubted the beliefs, why should anyone else?
It was by happenstance that the two were out there on that day, patrolling the park to see if anything was afoot. They began walking through the park, eventually coming upon the area along Alvord Lake, where LeRoy Carter Jr. had been murdered six weeks prior.
There, placed in the weeds next to the water... was the decomposing head of LeRoy Carter Jr.
Somehow - and someway - the person(s) responsible for this grisly murder had managed to not only elude any police suspicion, but had managed to return the victim's lost body part to the scene of the crime without raising any alarms.
Police would never release many details about the state of the head, and whether or not Gallant's theories had come true, but it appeared on its surface... that she had been correct.
With the return of the head to the crime scene, the ritual that Sandi Gallant had predicted was completed.
In the investigation to find out what had happened to LeRoy Carter, Sandi Gallant had predicated a very peculiar series of events involving human sacrifice, weird spiritual rituals, and a near-suspension of disbelief.
Now, she had been proven correct. But in the process of being proven right, the killer - or killers - had slipped right through the grasp of law enforcement.
No one had been staking out the crime scene on the 42nd day, much to everyone's chagrin. And, unfortunately, there was no evidence left behind for investigators to sift through. Even the return of the victims' head provided very little.
Sandi Gallant would later tell the LA Times that she very much regrets not following up on her own theory more urgently:
"Our problem was, even though our homicide detectives didn't buy it, my partner and I weren't out there doing surveillance on the 42nd day either. I think looking back on it, we had a real difficult time, too, believing that something like this could happen. Even though it was our theory."
Following the discovery of the victims' head in Golden Gate Park, an emphasis was placed on investigating the human sacrifice angle - which Gallant had proposed the month prior. However, it was too little and too late - whoever the killers were, they had left behind no trace of themselves.
The case had gone cold, and more homicide cases began to demand attention. The case of the murdered 29-year old homeless man became an afterthought to more pressing concerns. Ultimately, no suspects or even any persons-of-interest were identified by police, and the case faded from the public eye.
Sandi Gallant, who had already been gaining a reputation in the Bay Area for being the "cult cop," continued to increase her renown in the following years.
She would appear on nationally-syndicated broadcasts like ABC's "20/20," which focused in on the emergence of Satanic cults throughout America - a phenomenon that you and I may know as "Satanic Panic." In 1985 - just four years after the murder of LeRoy Carter Jr. - she appeared on the program to discuss the evolution of these cults, and their appeal to the youth of the nation.
Those of you that are familiar with the West Memphis Three case may recognize the other so-called "expert" that spoke alongside Gallant - Dale Griffis, who was called upon by the prosecution to testify against Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. Just a fun fact for you true crime junkies.
When Mark Kilroy, the 21-year old University of Texas college student, was killed in 1989, Sandi Gallant was one of the experts consulted by law enforcement and the media as they prepared for trial... and she found herself in the spotlight once again, speaking to a variety of outlets, including the LA Times, where she addressed the still-unsolved murder of LeRoy Carter Jr.
During this interview, Sandi Gallant stated that she no longer believed that practitioners of Santeria were responsible for the death of Carter; but, rather, believers of the more obscure and black magic-obsessed cult Palo Mayombe were behind the murder. This would liken the murder of Carter to that of Mark Kilroy, whose skull had been harvested for a ritual similar to the one Gallant had predicted nearly a decade ago.
However, despite all of this - and over a decade spent investigating cults and odd spiritual beliefs - Sandi Gallant didn't believe that she had all the answers. Quite the contrary, in fact.
"For most of us, and I can give myself as an example, what we tended to do in the beginning was we started to hear these things and first of all, we disbelieved it. Then we felt guilty about disbelieving it when it appeared that there might be something there. And then from there perhaps we got a little hysterical in the way we responded, too.
"And then, hopefully, we get to a point where we go 'Ah ha. I've seen both sides of the issue, and now let me sit back and be very objective and weigh each side and come to a conclusion as to what the reality is.’
"I think that's where I've been for about the last 3 1/2 years, where I'm not out trying to prove anything. And I'm not necessarily out to dis-prove anything. I'm just trying to find out the truth about what's going on."
Unfortunately, there's very little else that can be said about this case.
Whenever I try to put together an episode, I try to provide some kind of possibility to end on: whether it be a theory, an advancement in DNA technology... something. Anything.
However, in this case, it's unfortunately very one-sided. There was a murder - a gruesome, horrifying murder - and then, nothing.
I scoured the internet and newspaper archives looking for similar stories. I found numerous cases of murder victims, some identified and others not, having been decapitated before their deaths. But, more often than not, they were remarkably different from this case, separated by time, distance, victim profile, or some other dis-qualifier.
There was one case I found from the area, which took place just a few years later, but... like this one, has very little public information surrounding it. I may end up releasing that as a separate episode - or even a bonus episode - but it just would not work in this episode. That's how loose of a connection it is. It's a story worth telling, just not right now.
The brutal killing of LeRoy Carter Jr. remains a cold case, with no active line of investigation. Because of Carter's transient lifestyle, and the lifetime that has passed since the crime unfolded, there remains very little hope of a happy ending for his story.
Carter's remains were transferred to Alexandria National Cemetery - near his birthplace, in Pineville, Louisiana. He remains there to this day; the unfortunate victim of a crime we will likely never understand.
The story of LeRoy Carter Jr. remains unresolved.
Written, hosted, and produced by Micheal Whelan
Published on October 27th, 2018
Other original music created and composed by Ailsa Traves