I had read about this cult before, but didn't know that it was so widely followed. From the Daily Mail:
Eight people have been arrested in northern Mexico have over the killing of two 10-year-old boys and a woman in what appears to be ritual sacrifices.If you are interested in some more background, here is the Wikipedia article. It notes:
Prosecutors in Sonora, in the north-west of the country have accused the suspects of belonging to the La Santa Muerte (Holy Death) cult.
The victims' blood has been poured round an altar to the idol, which is portrayed as a skeleton holding a scythe and clothed in flowing robes.
The cult, which celebrates death, has been growing rapidly in Mexico in the last 20 years, and now has up to two million followers.
Jose Larrinaga, spokesman for Sonora state prosecutors, said the most recent killing was earlier this month, while the other two were committed in 2009 and 2010.
Their bodies were found at the altar site in the small mining community of Nacozari, 70 miles south of Douglas, Arizona.
The cult of Santa Muerte attracts those who are not inclined to seek the traditional Catholic Church for spiritual solace, as it is part of the "legitimate" sector of society. Most followers of Santa Muerte live on the margin of the law or outside it entirely. Many drug traffickers, mobile vendors, taxi drivers, vendors of pirated merchandise, street people, prostitutes, pickpockets and gang members are not very religious, but neither are they atheists. In essence, they have created their own religion that reflects their realities, identity and practices, especially since it reflects the violence and struggles for life that many of these people face.
Here is an article by Kevin Freese of the Foreign Military Studies Office at Ft. Leavenworth concerning the cult.
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Mexican authorities have linked the worship of Santa Muerte to prostitution, drug trafficking, kidnapping, smuggling and homicides. Criminals, among her most fervent believers, are likely to pray to her for successful conclusion of a job as well as escaping from the police or jail. In the north of Mexico, she is venerated along with Jesús Malverde, the so called “Saint of Drug Traffickers.” Altars with images of Santa Muerte have been found in many drug houses in both Mexico and the United States. Among two of Santa Muerte’s more famous devotees are kidnapper Daniel Arizmendi López, known as El Mochaorejas, and Gilberto García Mena, one of the bosses of the Gulf Cartel. She is considered to be the “Virgin of the Incarcerated.” Many of those who enter prison in Mexico without believing in her, come to do so after a number of months. Many cells have images of Santa Muerte in different forms. Conversely, however, both police and military in Mexico can be counted among the faithful who ask for blessings on their weapons and ammunition.
Finally, here is a photo-essay from Time Magazine.
As for the Jesus Malverde listed above, here is a New York Times article about his cult. Here is a forum thread at a police forum that discusses the value of finding Malverde paraphernalia to determine if someone is a drug smuggler. (See also here).