Small Wars Journal

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 18: MS-13 Indictments Document Barbarization and Ritual Murders In Los Angeles

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 18: MS-13 Indictments Document Barbarization and Ritual Murders In Los Angeles

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker

On 16 July 2019, “Los Angeles-Based” members of MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha 13) were named by the United States Attorney for the Central District of California in a Federal racketeering case for a series of brutal murders in the Los Angeles area. These acts include crimes in the San Fernando Valley and the Angeles National Forest. The ‘clique’ involved in these incident is known as the ‘Fultons’ and they are active in the San Fernando Valley. In one particularly barbaric case, it is alleged that a rival gang member believed to have defaced MS-13 graffiti was abducted, transported to a remote location in the Angeles National Forest, and attacked by six gangsters with a machete. The victim was then dismembered, his heart cut out, and his body parts thrown into a canyon.[1]

Key Information: James Quelly and Matthew Ormseth, “Wielding machetes and baseball bats, MS-13 carried out ‘medieval’ killings, feds say.” Los Angeles Times. 16 July 2019, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-07-16/ms-13-committed-gruesome-killings:

MS-13 gang members in Los Angeles hacked to death seven people in the last two years, including a rival gang member who was dismembered and had his heart cut out by six MS-13 soldiers in the Angeles National Forest for defacing the gang’s graffiti, federal authorities alleged in an indictment unsealed Tuesday [16 July 2019]…

Four people were killed in the Angeles National Forest by members of the Fulton clique wielding machetes, baseball bats and knives, the indictment alleges. Along with a slaying in the Malibu hills and another in Whitsett Fields Park in North Hollywood — the clique’s “stronghold,” prosecutors said — the six killings were committed by gang members hoping to gain entry into or advance within the clique’s ranks, according to the indictment.

Key Information: Josh Cain and Jonah Valdez, “22 suspected members of MS-13 charged in Angeles National Forest machete murders, Valley Glen park shooting.” Los Angeles Daily News. 16 July 2019, https://www.dailynews.com/2019/07/16/22-suspected-members-of-ms-13-charged-in-angeles-national-forest-machete-murders-valley-glen-park-shooting/:

MS-13 street gangsters from the San Fernando Valley butchered and bludgeoned their rivals with machetes, knives, baseball bats, and pipes in a series of gruesome killings in the Angeles National Forest, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed Tuesday…

Other charges include racketeering and drug trafficking, with the MS-13 members also accused of extorting rival gang members, street vendors and business owners – members of local immigrant communities – using violence to intimidate them.

The gang members used social media, mostly Facebook Messenger, to orchestrate assaults, post gang signs and even to plot murders, prosecutors said…

In a March 6, 2017 killing, five members of the Fulton clique choked a rival gang member in the river wash at Fulton Avenue and Vanowen Street, then kidnapped him and threw him into their car, prosecutors say in the indictment.

They drove him to the forest, where gang members killed him with a machete, prosecutors said. After a suspect cut out the man’s heart, they dismembered the victim then threw body parts into a canyon, authorities said.

The reason for the victim’s punishment, according to authorities: He crossed out MS-13 graffiti.

The Fulton clique is accused of primarily operating from Whitsett Sports Park in Valley Glen, the location of one of the other murders outlined in the indictment, the Jan. 14 killing of a homeless man.

Key Information: Jose A. Del Real, “MS-13 Gang Members Charged With Brutal Murders in Los Angeles.” New York Times. 16 July 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/16/us/ms13-la-murders-indictment.html:

LOS ANGELES — Using machetes, knives and baseball bats, members of the criminal MS-13 gang killed their victims, dismembered their bodies and threw their remains into a canyon in the Angeles National Forest, according to a sweeping indictment unsealed Tuesday by federal authorities in Los Angeles. In one instance, they said, members of the gang ripped out a victim’s heart.

The indictment against the 22 members of the “Fulton Clique,” a unit of MS-13 operating in Los Angeles, lists crimes ranging from vandalism and drug trafficking to racketeering to murder, some dating back to 2017. All 22 defendants are in custody…

The indictment opens a window into how MS-13 operates in the Los Angeles region, through a series of “cliques” that each lay claim to a specific neighborhood. Much of the violence detailed in the indictment was directed against members of rival gangs who were suspected of transgressing against MS-13 in some way. But in at least one instance noted in the indictment, gang members who were trying to kill a member of a rival gang accidentally shot an unaffiliated bystander instead.

Key Information: Steve Almasy, “MS-13 members hacked up one victim and cut out his heart, federal indictment says.” CNN. 16 July 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/16/us/ms13-los-angeles-murder-indictment/index.html:

Prosecutors waited until the defendants had all been arrested before unsealing the indictment, which alleges 16 of the defendants took part in slayings. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs, which includes local law enforcement officers and FBI agents, made the arrests.

Hanna said the killings were vicious, including one in which several MS-13 members participated in the dismemberment of a rival gang member who reportedly defaced MS-13 graffiti.

The six alleged killers took the victim to the Angeles National Forest, which falls under federal jurisdiction, Hanna said. They “hacked him to death with a machete ... and one of the defendants allegedly carved out his heart before throwing the body parts into a canyon,” the prosecutor said.

Key Information: Matthew Ormseth, “MS-13 used gruesome tactics, fake Facebook profile in reign of terror, prosecutors say.” Los Angeles Times. 17 July 2019, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-07-17/ms-13-used-gruesome-tactics-fake-facebook-profile-in-reign-of-terror-prosecutors-say:

Twenty-two people allegedly affiliated with MS-13’s Fulton clique in the San Fernando Valley were indicted by a grand jury, most on racketeering charges that include nearly 200 alleged criminal acts over nine years, including killings that authorities called “medieval.”

Key Information:  Ruben Vives, James Queally, Matthew Ormseth, Nicole Santa Cruz, “MS-13 gang’s bloody reign of terror in San Fernando Valley leaves residents horrified.” Los Angeles Times. 18 July 2019, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-07-18/inside-the-valley-neighborhood-terrorized-by-ms-13:

Prosecutors said Tuesday the Fulton clique of the gang had been linked to seven killings in the Los Angeles area since 2017, many of which ended with body parts being scattered in mountain passes and remote areas. Most of the killings were the result of a new rule requiring clique prospects to take a life in order to gain entry into the gang, investigators said.

Third Generation Gang Analysis

Twenty-two members of the ‘Fulton’ clique of MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha 13) have been indicted for a series of brutal, violent crimes, including the dismembering and cutting the heart out of a rival gang member.[2] The 12- count Indictment contains allegations that the co-defendants murdered seven people over the past two years. It also alleged that they also attempted to murder rival gang members. In addition, “The indictment charges gang leaders who allegedly authorized and coordinated the murders.”[3] The case involves “a particularly violent subset of the gang known as the Fulton clique, which operates in the San Fernando Valley and has recently seen an influx of young immigrants from Central America.”[4] The federal criminal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) case was investigated by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs, comprised of special agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), officers from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), and deputies from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD).

1

Excerpt from INDICTMENT United States v. German Arnulfo Cruz Hernandez, et al. CR No. 19-117(B) -ODW, Page 20, Overt Acts 30, 31 & 32; Detailing Cutting out a Victims Heart. See Note [2].

2

Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs

Operation Foot Clan: MS-13

Source: Press Conference, US Attorney Los Angeles (@USAO_LosAngeles), 16 July 2019, https://twitter.com/USAO_LosAngeles/status/1151179308209020928/photo/2; Collage Assembled from For Public Distribution Photos.

According to the US Attorney’s press release:

[S]everal MS-13 members allegedly targeted a rival gang member who was believed to have defaced MS-13 graffiti. On March 6, 2017, according to the indictment, the rival gang member was abducted, choked, and driven to a remote location in the Angeles National Forest, where six people attacked him with a machete. The victim was dismembered, and his body parts were thrown into a canyon after one of the defendants allegedly cut the heart out of the victim’s body.[5]

In another incident on 20 April 2017, one defendant and an unindicted co-conspirator removed two pendants with the image of Santa Muerte, a ‘narcosaint’ venerated by some members of MS-13, from one murder victim’s clothing and then kept the pendants.[6]

3

Excerpt from INDICTMENT United States v. German Arnulfo Cruz Hernandez, et al. CR No. 19-117(B) -ODW, Page 23, Overt Act 59. See notes [2] and [6].

In a similar incident involving an association with Santa Muerte on 10 September 2017, one defendant posed for photos while wearing the victim’s Santa Muerte pendant. This not only corroborates the defendant’s connection with that murder, but also provides insight into the gang’s practice of venerating Santa Muerte (as seen in MS-13 activity in Maryland).[7] 

4

Excerpt from INDICTMENT United States v. German Arnulfo Cruz Hernandez, et al. CR No. 19-117(B) -ODW, Page 28, Overt Act 96. See notes [2], [6], and [7].

The activity charged in the indictment started in 2017 and continued through this year. It also has interstate links since: “While the indictment focuses on murders committed to increase the gang’s membership, expand the gang’s power and intimidate outsiders, the RICO charge also alleges drug-trafficking activities, including the sale of narcotics to the Fulton clique in Maryland.”[8] The US Attorney’s press release states:

In addition to the conspiracy charge, the indictment contains four counts of first-degree murder related to machete, knife and baseball bat killings in the Angeles National Forest, which is within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Those four murders – along with a fifth that occurred in the Malibu hills and a sixth in that was committed in the Fulton clique’s stronghold of Whitsett Fields Park in North Hollywood – are also charged as violent crimes committed in aid of racketeering (VICAR), and those six counts allege that the victims were killed “for the purpose of gaining entry to and maintaining and increasing position in MS-13 Los Angeles.”[9]

In late June, the LAPD conducted targeted patrol operations throughout the San Fernando Valley to gain information on the gang’s activities, including the targeted murder of a homeless man.[10] According to the LAPD, “Over the past year, tagging and other evidence of MS-13’s presence has been observed at multiple locations throughout the Valley”... “Officials believe the gang is attempting to establish a foothold by directly challenging rival gangs in the area.”[11]

The desire to secure territorial control may be linked to the desire of the ‘503’ Salvadoran elements of MS-13 to diminish the influence of Eme, the Mexican Mafia over MS-13;[12] Eme exerts control over Los Angeles Area gangs (Sureños) including MS-13:

Law enforcement officials said the two-year spasm of violence was carried out largely by Honduran and Salvadoran immigrants hoping to return MS-13 to its bloody roots. Paul Delacourt, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office, said the bloodshed was motivated in part by the group’s desire to make MS-13 less deferential to the Mexican Mafia, which wields influence over most Hispanic and Latino street gangs in the Los Angeles area.[13]

The brutality and barbarization displayed in these violent acts—including ‘ritual murder’ as demonstrated in the case of cutting out a victim’s heart—led the Assistant Director of the FBI in Los Angeles to characterize this series of MS-13 acts as “medieval-style violence.”[14]

Sources

Steve Almasy, “MS-13 members hacked up one victim and cut out his heart, federal indictment says.” CNN. 16 July 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/16/us/ms13-los-angeles-murder-indictment/index.html.

Josh Cain and Jonah Valdez, “22 suspected members of MS-13 charged in Angeles National Forest machete murders, Valley Glen park shooting.” Los Angeles Daily News. 16 July 2019, https://www.dailynews.com/2019/07/16/22-suspected-members-of-ms-13-charged-in-angeles-national-forest-machete-murders-valley-glen-park-shooting/.

Jose A. Del Real,” MS-13 Gang Members Charged With Brutal Murders in Los Angeles.” New York Times. 16 July 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/16/us/ms13-la-murders-indictment.html.

Matthew Ormseth, “MS-13 used gruesome tactics, fake Facebook profile in reign of terror, prosecutors say.” Los Angeles Times. 17 July 2019, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-07-17/ms-13-used-gruesome-tactics-fake-facebook-profile-in-reign-of-terror-prosecutors-say.

James Quelly and Matthew Ormseth, “Wielding machetes and baseball bats, MS-13 carried out ‘medieval’ killings, feds say.” Los Angeles Times. 16 July 2019, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-07-16/ms-13-committed-gruesome-killings.

Ruben Vives, James Queally, Matthew Ormseth, Nicole Santa Cruz, “MS-13 gang’s bloody reign of terror in San Fernando Valley leaves residents horrified.” Los Angeles Times. 18 July 2019, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-07-18/inside-the-valley-neighborhood-terrorized-by-ms-13.

“22 Los Angeles-Based Members of MS-13 Transnational Gang Named in Federal Racketeering Case that Alleges String of Grisly Murders.” Press Release, Los Angeles: United States Department of Justice, US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. 16 July 2019, https://www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/pr/22-los-angeles-based-members-ms-13-transnational-gang-named-federal-racketeering-case.

INDICTMENT in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. United States v. German Arnulfo Cruz Hernandez, et al. CR No. 19-117(B) -)DW, filed 9 July 2019, https://www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/press-release/file/1183596/download.

End Notes

[1] “22 Los Angeles-Based Members of MS-13 Transnational Gang Named in Federal Racketeering Case that Alleges String of Grisly Murders.” Press Release, Los Angeles: United States Department of Justice, US Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California. 16 July 2019, https://www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/pr/22-los-angeles-based-members-ms-13-transnational-gang-named-federal-racketeering-case.

 [2] INDICTMENT in the United States District Court for the Central District of California. United States v. German Arnulfo Cruz Hernandez, et al. CR No. 19-117(B) -ODW, filed 9 July 2019, https://www.justice.gov/usao-cdca/press-release/file/1183596/download.

[3] Ibid, see notes 1 and 2.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid. see note 1.

[6] Ibid, see note 2.

[7] See “MS-13 Links to Occult Rituals and Santa Muerte Veneration,” Safe Communities Institute, 22 January 2018, https://sci.usc.edu/2018/01/22/ms-13-links-occult-rituals-santa-muerte-veneration/; Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 8: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Links to Occult Rituals and Santa Muerte Veneration or Worship.” Small Wars Journal. 19 January 2018, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-number-eight; and John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 7: Suspect in Brutal Montgomery County, MD Beheading and Dismemberment Arrested—Suspected MS-13 Nexus.” Small Wars Journal. 9 January 2018, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-no-7-suspect-brutal-montgomery-county-md-beheading.

[8] Ibid, see notes 1 and 2.  This also demonstrates links between MS-13 cliques (clicas) in Los Angeles and Maryland.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Nicole Santa Cruz, “The Homicide Report: Died on Jan 14, 2019, Bradley Kavika Hanaway, 34.” Los Angeles Times, 30 January 2019, https://homicide.latimes.com/post/bradley-kavika-hanaway/.

[11] Jaclyn Cosgrove, “LAPD targets possible MS-13 presence in the Valley with early morning raids.” Los Angeles Times. 19 June 2019, https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-lapd-ms13-search-warrants-20190619-story.html.

[12] John P. Sullivan and Samuel Logan, “MS-13 Leadership: Networks of Influence.” The Counter Terrorist. August/September 2010, https://www.academia.edu/1123626/MS-13_Leadership_Networks_of_Influence. See also John P. Sullivan, Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 11: MS-503—Mara Fragmentation and Murder.” Small Wars Journal. 10 April 2018,

https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/third-generation-gangs-strategic-note-no-11-ms-503-mara-fragmentation-and-murder.

[13] James Quelly and Matthew Ormseth, “Wielding machetes and baseball bats, MS-13 carried out ‘medieval’ killings, feds say.” Los Angeles Times. 16 July 2019, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-07-16/ms-13-committed-gruesome-killings.

[14] Ibid, see note 1.  Also see James Quelly and Matthew Ormseth, “Wielding machetes and baseball bats, MS-13 carried out ‘medieval’ killings, feds say.” Los Angeles Times. 16 July 2019, https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-07-16/ms-13-committed-gruesome-killings.

Key Words: Fulton clique, Fultons, Fulton Locos Salvatruchos (FLS), Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, Santa Muerte, Violent Crimes committed in Aid of Racketeering (VICAR)

Additional Reading

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 13: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Command and Control (C2) Geographic Variations.” Small Wars Journal, 29 January 2019.

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Law Enforcement Primer.” National Academy Associate (Quantico, FBI National Academy Associates), March/April 2018.

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 8: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Links to Occult Rituals and Santa Muerte Veneration or Worship.” Small Wars Journal, 19 January 2018.

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 7: Suspect in Brutal Montgomery County, MD Beheading and Dismemberment Arrested—Suspected MS-13 Nexus.Small Wars Journal, 9 January 2018.

John P. Sullivan, Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht and Robert J. Bunker,  “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 11: MS-503—Mara Fragmentation and Murder,” Small Wars Journal, 10 April 2018.

 

Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)

John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He retired as a lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He is also an adjunct researcher at the Vortex Foundation in Bogotá, Colombia; a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Global Observatory of Transnational Criminal Networks; a senior research fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism (CAST); a Global Fellow at Stratfor (2018); and an instructor at the Safe Communities Institute at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. He is co-editor of Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities (Xlibris, 2019), Countering Terrorism and WMD: Creating a Global Counter-Terrorism Network (Routledge, 2006) and Global Biosecurity: Threats and Responses (Routledge, 2010) and co-author of Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency: A Small Wars Journal-El Centro Anthology (iUniverse, 2011), Studies in Gangs and Cartels (Routledge, 2013), and The Rise of The Narcostate (Mafia States) (Xlibris, 2018). He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) in Barcelona. His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” His current research focus is the impact of transnational organized crime on sovereignty in Mexico and other countries.

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is an Adjunct Research Professor, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College and Adjunct Faculty, Division of Politics and Economics, Claremont Graduate University. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Distinguished Visiting Professor and Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College; Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico, VA; Staff Member (Consultant), Counter-OPFOR Program, National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center-West; and Adjunct Faculty, National Security Studies M.A. Program and Political Science Department, California State University, San Bernardino, CA. Dr. Bunker has hundreds of publications including Studies in Gangs and Cartels, with John Sullivan (Routledge, 2013),  Red Teams and Counterterrorism Training, with Stephen Sloan (University of Oklahoma, 2011), and edited works, including Global Criminal and Sovereign Free Economies and the Demise of the Western Democracies: Dark Renaissance (Routledge, 2014), co-edited with Pamela Ligouri Bunker; Criminal Insurgencies in Mexico and the Americas: The Gangs and Cartels Wage War (Routledge, 2012); Narcos Over the Border: Gangs, Cartels and Mercenaries (Routledge, 2011); Criminal-States and Criminal-Soldiers (Routledge, 2008); Networks, Terrorism and Global Insurgency (Routledge, 2005); and Non-State Threats and Future Wars (Routledge, 2002).