Real Name: Elena Souza
Aliases: Yessica Crystal Mendez
Wanted For: Fraud
Missing Since: 1996
Details: In March 1996, in Modesto, California, Gregorio and Eduarda Scoto, both originally from Portugal, were hoping to find a cure for the painful migraines Eduarda suffered daily. Modern medicine had not helped at all. In desperation, they turned to Elena Souza, a woman they had heard about in a radio ad. She spoke Portuguese and claimed to be a faith healer. But according to police, Elena is, in reality, a masterful magician and con artist without peer.
Elena diagnosed the cause of Eduarda's headaches very quickly. She said that the Scotos had been cursed by someone who was jealous of them. She claimed that to lift the curse, she needed $300. The Scotos went to the bank and brought her the money. Eduarda claimed that by the next day, her headaches had disappeared. However, Elena told them that the curse remained. The Scotos brought her several items that she had requested, including a coconut. She wrapped the coconut in a cloth and hit it with a hammer. When she opened it, she magically produced two metal rings and two crosses. According to her, this meant that the Scotos' daughter would never marry and their son, Eddie, would soon die.
The Scotos were obviously upset and could not understand why they had been cursed. The next day, the ritual took on a truly bizarre turn. Elena "blessed" the Scotos with a chicken, chanting prayers and swooping it over their heads. Moments later, without any apparent cause, it fell dead. She asked them to cut it with a knife, but they refused. When she did so, it did not bleed.
After that, Elena put a piece of paper in a bowl and told the Scotos to touch it. When she poured water over their hands, writing and a number mysteriously appeared. The note said that in order to lift the curse, she would have to cleanse their money: $15,000 for each relative. The grand total was $90,000. When they said they didn't have that kind of money, Elena assured them that they would get it, even promising to lend it to them if necessary. She also assured them that nothing would happen to the money and that they would take it with them.
Eddie voiced his concerns, but the Scotos were completely under Elena's spell. They believed it was a matter of life and death. When they brought the cash to her, their children came with them. She promised the money would never leave their possession. She wrapped the cash in Gregorio's shirt and told them to take it home overnight.
The next day, the Scotos took the money back to Elena. She had them place it in a cloth bag and then sewed it shut, while beginning another prayer. As she prayed, she walked behind them tapping them on the back with the bag. They then watched as she put the bag in a metal box, locked it, put a chain around it, and padlocked that. She promised she would unlock it in two days. At that time, the money would be clean and the curse would be gone. She instructed the Scotos to take it home and place it in their closet.
But two days later, Elena was nowhere to be found. The Scotos, fearing the worst, called the police. When they opened the box there was an identical bag to the one that had the money in it. But inside were several $1 bills which wrapped stacks of newspaper. The Scotos' money was gone. They were devastated at what happened. They could not believe that they put their trust with a con artist.
Police believe that Elena's operation is very sophisticated and well-planned. She apparently knew "slight-of-hand" techniques that are taught in Las Vegas and Hollywood. She has been charged with grand theft. According to police, she did not work alone. One alleged accomplice, a man named Jose, apparently rented the apartment and placed ads offering her services. A young woman named Maria reportedly helped prepare the sleight of hand tricks and allegedly was a crucial part of the money bag switch.
Elena speaks Portuguese with a Brazilian accent. She is most likely operating in a Latino community.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the January 3, 1997 episode. Other phony healers and fortune tellers profiled include Jorge Cortez, Gary Magno, and Ann Corecelli.