Real Name: Reynaldo Rivera
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Date: August 5, 1982
Details: On the evening of Thursday, August 5, 1982, a call was placed to the rectory of St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The caller claimed he was with his grandfather, who was about to die, and needed a priest to give him the "last rites", also known as the Anointing of the Sick. The first priest that answered was unable to do so, but told the caller to call back about fifteen minutes later. Fifteen minutes later, the man called again and this time fifty-seven-year-old Father Reynaldo Rivera received the call. The caller wanted him to administer last rites for his dying grandfather at a rest stop near Waldo. Father Rivera agreed since the rest stop was twenty miles away. He reported the situation to the abbot and then left in his car at approximately 8:45PM. When Father Rivera did not return the next day, he was reported missing.
Hundreds of citizens from Santa Fe volunteered to search for Father Rivera. Sadly, three days later on Saturday, August 7, his body was found in a remote field, three miles from the rest stop; he had been shot. Evidence also suggested that he had been tied up. His 1974 Chevrolet Malibu was found abandoned about 110 miles from the crime scene at a rest area on Interstate 40 near Grants, New Mexico, suspecting that the killer stole the car and used it to escape until the car's gas tank was exhausted. As the town mourned his death, police began gathering evidence in the case.
Investigators discovered that the phone at the rest stop was out of service that night, so the call had to be made from somewhere else. They theorized that the killers were waiting for Father Rivera at the rest area. When he arrived, he may was overpowered by two men. It is believed that they tied him up, held him at gunpoint, killed him in one location, and dropped his body off in a different location, where it would be found soon after. As the corpse was in plain sight, police believe the killers wanted the body to be quickly found. After the crime, the killers returned to the rest stop, stole Father Rivera's car, and drove it until they ran out of gas.
Police had few leads and the case grew cold until on August 8, 1984, two years later, when Father John Kerrigan of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Ronan, Montana vanished. The next day, several bloody clothes were found along a highway near Flathead Lake. One week later, his car was found five miles away with blood throughout it. After his wallet was found with large sums of money inside, police ruled out robbery. Lietentant Uemera of the Santa Fe Police, who was responsible for homicides and had been in charge of investigating Father Rivera's murder, traveled to Ronan to aid Montana state troopers, believing the two murders were connected.
They found several similarities between Father Kerrigan's disappearance and Father Rivera's murder. Both priests' cars were found far from the scene with nearly all evidence wiped clean from them, coat hangers were believed to be used in both murders, robbery was not believed to be the motive in either murder, and both priests belonged to the Order of Franciscans. The sole differing factor in the murders is that Father Kerrigan had been briefly working at his monastery prior to his death, whereas Father Rivera had been with Saint Francis Cathedral for over fifteen years and had been a well-known priest in Santa Fe.
In honor of Father Rivera's service to Santa Fe, a cross has been placed at the site where Father Rivera's body was found. However, it has had to have been replaced multiple times. While the removal of this cross sometimes has been chalked up to weather damage or pilferage, it has now been believed that a reason could be theft in connection to the murder or attempts to keep the unsolved death out of public attention.
Suspects: In Santa Fe, the man who talked to Father Rivera identified himself as Michael Carmello. He was driving a blue pickup truck. The police have not found any suspects with this name. A man with this name was located; however, he had an alibi and was ruled out. They also believe that at least two people were involved in the murder. The motive was not believed to be robbery, as only Father Rivera's last rites kit was taken. It is suspected that the kit was taken as a "souvenir" so that the killer could re-live the crime. It is believed that the killer wanted to "get back" at the Catholic Church for some sort of betrayal. The FBI created a psychological profile of the killer and also determined that the killer's motive was revenge. Fingerprints, palm prints, and hair samples were found in Father Rivera's car; they are believed to have belonged to the killer(s).
Police followed several leads in their initial investigation, but none turned up a viable suspect. One person investigated was a man who apparently stole a car from a bar owner in Grants, where Father Rivera's car was found. This occurred shortly after the murder. However, the man was found to be in an Albuquerque jail on the night of the murder and was ruled out.
Another initial suspect was a man who had been paroled just three days before the murder. He had been in and out of prison several times for robbery and drug-related offenses. After his release, he was supposed to go to a drug rehabilitation center, but he did not show up there. A palm print found on the victim's car was similar to the suspect's. He was also seen in Santa Fe on the day of the murder. However, he was ruled out after his fingerprints were found to not match those in the victim's car and two witnesses confirmed that he was with them on the night of the murder.
Two more suspects were Marcus Harris and his accomplice, who were involved in the 1982 murder of another priest, Reverend Donald Hamilton, from Arizona. However, they were also cleared of any involvement in Father Rivera's murder. James Ramos, the alleged killer of Father Patrick Ryan, was investigated and cleared when it was found that he was in Tennessee at the time of Father Rivera's murder. Yet another suspect allegedly robbed a church and threatened a clergyman in Utah; however, he was ruled out after it was discovered that he was not in New Mexico at the time of the murder.
Police have yet another suspect that they have yet to rule out. The man was connected to the crime by an anonymous tip. While serving time in a New York prison, he was questioned about Father Rivera's murder. He was known to be in New Mexico around the time of the murder; in fact, he flew in from New York on the day of the murder. He was involved in several burglaries and robberies while in Santa Fe. Interestingly, he previously had stolen a La Conquistadora statue from Father Rivera's cathedral. When he was arrested, he hoped that the Franciscans would ask for clemency for him. However, when they didn't, he allegedly stated that he would "get even" with the priests from the Santa Fe cathedral. The suspect also fits the psychological profile of the killer. However, police do not have enough evidence to connect him to the murder.
Extra Notes: This case first on the November 23, 1988 episode.
Some sources state that Father Rivera vanished on August 7.
Results: Unsolved. Police later found remains that were suspected of being Kerrigan's, but were later proven to be not. He remains missing and both cases remain a mystery. It is no longer believed that the cases are connected as Father Kerrigan was discovered to be on a list of priests allegedly involved in child molestation, although Kerrigan's guilt has not yet been confirmed. It is now believed that Kerrigan's murderer may have been a molestation victim or someone close to a victim, such as a blood relative. The motive for Father Rivera's murder has yet to be determined.
However, there has been some speculation that Father Rivera's murder may be connected to another Unsolved Mysteries case, an unidentified man called William L. Toomey who committed suicide in a Boise, Idaho church in 1982. Toomey has allegedly been connected to the murder of another priest, Father Patrick Ryan, although another man, James Ramos, was convicted in that case. However, police have failed to find convincing evidence that Toomey or Ramos participated in Father Rivera's murder.
- Father Reynaldo Rivera at Unsolved.com
- Rev. Rivera's body found (Part 1) (Part 2)
- Police at 'square 1' in search for killer
- Eulogy - "He lived for his God, for his people"
- Parolee isn't wanted in slaying
- Rivera killing still a mystery
- Police report new lead in slaying of priest
- Television show about priest slaying will air soon
- Clergyman's slaying remains a mystery
- Santa Fe's Unsolved Mystery (Part 1) (Part 2)
- Pueblo priests' murders recall other unsolved mysteries
- Similar murder remains unsolved after 15 years
- Mystery call a ruse for priest's murder
- Arresting Memories
- Victim Case Study - Reynaldo Rivera
- Reynaldo Rivera at Find a Grave