The Mysterious Murder of Father Reynaldo Rivera - Unsolved Mysteries

Two Catholics priests are connected by a violent and unexpected fate.

Fr. Reynaldo Rivera

His body was found in the desert

CASE DETAILS

The caller asked for a priest to say last rites

On the evening of August 7, 1982, a call was placed to the rectory of the St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The caller needed someone to administer last rites. Father Patrick Gerard was unable to leave the rectory and asked the caller to telephone again in fifteen minutes.  Exactly fifteen minutes later, the telephone rang again.  This time, Father Renaldo Rivera took the call.  The caller was insistent—he wanted a priest to come immediately to administer the last rites.  The man said his name was Michael Carmello.  According to Lieutenant Gilbert Ulibarri of the Santa Fe Police Department, Carmello was calling from a rest stop near Waldo, New Mexico:

“Father Rivera left that evening to meet someone at the rest stop in Santa Fe.  This was on a Thursday evening.  He was reported missing Thursday night.  Didn’t show up Friday.  There was a broadcast made that Father Rivera was missing.  Obviously, we had a location.  At least we knew it was Waldo, somewhere in that area, because the priest remembered Waldo, New Mexico.”

Rivera met the caller at a remote rest area

Three days after he vanished, Father Rivera’s body was found on a deserted road three miles from the rest stop.  At Father Rivera’s funeral, the entire city mourned.  Ordained Catholic priests vow to become servants of God and servants of their community.  Their door is always open.  But, as was the case in New Mexico, that very openness can also be exploited—especially by someone with diabolical intentions.

The night of the murder, the man calling himself Carmello was waiting for Father Rivera at the rest stop in a blue pick up truck.  Lieutenant Ulibarri has developed a theory of what happened next:

“The killers were probably waiting there for him.  When he arrived at the rest area,  they singled him out.  There’s no way one individual could handle Fr. Rivera or he would’ve give them a hard time.  So there had to be at least two people involved. And we know they had guns, obviously because he was shot, so I’m sure they controlled him with that weapon.  But there had to be two people involved to subdue him because he was a very strong individual.”

Police believe Rivera was taken at gun point

Lieutenant Ulibarri believed the killers took Father Rivera to a remote desert area:

“He was not killed where he was found.  They drove to a location, threw him on the ground and left.  They could’ve hid him anywhere in that Waldo area and there are several places in Waldo where you can kind of hide a body and you’d never find it.  So obviously, they wanted him to be found.”

According to Lieutenant Ulibarri, the killers returned to the rest stop after the crime to remove Father Rivera’s car:

“His vehicle was found at a rest area just east of Grants, New Mexico, which is about two hours from Santa Fe.  There was no physical evidence found in the vehicle.  We didn’t find any fingerprints.  There were no bloodstains, nothing to indicate that someone had even driven the car.  It had been wiped clean.”

Lieutenant Ulibarri had few clues and after a nationwide check, he found no suspects named Michael Carmello:

“As far as motive, Father Rivera was not the target.  A Catholic priest was a target, for whatever reason.  Robbery was not a motive because there was nothing taken from the priest, other than his last rites kit.  And that’s a possibility for a souvenir.  Apparently the killer would like to relive the experience, every time he looks at it, he remembers killing a priest.”

Two years later, on August 8, 1984, in Ronan, Montana, another priest mysteriously disappeared.  Father John Kerrigan was new to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Ronan.  He had only been there four days before he too vanished.  At 11 PM on the night he disappeared, Father John Kerrigan went to a bakery across the street from the church to chat with his parishioners.  After a few minutes, he was returning home to go to bed.  But he was never seen again.  According to Detective Sergeant Bruce Phillips of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, the next day a passerby discovered a pile of bloody clothes at a turnout along the highway that circles nearby Flathead Lake:

“After we realized that they were Father Kerrigan’s, we did a search of that area. A bloody coat hanger was found close to the clothing.  We concluded that the coat hanger was used to tie someone up, could have been used to strangle someone, but it definitely is connected to the clothing.  And it wasn’t just a hanger laying there.  It had been deformed and definitely used for some purpose.”

A week later, Detective Sergeant Phillips found Father Kerrigan’s car five miles from the area where his clothes had been discovered:

“We know that car sat there for approximately a week before it came to our attention.  We did a thorough search of that area and we found the keys lying in tall grass.  There was blood on the front seat, in the right door, and on the right floor board.  We found a shovel in the trunk with blood on it.  We found a pillow in the trunk with blood on it.  There was also blood splattered inside the trunk.”

Detective Sergeant Phillips also found Kerrigan’s wallet, which contained more than a thousand dollars in cash:

“The money was not hidden, so we don’t feel that robbery was a motive for this particular crime.”

When Lieutenant Ulibarri learned of Father Kerrigan’s disappearance, he flew to Ronan to investigate the similarities between the two cases:

“In both cases the killer wanted people to know I killed a priest, and here’s the evidence to show I killed him. I still strongly believe that whoever killed Father Rivera was involved with Father Kerrigan.”

There are other similarities also.  Both victims’ cars were driven away from the crime scene and both were wiped clean of all fingerprints and evidence.  A metal coat hanger was found near Father Kerrigan’s clothes, and there was evidence a coat hanger was used in Father Rivera’s murder.  In both cases, robbery was not a motive, and perhaps most significantly, both priests belonged to the select Order of Franciscans.


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season one with Robert Stack and season eight with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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7 Comments

  1. RF

    It is my opinion that the perpetrator of these crimes is Curtis Holmen. I base this on the following. Curtis Holmen disappeared just a couple of days after Father Kerrigan in the same mountain range just south east of Flathead lake MT.. Holmen was known to drive a mid 70’s blue Toyota Pickup truck which is a suspect vehicle in the murder of Father Rivera. Holmen was at the very least a closeted bi-sexual, and Holmen was known to have been an alter-boy in the Catholic Church and evidence appears to point to the fact that both Holmen and Father Kerrigan may have been at the same church during the years when Holmen could have been abused by Kerrigan. It should also be noted that Father Kerrigan was assigned to a retreat in New Mexico and just an 1 1/2 drive from the cathedral where father Rivera was assigned and both priests came from the order of Franciscans. It seems highly unlikely that these two priests wouldn’t have been at the least acquaintances considering the unique nature of the Catholic Church and it’s priests and leaders..

    Reply

  2. Anona Mouse

    It does seem pretty obvious to me. I would find the link between the priests. They always say that the first one or two is usually ‘close to home’. Dig as far as you can into these murders and then find the link. Since this episode was played, we all now know the horrible secrets the church hid. Considering the killer(s) didn’t take the money, it was definitely personal. Bet if you dug into the priests past, you will find some skeletons in their closet. Also, isn’t one of the typical hook ups rest stops? I don’t know if that is hearsay, just saying. I find it odd that they can’t find this guy(s). Surely it wouldn’t take too much research and detective work. Also, can’t they do DNA testing on the bloody clothes and bloody hangar? Anyway, just my thoughts.

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  3. Anonymous

    Just a theory, but maybe they should look for a disgruntled alter boy… did the priests at one time serve at the same church? If so where there any alter boys there at the same time? Maybe they were molested…just my opinion

    Reply

  4. Anonymous

    Your killers motive may be, he was molested as a kid by priests. Just a thought.

    Reply

  5. Anonymous

    I do genealogy, found a Michael Carmello in Ajo Arizona possibly on and Indian Reservation,, also in Phoenix

    Reply

  6. kitty

    Perhaps crimes were confessed to the priests in a weak moment. Sins that might be exposed were maybe silenced.

    Reply

  7. James Harry Reyos

    Other strange and unsolved priest murders occurred in the early 1980s. Google “Father Patrick Ryan, Odessa, TX”; ” Father Benjamin Carrier, Yuma, AZ”. The Boise John Doe, who committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule, is strongly suspected of being linked to these murders (including Father Reynaldo Rivera). Also, Google “Did the Cyanide Stranger Murder Father Ryan?” and “Father Benjamin J. Carrier’s murder remains unsolved” . I was wrongfully convicted of Father Patrick Ryan’s murder. Today I still profess my complete and ACTUAL innocence. I know in my heart — I DID NOT kill Father Patrick Ryan!!! JAMES HARRY REYOS.

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6.1 We may use your IP address to administer our Website, to help diagnose problems with our server, to analyze trends, to track users’ webpage movements, to help identify you and your shopping cart, and to gather broad demographic information for aggregate use.

ARTICLE 7. Cookies
7.1 This Website may use a standard technology called a “cookie” to collect information about how you use the Website. Cookies reside on your computer and help our Website to recognize your computer’s browser as a previous visitor. This information allows us to customize delivery of information. For example, our Website may use cookies to save and remember registration information or preferences that you may have set while browsing the Website, to keep track of your shopping cart, to ensure you don’t see the same ad content repeatedly, to deliver content specific to your interests, and to save your password so you do not have to re-enter it each time you visit our site. We use cookies only to gather information as indicated in this policy.

7.2 In addition, on occasion our site may also set a “session cookie” which helps us administer the Website. The session cookie expires when you close your browser and does not retain any information about you after it expires.

7.3 Finally, we may also use an ad network provider to help present advertisements on this and other Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. websites. This ad network provider, like other advertising service vendors, uses cookies, web beacons, or similar technologies on the hard drive of your computer to serve you advertisements tailored to interests you have shown by browsing on this and other sites you have visited, and to determine whether you have seen a particular advertisement before and to avoid sending you duplicate advertisements. In doing so, the provider collects non-personal data such as your browser type, your operating system, web pages visited, time of visits, content viewed, ads viewed, and other clickstream data. The use of cookies, web beacons, or similar technologies by these ad network providers is subject to their own privacy policies, not ours, and Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. assumes no responsibility for the collection or use of such information.

ARTICLE 8. Banner Advertising
8.1 We have contracted with an ad-service to place banner advertising on our Website. All of the data provided and generated by the ad-server software remains in our possession. This feature of our Website may, on occasion, set “cookies” on your computer. Any information collected or stored by the ad-service or the cookies is treated in the same manner as other information described in this statement.

ARTICLE 9. Children’s Personal Information
9.1 Consistent with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act:

9.1.1 This site does NOT collect, use, or disclose personal information (including online contact information) of children under the age of thirteen (13).

9.1.2 In the event that a child under the age of 13 attempts to register on our site, we will NOT accept the registration and will delete information received from the child.

9.1.3 In the event that a child posts personal information in a public forum such as a chat room, we will attempt to delete that information once we become aware of it.

ARTICLE 10. Security of Your Personal Information
10.1 Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. employs reasonable security measures consistent with standard industry practice, for information collected through this Website. We believe that we have adequate security measures in place in our physical facilities to protect against the loss, misuse, or alteration of the information we collect on our Website. We also use internal protections to limit access to users’ personal information to only those employees who need the information to perform a specific job.

ARTICLE 11. Sale or Merger
11.1 If this Website is sold to, or merges with, another company not owned by Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc., you should expect that some or all of the information collected from this Website may be transferred to the buyer/surviving company. If so, CMP will seek to obligate the acquiring company to use any personal information transferred by this Website in a manner consistent with this statement, but cannot guarantee that it will be able to impose that requirement or that the acquiring company will comply.

ARTICLE 12. Legal Process
12.1 You should be aware that Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. may be required to disclose your personal information to the government or third parties under certain circumstances, such as in court or regulatory proceedings.

ARTICLE 13.  Contacting the Website

13.1        If you have any questions about this Privacy Statement, the practices of this Website, or your dealings with this Website, please contact us at: unsolved@unsolved.com.

ARTICLE 14.  general information

14.1        Choice of Law:  This Agreement and the Additional Terms shall be governed by, construed and enforced in accordance with the laws of the State of California , as it is applied to agreements entered into and to be performed entirely within such state, without regard to conflict of law principles.

14.2        Choice of Forum:  You agree that any cause of action you or Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. brings to enforce this Agreement and/or the Additional Terms, or in connection with any matters related to this Website and/or the Privacy Statement, shall be submitted to arbitration in the County of Los Angeles, State of California, United States of America in accordance with the commercial rules and regulations of the American Arbitration Association then in effect (as amended herein), provided that said arbitration shall be heard before a single arbitrator, who shall be a retired judge, selected pursuant to such rules and regulations, and shall be conducted on an expedited basis and in confidence. The arbitrator’s decision shall be controlled by the terms and conditions of this agreement and any other agreements I may enter into with you, and shall be final and binding, and shall provide for each party to bear its own costs of arbitration and attorneys’ fees.  Each party expressly waives any right to a jury.  Judgment upon the award of the arbitrator may be entered or enforced in any court of competent jurisdiction. 

14.4        If any provision of this Agreement, or the application thereof to any person or circumstances, is held invalid or for any reason unenforceable then such provision shall be deemed superseded by a valid, enforceable provision that matches, as closely as possible, the original provision, and the other provisions of this Agreement shall remain in full force and effect.  The failure of either party to insist upon strict performance of any provision of this Agreement shall not be construed as a waiver of any provision or right.  Unless expressly provided otherwise, this Agreement is the entire agreement between you and Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. with respect to the use of this Website and shall not be modified except in writing, signed by an authorized representative of Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc.

ARTICLE 15.  European Union and Other Foreign Nations

15.1        This Website is governed by and operated in accordance with the laws of United States of America and is intended for enjoyment of residents of the United States.  Cosgrove Meurer Productions, Inc. makes no representation that this Website is governed by or operated in accordance with the laws of other nations.  By using this Website and submitting any personal information, visitors from outside of the United States acknowledge this Website is subject to U.S. law, consent to the transfer of personal data to the U.S., and waive any claims that may arise under their own national laws.