By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo came back to Miami last year in a plain, gray casket with a crucifix on the lid. When he arrived, his 179-pound body underwent an autopsy - its second - during which Dade County medical examiners noted the sixteen bullet holes in the head, face, and torso, and the several peculiar tattoos.
Constanzo's career as a devil-worshipping cult leader fizzled in a shoot-out with police in Mexico City on May 6, 1989. But his life spawned legends, ghost stories, and at least three volumes of hastily written bloodbath journalism; his death rocketed the 25-year-old ghoul to number one among the infamous dead who have come to rest in the graveyards of the greater Miami metropolitan area. At the time of his demise, Constanzo was wanted in connection with the ritual killings of at least fifteen people. Near a lonesome desert ranch house outside Matamoros, Mexico, investigators from both sides of the border uncovered dismembered bodies, human and animal skulls, and satanic iconography - Constanzo's handiwork.
By itself, the 1500-mile journey of Constanzo's corpse was nothing unusual. In death, as in life, South Floridians are a transient lot. The remains of one out of every six people who die in Dade are removed from the state. Al Capone was embalmed in Miami Beach in 1947, but took the train to Chicago for burial. Nicanor Navarro, a jockey struck by lightning after a bad showing in the second race at Calder Race Course two days after Christmas 1978, was shipped back to his native Panama. Anton Uibopuu, a celibate Hare Krishna who had accidentally hanged himself from a ficus tree that same year, returned to his family in New Jersey. (Uibopuu is among two dozen in Dade who have died by autoerotic asphyxiation in the past three decades.) Prince Thamer Bin Abdul Aziz, a despondent member of Saudi Arabian royalty, was flown to Riyadh, dead, the day after setting himself on fire in a Miami motel room in June 1957. Albert Brust, one of Florida's most gruesome crime figures, murdered, raped, tortured, and entombed one victim in a cement-filled bathtub. Brust committed suicide in 1973, by mixing a glass of chocolate milk and cyanide and repairing to the chaise longue in his sunny South Dade back yard. His ashes were buried in an urn in Franklin Square, NY.
In Dade County in 1988, the latest year for which figures have been tallied, 19,475 people died. More than 4000 of those corpses were cremated. Eight went to their graves unidentified, and no one has yet discovered who they are. Two were buried at sea. Sixty-three people donated their bodies to science, had them frozen in cryogenic institutes, or stored them "for sentimental reasons," according to Florida's bureau of vital statistics. Of those buried here, 797 adults and children were too poor to afford a funeral, and wound up in the newest of the county's two potter's fields - a fenced acre of unmarked graves in a corner of Kendall Indian Hammocks Park.
Indeed, some of Dade's deceased seem to consider it a form of punishment to be buried here. Despite the best efforts of groundskeepers at more than a score of cemeteries, Dade's boneyards are relentlessly flat and shadeless. The county's seaside location and sandy soil have always conjured up fears of undesired disinterment by hurricane. Grave robberies, though underreported, are more common here than in many other American cities. "Under no circumstances is my body to be returned to Brooklyn," wrote Dante Contessa before gunning down his sweetheart, Sophia Chadwick, in a Miami Shores trailer park in 1960. "I do not wish for a decent funeral. If the army does not bury me, please just put me in potter's field."
Unlike Paris or Boston, Miami's dead are far outnumbered by the living. But there should be no scarcity of ghosts here on All Hallows Eve. From Hialeah to Homestead, some of the meanest, unluckiest, prematurely deceased folks in the world lie in wait. Zigzagging from south to north across Dade's sprawling, sunbaked necropolis, here's where to find them:
Miami Memorial Park, 6200 SW 77th Ave., South Miami, across the street from Tropical Park
After shooting himself in the head, Dante Contessa wound up here, along with 31,958 other people. They've been pouring in since 1925, when the developers of Miami Memorial ran a full-page newspaper ad pitching the graveyard's "beautifully laid out evergreen lawns and shrubs, stately and dignified buildings in quiet, restful, towering trees and bushes, shaded paths and winding roadways." Drawing on the land boom of the time, Miami Memorial confidently described itself as the progressive place for the postmortem smart set: "In this great history making Magic City, with its hundreds of subdivisions and talk of subdivisions, in all this hustle and bustle, there is but one association taking into consideration the fact that the hundreds of people who are coming to Miami to make their homes will some day pass on to eternal rest. Let our courteous salesmen call on you and explain the Miami Memorial Park in detail."
No salesman got a chance to explain it to Schubert Darmon Lee. The only known suicide-by-snakebite in Dade history, he lies in an unmarked grave in the southwest corner of the cemetery. At the time of his death in May 1964, Lee, the son of two-time Miami City Manager L.L. Lee, was engaged to be married. As the wedding day approached, the groom-to-be fell into a funk, depressed because he couldn't afford a nice house for his bride. All day long on May 20, he sat in his tiny Coconut Grove cottage, moping and staring at the burlap bags that held his collection of pet snakes - several water moccasins and a four-foot-long Pakistani cobra. Sometime after midnight and a few cocktails, Lee thrust his left hand into the cobra bag. Ouch. By a strange, telepathic twist of fate, his fiancee, Florence Gutierrez, thought she heard him calling her name from twenty miles away. She rushed to the cottage, dragged the semiconscious Lee into her car and drove to the hospital. But despite antivenin supplied by friends at the Miami Serpentarium, Lee died. Back-from-the-dead potential: Low. Lee got what he was after.