By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
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.
Eggs, milk, sardines, and peppers - the totality of his diet for the last years of his life - finally caught up with Edward Leedskalnin. Dade's most productive and best-known eccentric is laid to rest in section B, lot 1886, grave 5, just south of the east mausoleum, 50 yards from the Palmetto Expressway, beneath a live oak tree and a new granite marker donated five months ago by some of his fans. "Born in Latvia. Creator of Coral Castle," reads the marker, embellished with bas-relief orchid blossoms.
Leedskalnin died from malnutrition on Pearl Harbor Day 1951, after having spent his life experimenting with magnetism, writing bizarre essays about politics and morality, and quarrying 1000 tons of rock to build his Coral Castle at the intersection of U.S. 1 and SW 286th Street. How Leedskalnin, a skinny, five-foot-tall recluse who worked alone and at night, accomplished this engineering feat is a bona fide mystery. His motivation is only slightly less murky. Legend has it that before leaving Latvia for the United States in 1918, Leedskalnin was jilted by his sixteen-year-old fiancee, Agnes Scuffs. The teen-age betrayal led him to an obsession with sexual purity, which helps explain his superhuman energy and determination. "A girl is to a fellow the best thing in this world, but to have the best one second hand, it is humiliating," he wrote in his essay "Ed's Sweet Sixteen."
Leedskalnin may or may not be rolling over in his grave. His former home is now a privately owned national historical site that yanks $7.25 apiece from thousands of tourists each year, and conducts a "psychic fair" the fourth Saturday of every month. So far Leedskalnin's ghost hasn't put in an appearance at the fair, staffers say. Back-from-the-dead potential: Extremely high. Leedskalnin said he could do anything he set his mind to, and he hated being underestimated. Plus, he may now regret having died a virgin.
Don't leave Miami Memorial without asking for the date and time of the next party. Gypsy tradition calls for a lively relationship with the dead, and caretakers say there are more Gypsies buried here than anywhere else in Dade. "They believe you should talk to the dead," a cemetery worker says. "The last time they had a cookout here, they came by the office to invite me. This woman said, `My husband wants you to eat lobster with us.' They have a party and they dance and sing. They drink like crazy. That's the only time this job is really fun."
Pinelawn Memorial Park (formerly Paradise Memorial Gardens), 13900 SW 117th Ave., Richmond Heights, just north of Metrozoo
It was the sort of police sting operation that might have caused a riot in Miami today. In 1956, though, it was more like business as usual. "The killing by a deputy sheriff of a Negro who reduced a White woman to a state of hysteria by daily telephone threats was ruled justifiable homicide today," the Miami News reported. The woman, whose name was never revealed, had been receiving naughty phone calls from a mystery man. Finally the caller requested a face-to-face meeting. The woman drove to a lonely spot in Richmond Heights, with officer Bruce Berry hiding in the back seat of her car. Robert Lee Manuel drove past and blinked his lights. A few minutes later he was dead, brought down by a double blast from Berry's shotgun. The officer later said Manuel tried to flee, then jumped out of his car and charged. There were no other witnesses. Back-from-the-dead potential: High. Manuel never got to tell his side of the story. And he never got to see the child his wife was carrying at the time of his death.
Pinelawn's 22 acres were fairly peaceful until the state department of transportation constructed Florida's Turnpike on its western edge. Now the noise of the traffic is loud enough to wake the dead. Ownership has changed hands twice in recent years. The latest proprietor, the aptly named Osiris Holding Co. of Philadelphia, hopes to spruce up Pinelawn and diversify the ethnicity of the dead buried here. Until lately the population has been, like the subdivision the graveyard served since the 1940s, mostly black. "We are going to invest a lot of money down here," says cemetery manager Juan Ramos. "It has been neglected for a long time."
A year after the six-lane freeway was finished, John Lee West moved into Pinelawn. On the afternoon of July 25, 1975, West and two other Metro garbage men arrived at the last house on Northwest 97th Street. The driver stopped the truck, and West and another man jumped off. All at once a snarling Great Dane appeared from behind the house. The guard dog's temper was not improved when West's partner hit it in the head with a trash can. West, who was petrified of dogs, jumped onto the slime-covered lip of the garbage truck, lost his balance, and fell into the trash bin. An emergency shutoff switch apparently failed, investigators later said, and while his fellow workers watched aghast, the compacting mechanism crushed West to death. Back-from-the-dead potential: High. You know those split-second decisions you make that you wish you had a chance to make over again?
Palms Memorial Park, 27100 Old Dixie Highway, Naranja, just off U.S. 1
Before heading north, visit Palms Memorial, the southernmost of Dade's major graveyards. The A-frame office building gives the place the look of a KOA Kampground, but it's actually less commercialized than most cemeteries. In an era when large corporations are buying into the death business across South Florida, Palms Memorial, founded in 1912, remains in private hands, its homey atmosphere enhanced by the fact that the place has become quieter since U.S. 1 replaced Old Dixie Highway as the main traffic artery and the freight trains stopped running past the eastern edge of the cemetery. Grave markers at Palms Memorial bear the names of many of the Homestead area's pioneers - Mowrys, Kings, Campbells, and Birds, to list a few. "We also have a high percentage of young people here," says cemetery manager Ray Fuque sadly. "There's something about Southwest Dade. Lots of suicides, murders, and accidents. I knew a lot of the folks buried here."
Emory Brannen was not a South Dade pioneer, but he was inquisitive. He worked at the Princeton Farm Packing House in Florida City. One rainy morning in 1957, he came to work and found an artillery shell in a warehouse. The 30-year-old Brannen carried the giant bullet out into the rain and proceeded to beat on it with a pipe. "Maybe he was trying to get the shell loose from the casing," suggests Bill Edwards, who runs a military surplus store a few miles north of the graveyard on U.S. 1. "But to beat on the back of an artillery shell would be sheer stupidity." To keep a short story short, the shell blew up and sent a fragment of steel through Brannen's heart. Brannen is buried in an unmarked grave, plot M-99, not far from Stephen King (apparently no relation to the best-selling author of horror fiction). Back-from-the-dead potential: Low. Brannen was a nice guy, possibly poltergeist material, but not likely to engage in full-blown devilment. Embarrassment also figures into the equation.
Charlotte Jane Memorial Cemetery, Douglas Road and Franklin Avenue, Coconut Grove
"You wanna hear a good graveyard tale?" asks Dr. Charles Wetli, Dade's deputy assistant medical examiner. "Come with me." Wetli, an expert in Afro-Caribbean cults, walks to a collection of knickknacks at the back of his office. There he keeps the charred tennis shoes of a burglar who was zapped after breaking into a power plant, as well as a six-inch hunting knife with alternating red, yellow, and black handle.
The knife turned up one full-moon night in April 1983, in the crowded annex of Charlotte Jane Memorial, one of Miami's oldest and most-neglected graveyards. Wetli investigated the scene and wrote a report: "Just inside and to the right of the gate is a brown paper bag with numerous flies swarming about it. Emptying its contents revealed a decapitated chicken with black and white feathers. The gravesite in question is the seventh from the gate. The adjacent vault has markings on it indicative that the vault cover of Louise Cooper has been moved and placed upon it temporarily. The top half of the casket was opened by myself, and inspection of the remains disclosed the head had been stolen. On the floor of the vault was found a hunting knife with a partially rusted blade.
"It is the impression of this observer that the grave robbing is linked to the Santeria religion and most probably the palo mayombe cult," Wetli added. "The symbolism of the decapitated black and white chicken near the gate is that of Eleggua and the colors are that of Oggun. The knife discovered on the floor of the vault is symbolic of Oggun, and the black and red stripes on either end of the handle of the knife are typical of Eleggua. The gravesite chosen was the seventh one in from the gate, and the number seven in the Santeria religion frequently symbolizes the Seven African Powers. The exact reason for stealing the head is obscure." Grave robberies aren't that common in Dade, insists Wetli. Maybe. "From what we can tell, there aren't that many. But look at it this way - if you owned a cemetery, would you report it? It's an easy crime to cover up. Literally."
Louise Cooper, a long-time Coconut Grove resident and mother of nine who in life did her own dentistry and suffered the loss of her legs from diabetes, died in 1977 at the age of 73. Back-from-the-dead potential: High. Only Louise Cooper knows who took her head. And anyone who can raise nine kids and perform oral surgery on herself knows something about will power.
Flagler Memorial Park. 5301 W. Flagler St., just south of Blue Lagoon Lake and State Road 836
In divorcing her husband in 1950, Betty Jane Maxwell noted that Clifton Springmyer "devoted practically every waking moment to the furtherance of his profession." The naturopathic doctor, his brother noted, "worked sixteen or eighteen hours a day. I was always after him to relax a little, but he would never let up." So it was that Springmyer was working late at his clinic the night of June 24, 1952, and became an object lesson for type-A personalities. Why small-time mobster Joseph Albert burst through the door and killed the doctor with a handgun never became clear. Three years later the killer himself was shot to death by Richard Svoboda after Svoboda came home and found Albert making love to his wife, described by then-Miami Herald reporter Al Neuharth as "a pert, saucy brunette."
The two murder victims, one responsible for the other's death, are buried on opposite sides of Flagler Memorial, once a sort of low-rent alternative to nearby Woodlawn Park Cemetery. The years have been kind to Flagler. The layout is tasteful, the grounds are well kept, parking is plentiful, separate burial gardens have been provided for Elks and Masons, and the Mediterranean architecture of the office buildings is charming.
"Would an electrician use his trade to kill his wife?" asked defense attorney James Gilmour. "It's like leaving your business card on a body!" But the jury disagreed, and Joseph Roth got life in prison. His wife, Barbara Ann Roth, wound up at Flagler Memorial. When the cops arrived at the Roth home in Southwest Dade on March 20, 1975, they found Barbara Roth, described by friends as "a pill freak," surrounded by prescription medicine bottles. Joe Roth said he had awakened at 3:00 a.m. and heard his wife screaming. He went to the bathroom, where he found her vomiting. He hadn't reported the death for four days, he said, because he thought suicide victims couldn't get a Catholic burial.
But Joe Roth couldn't explain the burn marks on his wife's wrist and ankle. Roth and his most recent girlfriend had taken out a life insurance policy on his wife shortly before Mrs. Roth's death, prosecution witnesses testified. The medical examiner said he thought Joe Roth had attached wires to his wife's extremities and killed her with a 60-second jolt of electricity from the wall socket. Lights out. Back-from-the-dead potential: High, in all four cases. Flagler Memorial has real potential for Halloween action. Barbara Roth, though not a suicide, never did get her Catholic funeral. And before she left this world, she threatened to "take Joe with her" if she died. Joe should be a worried man. As for Dr. Clifton Springmyer, he has to travel only 100 yards to get hold of his murderer.
Graceland Memorial Park, 4420 SW Eighth St.
Like Pinelawn, Graceland has recently been purchased by Osiris Holding Co. of Philadelphia. That's probably a good thing. Squeezed in between Flagler Memorial and Woodlawn, this may be Dade's most nondescript boneyard, one of its many defects being an absence of plot markers. You could spend half an hour looking for the grave of Daniel Garcia, Jr., a 31-year-old insurance salesman who took a wrong turn on North River Drive one rainy night in 1977, and drove his car down a boat ramp into the Miami River. Garcia had just purchased a brand-new Mercury Cougar, and apparently was quite tickled with it. The car's standard features included automatic antitheft door locks. When the Cougar hit the water, the electrical system shorted out, leaving the door handles and locks inoperable. "He died while trying to get out of the car," a medical examiner noted. "Evidence of this is that he bent the door handle outward nearly 90 degrees." Back-from-the-dead potential: Moderate. Certain Ford Motor Co. engineers might want to lie low.
Woodlawn Park Cemetery, 3260 SW Eighth St.
Woodlawn's wealth of history and fastidiously kept grounds have been extolled by well-known writers, including author Joan Didion and poet Theodore Roethke. It's the Coral Gables of Dade graveyards. A shady, vine-draped portico leads the visitor to a plush, lamplit lobby, where three kinds of credit cards are accepted and smoking is not discouraged. Ruben Nieves, accidentally crushed to death in a cement mixer, is a resident. So are father-and-son gangsters Ronald and David Yaras, the younger murdered by gangland enemies weeks after the death, by natural causes, of the elder. Angeline Peters was cremated here, having shot herself after killing her lover, Miami Beach socialite George C. Clarke, as he sat on the toilet. Three former presidents of Cuba were laid to rest at Woodlawn. So was Anastasio Somoza, the former Nicaraguan dictator.
The cost of burial or entombment at Woodlawn can run into five figures, but that doesn't discourage folks any more than the high price of Coral Gables real estate. "We're swamped," says Richard Medina, director of sales-recruitment and training. "We have 100 salesmen working on fourteen-percent commission, and we can't keep up with the demand. This business is recession-proof," he adds. "People have to pay the price, no matter how high it goes. I consider burial like a utility, like running water or electricity. You gotta have it."
What's most stunning about Woodlawn is its mausoleum, a vast, three-story maze that spreads through seventeen interlocking marble buildings filled with private chambers, tiny chapels, statues, and stained glass. Despite the fact that workers are constructing an eighteenth wing, the mausoleum is eerily quiet. Occasionally one hears the gentle paddings of the staff - small, respectful men in white khaki pants, white T-shirts, and white tennis shoes, who resemble angels and spend their days polishing the acres of white marble. Back-from-the-dead potential: Zero. The management wouldn't stand for it.
City of Miami Cemetery, NE Second Avenue at Eighteenth Street
Big, brawny John Rebar was the kind of guy you hope your sister doesn't marry, especially if you have to live with him, too. The sister of James Hamilton III did marry Rebar, and James Hamilton III, a wearer of horn-rimmed glasses and a raiser of ornamental plants, was a witness to their persistent nuptial bickering. Hamilton's job, secretary to the administrative assistant to the Dade school board superintendent, didn't pay enough for him to rent his own apartment. When Rebar lost his job with Dade's sheriff's department, he took to drinking, and hit Hamilton's sister. Big mistake. One night in October 1957, Hamilton surprised Rebar in his sleep and hit him in the head with a sledgehammer. More than once.
Rebar is buried in the American Legion section of Miami Cemetery. Hamilton escaped the electric chair but got twenty years at hard labor, later reduced to five on appeal. "It isn't fair," Hamilton's widowed sister said after the sentence was handed down. "They don't know what a rotten thing John was." Back-from-the-dead potential: High. By all accounts Rebar was a mean, vindictive bully and never let anyone have the last word. And Hamilton, long since out of prison, lives within walking distance of the cemetery.
The City of Miami Cemetery is Dade's oldest, shadiest, and most picturesque graveyard, and also the one closest to breezy Biscayne Bay. Tombstone design, a dying art, is in its full glory here: grave markers in the shape of logs, grave markers in the shape of tiny lambs, grave markers in the shape of pineapples, tremendous, black-granite balls atop Corinthian columns, lifelike busts, intricate monuments, mausoleums with porches and benches, and witty epitaphs. Dr. Paul George, a local historian, gives occasional guided tours of the cemetery, pointing out the graves of Civil War soldiers, the Burdine crypt, the separate Jewish cemetery within the main graveyard, and the final resting place of Miami's founder, Julia Tuttle.
For years the cemetery has also been a favored sleeping spot for people who have nowhere else to sleep, as well as a short cut between North Miami and Second avenues. Despite the presence of an elderly caretaker and his guard dog, after dark the cemetery can be a dangerous place. For Lovina Peggy Pritchard, it was fatal. In January 1974 she was raped, robbed, and beaten to death near the south fence. As many as a dozen people saw her nude body lying amid the headstones, but didn't bother to investigate. "They thought it was a fairly normal thing," a police sergeant suggested at the time. "They often see drunks lying in the cemetery. I guess it's an indication again of the mores of our society." Pritchard, whose murder remains unsolved, is buried at Vista Memorial Gardens in Northwest Dade. Back-from-the-dead potential: Extremely high, for all of Miami Cemetery. Despite the nature of their business, few graveyards have actually witnessed a murder.
Lincoln and Evergreen Memorial parks, 3001 NW 46th St., just north of Miami International Airport and State Road 112
Blacks used to be buried at the back of the City of Miami Cemetery. To save space, they were dug up and moved here. More bodies were moved in from a Lemon City graveyard to make room for a road project. The dead at Lincoln and Evergreen include Artemus Brown, the first blacksmith in Miami; Kelsey Pharr, a former ambassador to Liberia and Miami's first black funeral director; H.E.S. Reeves, father of the current publisher of the Miami Times; Elliot Pieze, a local black radio personality; and D.A. Dorsey, Dade's first black millionaire.
Lincoln, which is still open for business, and Evergreen, now closed, are separated by two residential blocks. Each holds about twenty acres of chipped vaults, set half-above and half-below ground in the New Orleans style. The roots of giant rubber trees have disinterred more than a few of the residents. From the office, crammed with two Coke machines and a half-dozen caskets, to the rows of vaults along the graveyard's narrow, sandy trails outside, space is tight. "You, as a layman, can't see where there's room, but we, as professionals, can," says manager Ellen Johnson.
In life, most of the residents of both cemeteries were poor. Today you can still get planted at Lincoln for as low as $600. "This cemetery is a sort of stopgap between potter's field and some of the more upscale graveyards," Johnson says. "They are dying to get in." On the other hand, she complains about the growing popularity of cremation in the black community, a trend she blames on the Republican administration in Washington. Desegregation in the Sixties, she says, also cut into revenues at what was once Miami's only black graveyard. Although there are several black-owned funeral homes in Dade, Lincoln is still the only minority-owned-and-operated cemetery in the county.
Across the street from Lincoln's gate, a perpetual dice game is in progress, punctuated by loud arguments. Milton Facen would appreciate that. Before moving into Lincoln, Facen had a fascination with dice and lottery tickets, and a rap sheet as long as his gangly arms. In July 1977, Facen was rolling the bones at Tiny's Bar, five blocks from the cemetery. The game broke up after he pulled out a gun and shot James Walter Dukes in the face, knocking him off his crutches. While Facen was out on bond that December awaiting his murder trial, he got into a dice game on the sidewalk in front of his house. One player left, returned with a gun, and shot Facen in the chest. Game over. Back-from-the-dead potential: Extremely high. From Facen's gravesite, if you listen hard and the breeze doesn't blow, you can hear the click of the ivories across Northwest 46th Street.
Dade Memorial and Mount Sinai parks. 1301 Opa-locka Blvd., just off Interstate 95
You may have seen Lazaro Laurencio Alvarez's face on the Post Office wall. If you did, and you perused the wanted poster, you know that "the suspect is an admitted homosexual, a believer in voodoo, and almost always wears a red shirt." Metro detectives finally caught up with Laurencio at the Franklin Correctional Facility in New York, not far from the Canadian border, where he was serving time for weapons possession, under his brother's name. They charged him with killing his roommate when the pair lived together in Hialeah in 1984. Lazaro's brother, Angel Laurencio Alvarez, is buried at Dade Memorial, about twenty yards south of a live oak in section F, just inside the main gate.
Lazaro had used his brother's name before, when he was arrested here in May 1983. Around dawn, a patrolman saw a red-shirted man walking out of the graveyard, clutching a pickax, a dead turtle, and a paper bag full of hair. A human skull fell out from under his T-shirt. He had intended to dig up his brother's remains for transport to Cuba, Lazaro explained to the authorities, but in a drug-addled state had accidentally disinterred Dolores Lopez and cut off her head. "I was so nervous I dug up the wrong one," Laurencio said. "This has nothing to do with Santeria." Police returned the head to its owner. Actually, Lopez's grave is remarkably similar to Angel Laurencio's, and only a few feet away. Considering it was dark, and Lazaro was stoned and illiterate, he might have made an honest mistake.
At the other end of this large, flat, and exceedingly ugly cemetery is the grave of Theodore Marginean, a Romanian immigrant who beat his wife to death with an ax in 1964, then committed suicide with a straight razor. The sheer bloodiness of his deed is matched only by the fate of Rafael Toledo Susi, who is buried at Mount Sinai Park, which abuts Dade Memorial to the north. Susi fell in love with a Dutch waiter named Bauke Geerstma in Miami Beach, and in 1967 followed him to New York City. In 1971 Susi returned from the Big Apple on a Greyhound bus - in four suitcases, in five pieces. The baggage was insured for $500 and listed "Glenn Miller" as the return addressee. Police found Susi's ring finger in Geerstma's apartment in New York. Back-from-the-dead potential: High. Both Marginean and Susi have the makings of very scary ghouls.
Vista Memorial Gardens, 14200 NW 57th Ave., Miami Lakes
From the Fred Flintstone architecture of the office building to the two-story mausoleums (each with balconies, and each named after a different type of fowl) to the multicolored-plastic cremation-urn viewing nook, swampy, sunbaked Vista Memorial is totally tacky. A huge sign advertises the graveyard to passing motorists on noisy Red Road. The on-site funeral parlor is equipped with a souped-up van with "Vista" emblazoned across it in red racing letters. The Diamond Benevolence Knights of Pythios vault, a memorial in marble, chrome, glass, black-lacquered steel, and pink, black, and white granite is a sight to behold.
Frank Garofalo was drinking at the Post Inn one hot Hialeah night in 1962, just before taking the trip to Vista. "This beer tastes like kerosene," he mused aloud, so the bartender gave him another. By and by, Garofalo had to be helped into a taxi. He ordered the driver to take him to the hospital. He arrived dead. His demise is a cautionary tale for tenants, one that will confirm all their worst suspicions about landlords. Garofalo, late with his rent, was having a drink with his landlady, Florence May Bousquet. When he walked over to the jukebox, Bousquet inserted a small quantity of Parathion into his beer with an eyedropper. "I just wanted to get him good and sick," she said later, describing her role in the murder-by-insecticide. Back-from-the-dead potential: High. Tenants of a certain residence at 769 E. 28th St. might have reason to be nervous.
"Mayhem," "rampage," and "berserk" are words that come to mind when one ponders the events that bought Antonio Lapica a grave at Vista. On Friday the Thirteenth of October in 1978, Lapica showed up at the house of his ex-wife and her new husband, and started shooting. He shot the sister of his ex-wife's new husband. He shot the woman's baby. He returned home and shot his own daughter. Because of poor planning, Lapica never did shoot either his ex-wife or her new husband. Perhaps meditating on his own pathetic nature, he got tired and hanged himself. When the rope broke, he shot himself in the chest. Back-from-the-dead potential: Unclear. Psychologists and sociologists have been arguing for ages about the purgative value of violence. On the one hand Lapica may have gotten things out of his system. On the other hand, he may lust for more blood.
Our Lady of Mercy, 11411 NW 25th St.
It must have taken a tremendous act of tolerance for Dade's only Catholic cemetery to welcome Jose Manuel Gonzalez into its earthy bosom. Not only was Gonzalez guilty of murder and suicide, he was a liar, a cheat, and a polygamist. When he sat down at his desk and pumped a .25 caliber slug into his head on November 30, 1972, he was married, divorced, and widowed, all at the same time. Deep in debt, hounded by creditors, police, wives, and girlfriends, he had married Maria del Carmen Torra for her money ten days earlier. She was found strangled to death in the couple's Brickell Avenue apartment. Olga Echezarreta, one of Gonzalez's three other wives who lived down the street, thought Gonzalez was away on an extended business trip. She knew nothing of his other love interests. "He was a pretty smooth operator," a homicide detective noted. Back-from-the-dead potential: Low. The grave, specifically grave no. 6 in block 77F of section T, was the last place Gonzalez had to hide. Lucky for him Maria del Carmen Torra is buried at Flagler Memorial.
At Our Lady of Mercy, the dead are taken seriously. Unlike at any other Dade cemetery, a computer is used to keep track of the location, name, date of death, and type of burial each person has received. And near the entrance of this vast and elegant graveyard, a bronze placard reminds the guest that "indulgences applicable to the dead may be gained by the faithful who visit this cemetery in a spirit of piety and devotion and pray even mentally for the dead." Extraordinary indulgences may be gained on All Souls' Day, a time of special services and prayer for the dead, observed the day after Halloween in many churches.
On leaving Our Lady and ending your tour of Dade's cemeteries, say a prayer for Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo, the Satanist from Miami who in 1989 took fifteen people with him to the grave in Mexico. He is not buried at Our Lady. No matter. Any prayer for the dead carries with it a subtle plea for protection.
Survivors of Constanzo's cult, like the minions of Vlad the Impaler five centuries ago, expressed doubt that their former leader was capable of dying. In life, they said, he had already achieved a dark immortality. They might be right.
In a tiny research room at the Dade County medical examiner's office, I read about Constanzo's life and death. Something distracted me, and I set the file aside and moved on to a stack of others. Later, when I looked for the notes on Constanzo, they had vanished. They were not on or under the table. They were not in the trash can. They were not in my briefcase or next to the photocopy machine. I was alone in the room.
That night at home I went for a swim. In midstroke I noticed a cat sitting at the edge of the pool in the moonlight, staring at me. A black cat.
Later, while working at home, writing about Constanzo, a crash came from the bathroom. On the floor, a small mirror lay in pieces.
The remains of Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo lie somewhere in Dade County, but I'm not telling where. When someone has been warned, especially at Halloween time, they should listen.