Real Name: Reynaldo Rivera
Nicknames: No known nicknames
Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Date: August 7, 1982
Details: On the evening of August 7, 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 Extreme Unction. The first priest that answered was unable to do so, but told the caller to call about fifteen minutes later. Fifteen minutes later, the man called again and this time 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, and reported the situation to the abbot. 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, his body was found in 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 with its gas tank empty gas about 110 miles from the crime scene at a rest area on Interstate 40 near Grants, New Mexico. As the town mourned his death, police began gathering evidence in the case.
They theorized that the killers were waiting for him 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. It is also believed that the killers wanted his body to be found, as it was not hidden. After the crime, the killers returned to the rest drop and removed Father Rivera's car. They later dropped his car off at the Grants rest stop.
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.
They found several similarities between Father Kerrigan's disappearance and Father Rivera's murder. Both priests' cars were found with nearly all evidence wiped clean from them, coat hangers were believed to be used in both murders, and they both 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. 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 believed that the killer wanted to "get back" at the Catholic Church for some sort of betrayal.
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. However, the man was found to be in jail on the night of the murder.
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.
Police have another suspect that they have yet to rule out. The man, while in a New York prison, was questioned about Father Rivera's murder. He was known to be in New Mexico around the time of the murder and was involved in several burglaries and robberies in Santa Fe. He 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 5.
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
- (1992 Santa Fe New Mexican Article) Unsolved
- Mystery call a ruse for priest's murder
- Victim Case Study - Reynaldo Rivera
- Reynaldo Rivera at Find a Grave