Real Name: Jorge Cortez (possible alias)
Aliases: Jorge Lopez, George Lopez
Wanted For: Fraud, Theft
Missing Since: March 1988
Details: Jorge Cortez is a phony "folk healer" and spiritualist who has been using his victims' superstitions to steal from them. He has mainly targeted Mexican immigrants living in the San Joaquin Valley. One of his victims was a woman named "Maria Martinez," who worked as a laborer in an orange grove in the San Joaquin Valley. In February of 1988, Maria left for work and found a strange cross made of dirt on her sidewalk. She believed that she had been cursed (or hexed) by a female rival for her boyfriend's affections. She contacted Cortez and asked him for help.
She made an appointment with Cortez and visited him the next day at his office in Visalia. He told her that he could fix her problems for $100. He then told her to rub a cigarette between her palms and say three Hail Marys. When he slapped her hands together, it appeared as if the cigarette had turned into a rolled up $100 bill. She was convinced that he had supernatural powers.
Cortez then asked Maria to take off her clothes so that he could purify her. He performed several procedures on her, including rubbing an egg over her body. He appealed to Mary and Jesus and asked them to neutralize the hex. Maria was embarrassed, but was also so frightened of the curse that she allowed him to proceed. Police believe that Cortez has women take off their clothes so that it will make them embarrassed and less likely to report the scams to their families or the police.
At the end of the session, Cortez cracked open the egg, which was black inside. He told her that this meant that a portion of the evil spell had been removed. However, he said that the purification was not complete. He told her that she would have to come back with more money. Two weeks later, she went to the Fresno bus station to pick up a man and a woman Cortez had asked her to meet. The woman carried a briefcase.
They went to a nearby motel where Cortez was waiting for them. He said he had a powerful demonstration that he ordered them to witness. He asked Maria and the other woman to go into an adjacent room. He then followed the women and told the man to wait for him. Inside the next room, he opened the woman's briefcase, revealing to Maria that $7,000 in cash was inside. He told her that he was going to turn the woman's money into half of a million dollars.
During the ritual, Cortez turned off the lights and had the women hold candles. He then had them close their eyes and hold hands. They then said the Lord's Prayer as he blessed them. When he opened the briefcase again, it appeared that half of a million dollars was inside. Police believe that the woman and man were accomplices to the scam. The ploy worked and Maria was certain that Cortez had the power to get rid of her curse and make money appear.
One month later, on March 26, Maria and Cortez went to her bank. She had a check for $7,844.95; she acquired this by taking out a loan on her house. The bank's camera recorded the two as they cashed the check at the teller window. Back at Maria's house, he performed his final trick. He put all of her money in a suitcase and mixed pieces of newspapers among the bills. He then lit seventeen candles, arranged on a tray in the form of a cross. He carefully placed the tray next to her bed and asked her to leave the room so that he could perform a private ceremony to make his magic work.
Cortez warned her that if she did not follow his directions exactly, her money would not be increased. When he emerged from the bedroom, he told her that he had to leave. He also told her to call him the next morning. He then warned her not to open the suitcase until noon. One of Maria's neighbors dropped him off at the corner of Fulton and Fresno streets. The next day, exactly at noon, she opened the suitcase. She was shocked and devastated to discover that all of her money was gone.
Cortez was charged with grand theft and fraud. However, he has not been seen since March of 1988. Along with his whereabouts being unknown, his real identity is not certain. A warrant will be issued once his true identity is known. The only known photographs of him were taken from surveillance cameras at Maria's bank. He is 5'6", weighs 150 pounds, is of Mexican descent, has black hair, brown eyes, and is about forty-five (in 1988). It is believed that hundreds of women are his victims.
Extra Notes: This case was featured on the April 12, 1989 episode.
Other phony healers profiled on Unsolved Mysteries include Gary Magno and Elena Souza.
Cortez's victim was given the fictitious name "Maria Martinez" to protect her identity.