Sara Maria Aldrete Villareal was born on September 6, 1964, the daughter of a Matamoros electrician. She crossed the border to attend Porter High School in Brownsville, where teachers remember her as a model student and a good kid. She maintained her star-pupil status in secretarial school, instructors urging her to attend a real college, but romance intervened. On Halloween Day in 1983 Aldrete married Brownsville resident Miguel Zacharias, 11 years her senior. The relationship quickly soured and five months later they were separated, moving inexorably toward divorce.
Late in 1985 Aldrete applied for and received resident alien status in the United States. Her next step was enrollment at Texas Southmost College, a two-year school in Brownsville. Admitted on a "work-study" program that deferred part of her tuition, Sara began classes in January 1986 as a physical education major, holding down two part-time jobs as an aerobics teacher and assistant secretary in the school's athletic department
By the end of her first semester Aldrete stood out physically and academically. Standing at 6-foot-1, she was unusually tall for a Mexican woman and her grades were excellent. She was one of 33 students chosen from TSC's 6,500-member student body for listing in the school's Who's Who directory for 1987-88. Aside from grades that placed her on the honor roll, Aldrete also organized and led a Booster Club for TSC's soccer team, earning the school's Outstanding Physical Education Award in her spare time.
With the breakup of her marriage, Aldrete had moved back home with her parents in Matamoros, constructing a special outside stairway to her second-floor room in the interest of privacy. She was home most weekends and during school vacations, looking forward to completion of her studies and the transfer to a four-year school that would bring her a P.E. teaching certificate. Attractive and popular with men, in 1987 she was dating Gilberto Sosa, a drug dealer associated with the powerful Hernandez family.
Aldrete was driving through Matamoros on July 30, 1987 when a shiny new Mercedes cut her off in traffic, narrowly avoiding a collision. The driver was apologetic, suave and handsome. He introduced himself as Adolfo Constanzo, a Cuban-American living in Mexico City. There was an instant chemistry between them, but Constanzo made no sexual overtures. He noted with pleasure that Aldrete's birthday was the same as his mother's.
In fact, the meeting was no accident. Constanzo had been watching Gilberto Sosa, weighing his connections. The meeting with Sara Aldrete was carefully stage-managed, as was their burgeoning friendship and her gradual introduction into the occult. Two weeks after their first encounter, Constanzo met Aldrete and Sosa in Brownsville, pointedly refusing to shake Sosa's hand. Days later, an anonymous caller told Sosa that Aldrete was seeing another man. Jealous, he refused to accept her denials and broke off the relationship. She turned to Constanzo for solace, surprised when he told her he had seen the break-up coming in his tarot cards.
Constanzo finally took Aldrete to bed, but their sexual union was short-lived. He made no secret of his preference for men, and Aldrete grudgingly accepted it, already hooked on the religious aspect of their relationship. By summer's end, Aldrete's TSC classmates found her dramatically changed, an overnight expert on witchcraft and magic, eager to debate the relative powers of darkness and light. In private, Constanzo called her La Madrina, the "godmother" of his growing cult. He probed her links to the Hernandez clan, predicting that leader Elio would soon approach her for advice about a problem. When Elio did so, in November 1987, Sara introduced the dealer to El Padrino.