Eight people have been arrested in northern Mexico have over the killing of two 10-year-old boys and a woman in what appears to be ritual sacrifices.
Prosecutors in Sonora, in the north-west of the country have accused the suspects of belonging to the La Santa Muerte (Holy Death) cult.
The victims’ blood has been poured round an altar to the idol, which is portrayed as a skeleton holding a scythe and clothed in flowing robes.
The cult, which celebrates death, has been growing rapidly in Mexico in the last 20 years, and now has up to two million followers.
Jose Larrinaga, spokesman for Sonora state prosecutors, said the most recent killing was earlier this month, while the other two were committed in 2009 and 2010.
Their bodies were found at the altar site in the small mining community of Nacozari, 70 miles south of Douglas, Arizona.
Investigations were launched after the family of 10-year-old Jesus Octavio Martinez Yanez reported him missing early this month.
Mr Larrinaga said the murders took place at a ritual during the night, lit by candles.
‘They sliced open the victims’ veins and, while they were still alive, they waited for them to bleed to death and collected the blood in a container,’ he said.
There have been no confirmed killings previously attributed to the cult, which follows a mix of Catholic faith with indigenous and pagan beliefs.
Many of those arrested belonged to the same family, reports said.
Silvia Meraz, one of the suspects, and her son, Ramon Palacios, were allegedly leaders of the cult, according to prosecutors.
Speaking to reporters, she said: ‘We all agreed to do it. Supposedly she [one of the victims] was a witch or something.’
She did not comment on the other killings.