A beloved Catholic priest named Reynaldo John Rivera was lured away from his place of worship late at night in 1982 and found brutally murdered a couple of days later under mysterious circumstances. ‘On the Case With Paula Zahn: Faith and Duty’ takes us to the middle of the shocking case, giving a detailed account of the things that led to Reynaldo’s untimely demise and the investigation that followed. If this case intrigues you and you wish to learn more about it, including the identity and current whereabouts of the culprit, here is everything you need to know.
How Did Reynaldo John Rivera Die?
Father Reynaldo John Rivera was born on October 29, 1924, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He grew up with his parents, Juan B. Rivera and Refugito Cuca Ortiz Rivera, and five siblings. Father Reynaldo was ordained in 1953, and about two decades later, in 1975, he was appointed rector of St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe. After becoming a servant of God and his community, he always opened his door to the needy. Yet, despite Father Reynaldo’s noble deeds, it seems that some people knew how to take advantage of his willingness to help and even threaten his life.
On August 5, 1982, 57-year-old Father Reynaldo responded to a house call to perform a person’s last rites. However, it was the last time anyone saw the priest, as he did not return to the rectory. Two days later, the police discovered Father Reynaldo’s body in a field near the desolate La Bajada rest stop on the outskirts of Santa Fe. Moreover, there was a gunshot wound in his stomach and strangulation marks around his neck. An autopsy later indicated the victim had been bound and tied. On top of it, there were likely two assailants —while one choked the victim with a wire, the other shot him, causing his death. In addition, Father Reynaldo’s sacrament bag, wallet, and glasses were missing.
Who Killed Reynaldo John Rivera?
On the evening of August 5, 1982, Father Reynaldo’s rectory received a call from a man named Michael Carmello, which Father Patrick Gerard picked up. He claimed that his grandfather had a heart attack near a rest stop in Waldo and needed a priest to administer the last rites immediately. Nevertheless, since Father Gerard was legally blind, he could not leave the rectory and told Carmello to call again in a few minutes.
The telephone rang again after fifteen minutes or so, and this time, Father Reynaldo answered the call. When Carmello repeated his request, he agreed to meet the caller to perform his grandfather’s last rites. They decided to meet at the La Bajada rest stop on Interstate 25, after which Carmello said he would drive him to his grandfather’s house near Waldo in a blue pickup truck. When Father Reynaldo did not return to the rectory that night, he was reported missing, and authorities started searching for him near the Waldo area.
Over the next two days, hundreds of Santa Fe citizens volunteered to help out the police in the search, as he had impacted many people’s lives. Soon after his body was discovered, his brown 1974 Chevrolet Malibu, which he drove to meet with Carmello, was found at a rest stop on Interstate 40 near Grants. The authorities processed the car, and seeing a few fingerprints inside it, the detectives followed several leads.
The investigation was then intervened by the FBI, who came up with a psychological portrait of the person(s) responsible for the Father’s death. Furthermore, the motive for his murder was claimed to be revenge by the forensic psychologist. Eventually, the police received a tip about one George Semkus, a former Santa Fe resident, allegedly bragging about the murder of Father Reynaldo. Reportedly linked to numerous crimes, he was known to be in the area at the time of the murder, making him the prime suspect in the police’s books.
Where is George Semkus Now?
After getting arrested in November 1982, George Semkus was transported to an LA mental institution, where he allegedly teamed up with another individual and escaped to New York. He was arrested again in August 1983, and in his stolen car, the police found a pistol. As a result, Semkus got convicted of having stolen property and owning a concealed weapon. Consequently, the Santa Fe investigators followed him to the New York prison, where he was interviewed and polygraphed. Although the results were never released, George Semkus supposedly fit the FBI’s psychological profile of Father Reynaldo’s killer.
According to the show, a Franciscan priest further claimed that Semkus had previously stolen a La Conquistadora statue from the victim’s cathedral. Still, despite the police’s attempts and investigation, they could not connect him to Father Reynaldo Rivera’s murder case, and he was never charged. Hence, Semkus was released on parole in March 2003 and has kept his private life under wraps ever since. Meanwhile, the police have not revealed any more information regarding Father Reynaldo’s murder, making Semkus’ involvement unclear.