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Bones may have Pancho Villa skull


kull and Bones has attracted a fair amount of controversy over the years because of its legacy of secrecy and ritual. The latest allegation against the notorious secret society involves the skull of Pancho Villa, the famous Mexican revolutionary.

A California journalist believes Skull and Bones has more as-yet-unrevealed "secrets of the tomb" in its possession, including the skull of Pancho Villa.
The beginning of this saga dates back to Mon., Feb. 8, 1926, when the El Paso Post-Herald announced a grisly occurrence: "Villa's Grave Robbed: Bandit's Head Has Vanished." The article reported the arrest of the American Emil L. Holmdahl in connection with the desecration and robbery of Francisco "Pancho" Villa's grave in Parral, Mexico.

Holmdahl was mysteriously released, and days later, the Post-Herald reported his return to the United States. As the story goes, Holmdahl sold the skull to Frank Brophy, a Yale graduate and close friend of Prescott Bush, for $25,000.

Prescott Bush, the grandfather of President George W. Bush, DC '68, was a member of Skull and Bones, as are his son and grandson. Documents thought to be internal records from the Skull and Bones describe Prescott Bush's involvement in the alleged theft of Apache Chief Geronimo's skull.

So was Prescott Bush the leader of an international conspiracy that brought Pancho Villa's skull to New Haven? According to Ernesto Cienfuegos, editor-in-chief of the California-based publication La Voz de Aztlan, the answer is yes.

"The U.S. State Department pressured both Ciudad Juarez Mayor Alberto Almeida and his brother Governor Roberto Almeida of the State of Chihuahua to release Holmdahl from the Parral Prison," Cienfuegos said. "This is all documented in Mexican historical documents. Why would there be such an intense effort to release a grave robber? The reason was that Prescott Bush pulled a lot of strings from behind the scenes...Holmdahl in fact, was an early version of a CIA undercover agent working on U.S. covert activities during the Central American 'Banana Wars' and in the Mexican Revolution."

In an E-mail to the Herald, Cienfuegos also said he believes that Skull and Bones have the skull of Ernesto "Che" Guevara. He added, "Do not be surprised if the skull of Saddam Hussein ends up as a trophy inside Skull and Bones as well."

Alexandra Robbins, ES '98, author of Secrets of the Tomb: The Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power, mentions Pancho Villa as one of many legendary leaders whose cranium rests in the Skull and Bones tomb. "Deep within the bowels of the tomb are the stolen skulls of the Apache Chief Geronimo, Pancho Villa, and former President Martin van Buren," Robbins wrote in her book.

However, in a recent interview with the Herald, Robbins admitted that it is somewhat unlikely that Villa's skull resides in New Haven. "The story goes that Bones paid $25,000 for the skull back in the 1920s or so," Robbins explained. "But Bonesmen I spoke with confirmed my thinking that Bones is too cheap to pay that much money for a skull—and that there's no record of that skull in the building. Geronimo's skull is a much more plausible tomb relic."

Ron Rosenbaum, JE '68, has written many articles about the Skull and Bones, most recently an article for the New York Observer entitled "At Skull and Bones, Bush's Secret Club Initiates Ream Gore," in April 2001. Rosenbaum and his crew were able to catch a glimpse of the initiation ceremony by using night vision video technology and long range microphones.

"For the first time ever, that long-secret rite was witnessed by a team of outsiders, including this writer," Rosenbaum wrote in the article. He did not, however, catch a glimpse of Villa's skull. "It almost seems like an urban legend; a sort of Skull and Bones myth-making," Rosenbaum said of the Villa story.

Villa's body has had almost as many adventures in death as it had in life. Three years after being decapitated, Villa's body was exhumed by the Mexican government. In 1929, the body was reburied in The Tomb of Illustrious Men in Mexico City in order to prevent further desecration. But many locals claim that the body taken to the capital was a decoy, and that Villa's body presently rests in Parral, Chihuahua.

Regardless of the location of Villa's body, the effort to have his skull returned to Mexico is gaining momentum.

"There is now a growing movement in Mexico and here in the southwest to have the skull returned for re-burial in its proper place," Cienfuegos said. "It is extremely macabre to desecrate and steal the skulls of dead heroes of other countries, and worst, to display them as trophies. President George Bush needs to return the skull of Pancho Villa to its proper resting place."

Though the mystery of Villa's skull may never be solved, Yale need not fear retribution from Mexico for their dead hero—at least not for now. To date, the Mexican government has not officially requested the return of the skull, nor has it publicly acknowledged any theft.

Is their silence an indication of indifference? Or are they just too scared of Skull and Bones? We will never know.    

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