Criminal is powered by Vocal.
Vocal is a platform that provides storytelling tools and engaged communities for writers, musicians, filmmakers, podcasters, and other creators to get discovered and fund their creativity.
How does Vocal work?
Creators share their stories on Vocal’s communities. In return, creators earn money when they are tipped and when their stories are read.
How do I join Vocal?
Vocal welcomes creators of all shapes and sizes. Join for free and start creating.
To learn more about Vocal, visit our resources.Show less
The MS-13, also known as the Mara Salvatrucha, is a prison gang that has become one of the most feared in history. Known for being primarily composed of Salvadorans, Peruvians, and other South Americans, it has become the face of "dangerous gangs" in the United States.
The gang has made international headlines for gruesome crimes, grisly bodies, and for having no fear when caught by police. Terrifying as they are, the shocking facts about the MS-13 gang's inner workings somehow manage to send chills down seasoned police officers' spines.
They're not just about killing people, nor are they just a random "South American cartel." Even readers of the classic true crime books might be surprised to learn these facts about this notorious criminal organization.
Contrary to popular belief, the MS-13 didn't start in El Salvador.
One of the most forgotten facts about the MS-13 is their origin story. They're not a South American gang! The Mara Salvatrucha actually got their start in the Los Angeles prison system.
Salvadoran prisoners had to band together in order to protect themselves from other gangs. They became ruthless in their mannerisms and took over the slogan of "Kill, Rape, Control."
From there, they spread to the streets of Los Angeles. When members were sent back to their home countries, they brought the gang culture with them. They then set up major strongholds in El Salvador, where they remain in power.
Think about that. MS-13 is an international gang that has a huge Salvadoran population under its control, primarily because the American prison system caused their gang to happen. Prisons are effective at making crime happen like that.
The gang has over 50,000 members.
A 2008 study showed that the MS-13 had spread to over 42 states and several countries. The massive membership that the gang boasts is part of the reason why it's such a threat, according to law enforcement.
In 2008, the MS-13 had an alleged membership roll of around 50,000 people in a wide range of different countries. Today, authorities believe that they may have more than 60,000 international members.
Stateside, the numbers are far more reasonable, with only 10,000 members allegedly living here.
The gang has been strongly tied to child trafficking around the DMV area.
Perhaps one of the most heinous facts about the MS-13 is the way they do business. No crime is ever below them, not even child trafficking. The gang typically preys on women and children who want to immigrate to the United States.
Once here, gang members steal their passports and sell them into sex slavery circuits. In recent years, nine different human and child trafficking circles have been found in the Washington DC and Baltimore areas alone.
Between the MS-13 and Barrio 18, the two gangs made El Salvador the murder capital of the world.
El Salvador is one of the most violent countries in the world, even today. Much of this is due to the bloodbath rivalry that the MS-13 have with a local gang known as Barrio 18.
At one point, around 16 murders a day were happening in the country as a result of the gang fights alone. To this day, multiple travel advisories still happen because of the sheer amount of violence the gang has caused.
People hear shots fired on a daily basis here.
MS-13 members have military training.
Many of the founding members of la Mara were immigrants that fled from a war that broke out in El Salvador. Many of those immigrants had fought in battles. Using their knowledge, military training, and experience, becoming vicious killers was a cakewalk.
These days, rumor has it that they still use military training to keep recruits in shape. However, the training they get isn't from a normal militia; it's from the Mexican drug cartels.
Many MS-13 members do not have tattoos—at least, not visible ones.
One of the most commonly-cited facts about the MS-13 is their love of tattoos. This makes sense, since they're a prison gang and have a lot of news headlines that involve guys who have their faces tatted up like a Doodle Bear.
Since they were so easily recognizable, MS-13 leaders have started to phase out the use of clearly visible tattoos as a way to help gang members blend in during assassination missions.
They have a surprising amount of female members, almost all of which are treated poorly.
Most gangs do not have many female members, and for those that do, there are a lot of things people don't know about female gang members. Typically, only 10 percent of all gang members will be female.
One of the stranger facts about the MS-13 is their female membership. Approximately 20 percent of all members are female. This doesn't mean they're female-friendly, though.
The majority of women who are in the MS-13 have to sleep with all members of a clique to get in. They are typically mules, hitwomen, or madams for the MS-13 trafficking rings.
Often dating members of the same clique, many of them deal with extreme physical or emotional abuse from their partners.
Initiations are "blood in."
Among gangs, initiations are considered to be "blood in, blood out" if they involve killing someone as part of the initiation. The MS-13 take things a bit further.
Along with the expectation of killing a rival, most cliques will also expect initiates to undergo a beating for 30 seconds in order to join. Many initiates do not survive, or suffer permanent damage as a result.
Not all MS-13 members operate the same way.
One of the facts about the MS-13 you might not be aware of is that it's not just one organization. The entire gang is separated into smaller "cliques," each with its own rules. Some cliques have no ties to cartels, others do. Generally speaking, it's a nebulous organization.
West Coast and East Coast MS-13 cliques tend to be very distrustful of each other. It's also not uncommon to hear of skirmishes that happen between different cliques, either.
Their gang sign is actually tied to the MS-13's metalhead roots.
The main gang sign that the MS-13 uses is the "devil horns," also known in mainstream culture as "metalhead fingers." Believe it or not, this isn't a coincidence.
The founders of the Mara Salvatrucha were very into heavy metal, and many current members still are. That being said, a love of metal is not a requirement, but there is something that should scare you about this gang that is linked to certain types of metal...
Multiple cliques have been known to participate in Satanic rituals.
This might sound like propaganda, but make no mistake. This is one of the very real facts about the MS-13 that makes them so terrifying. Though not all cliques claim to do this, there are many factions of MS-13 who hold Satanic rituals as a part of their initiations.
The gang is known for having strong Satanic elements, and has often been rumored to conduct animal and human sacrifices. Among the MS-13 who do practice this behavior, it's said to be "calling the devil."
This isn't the first time Satanism has led to murder. The Night Stalker had ties to satanism, too.