DALLAS, AUG. 10 -- Yale University's secretive Skull and Bones society possesses the skull of Mexican revolutionary hero Pancho Villa, according to a group of history buffs in El Paso who want it returned to Mexico for proper burial.

"We want to retrieve the skull and, with great ceremony, return it to Mexico for burial," group member Frank Hunter, a retired lawyer, told Reuter by telephone from El Paso today.

He explained that some members of the Wednesday Group, so called because its 10 to 15 members meet for lunch every Wednesday, are Mexican nationals from Ciudad Jua'rez who feel very strongly that the skull should be returned.

An attorney and spokesman for Skull and Bones told Hunter the society did not have the skull, but added that if it could be proved it did have it, it would be returned.

A letter to Vice President George Bush, who belonged to the club when he was at Yale, was not answered.

Villa, a bandit turned freedom fighter who led the last invasion of the United States mainland, was assassinated in Parral in northern Mexico in 1923.

In 1926, grave robbers stole his skull and its whereabouts have been a mystery ever since. The remains of his body were later moved to Mexico City and buried there in the Monument to the Revolution.

The search began 18 months ago when the group read "Let the Tail Go With the Hide," in which author Terry Irvin tells the story of her father Ben Williams, who helped El Paso adventurer Emil Holmdahl out of Mexico after he had been accused of stealing the skull.

Back in El Paso, Holmdahl confessed to Williams that he had indeed stolen the skull and later sold it to a Skull and Bones member.

"Williams told him to go to hell, that if he'd known that, {Holmdahl} would still be in a Mexican jail," Hunter said.

He said he was unable to find a telephone listing for Skull and Bones and called the president of the university. Subsequently, Endicott P. Davis, who described himself as a member of Skull and Bones, telephoned Hunter and said the society did not have the skull.

"Then he added: 'We don't have it, but if you can prove we have it we'll give it to you,' " Hunter said.

He said the group wanted to sue Skull and Bones, but needed some standing. It contacted Villa's last wife, 92-year-old Soledad Seanez de Villa, who lives in Ciudad Jua'rez, but she refused to give her authority.

Currently, the group is trying to locate one of Villa's sons, Hipolito Villa, who lives in Mexico City, Hunter said.