The case of Lazcano's missing ears

With reports of the death of Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano, alias “Z-3,” there are already plenty of conspiracy theories for why his body disappeared -- including assertions that he was never killed in the first place.

One of the most direct rejections of Lazcano’s death comes via Proceso magazine, which asked several unnamed “specialists” to compare the photos released of Lazcano’s body with the autopsy report released to the media last week. Lazcano was reportedly killed in a firefight with Mexican marines in Coahuila state on October 7, but his body was reported stolen from a town morgue the following day. 

The autopsy report describes six bullet wounds on Lazcano, although an official from the Coahuila state attorney's office later said there were only five. These include two bullet wounds to his head and four to the rest of his body.

One of the experts consulted by Proceso argued that if a high-caliber bullet truly entered the base of Lazcano's skull from a distance of 30 yards, as reported by marines, it would have shattered completely. Instead, according to the available photos, the corpse's face is intact.

Another one of Proceso's sources said that the photos show no bullet exit point on the body's right parietal lobe, despite what the autopsy report says. The images "are manipulated and were created in order to pretend that the victim is Lazca," the source stated. 

Others have also voiced suspicions over the circumstances surrounding Lazcano's death. After reporters questioned why the corpse in the photo had notably different ears from previously released images of Lazcano, the Coahuila state attorney general said that the Zetas leader had had ear surgery

Other conspiracy theories are circulating fast. One Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) senator openly questioned whether Lazcano was a protected witness, explaining why his body disappeared so quickly. A senator from the rival Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) echoed such remarks, stating that the case of the missing body could turn into "a telenovela in which Lazcano later turns up alive or turns out to be a protected witness."

InSight Crime Analysis

Lazcano always proved elusive, and it seems as though in death he is no different. He was arrested for the first time in 1998, carrying some 325 kilograms of marijuana with him, although he was then allowed to walk free. As reporter Anabel Hernandez points out for Proceso, it’s not even clear when the Zetas leader was born. Mexico’s Center for Investigation and National Security (CISEN) lists the date as Christmas 1974, the same year listed by the DEA, although Hernandez reports that the US agency also keeps a different date on record: January 1, 1970. Meanwhile, the database kept by the federal government says that Lazcano was born in 1975, according to Proceso. 

There are also three different public records of Lazcano’s height: according to the DEA, it is 5’8, or about 173 centimeters. According to a statement released by the marines after Lazcano’s death, it is 160 centimeters, 20 centimeters less than the height reported by the Attorney General’s Office of Coahuila, of 180 centimeters. 

These contradictions -- along with the embarrassing disappearance of Lazcano’s body from a funeral morgue in Coahuila -- will provide fodder enough for conspiratorialists. In Mexico’s drug conflict, even the victories are never what they seem. The arrest of the alleged son of Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman turned out to be a false report. The capture of Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) lieutenant Edgar Valdez Villarreal was originally presented as the result of a 14-month investigation, a claim which was later questioned by reports that alleged his arrest was a random encounter

Especially given that it is the very end of President Felipe Calderon’s term in office, there is arguably more pressure than ever on the security forces to capture the capos with recognizable names and faces. This would justify suspicions that, in the rush to present results, Mexican authorities are claiming victory for a death that never actually happened. 

Still, there is other evidence that indicates Lazcano has truly exited the scene. For those who put more trust in US law enforcement, the DEA has congratulated Mexico for killing Lazcano. The other most convincing explanation for why Lazcano’s death unfolded the way it did, missing corpse and all, is because the marines killed him at random. And because nobody recognized him, nobody bothered to guard the body. 

The ongoing fascination about Lazcano’s death says more about the fundamental mistrust in the competence and the honesty of Mexican authorities than it does about the Zetas leader. Time and time again throughout the country’s drug war, government institutions have only simulated at doing what they are actually meant to do: even the Attorney General’s Office special investigative unit for organized crime allegedly had employees on the Sinaloa Cartel’s payroll. Given the amount of corruption and half-truths involved with Mexico’s war on organized crime, it’s little wonder than Lazcano’s death should be suspected of being just another simulation. 

There is also something grisly about the amount of detail made public over every single bullet entry and exit point on Lazcano’s body. There is a stark contrast between the amount of information available for the hows and whys of Lazcano’s death, compared to the many piles of anonymous victims that the Zetas left behind and whom the government has not identified. In some ways it would be a weird justice if the founder of the criminal group so associated with the mass killing of unidentified victims went unrecognized when the marines gunned him down, and was then labeled as a “NN” (No Name) in a funeral home in the middle of nowhere.