Able to avoid arrest for years, these criminals fell victim to carelessness and happenstance and were apprehended. Even some of Mexico’s most wanted drug kingpins have been trapped thanks to their own hubris… and dumb luck.
Drug lords, a serial rapist and murderer, a white-collar criminal linked to drug cartels — each once considered a top target for prosecutors — have been apprehended by the authorities due to a simple vagary.
This is not to say that police or the military just got lucky, because they were there to take advantage of the lapses. But you can’t deny that sometimes the presence of a monkey, tickets to a soccer match or a birthday cake provided the missing clue for the authorities to trap the occasional bad guy.
Presented here are some of the most recent cases of most wanted criminals falling into the authorities’ hands thanks to quirky happenstance.
Follow the Birthday Cake
In the first few months of the Peña Nieto administration, Servando Gómez “La Tuta” was at the top of the Most Wanted List. “La Tuta” led the fearsome Knights Templar Cartel that was sowing violence across Michoacán, leading to the formation of self-defense militia in that western state. “La Tuta” made a habit of mocking the authorities by uploading videos to YouTube that showed him meeting with public officials are sending not-so-veiled warnings.
The manhunt was heightened thanks to a 30 million-peso reward issued for his arrest. He was wanted not only on drug-trafficking charges, but also for murder, homicide and extortion.
By early 2015, the government had managed to arrest or kill most of the top kingpins in Michoacán, but “La Tuta” continued to elude the authorities. And elite special forces unit — with drones — spent six months pursuing the criminal through the Michoacán mountains.
On Feb. 16, the government announced the apprehension of “La Tuta” — alive — in the state capital, Morelia. National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido detailed the circumstances of the capture: a messenger had been identified and followed straight to the home where the mobster might be located. The positive identification took place on the eve of his birthday.
“Several people arrived carrying food and a birthday cake. We knew it was the place,” Rubido told reporters. Hours later, when “La Tuta” emerged from the safe house, the agents were waiting … and not surprisingly, they were not there to sing “Las Mañanitas.”
‘Boots’ the Monkey and the Biopic
The second prison escape by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán on July 11, 2015, was a slap in the face to the Peña Nieto administration. It had taken more than a decade to recapture him after his first escape in 2001. After only 17 months in a max-security prison, he tunneled to freedom.
The government immediately assigned the task of recapturing “El Chapo” to a special unit of Marines. The identification and tracking of individuals in contact with the fugitive provided clues to the his whereabouts and one of those people was actress Kate del Castillo.
As it turns out, the singular clue leading to Guzmán’s hideout in the Golden Triangle was not a person, but an animal … “Boots” the monkey.
The monkey — named after the monkey character in the cartoon series “Dora the Explorer” — was the Guzmán’s children’s pet. The pursuers knew “El Chapo” would try to stay in touch with his family but it was difficult to track them since they traveled in private planes flying under the radar or using clandestine airstrips.
However, in October, the Marines detected the movement of El Chapo’s brother-in-law, Édgar Coronel Aispuro, who was traveling in his Mustanf in the company of a monkey. The special forces team did not move in, preferring to track his vehicle to discover his destination believing that he could only be headed to a Guzmán family reunion. Once they had identified the hideout, the moved in and arrested Coronel as he returned home.
During questioning, Coronel admitted that the monkey was indeed “Boots” and that the drug lord’s daughters had insisted that he bring them their beloved pet.
Another key clue arrived in the form of the trek made by Kate del Castillo and actor Sean Penn and their entourage into the Golden Triangle, a region in northern Mexico known for drug operations. The authorities knew the visit was set up in hopes of making a biopic about “El Chapo.”
Once the suspicions were confirmed, the Marines carried out their operation. Guzmán only escaped by using his cook and the cook’s daughter as human shields, but his luck was running out. The Marines never lost the trace.
“Boots” the monkey and the desire to be immortalized in a Hollywood picture proved to be the downfall of the world’s most wanted man.
Taking a Leap of Faith
César Armando Librado Legorreta — better known as “The Dandy” — was one of the most sought-after criminals in the State of Mexico in 2011. Over a two-year period, “The Dandy” was suspected of raping seven women, six of whom he murdered.
He seemed to be living a normal life, working as a bus driver and living in the municipality of Tultitlán with his wife and two daughters. But roughly every three months, he targeted a female passenger. He would flirt with her and arrange it so that she was the last person on the bus.
He would then beat the victim and rape her before strangling her to death. He would then dump the body in a field in one of the adjacent municipalities. He often took a valuable item from his victim and presented it as a gift to his wife.
The authorities were able to close in on “The Dandy” only because one of his victims survived and was able to share her horrifying story with detectives. On Feb. 26, 2012, Librado Legorreta was detained and brought in for questioning.
That is when the unbelievable happened. The guards dozed off and he disarmed them and fled, having already chosen an escape route. Unfortunately, the plan involved jumping from a third-floor balcony. The jump injured his spine, but he managed to drag himself away finding refuge with a family in the Mexico City borough of Magdalena Contreras. He hoped to get out of the city the following day, but was in too much pain.
Detectives were able to track his escape route from the police station and identified a few potential homes he might have chosen to hide away in. On March 2, they knocked on the door of the family in Magdalena Contreras and found him nearly paralyzed in bed. The “leap of faith” came with a high cost. “The Dandy” was taken to a hospital before he was tried and sentenced to more than 30 years in prison.
Love of sports among criminals is no different than among law-abiding citizens. However, being a sports fanatic can be a high-risk activity for career criminals, especially if the sporting event is televised.
This was the case for Guadalajara entrepreneur José Díaz Barajas who had specialized in importing precursor drugs from Asia. He would sell the drugs to drug gangs — including the Sinaloa Cartel — for the production of methemphetamines which were then shipped to the profitable U.S. market.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration asked Interpol to arrest Díaz Barajas who was confident the authorities were not tracking him. He was right and he managed to travel to Brazil with his family for the 2014 World Cup without detection.
The white-collar criminal took a few precautions. He traveled to Brazil via Paraguay, crossing the border overland. Unfortunately he was not aware that Interpol had issued warnings to all the neighboring countries that soccer-loving criminals might be trying to get into Brazil for the World Cup.
In short order, Interpol was alerted that Díaz Barajas was in Brazil and they provided information to Brazilian police officials as well as to the Mexican Federal Police. The authorities supposed he had bought tickets to El Tri’s first three group-stage games and they set up a sting at the Rio de Janeiro airport suspecting that Díaz Barajas would fly there for Mexico’s second game.
The criminal was located and captured at the airport and, as suspected, he had tickets to the soccer match in his possession.
Another similar case involved Heriberto Lazcano — aka “El Lazca” — a former leader of Los Zetas Cartel and a top target for the Felipe Calderón administration. For years, he evaded capture even as frequent government attacks on Los Zetas — as well as attacks by rival gangs — had weakened the violent cartel considerably.
According to the government, an elite unit of the Marines located “El Lazca” in Sabinas, Coahuila, on Oct. 7, 2012, at a local municipal baseball park
The Marines had tracked him to the area and had identified the baseball park as a potential target site because “El Lazca” was a big baseball fan. Six months earlier, they had nearly captured him outside another baseball stadium.
Upon getting a report that the local amateur baseball team was playing against a team from the municipality of Juárez, the Marines sprang into action. Lazcano was unable to escape this time and the ensuing shootout produced many victims, including that of “El Lazca.”
A few hours later, a commando unit entered the coroner’s office and made off with Lazcano’s body. As such, there remains some doubt as to whether or not “El Lazca” was killed. What is clear, however, is that attending a baseball game has the potential to end a kingpin’s criminal career.