Born and raised in South Texas, James Kuykendall was a U.S. Border Patrol agent at the age of 21.He later spent several years matching wits with drug traffickers on the Texas/Mexican border as a U.S. Customs investigator and Drug Enforcement Administration agent, then had tours of duty in Guayaquil and Quito, Ecuador, Houston and Guadalajara, Mexico before retiring as the agent-in-charge of the DEA office in Laredo, Texas. Since retirement he has done private investigations in Texas and Mexico, risk consulting in Panama and security work in Hermosillo, Mexico. Presently owns a real estate appraisal business in Laredo, Texas, where he resides and, most recently, was a consultant with the Narcos-Mexico television series.
The giant aircraft had arrived just before dawn so that it was sitting on the concrete apron as the sun rose. The U.S. flag painted on the fuselage was out of place there, foreign, but comforting to some of the people arriving. The wide, heavy wings drooped low and provided shade for the people as they gathered for the brief ceremony. The air force crew, dressed in their flight suits, went about their tasks of readying the airplane for the flight, as if oblivious to the drama. A few of us would make the trip to San Diego and Calexico for the ceremonies and funeral, those remaining had another job to do.
Capi’s funeral would be held in Guadalajara, the Consul General and the DEA contingent would represent the U.S. government there. The Ambassador and his wife, the U.S. pathologist and three of Kiki’s co-workers, as well as the DEA agent-in-charge from Mexico City, were to be on the airplane to the United States. Kiki’s body, placed in an imposing metal casket, was transported from the morgue in an old Cadillac hearse escorted by the Federal Highway police, blocking traffic, the fifteen miles to the airport. At the airport the Mexican Federal Judicial Police were conspicuously absent, and there was no one of importance representing the Mexican government.
Kiki’s grandmother and an aunt were welcomed among the group, which would accompany the body on its final journey to Mika and home. The tiny old lady was a perfect picture of the other Mexico, the impoverished, abused masses.
Along the chain-link fence bordering the airport apron, were several hundred Mexicans. Some were employees of the consulate who had not been allowed to join the official group and others were simply curious onlookers. But there were dozens who were friends of Kiki, who had come to pay their last respects. U.S. Ambassador John Gavin said a few words, a priest offered a prayer, everyone took a deep breath to sustain themselves and the brief ceremony was held.
Six of the agents carried Kiki’s flag-draped coffin from the hearse to the belly of the plane, their eyes streaming tears. There was no fanfare, no drumbeat, just six men, six DEA agents, on foreign soil, carrying the body of their fallen comrade. In the strained silence their shoes scraped loudly on the tarmac, one softly calling cadence and commands. The criteria for being a pallbearer? Those who had a blazer or sports jacket. No one had come to Guadalajara with a suit packed in his luggage. It was hard to believe we had tried so hard and failed.
While we were standing under the wing waiting to board, the word came that a young woman, a teenager actually, named Sara Cosio-Martinez had been kidnapped. The family automobile had been forced off the street, the rear window smashed with the butt of an AK-47. Sarah’s mother was slapped around for resisting, then Sarah was spirited away by a group of unknown, armed, men. But the family was sure it had been the work of Rafael Caro-Quintero. The trafficker was infatuated with the girl and had spirited her away once before, in December of the previous year, prompting a countrywide manhunt by the federal authorities, in no small part because Sara Cosio’s uncle was the national President of the PRI, Mexico’s ruling political party.
Even as the U.S. Air Force crew pushed the C-130 at half the speed of sound toward the international airport in San Diego, the Mexican government was moving to quiet the storm. Unbeknownst to anyone in the U.S. government, the legendary MFJP Comandante, Florentino Ventura, had arrived in Guadalajara with orders to make arrests and stop the bashing Mexico was receiving in the foreign press. DEA had repeatedly asked that Ventura be assigned to the investigation but had been refused.
Kiki’s body was taken to a forensic facility in San Diego and x-rayed, but no other procedure was performed, because of the condition of the corpse.
The body was cremated, as per the wishes of Mika Camarena.
The ceremony at the Catholic Church in the quiet village of Calexico, California brought thousands of people to silently pay their respects and share the grief of the family. There were federal law enforcement representatives from all across the United States, and from every state and local police organization for hundreds of miles, including Mexicali, Baja California. DEA headquarters was strongly represented, the contingent headed by its new manager designee, Jack Lawn. Administrator “Bud” Mullins did not attend, having retired from federal service when Kiki’s body was found.
In the overflow outside the church, listening to the services over loud speakers installed especially for the occasion, were the father of “Luis Valiente”, a friend of ours who was shot in Guadalajara on September 29, 1984 by one of “Don Neto’s” henchman, and “Miguel Sanchez”, who helped find the Marijuana plantations in San Luis Potosi in September of 1982. Stalwart and brave men, they couldn’t keep from crying as they tried to convey to me their feelings for Kiki Camarena. In those days just being there was dangerous for them.
The first anyone knew about Florentino Ventura’s activities came from an official news release by the Mexican government. Twenty-four men, all but one current and former members of the Jalisco State Judicial Police, had been picked up and were interrogated, confessing to complicity in the crime and to narcotics trafficking activities. One of the arrested men, Comandante Gabriel Gonzales-Gonzalez, had died while in custody. The
government said he had died of a heart attack. His widow said he had been tortured to death.
The surviving arrestees were in Mexico City. MFJP Comandante Armando Pavon had been placed under house arrest and was also in Mexico City. The investigation had effectively been moved to Mexico City so the foreign press followed the investigation. Things quieted down in Guadalajara, the Mex-Feds had their orders; do not move without authority from Mexico City.
The director of the MFJP, Manuel Ibarra-Herrera had not yet been replaced but it appeared eminent. Ventura was reporting directly to the A.G’s office, an obvious affront to Ibarra, who had replaced Ventura with Miguel Aldana-Ibarra, his first cousin, when Manual Ibarra assumed the position of Director of the MFJP in 1983. DEA’s allegation that Manuel Ibarra had been responsible for allowing Juan Mata-Ballesteros to escape in Mexico City hadn’t helped him. The government needed to quell the outcry.
The Mexico City television stations had almost around the clock coverage now, reporting on the arrests. Two comandantes of the Jalisco State Police had been arrested, Gabriel Gonzales and Benjamin Locheo. Twenty-one others, including some ex-members of the force, and Adan Camberos, the son of “La Comanche” were also in custody.
As soon as the legal seventy-two hour period passed, during which the government could hold suspects incommunicado, they were paraded before the television cameras and, to a man, they repudiated their statements, saying they had been tortured to secure the confessions. They all showed signs of the brutal Mexican treatment, which accompanied the traditional interrogations. Each had deep marks across the bridge of his nose where adhesive tape had been wound to blindfold them. Some had severe bruises and still others displayed red marks around their wrists from handcuffs and ropes used to bind them.
In Guadalajara we had watched, and listened, as the suspects retracted, one after another, their confessions. But we didn’t really know to what they had confessed. It would be some time before the written declarations would be available for us to read. Some of us walked to a small sidewalk café on Avenida Chapultepec named “Los Rusos.” The weather was beautiful and we were discussing the latest developments in Mexico City when the funeral procession carrying the body of state police comandante Gabriel Gonzalez-Gonzalez passed slowly in front of the café, just one block from where the tragedy had begun, at the U.S. Consulate. But the shadow of the cover-up had already started spreading. The count was now seven, the Bravo family, the MFJP agent at the Bravo ranch, and Gabriel Gonzalez.
Ford Motor Company manufactures automobiles in Mexico. Perhaps because of an agreement they have with Mexico, they didn’t market their cars within the country with the same model names they used in the United States. Consequently the top of the line model, in 1984 and 1985, the Mercury Gran Marquis, was sold in Mexico as the Ford Gran Marquis. It was absolutely the most expensive and luxurious automobile you could legally own in Mexico at the time. Unless you were especially influential, it was the most ostentatious car anyone could drive. The traffickers had practically cornered the market on the Gran Marquis.
DEA Agent Alan Bachelier picked up information on March 25 concerning a black Gran Marquis that was alleged to have been used in the kidnapping of Kiki. The source of the information said that the vehicle was the property of Cesar Fonseca, a cousin of Ernesto “Don Neto” Fonseca. The source stated that Cesar Fonseca, assisted by his half brother, Tomas Fonseca, “El Tomasin”, had hidden the vehicle in a partially constructed cinder-block house just outside the periferico; near an area know as “El Coli.” The automobile had allegedly been hidden for about a month.
The DEA had an aircraft in Guadalajara at the time, a residual from the period in which so much equipment had been dispatched to help in the search. We commandeered it, no problem really, since the pilot was anxious.