This case is more than 3 decades old yet is one of the most extensive case ever in the history of FBI.
This murder case of Enrique Camarena also provided the plot for a very famous 2018 Netflix series “Narcos: Mexico.“
It is a bit long case study but as I mentioned it is one of the most extensive murder case involving bribery, betrayal, callousness on the part of police personnel, rivalry between US and Mexico, etc etc. So please bear with me and read it till the end.
On February 7, 1985 Special Agent Enrique Camarena (Mexican-American undercover agent for the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ) and Captain Alfredo Zavala from the DEA, were abducted.
Special Agent Enrique Camarena was reported by a witness to have been pushed into a light colored small car in front of the Camelot Restaurant near the U.S .Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico. Few hours later Captain Alfredo Zavala was also abducted from his car near the Guadalajara Airport.
These two abductions later triggered a series of events leading to one of the largest investigations
ever conducted by the DEA and would result in one of the most extensive cases ever received by the FBI.
The Mexican Federal Judicial Police (MFJP) started the investigation with Coman-dante Pavon-Reyes being the principle investigator. Following up on the claims of a witness’s account of seeing a man shoved into the backseat of a light-colored compact vehicle, two notorious drug traffickers, Rafael Caro-Quintero and Ernesto Fon-seca were deemed prime suspects.
In the initial stages of the investigation, some members of the MFJP formulated a plan alongside Mexican drug traffickers to quickly resolve the case. They sent an anonymous letter to the police stating a location that Special Agent Camarena was being held by some other gang’s ranch.
The plan was something like this – The MFJP was supposed to raid the ranch,eliminate the drug gang, and eventually discover the bodies of SA Camarena and Captain Zavala buried on the ranch. The DEA would then be notified and the case would be closed. Thus, putting the blame on the other gang would be the easiest thing to do. Isn’t it all giving typical 90s hindi crime thriller??
MFJP officers raided the other gang’s ranch and In the resulting shootout, all of the gang members, as well as one MFJP officer, were killed. However, due to a mix-up, the bodies of SA Camarena and Captain Zavala were not buried on the ranch in time to be discovered as planned.
Shortly after this shootout, a passerby on a road near the Bravo ranch found two partially decomposed bodies wrapped in plastic bags.
The bodies were removed and transported to a local morgue, where they were autopsied.
Cadaver number 1 was identified by the fingerprint expert as SA Camarena. Cadaver 2 was
identified through dental records as Captain Zavala.
THE FORENSIC EVIDENCE
The FBI forensic team requested permission to process the clothing, cordage, and burial sheet found with the bodies but the request was denied. However, they were allowed to cut small, “known” samples from these items and obtain hair samples from both bodies. Soil samples were also removed from the bodies and the clothing items.
Among the evidence recovered, hair samples matched with those known of Special Agent Camarena were discovered. Also, a bent license plate of the car used to kidnap Camarena was also recovered.
A forensic pathologist from the Armed Forces lnstitute of Pathology was allowed to examine the body of SA Camarena. He concluded that SA Camarena’s death was caused by blunt-force injuries.
Camarena had a hole in his skull caused by a rod-like instrument. His body was then released to the American officials and immediately flown to the United States.
The next day, both FBI and DEA personnel proceeded to the area where bodies were initially found. Because this site had been a completely uncontrolled crime scene, contaminated by both police personnel and onlookers, only a limited crime scene search was conducted.
lt was immediately noted that the color of the soil where the bodies had been found differed from the soil that had been removed from the bodies. Therefore, “known” soil samples from the site were taken to compare with soil removed from the victims.
It was also noted that there were no trace of any body fluids at the place where they were found.
This led the forensic team to conclude that the bodies were either kept or buried elsewhere, exhumed, and transported to the nearby area of other gang’s ranch.
The Principle Investigator Pavon-Reyes was fired, and arrest warrants were issued for a number of international drug traffickers, including Rafael Caro-Quintero and Ernesto Fonseca.
Due to mounting pressure from USA and the DEA, in April 1985, the MFJP informed the DEA that they might have found the residence where SA Camarena and Captain Zavala had been held. The FBI forensic team was immediately dispatched to Guadalajara; however, they were not allowed to proceed to the residence, located at 881 Lope De Vega, until an MFJP forensic team had processed the residence and had removed all of the
The DEA was also informed that since the abduction of SA Camarena, all of the interior walls had been painted, the entire residence had recently been cleaned, and that a group of MFJP officers were presently occupying, and thereby contaminating, the residence.
The FBI forensic team surveyed and began crime scene search of the residence and surrounding grounds. It is speculated that almost five bags full of evidences were recovered by them.
By this point in the investigation, an associate of Rafael Caro-Quintero had been arrested and interrogated by the MFJP. He stated that the bodies of two Americans, Albert Radelat and John
Walker, who had been abducted and killed by Mexican drug traffickers, were buried on the south side of La Primavera Park, a large, primitive park west of Guadalajara.
The bodies of Radelat and Walker were recovered. Soil samples taken from the surface of an area near their graves were found to be very similar in most respects to the soil recovered earlier from the bodies of Camarena and Zavala.
ln September 1985, DEA personnel went to La Primavera Park and sampled an area approximately 2 feel below the surface near the same site. This sample matched the soil samples from Camarena and Zavala almost grain for grain, indicating that this site should be their burial site before they were relocated to the other gang’s ranch.
Some of the evidences were later taken by FBI from MFJP for analysis but majority of the
ofthe evidence had been destroyed for ‘health reasons”.
During the trial, it was presented that the hair samples found at 881 Lope De Vega strongly showed involvement of two Mexican citizens, Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros (drug trafficker), and Sergio Espino Verdin ( MFJP Official), with the “guest house” samples where they were tortured.
After an eight-week trial, on the basis of statements of hundreds of witnesses, all of the defendants were found guilty and convicted on all counts, and are currently serving
Accused cartel boss Rafael Caro-Quintero has been wanted in connection with Camarena’s death since he was indicted in 1987. Caro-Quintero was convicted by a Mexican court but freed on appeal and is on the FBI’s most-wanted fugitive.
WHY THIS CASE IS IMPORTANT ?
The pitfalls in this case was destruction of evidence, corruption, contamination of crime scenes and misleading information.
Had the MFJP not interfered throughout the investigation, forensic teams would have been able to gather a more evidences from which they could subsequently construct a clearer picture of the crimes committed.
The unethical actions of the MFJP throughout the investigation greatly impeded the case’s resolution. Furthermore, the crime scenes had been altered greatly prior to the collection of evidence.
The house in which Special Agent Camarena was tortured had been freshly painted and surprisingly occupied Mexican Police.
Since the kidnapping and murder of Special Agent Camarena took place in Mexico, the power of United States government agencies jurisdiction was limited.