With nearly 2,000 miles of shared border between Mexico and the United States, the drug trade is a very lucrative business for criminals on both sides of the border. The vicious drug wars between the Mexican cartels that have erupted, specifically over the past decade, to supply the U.S. with drugs, have thrown Mexico into a maelstrom of murder and mayhem, kidnapping and extortion and widespread fear. With shootouts in broad daylight, mass graves being discovered, kidnappings and extortion a daily business and decapitated bodies showing up in resort towns, no major Mexican city with any links to rugs, or access to the U.S. is safe. For all of the atrocities committed during the cartel drug wars, here are the ten most shocking.
10. The Puebla Oil Pipeline Explosion
While drug trafficking, extortion, murder and the smuggling of illegal immigrants into the Americas are a drug cartel’s primary source of income and criminal activity, some have branched away from the status quo and found other sources of revenue. Some cartels, like the Los Zetas cartel, have taken to tapping oil pipelines to add to their sources of revenue, and on December 10, 2010, in Puebla, Mexico, the Los Zetas attempted to tap into a Pemex oil pipeline. The result was a massive explosion and fire that killed 29 people, including 13 children. The fire also consumed five square kilometers of land and dozens of homes.
9. The Durango Massacres
The northwestern city of Durango became an explosion of violence in 2011 when, in that year alone over 340 bodies were discovered in mass graves scattered throughout the city. One single grave near an auto body shop contained 89 bodies alone. Although the government has had a near impossible time identifying the bodies, one of the dead discovered was an ex-mayor from the town of Tepehuanes. The Los Zetas cartel is believed to be responsible for the murders, but without much proof, the massacres remain a bloody and all too often unsolved reminder of cartel violence in Mexico.
8. Jesus Ernesto Chavez Castillo
Jesus Ernesto Chavez Castillo earned a place on this list all too himself. Originally a member of a Texas prison gang, Chavez became one of the most notorious contract killers for one of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels, the Juarez Cartel. After he was apprehended, Chavez decided to testify against his Cartel boss, Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, for ordering the murders of a U.S. Consulate Official and her husband, an El Paso County Sheriff’s Officer, in March of 2010. The pair was gunned down after they left a children’s party, while their one-year-old baby was found alive in the back seat of their car. At his trial, Chavez told police that he had a daily murder quota to meet and each murder was to be, in his own words “as brutal as possible” and meant to be “big news” in order to instill fear into the minds of the police, elected officials and general public of Juarez. At his trial for the murder that ultimately brought him to justice, Chavez went so far as to tell jurors that he often beheaded or dismembered his victims as a means to impress his boss. Ultimately the hitman confessed to over 800 murders on the cartel’s behalf, making him a one-man death squad.
7. The Tamaulipas Mayhem 2014
In early 2014, just as it seemed as though a lull in cartel violence was settling over the Tamaulipas province in Mexico, all hell broke lose, and a wave of chaos engulfed the region, culminating in a spate of kidnappings, extortion and violent gun battles in the streets of the regions cities. An average of four to five people a day were being kidnapped, among them former Mayor Benjamin Galván and prominent businessman Miguel Ángel Ortiz, whose dead bodies were later discovered in a neighboring province. Two senior Mexican law officials were also among those missing. Beyond the brazen kidnappings, the cartels even took to social media to casually warn residents of the city of Tampico of a “gunbattle to the death.” The Facebook and Twitter messages also warned city residents to stay indoors and avoid public areas. As a parting shot, the cartels stated, “we’re warning you now so you don’t whine later that you were caught in the crossfire.” All told, the violence between the social media inclined cartels left more than 30 people dead, and Tamaulipas province bracing itself for a new drug war.
6. The San Fernando Massacres
While plenty of violence committed during the ongoing cartel wars is mainly focused at retribution or intimidation towards rivals in the drug trade, civilians are sadly not immune to the bloodshed either. 2011, the Los Zetas cartel discovered that their rival, the Gulf Cartel, had sent for more reinforcements from other states in Mexico in preparation of an impending shootout. The Los Zetas intercepted busloads of civilian migrant workers on Mexican Federal Highway 101 in San Fernando. When the migrants refused to work and fight for the cartel, they were shot. All but one man survived. Since referred to as “The Highway of Death” Highway 101 has become a violent and gruesome reminder of the drug wars in Mexico. The U.S. has advised its citizens never to travel on the road, and civilians will only drive the highway during the day, predominantly armed and traveling at a high rate of speed. Among the most common debris along the road side; burned-out, bullet-riddled cars and piles of decapitated bodies.
5. The Morelia Independence Day Grenade Attacks
September 15 is a day to celebrate in Mexico; it’s the Mexican Independence Day, and every year millions gather throughout the nation to take pride in their country’s independence. 2008 started out no different than any other year in the city of Morelia on Independence Day where a crowd of over 30,000 revelers was gathered in celebration. All that came to a halt, however, when a pair of grenades was thrown into the crowd, killing eight civilians and injuring dozens more. Whether made as a political statement, or merely to remind the public that the cartels were firmly in control of Mexico and could strike at any time, the bold attack shocked the nation on one of its most important holidays. Though there was speculation about who committed this brazen act of terrorism, the members of the Los Zetas cartel were eventually arrested for the crime.
4. The 2011 Monterrey Casino Attack
In another shockingly brazen act of violence committed by Los Zetas, the 2011 Monterrey Casino Attack remains tragically memorable because it again involved civilians. In August of 2011 a group of four vehicles pulled up to the entranceway of the Casino Royale in Nuevo Leon, Mexico and opened fire with automatic weapons. Upon ceasing fire, the group dumped gallons of gasoline into the front of the building and set it on fire. The ensuing fire and panic inside resulted in 52 dead civilians, mostly woman. Some investigators estimate the body count could be much higher, but fire damage made it difficult to identify bodies amongst the debris. For their part, the Los Zetas claimed they were merely trying to intimidate the owners of the casino, who had refused to pay the cartel extortion money.
3. The Nuevo Laredo Massacres
The Nuevo Laredo Massacres turned the streets of the city of Nuevo Leon into a hellish nightmare as terrifying as Baghdad in the spring of 2012. In mid April 2012, 14 men, who were presumed to be Los Zetas members, were found chopped into pieces in a van, apparently on the orders of the Sinoloa cartel. And that wasn’t all the Sinola cartel had planned to intimidate their rivals. Sinola continued its reign of terror to a horrific degree. A few weeks later, a further 23 bodies were discovered. Of the 23 people killed, nine of their bodies were hanged from a bridge to the utter horror of the civilians of Nuevo Laredo, and a further 14 corpses were found, decapitated, with their heads stuffed in ice coolers. Amidst the cartel violence, there were also attacks against the police and media members. The offices of the El Mañana newspaper were even shot at and assaulted with grenades. Point made, Sinola.
2. The Hugo Hernandez Murder
The case of Hugo Hernandez could be straight out of a horror film. In 2010, the 26-year-old Hernandez was kidnapped from the city of Sonora. A week later his body was found on a street in the northern city of Los Mochis. He had been chopped up into seven pieces; Hernandez’s torso was found in a plastic container on the street separate from another box that contained his arms, legs and skull. The most gruesome and shocking part of the murder was yet to come. His face was skinned off of his skull and stitched onto a soccer ball in an apparent threat to the Juarez drug cartel. Along with the soccer ball came a note, stating “”Happy New Year, because this will be your last.”
1. The Massive Decapitations
Acapulco was once one of the most prominent resort towns in all of Mexico. With its sandy beaches, luxury hotels and vibrant nightlife, it was a tourist haven. Unfortunately, as the war between the Mexican drug cartels escalated, Acapulco became another important city for trade and transport, and the once beautiful vacation destination has now seen the rate of tourists on the beaches decline, replaced by a wave of decapitated bodies that roll in with the tide. In January of 2011 alone in Acapulco, 15 headless bodies were found near a shopping mall with a note from the head of the Sinola cartel. Later in 2011 five more heads were found in a sack outside of an elementary school. The heads were placed there as a threat to Acapulco’s local teachers, who were being extorted to turn over half their income to the cartels. Because decapitation is such a vicious, shocking and attention-grabbing form of execution, it has become the drug cartel’s method du jour, and nowhere has this recently been more prevalent than Acapulco.