CHILPANCINGO, MexicoThe safe house sits on a side street in a barrio that looks out on the well-lit downtown of Guerreros state capital and the dark foothills beyond. A late-model pick-up truck is parked in the street, and the surrounding alleys are scrawled with graffiti. Its just past sunset on a late summer evening and a woman is trudging up the hill with a basket of bread, calling out her wares. Otherwise the street is silent. Then the hit man steps from the shadows behind the parked truck and waves me on toward the safe house.
We sit at a bare table in the kitchen on the second floor. The tabletop is scored and oil-stained, as if machinery or heavy weapons often are served there. In one corner sits a shrine with small statues of the saints, Holy Judas among them. A hand-carved jaguar mask hangs on the walls. I notice that the hit man has seated himself at the table in such a way that he can see out both of the rooms windows at once. The curtains are open and the view looks out on the street below the safe house. A car approaching from either direction would be visible a long way off.
The hit man tells me in Spanish to call him Capache.
Is that your real name? I say.
That is what you can call me, Capache says.
The word translates as trap or trapper. That is what you can call me.
Capache was once a sicario for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), which recently eclipsed the Sinaloa CartelChapo Guzmans old outfitas Mexicos largest criminal syndicate. Then, about two years ago, Capache switched sides to oppose CJNG and its allies. He currently serves with an autodefensa [self-defense] force that has taken the law into its own hands in the name of combating political corruption and organized crime.
Over the last few years, as violence has reached historic levels, autodefensas have become increasingly common in Mexico. The Oscar-nominated documentary Cartel Land depicted the rise and fall of one such group. Academics have become increasingly interested in the phenomenon.
When a community is no longer protected by a sovereign state the contract between the government and the governed is effectively broken, says Robert Bunker, a professor at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, in an email to The Daily Beast. At that point local citizens who are being robbed, raped, and who are living under the constant fear of bodily injury and death have the option of either fleeing, joining the local crime groups oppressing them, or standing up and taking matters in their own hands as vigilantes.
Capache, having undergone a rigorous and bloody training regimen as a CJNG recruit, now uses his paramilitary background, his knowledge of the dark arts of assassination, to strike back against the narcos. He works as a cleaner in Chilpancingo, stalking and killing cartel members who, in his words, prey on society like vampires.
An autodefensa leader Ive interviewed in the past helped arrange a meeting with Capache, who has promised to share unique insights into the operational strategies used by two opposing sides in Mexicos worsening Drug War.
I feel good about the work I do, Capache says, without taking his eyes from the outside windows. Its not easy, and you have to watch your back. But Im proud of it, he says.
Im defending people who cant defend themselves. Im fighting back. The police dont do anything against the cartels. So if we dont, he asks, who will?
Capache looks to be in his early twenties. He wears jeans and desert-issue combat boots. A tight-fitting, long-sleeve camouflage T-shirt shows off the shoulders of a dedicated weightlifter. Hes got skull tattoos on the back of his right hand, a stud earring, and a finger ring that bears the head of a snarling wolf.
Certain sicarios Ive met in the past have come across as arrogant, eager to boast about their exploits. Tout their love of violence for its own sake. Others are given to lamentations for their misdeeds. But Capache is different. Formal and soft-spoken, he talks of his past without braggadocio or any gnashing of teeth, but instead with an almost monotone matter-of-factness, as if the spirit of youth has been burned out of him by all hes seen. Turned into an old soul before his time.
I was just 14 when I left home to join the [Jalisco] Cartel, he says. The son of a single mother with 10 other children, Capache had stopped going to school the year before because the family had no money to pay for his tuition. He was working in a restaurant in the village of Ocotito when a childhood friend recruited him to enter the CJNGs training program.
We had nothing. No money to eat with. I was tired of seeing my mom go hungry. And I knew I could make 10 times more working for them. As soon as I heard the offer I knew thats what I had to do. Less than a week later I was on a bus for Jalisco.
CJNG leader Nemesio Oseguera, aka El Mencho, has long sought to control drug production zones in Guerrero, which is the point of origin for about 50 percent of the heroin that enters the U.S. Lately its also become an important staging ground for synthetic drugs like fentanyl, which is mixed with heroin in processing labs located in the states remote and lawless mountains. An extensive recruitment effort aimed at the masses of impoverished young men with bleak futures from across Mexico is one of the reasons CJNG has become so powerful so fast.
Less than a decade old, the CJNG has already proved itself to be an extremely violent, predatory, and ascendant cartel backed up by increasingly capable paramilitary forces, says Bunker. When pushed by the Mexican state it is also not afraid to directly strike back and ambush federal forces.
Menchos mafia is now present in some two dozen Mexican states, as well as the U.S., South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, according to Bunker. While many crime groups in Mexico act more like loose coalitions, with little top-down planning or organization, Mencho has taken a different tack.
As Bunker explains, part of the secret to his groups success is the centralization of CJNG under one leader and some capable senior officers, which allows for the close planning and coordination needed to shift its paramilitary units from one operational area to another.
Capache arrived in Guachinango, state of Jalisco, with little more than the clothes on his back. He slept with other young recruits in a cluster of tents. Some of the instructors were retired members of the Mexican special forces. Others were active-duty military personnel who were also on the cartel payroll. One of the first things they told Capache was that he did not have the right to leave.
At first I missed my family and thought about running away. But if you tried to escape youd be hunted down and killed. I saw others try to get away and they were always caught. Some of those would-be escapees were doused with gasoline and burned alive in front of their comrades, Capache says. Others had explosives taped to their body and ignited.
There was no going back, he says, seated at the scarred wooden table in the safe house.
As an initiate Capache received general infantry-style training, including small-unit tactics, target practice with assault rifles, belt-fed machine guns and grenade launchers, and field-stripping weapons while blindfolded.
Large-scale gangs like the CJNG consider this kind of curriculum worth the cost of investment because criminal groups that field untrained gunmen get chewed to bits in [armed] engagements with cartel personnel that have better paramilitary and military levels of training, Bunker says.
In addition to such traditional schooling, Capache says he and other recruits were also forced to undergo arduous trials meant to desensitize them to pain. One such exercise involved forcing trainees to undress beneath wasp nests lodged in trees.
Then they [drill instructors] hit the nests with poles or rifle barrels until the wasps came out to attack us. You had to stand there for 10 minutes and without moving at all. If you moved or screamed they beat you for it, he recalls, so it was better just to take the pain.
After about three months of training it was time for the final exam, which involved cutting people up a special way, Capache explains. Recruits took turns administering a specific, byzantine series of stabs and slashes to a live victimusually a thief or petty criminal the cartel deemed deserving of such punishment. The first series of ordered knife cuts was meant to torture for information without killing. Then to strike fatal blows. And at last to cut up the body by hand for disposal.
And if someone didnt want to participate in such a test?
You knew they would kill you if you refused, he says. It was a way to prove you were loyal to the cartel.
Bunker says such rituals have become commonplace in Mexicos underworld:
The dismembering of a victim and/or eating their flesh is a homicidal and heinous act that bonds [recruits] to the cartel as if they had joined a cult. It is viewed as a rite of passage into your new life and burns your moral and ethical bridges with traditional society.
Capache started work for the cartel as a halcon, or spy, in the city of Ameca, Jalisco. Posted in houses near strategic points around the city, he would spend 12-hour shifts calling out the movements of police, soldiers, or rival gang members to the local command center via coded radio transmissions. During this time he also helped package and ship assorted narcotics, including cocaine, marijuana and crystal meth. Later he served as a full-fledged sicario and says he was involved in seven or eight firefights against opposing bands or authorities.
Because he was big for his age, had excelled in the organizations training program, and served well in combat he soon graduated to serve in an elite, 35-man bodyguard unit. The platoon-sized force was in charge of security for one of Menchos regional commanders, a mysterious man known only as 090. (According to Capache, the numerical sequence was chosen because it is also the Federal Police radio code for a homicide.)
Finally he was sent back to Guerrero to help recruit others and pave the way for CJNGs takeover of the state. Hed been in the Chilpancingo area for only a few months before he was captured by an autodefensa force called the United Front of Community Police of Guerrero State (FUPCEG). One of the largest groups of its kind in the country, FUPCEG boasts a fighting force of almost 12,000 men stationed in more than 30 municipalities. After a half-year of re-education classes, as Capache calls them, he was invited to join FUPCEGs anti-cartel strike force.
Cartel foot soldiers joining policia comunitarios, or community police, as autodefensas are often called in Guerrero, is a relatively common occurrence. Although their expertise is valued by the self-defense forces, their presence can also contribute to a blurring of the line that separates vigilantes from the organized crime groups they seek to oppose.
At first Capache helped train the vigilantes fresh members, passing on what hed learned in Jalisco about tactical maneuvers and weapons training. He also took part in open battles in the mountains against a regional mafia said to be allied with CJNG, called the Cartel del Sur. Eventually he was sent to back to Chilpancingo, as part of several elite squads assigned to FUPCEGs clandestine limpieza [cleansing] program.
The autodefensa leaders held a press conference last March, boldly announcing that they would start targeting criminals in the city. The expansion of their operations came after a months-long campaign to liberate small towns and villages in the surrounding sierra from the Cartel del Sur, which is led by a particularly ruthless capo named Isaac Navarette Celis.
The Cartel del Sur wants to intimidate the population. They want to dominate Chilpo and control everything. They rob and extort, they kidnap and murder. If they see a woman they like on the street, they just take her. Their ambition leads them to do things they shouldnt, says Capache. Thats why were here to clean up.
Part of that cleaning-up process involves identifying members of the cartel for capture or assassination. When the order goes to out for a hit in Chilpancingo, Capache receives a message with directions on his cell phone. Shortly thereafter a man arrives at the safe house with an untraceable firearm, usually a semi-automatic pistol. (I like a 9 mm Beretta when I can get one, he says, because they almost never jam.)
Capache works as part of a three-man crew that includes a driver and a scout, and they take turns acting as the designated shooter. The safest method, he says, is to engage the intended target from the back of a motorcycle or car.
It gets more difficult when the mark is with a group or protected by bodyguards. In that case, we have women who help us to get them alone, he says. Once the target is vulnerable the women find an excuse to step away and make a phone call.
They tell us where they are and what hes wearing and after that its easy, says Capache. In case the targets are armed, he shoots them first in the head, then in the chest, instead of the other way around.
Local news reports indicate a string of unsolved killings of young men in and around the provincial capital in the wake of FUPCEG putting Navarette Celiss gang on notice this spring. Capache is reluctant to provide the names of his victims, and my sense is that he fears blowback from both his superiors in FUPCEG and law enforcement if he reveals traceable information. However, the independent press coverage from the last several months shows multiple public assassinations in the barrios and urban zones where autodefensa cells like Capaches are said to operate. Those reports also jibe with specific details of their preferred M.O., such as dismemberment and conducting hits by motorbike.
Capache claims five confirmed kills as part of the FUPCEG hit squad, but says that total doesnt count his work for CJNG or pitched battles with the autodefensas. Such combat experiences are messy, he says, and not like on TV.
Its hard to know if those he shot in firefights actually died or were only wounded, he says, and he doesnt want to overestimate a kill count that might be incorrect simply to look tough. In answer to a question about what he feels in battle, or during the act of killing an unsuspecting target, he says:
No siento nada mas que adrenalina. I feel nothing but adrenaline.
When I ask if he likes the adrenaline he confesses he does but says its also depressing when your friends get hurt or killed.
He glances away from the open windows to look me straight in the eyes.
But your friends pain also helps you keep fighting, he says, because it makes you hunger for revenge.
Critics point out that FUPCEGs undercover ops differ little, if at all, from the tactics employed by the cartels themselves.
They call themselves community police, but theyre really no different from sicarios, says Manuel Olivares, director of a Chilpancingo-based NGO called the Jos Mara Morelos y Pavn Regional Center for Human Rights. The NGO director also charges that the state government is complicit in allowing FUPCEG to operate outside the rule of law.
Ultimately theyre enabled by the politicians, he says. The criminals could never carry out a campaign of terror without their support and permission. The level of corruption [in Guerrero] is just incredible. We have a government that cares only for itself.
Bunker agrees with Olivares about the authorities turning a blind eye to vigilante justice in Chilpancingo.
If the autodefensas want to engage in extrajudicial killings by means of death squads to take cartel gunmen and their other personnel off the streets its a freebie for the overwhelmed authorities. Cartel del Sur has a barbaric reputation as far as torture-killings and other deprivations go, so [FUPCEG operations] remove some of the hardcore criminal element plaguing the community.
But Bunker also warns of the danger inherent in relying on civilian militias.
Once autodefensas form they are immediately susceptible to outside criminal influencessuch as cartel penetration and manipulationor they can become corrupted by their new found position of power and become an armed gang in their own right.
Indeed, some local press reports have linked FUPCEG to a shadowy group called the Sierra Cartel, a long-time rival of the Cartel del Sur.
Back in the safe house overlooking Chilpancingo, Capache insists FUPCEGs mission is not about taking over the narcotics trade.
Were here because the people have asked us for support. We came to keep the cartel from killing in this pueblo. Were not against selling coke or other drugs, so long as they dont hurt anybody, he says in that same neutral and affectless voice. All we want is peace.
Capache now makes enough from his work for FUPCEG to help his mother and siblings. He married not long ago, and has a daughter just a couple of months old. He cant visit his family often, he says, because he doesnt want to put them in danger.
Near the end of our interview, I ask him if he ever considers finding another line of work.
Capache says hed like to open his own restaurant someday, but admits it would be hard to leave the autodefensas.
The work is dangerous, but its for a good cause, he says. I finally feel like Im doing something right.
A San Antonio Air Force Reserve major who reported his wife missing in March has been arrested and charged with murder, authorities said.
Andre McDonald, 40, was charged with first-degree murder Sunday in the death of his wife, 29-year-old Andreen McDonald, on March 1. After three months of countless countywide searches, authorities found the businesswomans body on a ranch east of Joint Base San Antonio-Camp Bullis.
McDonald is being held at Bexar County Jail on a $2 million bond, police confirmed to The Daily Beast.
Any ounce of understanding that we had for Andy is gone, her cousin, Cheryl Spencer, told KSAT during a Sunday vigil. You do not have the right to do this to any human being. Andreen was far from perfect. She had her flaws, but you do not have the right to do this to anybodys child.
While many details of the March murder remain unknown, authorities believe the couples 7-year-old daughter, who is autistic and nonverbal, may have seen the crime and subsequent cleanup.
At this point, I dont know how much the little girl knows, Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar said during a press conference Saturday. Im still of the belief that the little girl witnessed at least some things with the death of her mom.
Authorities say Andreen McDonald, the owner of Starlight Homes Assisted Living, was last seen with her daughter around 6:20 p.m. on February 28. According to an arrest warrant obtained by The Daily Beast, phone records indicate both McDonald and his wife were home the entire evening.
The next day, deputies went to the couples home to conduct a welfare check after the 29-year-olds mother and several friends said they had not heard from her since the previous evening.
According to the arrest warrant, two of Andreen McDonalds friends told authorities that before her disappearance she had said that if she ever went missing or was found dead, Andre had killed her.
A Bexar County Sheriff spokesperson confirmed officers had been called to their home numerous times for domestic disturbances. According to public records, McDonald filed for divorce in February 2017 but later dismissed the petition.
In their backyard, deputies noticed a burn pile, where it appeared something had recently been burned. All of Andreen McDonalds personal belongings were still in the house and her car was parked in the driveway.
When McDonald arrived home, he told deputies his wife was being treated at a local hospital. Police quickly suspected he was lying.
He claimed he did not know where Andreen McDonald was, the warrant states, but revealed he had an argument with his wife the night before and asked for an attorney.
Authorities also found blood and hair on the bathrooms light switch, floor, and door handlethough initial DNA tests could not determine if the samples belonged to Andreen McDonald.
Andre McDonald was first charged on March 3 with tampering with evidence after investigators discovered that he had purchased cans of gasoline, heavy duty trash bags, work gloves, a portable burn barrel, a shovel, and an ax around the time he reported his wife missing.
The Air Force officer then tried to destroy the receipt and throw them away in the kitchen trash can, authorities allege.
He went to great lengths to destroy that receipt. We were able to recover it but thats what led to the tampering with evidence charge, Salazar said. So, I think a lot of his behavior up to this point, along with some of the evidence that I wont go too much into detail on, are what led to this charge.
According to the arrest warrant, McDonald had cuts and injuries on his hands when he was arrested and gave conflicting accounts about how the wounds occurred.
Inside another trash can, the warrant states, investigators found a blood-stained hammer and a mans sweater and jeans, which had the couples blood on it.
The daughter, who has not been publicly named, suggested to one family friend that her mother had been burned, according to court documents, and made comments about Andre hurting Mommy.
In one attempt to explain what she saw, the daughter took a doll, put it in a circle over rocks, and covered it with sticks before asking for the fire.
Since his initial arrest, McDonald has not once asked about the ongoing search for his wife and has never tried to assist in the investigation, the warrant said.
On July 11, a friend of the ranchs owner discovered Andreen McDonalds body while removing two cow skulls on the 50-acre property. According to the warrant, when authorities arrived they noticed the human remains appeared to have been covered with wood and bones from a nearby deceased cow and set on fire. Melted plastic or synthetic material was also found among the remains.
The Medical Examiners Office confirmed the remains belonged to Andreen McDonald on Friday night using her dental records. The next day, McDonald was arrested at home and appeared quiet and fully cooperative, Salazar said on Saturday.
I actually enjoyed him being arrested, Andreen McDonald's cousin Cheryl Spencer said. That was nice. I like that little public shaming.
A Bexar County Sheriff spokesperson declined to provide a motive on Monday, but added that there is substantial evidence to prove McDonald killed his wife and disposed of her body.
The next step is to prepare this case to go to trial with the DAs office, the spokesperson said. Our department is dedicated to getting justice for Andreen and her family.
McDonalds attorney, John Convery, declined The Daily Beasts request for comment. Andreen McDonalds immediate family did not respond to multiple attempts for comment.
German police searching the apartment of a 30-year-old woman who, along with two others, was fatally shot with a crossbow in an upstairs room of a German B&B have found two more victims who reportedly died the same way.
The bodies of two womenboth reportedly also shot with crossbows, according to news reports therewere found in a bedroom of the apartment on Monday, two days after the three bodies were discovered at the guesthouse in Passau. Police there say they likely died several days earlier.
None of the five victims have yet been identified by name.
Detectives went to the womans home in Lower Saxony after it was discovered that she had booked the triple room in the B&B under her name.
Local news outlet Merkur reports that one of the new victims may be the 30-year-old womans sister. Neighbors said the 30-year-old was quiet and dressed in a gothic style. One neighbor said, She never greeted anyone.
The grim discovery was made on Monday in Wittengen, Lower Saxony, hours away from the macabre discovery at the B&B in Passau, where the 30-year-old woman, a 33-year-old woman and a 54-year-old manall German citizenswere found by a chambermaid in a triple room. They had all been impaled with crossbow arrows, known as bolts. The older man was described as a skilled archer who often carried crossbows in his white pickup truck, according to the German news service DPA.
The man and the older of the two women, who were both from Rhineland-Palatinate but apparently did not live together, were found hand-in-hand on the double bed with several arrows protruding from their chests and heads, investigating prosecutor Walter Feiler told the German news agency DPA. One arrow nearly went all the way through the mans head, according to several German press outlets.
The younger of the women was impaled on a single arrow and was slumped in a pool of blood on the floor. Police are not revealing a suspected motive or a precise method for the triple homicideor even if it is being considered a murder-suicidebut they have so far excluded the possibility of a killer on the loose. We still assume that no other people were involved in the deaths of the three, Gaisbaue said, though he admitted that the discovery of additional bodies in one of the victims homes had complicated the investigation.
Two crossbows thought to be used in the killings were found on the floor of the B&B, Bavarian police spokesman Stefan Gaisbaue confirmed to The Daily Beast. A third crossbow was found inside a duffle bag on the floor. Arrows were scattered around the room. Police have not said whether any crossbows were found at the newer crime scene.
The threesome had checked into the B&B during a torrential rainstorm at 10 p.m. on Friday, according to the manager of the guesthouse. They did not carry luggage when they checked in, but security camera footage shows that one of the women went out to the vehicle to retrieve large bags, presumably with the crossbows inside, after the reception desk closed for the night.
A hotel guest told local newspaper Merkur, that the group was strange and that the man had a long white beard and wore a formal suit. The women were reportedly wearing all black. They had asked for food but since the kitchen had already closed, they took snacks and soft drinks to their room. They had booked breakfast for the next morning, but failed to show up.
The two crime scenes are nearly 430 miles apart. The Northern Saxony apartment is close to the town of Hanover and the Passau B&B is near the Austrian border, which divides the investigation between two jurisdictions. Initial autopsy reports on the Passau victims will be available Tuesday, which should help determine a cause and time of death.
Crossbows can be legally purchased by anyone over 18 for hunting in Germany. It is not yet clear whether the crossbows found at the crime scene were those used by hunters or recreational archers. Murder by crossbow is extremely rare, though accidental injury by shooting is fairly common across Europe. Authorities say they will announce more details about the two new victims and a potential motive in the days ahead.
A chambermaid cleaning rooms on the second floor of a Bavarian bed & breakfast in the southern German city of Passau found three dead people impaled on long arrows in one of the rooms.
When she first peeked into the room on Saturday morning, she didnt realize a figure on the bed was human, according to Merkur news website.
Somebody put a doll on the bed, the cleaner said to a colleague who was down the hall, Merkur reported. The two cleaners then pushed the door open to find a man, 54, and two women, aged 30 and 33, with arrows stuck through their mid-sections. On the floor were two crossbows, presumably used in the killings.
The guesthouse describes itself on its website as a nature getaway. Here you can relax, relax and find your inner peace again, the hosts promise.
The three mystery visitors were from Rhineland-Palatinate, according to local press reports. The 33-year-old, who booked the triple room with a double and single bed online for three days for $95 a night, was from Lower Saxony, some 300 miles away, local media said. Residents in the 33-year-olds home town said she kept to herself and rarely left her house. It is unclear if the other two people were a couple.
The three arrived around 10 p.m. in a white pickup truck late Friday in a driving rainstorm, the hotel manager on duty Sunday night, who did not want to give his name, told The Daily Beast.
When they arrived, the hotel manager said, they asked for food, but the kitchen was already closed so they took packaged salty snacks, several bottles of Coca Cola and water to their room. He said they were hungry, so they booked breakfast for the next day, but did not show up in the morning.
It was a strange group, one of the hotel guests told Merkur news. The man, who had a long white beard that extended down to his mid-chest, wore a formal suit. The women were both dressed completely in black. They said good evening and just wanted to get to their room quickly,the guest said.
None of the guests reported hearing any strange noises overnight, according to the local press, though a violent storm and the raging river next to the guesthouse may have muffled any noise.
Currently, there are no indications that anyone else participated in the deaths, according to police spokesman Stefan Gaisbauer at a press conference Sunday afternoon.
It was not immediately known how the trio knew each other, but it was reported by the German press that they were not assumed to be in the same immediate family based on their identification, which they left at the front desk when they checked in.
Autopsies have been ordered to determine the time and cause of death. The guesthouse reopened for business on Saturday night but the room in which the deceased were found was sealed until further notice.