Four Jehovah's Witnesses who disappeared five years ago in Guadalajara, Mexico, may have been mistaken for U.S. drug agents and killed by the narcotics cartel suspected in the slaying of federal drug agent Enrique Camarena, according to Justice Department and intelligence sources.
If true, the four met a fate that later befell two other Americans--a writer and a student--who in 1985 were similarly mistaken by Mexican drug traffickers for U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents and murdered, according to federal sources.
U.S. investigators believe the bodies of the four Jehovah's Witnesses were buried in the same Guadalajara park where Camarena was initially buried.
The four victims were Dennis Carlson, 32, and his wife, Rose, 36, from the Redding area of Northern California, and Benjamin Mascarenas, 29, of Ely, Nev., and his German-born wife, Pat, 27.
On Dec. 2, 1984, the four Jehovah's Witnesses, who had taken up residence in Guadalajara, 330 miles northwest of Mexico City, went knocking on doors in the city's upper-middle-class Chapalita neighborhood, spreading word of their faith.
The well-dressed couples, carrying pamphlets and books, vanished from the area that day. Subsequent efforts by their families and Mexican police to locate them were to no avail.
According to investigators, one couple apparently "went to the wrong house," one source said. "They were suspected of being DEA agents."
Then, the sources said, the two Jehovah's Witnesses were followed until they rendezvoused with the other couple on a nearby street. At that point, investigators now believe, the four were abducted.
"The bodies were buried in the same park in Guadalajara" where slain drug agent Camarena was first buried, according to information pieced together about the disappearance.
The bodies have never been found.
Federal sources said they determined the fate of the missing Jehovah's Witnesses through what they call reliable eyewitness accounts of the abduction and murders, tips from informants close to the Mexican drug cartel and an investigation by American authorities in Guadalajara.
Despite those efforts, however, federal officials said it is doubtful that an indictment can be returned against the murder suspects because the evidence appears too circumstantial to stand up in an American courtroom.
While authorities still hold out faint hope for an indictment in the Jehovah's Witnesses case, they have indicted members of a Guadalajara-based drug cartel in the deaths of DEA agent Camarena, his pilot and, in recent days, the two other Americans mistaken for U.S. narcotics agents.
The alleged kingpin of the organization, Rafael Caro-Quintero, was indicted in October, 1987, by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles for allegedly masterminding the torture-murder of Camarena and his pilot, Alfredo Zavala-Avelar, in February, 1985.
The drug cartel, according to the indictment, has been responsible for cultivating tons of marijuana in Mexico and distributing it in Southern California and elsewhere.
Just last week, Caro-Quintero and 11 others also were indicted in Los Angeles in connection with the slayings of the two Americans a month before the Camarena murder. Like the Jehovah's Witnesses, the other two Americans, John Walker of Minneapolis, who was working on a book on the Mexican Mafia, and Alberto Radelat of Ft. Worth, Tex., a college student, apparently were mistaken for DEA agents.
They were tortured and slain after wandering into a restaurant in Guadalajara where Caro-Quintero was hosting a private party, according to an investigation by American and Mexican authorities.
Among those indicted in Los Angeles are a Mexican state police officer assigned to a Guadalajara homicide investigation squad and a member of the Mexican federal judicial police, the equivalent of the FBI.
American investigators expressed frustration with the Mexican effort against the drug cartel. The arrests of the two Mexican police officials, the American sources said, underscored their contention that some of that country's officials were corrupted by Caro-Quintero's cartel, hampering the investigations into the slayings.
Mexican authorities have also resisted Washington's request to extradite Caro-Quintero to Los Angeles to stand trial in federal court on the kidnaping, murder and drug trafficking charges.
A spokesman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington pointed out that Caro-Quintero, apprehended in 1985 after the Camarena slaying, was sentenced to 34 years in prison for marijuana trafficking. Additionally, said Javier Travino, an attache in Mexico's office of the attorney general, Caro-Quintero will soon be sentenced to up to 140 additional years in prison for the Camarena slaying.