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Mexican drug lord's release reopens wounds for victims' relatives

Rafael Caro Quintero, recently freed on a technicality, was convicted in the killing of a U.S. agent. But questions remain in the slayings of other Americans.

August 19, 2013|By Tracy Wilkinson
  • John Walker in 1983 with his daughters Lannie, left, and Keely in Minneapolis. Two years later, Walker was tortured to death in Mexico by drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero's gang, which apparently mistook him for a drug agent. He and his wife had moved their family to Guadalajara so he could work on a novel.
John Walker in 1983 with his daughters Lannie, left, and Keely in Minneapolis.…

MEXICO CITY — Keely Walker Muse remembers her dad's "sloppy" hair, his goofy jokes, the limp from a Vietnam War wound that he comically turned into a strut.

She was 10 in the mid-1980s when John Walker moved his wife, Eve, along with Keely and her younger sister, Lannie, from Minneapolis to Guadalajara, where they thought they could live a little cheaper while John wrote a great American novel.

They were not aware that the city of broad, leafy avenues cowered under the thumb of one of Mexico's first major drug cartels, run by master trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero. They were not aware they lived around the corner from a U.S. anti-narcotics agent.

Only much later did they realize that their routine trips to the American Consulate to visit the library and to register, as U.S. citizens regularly do, put them in the sights of the drug gang, which was enraged over U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration raids on its vast marijuana fields.

"We just didn't know," Keely Walker Muse says.

Walker, then 37, was tortured to death, along with an American friend, by members of Caro Quintero's gang who apparently mistook them for DEA agents. Just one week later, the actual anti-narcotics agent, Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, was abducted.

The slaying of Camarena in February 1985 proved a seminal event in the drug war, and in prickly U.S.-Mexican relations. Nearly 30 years later, it remains a potent and emotional symbol for American law enforcement.

A Mexican court released Caro Quintero, who was convicted in Camarena's killing, from prison this month on a technicality after he served 28 years. Mexican government officials expressed dismay, and the U.S. is demanding that he be apprehended and extradited.

But Caro Quintero's gang also has been implicated in the killings of Walker, his friend Albert Radelat, and two young couples who were Jehovah's Witnesses. Their stories have been all but forgotten.

They were "collateral damage" in a conflict they scarcely realized was taking place, in the words of Walker's widow.

For their relatives, Caro Quintero's release has reopened old wounds. Said Pat Romero, sister of one of the missionaries: "It is a tragic story that doesn't have an ending."

Campaign of retaliation

Walker and Radelat, a dental student from Texas who was visiting for a few days, strolled into a mild late-January night in 1985, planning to eat some good seafood at Guadalajara's La Langosta Loca (The Crazy Lobster) restaurant.

Unbeknown to them, Caro Quintero and his crew were having a private, drug-fueled party inside the restaurant. They branded Walker and Radelat as undercover DEA agents the minute they crossed the threshold, according to witnesses and court testimony.

For three hours in the restaurant's kitchen, they tortured the two men with ice picks and knives. They took turns beating them bloody. Walker died under the torture; Radelat of a final gunshot to the head.

By that time, the four Jehovah's Witnesses had been missing for eight weeks.

On the first Sunday in December 1984, two young married couples went "in service" for their faith. That meant walking door to door with pamphlets and magazines and copies of the Bible in hopes of spreading the word.

Ben Mascarenas, Romero's brother, and his wife, also named Pat, were from Nevada and still in their 20s. They were joined by Dennis and Rose Carlson, who came from the Redding, Calif., area. The Carlsons, in their 30s, had arrived in Guadalajara not two days earlier. The men were described as kind-hearted and reserved, the women more outgoing. Both couples put on their Sunday best and knocked on doors in the upscale Chapalita neighborhood. There they vanished.

Witnesses and investigators said at the time that they appeared to have knocked on the door of Caro Quintero's senior partner in the drug business, Ernesto Fonseca, known as Don Neto.

At a point when the men and women had separated, gunmen swooped down on the women, shouting, "There they are!" They bundled them into a car and drove off in pursuit of the men. When the husbands saw their wives had been taken at gunpoint, they went along without a struggle.

The young couples might also have been mistaken for DEA agents, according to family and friends who tried desperately for years to piece together what had happened.

A U.S. government investigative report obtained years later by The Times said that on their bosses' orders, cartel members interrogated the couples, raped the women and then shot all four.

U.S. officials eventually concluded that all six American civilians were killed as part of a campaign of retaliation by Caro Quintero's cartel against even improbably suspected DEA operatives.

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