Infamous Mexican drug baron Rafael Caro Quintero – who ordered the kidnap and murder of a US drug enforcement agent in 1985 – has been caught eight years after fleeing jail and unleashing a vicious turf war with rival drug lords.
The 69-year-old was captured by Mexican forces yesterday nearly a decade after walking out of a Mexican prison and returning to drug trafficking, Mexico’s navy said.
Caro Quintero was arrested after a search dog named Max found him hiding in brush in the town of San Simon in Sinaloa state during a joint operation by the navy and the attorney general’s office, a navy statement said.
The site was in the mountains near Sinaloa’s frontier with the northern border state of Chihuahua. A navy helicopter crashed during the mission.
69-year-old Rafael Caro Quintero (centre) was captured by Mexican forces yesterday nearly a decade after walking out of a Mexican prison and returning to drug trafficking
Rafael Caro Quintero ‘El Numero 1’ rose to become one of the most feared drug cartel leaders in the 1970s and 80s
Members of the Mexican Navy and the Federal Ministerial Police carry out the transfer of drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero from a hangar belonging to the Prosecutor’s Office to the Altiplano Prison in Mexico City, Mexico
Mexican drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, was admitted tonight to the Federal Center for Social Readaptation Number 1 ‘El Altiplano’ under the custody of the Navy and the National Guard (pictured)
Caro Quintero was arrested in the town of San Simon in Sinaloa state during a joint operation by the navy and Attorney General’s Office
Back behind bars: The life and times of one of Mexico’s most notorious drug traffickers
Rafael Caro Quintero ‘El Numero 1’
Born in Sinaloa, Mexico, on October 24, 1952, Rafael Caro Quintero ‘El Numero 1’ rose to become one of the most feared drug cartel leaders in the 1970s and 80s.
He started growing marijuana on a ranch owned by his brother Jorge Luis, before he is believed to have set up the Guadalajara Cartel with Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, Juan José Esparragoza Moreno and others.
The cartel was among the frontrunners of Mexico’s booming drug trade in the late 1970s and widely feared.
Authorities believe Caro Quintero ordered the kidnap of drug enforcement agent Enrique Camarena, 37, and his pilot Alfredo Zavala Avelar on February 7, 1985, in Guadalajara with the help of corrupt officials. The pair were tortured at length and killed, before being dumped on the edge of a ranch.
In addition, Caro Quintero is also believed to have ordered the brutal murders of American tourists John Clay Walker and Albert Radalat in January 1985, after they stumbled on a drugs deal.
Caro Quintero was jailed for 40 years for the murders of Camarena and Avelar in 1985. After fleeing prison in 2013, Caro Quintero returned to drug trafficking and unleashed bloody turf battles in the northern Mexico border state of Sonora.
Mexico’s national arrest registry listed the time of Caro Quintero’s detention as around midday. There were two pending arrest orders for him as well as an extradition request from the US government.
The attorney general’s office said in a statement late on Friday that Caro Quintero had been arrested for extradition and would be held at the maximum security Altiplano prison about 50 miles west of Mexico City.
A short video segment released by the navy showed Caro Quintero with his face blurred, dressed in jeans, a wet blue shirt and baggy khaki jacket, being held by both arms by men wearing camouflage uniforms and carrying assault rifles.
Caro Quintero walked free in 2013 after 28 years in prison when a court overturned his 40-year sentence for the 1985 kidnapping and killing of US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, 37. The brutal murder marked a low point in US-Mexico relations.
Caro Quintero reportedly sought revenge against undercover agent Camarena after Mexican authorities raided a 1,000-hectare (2,500-acre) ranch known as El Búfalo in November 1984 – burning over 10,000 tons of marijuana with a street value of $160million.
In retribution, Caro Quintero is said to have ordered the kidnap of Camarena and his pilot Alfredo Zavala Avelar on February 7, 1985, in Guadalajara. Their bodies were found a month later, wrapped in plastic outside a ranch in the countryside and showed signs of torture.
In addition to Camarena’s murder, Caro Quintero is also believed to have ordered the torture and murder of two US civilians, aspiring novelist John Clay Walker, 36 and dentistry student Albert Radelat, 33, on January 30, 1985.
Walker was staying in Guadalajara on a year-long sabbatical while working on his book. He and his friend Radalat went out for dinner, when they are said to have stumbled on a private party held by Caro Quintero.
Mistaking the two for drug enforcement agents, Caro Quintero is said to have ordered them into the restaurant store room, where they were beaten and tortured with ice picks.
Walker died during the ordeal but Radalat is believed to have still been alive when they were wrapped in table clothes and buried in the Mexican plains. Their bodies were found six months later.
Caro Quintero’s exploits including the murders of Camarena and Walker are depicted in the Netflix TV series Narcos: Mexico, where he is portrayed by actor Tenoch Huerta Mejía.
After fleeing prison in 2013, Caro Quintero, the former leader of the Guadalajara cartel, returned to drug trafficking and unleashed bloody turf battles in the northern Mexico border state of Sonora.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has maintained he is not interested in detaining drug lords and prefers to avoid violence, but the arrest came days after he met US President Joe Biden at the White House.
There had been tensions between the Mexican government and the DEA after Mexico enacted a law limiting the US agency’s operations.
The FBI’s ten most wanted fugitive poster shows the profile of Rafael Caro Quintero
A navy Blackhawk helicopter crashed during the capture of drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, near Los Mochis, Sinaloa state
Another navy helicopter was brought in to provide assistance during the capture after another aircraft crashed
However, the US agency’s new head in Mexico had recently received a visa, which US officials marked as a sign of progress in the relationship.
An appeals court overturned Caro Quintero’s verdict in 2013 but the Supreme Court upheld the sentence. It was too late by then; Caro Quintero had been spirited off in a waiting vehicle.
He was on the FBI’s most wanted list, with a 20 million dollar (£16.8 million) reward for his capture through the State Department’s Narcotics Rewards Programme. He was added to the FBI’s 10 most wanted list in 2018.
Caro Quintero was one of the primary suppliers of heroin, cocaine and marijuana to the US in the late 1970s.