The death of Mexican drug lord gives life to sensational rumors

Published Nov. 7, 1997|Updated Oct. 2, 2005

When fugitive Mexican drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes died in July while undergoing plastic surgery and liposuction, the bizarre circumstances of his little-lamented demise sparked a national mystery.

Was it really Carrillo's lifeless body that was found on the operating table, or had he ingeniously fabricated his own death to evade a nationwide manhunt? And whatever happened to the three doctors who allegedly performed the botched eight-hour operation?

Mystery One officially ended when U.S. counter-drug agents _ who had been tailing Carrillo for years _ confirmed his death after forensic tests using DNA and fingerprints from his U.S. immigration records. Any lingering doubt was crushed after his mother identified him and he was buried with a family funeral in his childhood village of Guamuchilito.

Thomas Constantine, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, offered his own epitaph to the man U.S. agents say was the most powerful drug lord of his day and the subject of more than 25 separate police investigations, including indictments in Florida and Texas. Carrillo, who was estimated to have transported up to $25-billion worth of cocaine, heroin and marijuana, was accused of 400 drug-related killings.

Carrillo might have escaped "earthly justice," said Constantine, "but I'm sure there's a special place in hell reserved for those like him who have destroyed countless human lives."

But some refused to believe that Carrillo, the ingenious 41-year-old head of the Juarez drug cartel _ a k a the "Lord of the Skies" because of his trademark method of transporting cocaine in large aircraft _ was truly gone.

Mystery Two also persisted, until this week, when police say they discovered the remains of at least one of the missing surgeons, Jaime Godoy, inside a cement-filled oil drum found by the side of the Mexico City-Acapulco highway. An autopsy turned up a plastic jaw prosthesis that matched the description of Godoy's.

His body was found with two other corpses. News reports speculate the other two bodies belong to the rest of Carrillo's medical team. The gruesome crime scene points to a mob hit. Two victims were strangled and one shot. Their fingernails had been yanked and their bodies were burned and blindfolded. Cables still were wrapped around their necks.

While the mystery of the surgeon's whereabouts is over, many questions remain. Authorities so far are unable to explain who killed the doctor and his companions and why.

Authorities have said three doctors mysteriously turned up at a Mexico City women's clinic July 3 to perform the operation on Carrillo, who registered under a false name.

Carrillo underwent surgery on his face and had 3{ gallons of fat removed from his body. He died shortly after the surgery when someone gave him an inappropriate dose of Dormicum, a sleeping medication. Investigators are trying to determine whether the drug was administered with negligence or the intent to kill.

Godoy, whose plastic surgery credentials are unclear _ in Mexico he was known as an ear, nose and throat specialist _ disappeared from his Mexico City home last month. He reportedly performed surgery for a number of show business celebrities and other wealthy clients. But his work was shrouded in secrecy, say officials. He operated in different hospitals in the capital and never told his family where he lived.

The theory favored by Mexican experts is that Carrillo's lieutenants exacted revenge for the death of their boss. Additionally, it's thought the surgeons may have done similar operations for other cartel members, who might have grown nervous after Carrillo's death about the existence of potential witnesses who could identify them.

It's also possible that Carrillo was murdered by rival traffickers. Since his death, dozens of people connected to his Juarez cartel have been killed, either in turf battles or vendettas.

As with all mysteries, the longer it lasts, the more fabulous it becomes. Some Mexicans have attributed the doctors' deaths to Carrillo, still convinced that the drug lord has not deserted the Mexican skies forever.

Rumors of his existence were further fueled this week when a Chilean newspaper, La Segunda, reported that Carrillo was indeed alive, and collaborating with the DEA.

Quoting "reliable sources," one of the paper's top reporters, Patricia Verdugo, said the body found on the operating table was in fact the drug trafficker's double. Verdugo said the real Carrillo was arrested in Central America in June and was subsequently "flipped" by the DEA.

Other reports said that shortly before his apparent death, Carrillo had been actively setting up a new business headquarters in Chile, as well as spending time in Cuba under a false name. One witness told Mexican investigators that the fugitive drug kingpin had been living secretly in a government guest house in Havana with his mistress, Marta, and their 2-year-old daughter.

Thursday, the DEA decided it had heard enough.

"There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that Mr. Carrillo is alive and in DEA custody," the agency responded. "The rumor has as much credibility as the millions of sightings of the late Elvis Presley."