Minutes after the beheading of a 38-year-old Chandler man inside a small apartment at the Chandler Oasis apartments last October, Norma Alvarado told police she knew she lived in a bad neighborhood.
She also told police that she was accustomed to people yelling during the night in the 300 block of West Fairview Street where the body of Martin Alejandro Cota-Monroy was discovered with his severed head a few feet away in what authorities believe is the first beheading linked to Mexican drug cartel violence in the United States.
A grisly 170-page police report released Wednesday by Chandler police describes the scene: Cota-Monroy’s head lying near his body on carpet drenched in blood.
Police say Cota-Monroy, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, stole 400 pounds of marijuana from the cartel PEI-Estatales/El Chapo and then lied about it in an attempt to save his life. But three “sicarios” (hitmen) from Mexico with ties to Perris, Calif., caught up with him and sent a message by killing him for the drugs he told the cartel were confiscated by Border Patrol, the report says.
Alvarado no longer lives at the small apartment complex in a neighborhood near downtown Chandler that is fronted by a convenience store where a small group of day laborers sits in hopes of job offers.
During the early morning hours of Oct. 10 no one seemed to hear anything unusual, but police say the beheading is a sign of Mexican drug cartel violence spilling far north of the border.
David Osuna shook his head in disbelief Thursday morning as women pushed babies in strollers along West Fairview Street. Osuna, his wife and two daughters, ages 1 and 3, moved into an apartment last week across from where Cota-Monroy was murdered.
“You never think that would happen, or you’d be the neighbor of the one it happened to,” said Osuna, who grew up in the neighborhood. “I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve heard of murders happening, but never a beheading. A lot of people know me, and I feel pretty safe here. People here watch out for one another.”
Osuna said that at least 90 percent of the people who live in the neighborhood are from the Mexican state of Sonora.
Another man who has lived in the neighborhood for two years said he was surprised to hear about the beheading and blamed the crime on the “newcomers.”
“It’s crazy,” said Sebastian Camacho. “The people who do that sort of thing aren’t thinking. You gotta be real careful and not trust anyone.”
Of the four men who police believe were inside the apartment that evening and early morning, one was arrested — Crisantos Moroyoqui, 36 — on suspicion of second-degree murder and hindering prosecution. Moroyoqui, who was discovered by police with blood on his clothing and boots, had not been cooperating with investigators. According to the report, he told police he was too drunk to remember what had happened and that he didn’t know the other suspects. He told police he had been living in the apartment building for three to four months.
“The cartel hired hit men specifically to kill him,” said Detective Dave Ramer, a Chandler police spokesman. “He lied his way out of being killed the first time. He said he was going to put up his house for collateral to pay for the drugs, but he didn’t own a house. You’re going to say whatever you can to save your life.”
Authorities are still searching for Juan Campos Aguilar, Jose David Castro Reyes and a man only known to them as “El Joto,” a derogatory Spanish term for a gay man, in connection with the beheading. Police believe the suspected hit men had been staying the Value Place motel in west Phoenix and fled in a 2003 red Ford Expedition with California license plate No. 6FWR784. They are believed to have returned to Mexico.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne called the beheading in Chandler “an example of the extreme dangers we face of criminals coming into this country with a viciousness we’ve never faced before in the United States.”
Horne and Gov. Jan Brewer have criticized the federal government for failing to secure the U.S. border with Mexico.
“The governor has said consistently she is concerned about cartel violence spilling over into the border and impacting Arizona communities," said Matt Benson, spokesman for the governor’s office. "This incident is just one more example of what she’s been talking about."
Horne said Thursday the beheading of Cota-Monroy is an example of why border security must be a top priority.
David Gonzales, U.S. Marshal for Arizona, told the Tribune on Thursday that the decapitation’s link to a drug cartel comes as no surprise.
“Law enforcement knew it was just a matter of time before we saw these kind of incidents and I believe there’s going to be more of these,” Gonzales said. “The beheading in Chandler is how cartels are getting more desperate and violent. The border issue is starting to dissolve. The cartels used to respect not crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, but they’re beginning to disrespect it, but the violence was internal or contained to Mexicans. The question now is, when does the violence spill over to American citizens? We think it’s just around the corner.
“I think drug cartel violence already is here, and it’s going to stay here for a while,” Gonzales added. “Those who don’t think the bleed-over violence is here are in denial.”
The police report states an enforcement/kidnapping group called “Los Relampagos” was initially sent to kidnap Cota-Monroy and return him to the cartel to face punishment for stealing the drugs. Cota-Monroy talked his way out of it by telling them that the marijuana was confiscated by the U.S. Border Patrol and that he would put up his house as collateral to pay for the pot, according to the report.
Instead, Cota-Monroy fled to Phoenix in an attempt to avoid being killed and lived with a friend, the report stated. A woman who knew Cota-Monroy and saw him drinking at the El Coyote Sports Bar with the three suspects said he often would flash a lot of cash.
The PEI-Estatales/El Chapo cartel hired three men from the group “El Gio” to kill Cota-Monroy, according to the report. Police believe the three suspected assassins befriended Cota-Monroy and were drinking with him inside the apartment before he was killed.
Chandler police said they acquired “raw intelligence” from Border Patrol agents about the circumstances leading to Cota-Monroy’s death.
The word “out on the streets,” according to the report, is that there will be retaliation against the three outstanding suspects by members of the Beltran Leyva Organization, another cartel. The BLO cartel is responsible for cocaine, heroin and marijuana transportation and wholesaling as well as marijuana production. The BLO, which used to perform security for the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels, also controls numerous drug trafficking corridors, and engages in human smuggling, money laundering, extortion, kidnapping, murder and gun-running.
Cota-Monroy reportedly was a member of the BLO, according to the report.
Phil Jordan, a retired Drug Enforcement Administration Agent who also is a former chief of the El Paso Intelligence Center, said Thursday that in his slightly more than 30 years in working in federal law enforcement, he had never heard of a beheading connected to Mexican drug cartel in the U.S. before.
Jordan also said he believes that the cartels want to send a strong message to anyone who betrays them, including Americans selling drugs on this side of the border for them.
“This type of killing has reached a different level now,” Jordan said. “It’s a hell of a strong message they want to send to drug distribution cell members working on this side of the border. Once you cross the Mexican drug cartels, they will seek you and find you.”
What is alarming, Jordan said, is that the Mexican drug cartels are adopting the “ruthless” tactics of the Colombian drug lords and by beheading people, they are also resorting to trademark terrorist tactics that al-Qaida and the Taliban use.
“As far as the beheading in Chandler, it’s a rare situation, but a sign of the times of what’s coming to our side of the fence,” Jordan said. “What happens in Mexico is no longer staying Mexico, and it’s not a good thing,” Jordan said.
Authorities have been unable to locate the three other suspects, who were seen in the small town of Ursulo Galvan Valle in En Palme, Sonora, by a family member of someone who had lived at the apartment where Cota-Monroy was killed.
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