How a Mexican cockfight impresario took his revenge on six housebreakers

Rancher hires hit men to track down the thieves who burgled his home last year

The rancher who hired the hitmen organized cockfights in Puebla.
The rancher who hired the hitmen organized cockfights in Puebla.Wikimedia commons
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La venganza del señor de los gallos

Jorge Aduna Villacencio is a tough guy, someone who commands respect. He is an old-school rancher. He has to be – otherwise he could never have efficiently managed a palenque – a cockfighting arena where disputes over wagers are often resolved with guns.

So the day a group of burglars broke into his mansion, it did not occur to him to pick up the phone and call the police.

The following is a story of revenge. It is the story of how the most important owner of fighting cocks in all of Puebla and Tlaxcala, in central Mexico, kidnapped and killed the six men who dared enter his home without permission.

The property where the revenge was consummated became a slaughterhouse

The hit men hired by Aduna Villacencio dismembered and burned the thieves’ bodies, according to the attorney’s reconstruction of events, which EL PAÍS has had access to.

Nobody knows exactly when the burglary took place, but it must have been in early October 2015, because that is when the kidnappings began in the city of Puebla.

Aduna hired a thug from Tamaulipas, in northern Mexico, who was trained in the violent techniques of the Los Zetas cartel; he then recruited two policemen, one still in service and another who had been kicked out by his superiors. To this core group of hit men, he added his own bodyguard and his 20-year-old driver.

There are two mysteries that investigators have been unable to resolve. The first is whether the burglars were aware of who they were up against. Aduna was a wealthy man and surely had a lot of valuables stashed away at home, but was it really worth running such a risk?

The rancher Jorge Aduna Villacencio, who took his revenge on the burglars.
The rancher Jorge Aduna Villacencio, who took his revenge on the burglars.FISCALÍA

Cockfighting is as closely tied to the underworld as boxing. Drug kingpins like traveling to Las Vegas to watch their favorite boxers fight, they like listening to drug ballads from the best-known ‘narco-corrido’ bands and they like watching their fighting cocks put up a strong battle inside the arena. Jorge Aduna was a well-connected man and it was best to leave him alone.

The second mystery is: what happened during the burglary? Was the owner at home when the thieves broke in? Were any family members there? One rumor has it that one of his female relatives was raped, and that this explains the passion with which he pursued the burglars. Or was it that they stole something really valuable?

What is certain is that they made off with an iPad. Using the Find my iPhone app the hitmen located one of the thieves when he connected the mobile device to a Wi-Fi network. A few days later, on October 19, 2015, milkman Marco Antonio Cuautle was kidnapped as he drove a Chevrolet van. The last time he was seen alive, he was selling milk in front of a clinic.

Ramón Limón had a law degree but did not work as a lawyer and instead made a living from odd jobs in carpentry, construction and plumbing. Nine days after the milkman went missing, two vehicles cut him off as he drove down a road with his wife and daughter, and took him away.

A shrine to some of the dead thieves in Las Lomas de San Miguel, in Puebla.
A shrine to some of the dead thieves in Las Lomas de San Miguel, in Puebla.PABLO SPENCER

Two weeks later, a man approached Pedro Negrete and Luis Miguel Flores to offer them a job. Everyone in the neighborhood knew they were good blacksmiths. Next in line was Rogelio Rivera, a squeegee man. The last to fall was Bryan Gerardo, a drifter who begged at traffic lights and stole handbags from old ladies. The man who approached him told him he wanted some cocaine, although what he really wanted was to burn Gerardo inside a diesel drum.

All six were kidnapped in the fringe district of Colonia Lomas de San Miguel within a 39-day period. Local residents began to fear for their lives. Four of the victims knew one another and might have been conducting joint business together. But it is unclear how they were linked to two street kids who made their money as panhandlers at traffic lights.

Mari Carmen Cruz, one of the few residents who is unafraid to speak her mind, has created a shrine to her murdered friends. She says she was close to Pedro Negrete, one of the blacksmiths. “Sometimes he didn’t have enough money for food,” she recalls. “Perhaps he was tempted to steal, but not to do other things. If they did steal, they should have been jailed, not killed in such a cruel way.”

The way the thieves disappeared bears the hallmarks of the Los Zetas drug cartel

The hit man Antonio Cantú, a prototypical army deserter-turned-drug ring member, traveled to Puebla exclusively to carry out Aduna’s instructions. The way the thieves disappeared bears the hallmark of Los Zetas. An examination of his cellphone activity shows that he was also in Tamaulipas and Tabasco, and from there traveled to Mexico City.

His contact at all times was Josafhat Berlanga, a former police officer who had worked for the Federal Investigation Agency, a police agency that was shut down in 2012 because of ingrained corruption.

The property where the revenge was consummated, in the San José El Conde neighborhood, became a slaughterhouse. The police found a machete, an ax and three knives bearing human remains inside the house. The pipes were clogged with blood. The killers did not even bother to eliminate their victims’ belongings. There was also a journal with notes on each victim’s daily routine.

Everything had been carefully planned. Aduna was not about to forgive those who had dared enter his home without permission.

English version by Susana Urra.

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