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      Wrap ’Em Up Tightly

      By Weston Phippen

      July 31, 2011
      Photos by Branden Eastwood and Anthony Sandoval

      The Juárez police alleged that these gang members were caught stealing cars (which, many times, are then used in drive-by shootings). After being cuffed, they were hogtied facedown in a truck bed.

      Before he abducts someone, Zurdo likes to get high: a little weed, maybe some lines, a few shots, pills, whatever. After that he puts on black clothes, gets his guns together—an AK-47 and a 9-millimeter—and climbs into a Chevy Tahoe with four other guys. Then they creep around the streets of a town a few hours southwest of Ciudad Juárez that I’ve been asked not to identify. By sunrise they’ll have nabbed some poor bastard and delivered him to “El Patron,” Zurdo’s boss.

      During the day, Zurdo (“Lefty” in English) works at a Mexican restaurant across the street from a halfway-crumbled building, near a bar where leather-skinned drunks hold court all day on the sidewalk. Kidnapping for the Juárez Cartel is his side job. He mostly abducts small-time drug dealers or their relatives. They all know how it works: If you sell narcotics without El Patron’s permission, or break his rules, Zurdo and his crew (or another group of masked men) will chauffeur you to one of the boss’s many ranches or houses. There you will either be tortured and released—in exchange for money—or tortured and killed, your body tossed into the street like a cigarette out a window. Most go easily, Zurdo tells me. He says to them: “They’re calling you. Get in the car,” and they usually comply. Only a handful of times has he been asked to dispose of bodies, and in those cases he’ll drop them at the edge of town for the cops to find later. By his estimate, about half of the people he abducts are eventually murdered. But that’s none of his business—he’s only a forceful courier. Besides, he’s needed back at his other job, where there are endless tables to be clean and burritos to roll.

      Zurdo lives in an apartment connected to the back of the eatery where he works from 5:30 AM to 11 PM almost every day (except when he’s been snorting lines all night). He’s about 5' 7" and 38 years old. Our meeting was arranged by a friend of mine who somehow persuaded Zurdo, one of his best and oldest amigos, to grant me an interview.


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