A Murderous Moment of Madness in Mexico
The Scene of the CrimeClick thumbnail to view full-size
The tragic waste of a life
My home was once, as other hubs evidence, in a little mining village in El Triunfo (The Triumph) situated on the Transpeninsula Highway, some way south of La Paz in Baja California South, Mexico.
The following account is a true story that happened a few years ago, and one I have never been able to forget, although some of the details are a little hazy now…
“In the velvet night of the Baja desert, a taxi pulled off the road a few miles south of El Triunfo, just before the long series of switchback curves continued on down the arm of the mountains to neighbouring mining village, San Antonio. This highway had opened Baja up and was inaugurated as recently as 1973, replacing the tortuous journey of 1000 miles of rough desert tracks that had been the only way to travel south previously. Some villages had benefited, as had these two old copper, silver and gold mining villages; others had lost out, being left out in the desert far from where traffic now passed. Perhaps they were the lucky ones, as it is often said, “bad people live near roads.”
The dry, mesquite and cactus covered slopes around El Triunfo were still peppered with hundreds of derelict mines, some had yielded tons of metal ore, others merely scraped their way a few yards into the rock and sand and had been abandoned in the middle of the last century. A few went down hundreds of feet and then branched out sideways, as the tunnels went off in meandering directions, following pay-dirt. These were now very dangerous, not only from the fact a fall down one would kill you, but they had also become haunts of rattlesnakes.
Just on the top of the rise in this area, about 20 meters to the left of the road if you were going south, there was one such deep pit, an old mine, one of the most productive, and one the two villages had been disputing possession of in earlier times. So when it came time to make it safe, little had been done, apart from pulling a heavy mesh grating over the top; it had rusted and started to sag.
To the driver and his sidekick of the taxi the grating was easy to drag aside. It was a matter of moments to pull the inert bundle from the back of the taxi and no time at all to let it fall into the yawning pit. But the time between letting the rolled blanket, with its heavy burden, drop and the 3 seconds it took for the sound of the echoing “thump” to return to the listeners straining their ears on the top must have seemed like a moment in eternity.
It was a first for all concerned. A first and a last for one of them, the driver and owner of the taxi, who had been kidnapped by two joy-riding and tequila-fuelled petty crooks from mainland Mexico who had been taking a thief’s holiday in La Paz, the South Baja capital, 60 miles north of the scene of the crime. A first, too, for the two miscreants who had been crooks most of their lives, but had never attempted murder before. As the alcoholic haze cleared from their minds, they must have begun to be wracked by guilt and fear as they stood there, under the flawless Baja moon, with just the sound of tree frogs and the occasional "yip, yip" of a coyote to keep them company. It must have been fate that had them pulling off the road where they did and finding this old shaft, for neither had been this way before.
The taxi and its ill-starred driver, Miguel, had been kidnapped, and he had found out his two passengers had no intention of paying for the trip 100 miles south to Cabo San Lucas. At some point, an argument must have broken out and Miguel had asked them to get out of the taxi, or offered to leave himself. That was never disclosed to me. But the two low-life thieves had pulled out a gun and shot him twice through the head and then found the mine in order to hide their crime.
Then, with the idiocy and lack of thought that accompanies most criminal acts, especially impulsive crimes of violence, they continued blithely on their way to Los Cabos, partying all night with the cab owner’s money.
Meanwhile, Miguel’s family in La Paz had reported him missing as he had not come home and other cabbies said he had got a long-distance fare as far as they knew. This sounded alarm bells to his wife, Miriam, as he always called home if he was going to Los Cabos, a common trip, or called in on the way.
The police were alerted in La Paz, all points north and, especially, south, as the police suspected Los Cabos had been the destination; many joy riders make for there - the hedonistic capital of Baja California. The two assassins were arrested the next morning, still drunk and driving the taxi around like they owned it. They would soon be paying for their last night of fun with a life-sentence in a Mexican maximum security prison, places that make US and British prisons seem like Disneyland in comparison..
I was called by a neighbour to the scene as the police, ambulance and fire truck with lifting gear were all around the mine, 2 miles from my house. I got there late, and Miguel’s family were there, Miriam and two boys. One of the police officers made his way slowly down the rusting and unsteady ladder into the depths. He was also attached to a rope from the fire truck and had a lifting cradle with him. The police had wrung a confession out of the two murderers quickly; their methods aren’t as strictly controlled and “PC” as those we find in the US and Britain. They were tightly shackled in another police car and no one was allowed to approach them; even from a distance, they looked very much the worse for wear.
Hoping against hope; clutching crucifixes, Miriam and other family members waited the interminable minutes until at a signal, the fire-truck began to winch Miguel from the pit. Could he still be alive? The police knew, of course, but they had allowed her to hope for a few hours longer.
The sad bundle finally came to the surface and the air was filled with heart-rending keening. A decent, hard working man killed for a few pounds and a night’s drunken debauchery. The desert seemed to mourn. Could the mountains and ravines have spoken, they might have sighed for mendaceous, mindless man, his mines and his murders.
Afterword, I wrote the story for a local English language newspaper: we were all deeply saddened by the incident, which only achieved one positive act: the old mine shaft, with its rattlers and ghosts, was sealed off forever, no more would it be a repository for man’s criminal mistakes.”
Note: Anyone driving to La Paz can stop and see the entrance to this pit, a few miles from El Triunfo, juts before the road turns sharply right to go steeply down the switchbacks. I have heard there is a small memorial and a plaque there.