Sounding very much like a new chapter in the “Indiana Jones” movie franchise, a drug cartel leader is gunned down in the middle of Mexico, resurrected and dies again in a shootout between the Mexican army and the Knights Templar. There’s no crystal skulls or snakes. Only a corpse that is allegedly of a once-again dead cartel leader named Gonzalez.
Nazario Moreno Gonzalez
Nazario Moreno Gonzalez led two lives. The first came to an end in 2010 when he was supposedly killed by federal police in Michoacan, a state in western Mexico. The second was, allegedly, snuffed out early Sunday just after the cartel leader turned 44. The difference between the two shootouts is this time the Mexican federal government has something they lacked four years ago, the cartel leader’s body.
In the twisted tale of Mexican drug cartels, back alley mansions and millions of dollars stuffed in Hefty trash bags, the strangest story so far is the killing of a dead man. Mexican officials have claimed since late 2010 that Moreno was killed in a gun fight that lasted 48 hours. What they couldn’t produce was Moreno’s corpse. Almost as soon as the smoke from that skirmish cleared, rumors started circulating that Moreno had escaped. The rumors haven’t stopped over the years, they’ve only increased.
Residents of Michoacan have been claiming for years to have seen Moreno. Known as “They Craziest One,” Mexican authorities have been trailing Moreno since January of this year. Mexican soldiers and marines cornered him in Timbuscatio, a mountain town and Moreno’s home base for his cartel.
Tomas Zeron, Director of the Criminal Investigation Unit for the Mexican Attorney General, said Moreno’s identify had been confirmed by fingerprints. Other forensic tests will be conducted on the body as well.
Rise of the Knights Templar
Moreno’s failure to stay dead the first time led to the rise of the “Knights Templar.” Tired of government inefficiency, vigilante groups have been pursuing Knights Templar throughout the region. The vigilante violence prompted President Enrique Pena Nieto to finally make the decision to move against the cartel.
Moreno, who spent most of his teenage years in America, started the La Familia cartel. Former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, impotent against the major cartels, went after La Familia and was sure that Moreno had died. When Calderon addressed the nation in 2010 about Moreno’s death, he also, falsely claimed, that La Familia had been torn apart. Actually, Moreno was still alive and La Familia had morphed into the latest incarnation of Knights Templar.
Calderon has not answered emails requesting a comment about Moreno’s second death, but his former security spokesman, Alejandro Poire, said the earlier statement about Moreno’s death was based on security information that “…proved inaccurate.”
Pena Nieto’s administration, apparently successful, has kept a low profile about Moreno’s latest death. The administration is awaiting further verification that the body in custody is in fact Moreno’s and they don’t want to repeat Calderon’s error.
Both La Familia and Knights Templar distributed literature and preached a moral code even as they grew into major traffickers of meth into America. Both versions of Moreno’s cartel rule Michoacan through killing and extortion. Known for his ruthlessness, Moreno was nicknamed El Chayo, “The Craziest One.”
Moreno had been born in the Michoacan farming center of Apatzingan in 1970. As a teenager he moved to California where he got involved with the drug trade. In 2003, a grand jury in Texas indicted Moreno on charges that included distribution of cocaine and meth.
Moving back across the Mexican border, he founded La Familia in 2005. Moreno began recruiting young boys to fight against the fierce Los Zetas cartel which had started to move into the region. The locals didn’t see La Familia as a criminal group. “The Family” was seen as a group of young men banding together to throw out the Los Zetas since the federal and local authorities were apparently incapable of doing it.
With Los Zetas were finally vanquished from the region, La Familia filled the criminal vacuum. The Texas was impotent in stopping La Familia which many people claimed had bribed, co-opted or threatened the officials.
Using the book, “Wild at Heart” as its inspiration, La Familia set a code of conduct for its members that forbade using hard drugs. Moreno set himself up as the “Messiah” of the group and used the Bible to get the impoverished’s loyalty. Passing out money and Bibles to the poor, La Familia were convinced they were doing God’s work. Moreno added his own brand of scriptures to a growing body of work called “The Sayings of the Craziest One.”
He lived up to his nickname.
The public announcement of his La Familia cartel was made by the gang rolling five severed heads into a nightclub in Michoacan.
Following the 2010 gun battle where Moreno was allegedly killed, other top leaders of the gang were killed and captured. Several of the surviving leaders joined forces with their old enemy, Los Zetas, and together they fought the government forces for control of their drug kingdom.
Other Cartel Leaders “Rise” From the Dead
Moreno isn’t the first cartel leader that survived his own death. Los Zetas leader, Heriberto Lazcano’s body was stolen about 12 hours after he was shot by Marines in October 2012. The disappearance of the body fueled public speculation that Lazcano had never been killed. Statements from the authorities saying that the corpse’s fingerprints and DNA taken before the body was stolen proved Lazcano deceased, were doubted.
In 1997, Amado Carrillo Fuentes allegedly died while having plastic surgery to change his appearance. Many in Mexico still doubt that Fuentes is dead.
While government authorities wait on DNA tests, locals wonder if the “Craziest One” has been laid to rest finally. Or is another resurrection in the works and another cartel taking root?
By Jerry Nelson