Mexican Marines have captured an alleged Zeta drug cartel leader suspected in hundreds of murders — including the 2010 killing of an American man who was jet-skiing on on Falcon Lake.
Though handcuffed, Salvador Martinez Escobedo — nicknamed "Ardilla," Spanish for squirrel — was defiant. He gave a thumbs-up sign as he was paraded before the Mexican media on Monday.
A spokesman for the Mexican Navy said Escobedo, 31, is suspected of killing 50 people “with his own hands,” and ordering the murders of hundreds more — including American David Hartley.
Hartley disappeared on Falcon Lake while jet-skiing with his wife in September 2010. She told investigators gunmen attacked the couple.
According to authorities, the Zeta leader also ordered the beheading of the Mexican police investigator handling the Hartley case, and Escobedo is the suspected mastermind in the murders of 72 migrants found on a ranch in San Fernando.
Mexico’s president announced the capture Sunday via Twitter: “He was wanted because he’s the Zeta leader behind the San Fernando massacre.”
Escobedo is also suspected of ordering the murders of 200 people, mostly migrants traveling through Tamaulipas, found in a mass grave in the border state.
At a news conference, a Navy spokesman said “Squirrel” started his criminal career as a lookout or “halcon” for the Zetas.
He rose through the ranks to become a hit man, and then third in command of the violent cartel by winning the trust of Miguel Trevino, the Zeta leader known as “40,” who is in charge of a lucrative smuggling route that cuts through Nuevo Laredo to Texas.
“Squirrel” is suspected of freeing 132 inmates from a prison in the border city Piedras Negras on September 18 because the cartel needed manpower to fight a bloody turf war in Nuevo Laredo.
Mexican Marines finally cornered and captured “Squirrel” in his hometown of Nuevo Laredo on Saturday evening.