Pro Bono Part 2
August 24, 1999 on the border of Thailand. Damn, the electricity in my leg was killing me. Ever since getting banged up pain was a constant companion. Night, day, weekends, it didn’t matter. The question wasn’t if there was pain, but how badly the pain was visiting me at the moment. An incident on another continent resulted in enough broken bits and bobs to keep me hospitalized and in rehab for several years. One of the outwardly noticeable injuries was a bum leg with broken nerve endings that could shoot out enough electricity to make it feel like your toes were being given the good news with a 300amp battery charger. Sometimes the electricity was flowing at 10 amps, and other times it felt like I was getting much more than 300 amps should really feel like. This was one of those times. I was laying in a rice paddy with most of me covered in the water and last light was in less than 30 minutes. 400 meters distant was a wired compound with only a large wooden house inside. It was built in the countries traditional style and could have been anywhere from 20-50 years old. Dogs patrolled the interior fence line and smoke pillared out a metal tube from inside the house, besides for the smoke I hadn’t seen any signs of human activity for several hours.
Raising my Steiner Predator binoculars I swept them up the dirt road where it appeared from the jungle and then followed it down to the compound, across the windows looking for any signs of human movement, and then once more around the compound. The dogs were unusual for this region, big black and brown Rottweiler’s. I’d named them Jack and Jill and paid careful attention to where they patrolled, what noises they alerted on, and where their water and food was located. Everything was quiet and I was glad for that. Ever since running across Ringo at the outdoor beer garden a week ago I hadn’t slept well. I could still remember his ugly face in the cab of the Toyota pickup as his convey along with the mobile Scud launchers had driven within 20 meters of my hide inside Iraq.
That particular day had haunted me for almost eight years now. I’d turned in my AAR’s (after action reports) detailing our time behind the lines in Iraq and had recommended I be relieved of command. My commanding officer tore up that page and substituted it with one of his own recommending me for a medal. He’d tried his best to tell me no one could have done anything, but that didn’t make the movies of the girls getting gang raped and killed leave my mind. Later when I’d learned about the missile strike on the barracks I’d had enough. He’d sent me to a school command to teach new guys and that suited me fine. A year later I was called into the office and given a mission in another theatre and ended up getting hurt bad enough to end my career of 22 years. Now, here I was in Thailand living the simple retired life and trying my best to earn a business degree and maybe end up with a corporate position that would provide a new set of challenges. Until last week.
Last week I’d went to a border town along the Thai border with a friend and we were sitting outside in an outdoor beer garden enjoying the view the young ladies serving drinks provided. We were on our third beer of the afternoon when there he was! He walked in, took a seat right in front of me, ordered a beer, and sat there smoking while leering at the girl as she went to fill his order. I instantly recognized him as Ringo, one of the four sergeants responsible for the rape and murder of twelve school age girls. Of course he didn’t recognize me because he’d never seen me, never realized he was less than two pounds of trigger pressure from death. He was about 10 kilos heavier and older, but there was no mistaking it was Ringo.
My friend had left and went back to his hotel and I told him I was going to stay for a while. I sat there nursing my last beer for another 90 minutes trying hard to not stare rays of death at Ringo. I watched him from the side and when he left I dropped a few hundred baht notes on my table, made eye contact with the server so she’d see I paid, and then followed Ringo at a distance. It took some doing, but a long bus ride and eight hours later I was in another small town of the neighboring country watching him check into a newer hotel operated by Koreans. Once I’d seen him head away from the desk and to his room I got my own room across the street and buying a few supplies settled in to watch him until I could get him alone. It started out simple enough, all I wanted was to find him alone so I could kill him. Better, I wanted this place to be isolated enough so I could kill him slowly and painfully, exactly like I’d been dreaming about for the last eight years.
Only once before had I hated someone as much as I hated Ringo. It was 1982 and I was serving part time on the San Diego Police Department and having had some military training I found myself quite by accident as a bench warmer on the Border Crime Task Unit. (BCTU). The main actors were already cast, but I guess they needed a few more who knew how to patrol and use military weapons so there we were. Manny was a Latino and a real hard ass. He hated everyone, but he hated the border bandits more. In his mind they were robbing, raping, and murdering “his people” so he took it very personally. The BCTU’s purpose was simple, stop the banditos from robbing, raping, and murdering the illegal’s on our side of the border by any means necessary. The Governor and Mayor were both in on it, the stories hitting the San Diego Tribune and L.A. Times were bad politics. The Hispanic community (voters) were outraged by the banditos actions and blamed the Border Patrol and local law enforcement agencies for not stopping the violence.
The Border Patrol was of course a Federal agency and therefore immune from any significant voter retaliation, but the Governor and Mayor were fair game in this heavily Hispanic populated state so they were eager to have the problem rectified. So eager that the normal rules of which weapons we could use and when we could use them wasn’t even a consideration. We’d all went to the police evidence locker and selected confiscated weapons suitable for the job. We all had sawed off 12 gauge double barreled shotguns, our service pistols which at the time were Sig Sauer P226 9mm’s, and we all carried some sort of small machine gun (SMG), the lesser experienced chose the popular Uzi and those who have actually used SMG’s before scooped up the few Heckler and Koch MP5’s. Thus armed we’d dress as “pollo’s.” (the Mexican word for “chickens” which is what they called the illegal’s doing their best to come across the border for some work so they could send some much needed money home to their families in Mexico)
Our typical mission was to look like dirty and scared pollo’s and wait to be robbed by the banditos. Once we saw any hint of a firearm we’d open fire without any warning thus ending the embarrassing problem for the politicians. I wasn’t very keen on the rules of engagement. It wasn’t that I’d never done this stuff before, but we were a civilian law enforcement agency operating in our native country, not soldiers at war overseas. On Christmas Eve 1982 I changed my mind and fully embraced the “gunning them down” protocol.
We were up on Otay Mesa which is right on the USA/Mexico border between Chula Vista and San Ysidro. Rolling hills with mostly low brush and in the daytime you can see lots of foot paths and tracks from both the Border Patrol vehicles and the coyote (human traffickers) vehicles. Towards the end of the day venders will set up food stands literally right on the border. The pollo’s and their guides/smugglers/coyotes and of course the Border Patrol officers all enjoyed the great authentic Mexican food from these stands. As the sun goes down you’ll see hundreds of pollo’s staging up on the crest of Otay Mesa against the skyline.. and right before the sun drops over the horizon they’ll all of a sudden swarm across the border, like running the gauntlet.. As they swarm the Border Patrol becomes overwhelmed and can only catch so many, perhaps 30-60% (depending on the days manpower allotment) get through, and the others get turned back. It’s a nightly game, everyone knows the rules, it’s peaceful and in a way fun. The bad stuff comes after dark, these are the illegals coming across the border with a keen desire to succeed so they’ll take chances coming in the middle of the night, lesser known routes, more dangerous terrain, whatever they think will get them across and making money or with family as soon as possible. These are the ones who become the victims of extreme violence.
Manny, me and Jesus were all dressed like pollo’s. Pollo’s have very little, and what they do own in the way of clothes they wear in layers, sometimes 4-5 layers of clothes and on the very inner layer they hide their valuables. Crosses, wedding rings, money, papers, whatever they have will be well hidden. This gives them a very sloppy bulky look which is perfect for hiding the many weapons, our radios, and other equipment we needed. I had the only white skinned face that night so I’d blackened it a bit as we’d do for combat patrols in the military. This Christmas eve was dark, no moon or lights that I remember. We were let out of the drop off car about a half mile from the border and it silently drove away to where it would park and relay our radio signals for assistance if required. After the dimmed lights of the car were gone we were plunged into darkness and stood there waiting for our eyes to adjust. Once adjusted we crept forward along the foot paths towards the border on the lookout for banditos doing their disgusting work. This night being so dark it was hard to know exactly where we were, but when we bumped up against a cement culvert with the big 12 foot drainage tube going through it we knew we were right on the border. The drainage tube was used as a ‘pass through’ and the dirt path actually ran to and from it. We crouched down next to some bushes on our haunches and waited. We were waiting for sounds or footsteps. Once we heard the footsteps we’d make small noises to reveal our location and hope the banditos would come to rob us.
We sat there until almost midnight. It rained twice and the temp was approaching freezing. All three of us huddled together shaking from the cold and we were whispering together considering calling it a night, after all we all had families at home and Christmas morning was only a few hours away. The only nice thing you can say about the cold is that there tends to be very few insects. If this was a summer month we’d already be covered with hundreds of bites. Manny heard it first, I thought my ears were trained well but Manny had the ears of a hound dog. He stiffened and as Jesus and I felt him stiffen we also stopped all movement. Soon we could peer through the drainage tube to the small natural clearing on the other side and see perhaps two dozen pollos. There were 5-6 men, 2-3 older women, a few kids, and the rest young women between the ages of 15-25. Younger women were in demand as hotel workers, restaurant help, and house maids. Keep in mind, on their side of the drainage tube it was Mexico, on our side the United States of America. Once they were through the tube they would have our protection. We weren’t interested in turning them over to the Border Patrol, what we wanted was to ensure their safety and catch banditos in the process. Quietly they grouped on the other side of the drainage tube and we sat as quietly as we could and waited for them to come through.
Suddenly we heard shouts and cries of fright and could see flashlight beams lighting them up. For a scant minute we hoped these would be Mexican officials and they’d just take them to a detention center but moments later could hear orders given in Spanish for them to put their hands on their heads and gather in a circle. There were six banditos, three surrounded them on the outside of their circle which was probably 25-30 feet in diameter, and the other three stepped to the center. All had guns and ordered them to keep their hands on their heads. While they milled around scared and cold one of the banditos left the circle and a few moments later reappeared with an armload of tree limbs and branches and started to build a fire. Manny signed us that he was going to go off a bit where he couldn’t be heard and radio to our car to call in the Mexican authorities. We’d read reports of this method happening before but we’d never seen it, if the reports were true things were about to get really nasty.
A tall man with an acne pockmarked face stepped in front of the fire and introduced himself as “El Jefe” (the boss) and told them if they did exactly as he instructed everyone would live to see Christmas morning. Jesus crept closer to the entrance to the drainage tube and I climbed the cement culvert that straddled the border to get above them. Jesus had a great view he was so close, my view was even better. Looking down I saw and heard El Jefe tell the men to remove their clothes one layer at a time. One of the men objected and El Jefe simply pointed his revolver at him and shot him dead on the spot! Everyone gasped and a few of the women screamed and El Jefe ordered them to remain silent and not move. I’d just witnessed my first murder and there was nothing I could do about it without creating an international incident and we all knew what a huge and embarrassing incident it would be. The Mexican police and authorities hated USA police and officials and would use any transgression of their borders to create an international outcry. Local police avoided going into Tijuana and Rosarito Beach in Baja California after a few who were found with their badges were held in police custody under horrendous conditions from days to weeks before being stripped to their underwear and frog marched across the border in a fashion designed to intentionally humiliate not only the individuals, but the entire SDPD as well.
The banditos had control after the first pollo was killed and the remaining men did as they were told and started stripping off layer after layer of clothing. As each layer came off it was handed to one of the bandits who inspected each piece for hidden valuables before throwing the clothing in the fire. Soon four men stood there naked and humiliated in bare feet while the banditos laughed at them. Right then Manny appeared by my side and whispered that the dispatch said Mexican authorities didn’t have enough officers on duty to respond with it being Christmas eve. They promised to call some off-duty officers in but told us it would take hours. Manny had requested permission for us to enter Mexico to prevent the loss of life but his request had been flatly rejected. Our hands were tied and we became silent witnesses to what would become the worse thing I’d seen to this point in my life. The only support we had was knowing we’d called in transport and medical personal to treat the victims if they made it to our side of the border.
Next the old women were ordered to strip and they did as they were told, soon standing naked in the circle. No one looked at anyone else as they tried to show what respect they could. By now the men were shaking with cold and I could see their knees shaking and hear their teeth chattering as they stood there with their hands on top of their heads. Next the children were ordered to strip and soon all that was left where the 16 or so younger women. Everyone knew bad things were going to happen when El Jefe ordered everyone to turn away from the circle and face outwards. He warned that if anyone ran they’d be shot. Next the women were ordered to strip and layer after layer was removed, inspected, and thrown in the fire until they too stood there naked and exposed to the banditos. El Jefe was upset claiming they hadn’t found enough money to even pay for their bullets and he started yelling at the women to show him where the money was. Everyone was trying to tell him they didn’t have much, that they had already collected it all but El Jefe was going berserk and wouldn’t listen to any of it.
He ordered the young women to line up in the circle and bend down and touch their toes. The women crying did as they were told and were soon lined up bent over at the waist. El Jefe shouted an order and two of his men moved in to cover them as he took his fingers and pushed them inside the first woman accusing her of hiding money and valuables in her vagina. The woman fell to her knees and he struck her across the back of her head with his revolver and she fell limp and silent on the ground. He moved down the line of women shoving his hand inside them as roughly as possible as they cried and the men cried out in anger. One man turned around to protest and was instantly shot dead. El Jefe didn’t find what he was after and he yelled to tell them where the buried their valuables. Everyone was insisting there was no more money or valuables but he still wouldn’t listen. He dragged the youngest girl in front of the other women who were lined up and asked them again. He got the same answer so he ordered the young girl who was no more than 15 to lay in the dirt with her legs apart. Crying she did and he forced himself inside her and raped her in front of everyone. The girl jerked and cried out in pain and started sobbing heavily. Manny must have felt me moving my H&K MP5 from under my jacket and he put his hand on my shoulder and when I turned and looked at him he slowly shook his head no.. I could see there were tears in his eyes. My eyes stun too and I realized we both had tears in our eyes.
One after the other the banditos took their turns with the youngest women beating them in the process. One girl who must have been no more than 17-18 refused to lay on the ground and was promptly pistol whipped unconscious and we could hear the steel of the pistol literally cracking against her skull over and over again. We whispered together, Manny was in charge and he said if we yelled at them or let them know we were there that they’d probably start shooting them all. He said all we could do is wait until they were done and then try to coax them over to our side of the border and provide assistance.
Hours later we were standing on Picador Avenue which bordered Otay Mesa along with a small army of Border Patrol vehicles, ambulances, and coroner’s wagons. They were almost all being treated for exposure, and some for shock, head wounds, the one girl wasn’t expected to make it. It had taken us over an hour after the banditos left to coax them over and get them off the Mesa and near the street where we could call in help. Some residents hearing the noise looked out their windows and seeing what was happening soon started bringing out blankets, robes, and sheets to help cover the naked and freezing.
Christmas lights decorated the houses in my neighborhood as I turned in the drive. It was almost 0500 when I let myself in the door, in a few hours the sun would rise and it would be Christmas day. Locking the door I placed my weapon in the safe and walked silently down the hallway and cracked open the door to my son’s room. I stood there for about ten minutes watching them sleep before heading to the master bedroom and undressing for bed. I crawled in and my wife’s tired voice asked “did you have a good night at work?” I just held her without sleeping until morning came.
March, 1984. Almost two years later I was preparing to leave San Diego for my first tour in Japan. I can’t remember why but I had an urge to go into Tijuana and see the bullfights one last time before I left. I’d already turned in my badge so when I entered Mexico it was as a tourist. The only thing resembling a weapon I had with me was a Buck knife in a leather pouch on my belt. These used to be all the trend and were routinely carried even on board airplanes. I drove to the stadium and purchased my ticket and enjoyed the fights.
As I left the stadium and headed towards my car I noticed a Tijuana policeman in uniform writing what had to be a parking ticket. His back was to me so I took my time and looked around for ‘no parking’ signs or markings on the pavement, anything to understand why I was being written a ticket. Tijuana police are infamously corrupt, over the years there have been thousands of reports of US citizens beaten, robbed, jailed and even tortured or killed by corrupt police. I wanted some hint at where this guy was coming from but I saw nothing. This area of the parking lot was huge and mostly deserted, no one to witness or intervene if he hassled me in some way. Having no other choice I walked up behind him and hearing me he turned. How could I ever forget El Jefe’s face? Shoving the ticket book in my face he demanded one hundred US dollars and threatened to put me in jail if I didn’t pay. I must have looked surprised, standing there with my mouth open knowing who he was and him having no idea I knew.
I didn’t respond and El Jefe turned me against my car and reached for my wallet. Jerking my wallet out I could sense he had both hands busy opening it. In one motion I removed the Buck knife from its pouch and with a flick of my wrist the blade locked open and turning suddenly I pushed the blade at a 30 degree angle between his ribs and into his heart. His face registered surprise and then horror as he grabbed my hand, but I lifted him by the knife and turning pushed him against my car and with a huge jerk dragged it up about six inches as the blade cut his heart almost in two. His eyes glazed over and remained open as he slunk to the ground and I leaned him against the tire. Reaching down I removed the knife and picking up the ticket book removed the pad of tickets. The top ticket had my vehicle information written on it. My hand was covered in blood and being careful to keep it away from my clothes I reached in my car and pulled out a two liter bottle of Pepsi which was half finished. Opening it with my teeth I poured it over my hand and the knife rinsing away most of the blood that you could see. Throwing the empty into the car I picked up a piece of newspaper from the ground and wrapped the knife in the paper. With El Jefe still leaning against my tire I got in the car and drove off, glancing in my rear view mirror to see his body flop to the ground as I drove away. Looking around for any witnesses I saw none so I drove towards the border crossing and stopped at the first mini-market.
I went inside and bought a small bottle of bleach and a half gallon bottle of water. Back in the car I emptied half the bottle of bleach in the empty Pepsi bottle, and taking the knife cut the top half off. Leaving the knife opened I put it in the bleach and sat there for about 15 minutes giving it a good soak. I reached in and took out the knife with my fingertips being careful to not get any drops of bleach on anything but the rubber floor mat I’d been working over. Carefully I dumped the bleach and two halves in the gutter and taking the water poured it over my hands, the knife, and the floor mat until they were reasonably clean. Putting the Buck knife back in the leather pouch on my belt I then tore up the ticket book in little pieces and stuffed them in the empty Pepsi bottle that still held half the contents of the bleach bottle. Looking through the clear part of the bottle I sat there and watched as the ink bled from the pieces and mulched together. After about 20 minutes I made sure the cap was on tight and shook it hard watching the paper fragment into pulp before pouring it down the same gutter and into the sewer. The empty bottle followed.
15 minutes later driving across the border the US Immigration and Customs agents asked me if I had any “drugs, weapons, fruits or live animals” to declare. I smiled and said “all I have is my Buck knife, do you want to see it?” He grinned at the joke and motioned me back into the United States of America. The following week I was on a Northwest flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo with my wife and sons and my Buck knife in its leather pouch on my belt.
After quickly washing up I went to the street outside my hotel and ordering a beer from the outdoor restaurant I sat there and slowly drank it while keeping an eye on Ringo’s hotel entrance. I didn’t have to wait long, Ringo had showered and primped himself for a night out on the town and as he walked out of the entrance of his hotel he turned right and headed towards the French Quarter and Old Market. Placing three US dollars on the table I stood and followed.
Until next time…
Good to see more of a Thailand link this time!