When the Mexican marines burst into El Chapo’s apartment, the biggest drug dealer on earth was making breakfast for his beauty queen wife and their two-year-old twin girls, who had joined daddy and mommy on the lam with little pink suitcases.
Although El Chapo’s wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, is an undeniable beauty, some may question the legitimacy of her crown. She was voted the local Coffee and Guava Queen in 2007 over four other contenders only after hundreds of black-clad gunmen on motorcycles flooded the town and El Chapo himself flew in with even more gunmen to host a lavish party to announce his intention to marry her.
In ensuring he was marrying a beauty queen, El Chapo was observing a tradition that goes back more than half a century, when the nephew of Mafia Boss Sam Giancana married Miss Sinaloa of 1958. This completely legitimate queen, Kenya Kemmermand Bastidas, subsequently moved with her husband to Sicily, where the Mafia made known its views regarding one of its own marrying a Mexican, no matter how beautiful she was. She was found murdered in her oceanfront home in 1960. She left behind an 11-month-old daughter.
Bastidas proved to have been a trendsetter back home in Mexico when Miss Sinaloa of 1967, Ana Victoria Santanares, married cartel boss Ernesto Carillo Fonseca. Santanares was 18 at the time and soon had two children. She lasted only four years before the excitement of being with a rich and powerful bad boy was eclipsed by a mother’s worry for her kids’ safety. She moved to Colombia and remarried by the time Carillo was convicted of participating in the torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique Camerena.
Miss Sinaloa of 1968, Tatiana Thompson Tennessee, had not yet married her boyfriend when she was shot to death in a crossfire while they were on a vacation in Disneyland. At least she got to become a beauty queen—a dream denied another Sinaloa teen, 16-year-old Enedina Arellano Felix.
Arellano reportedly had her heart set on becoming the 1977 carnival queen of Mazatlan and certainly possessed the necessary looks. The problem was that both Mexican and U.S. authorities targeted her six bothers for arrest as major drug dealers. The bothers are said to have feared that her candidacy would draw to much attention.
“She was a slender girl with a perfect figure… and she possessed a striking Argentine beauty, although the only problem she had was that she came from one of the most established Mexican narco families,” a Mexican magazine notes.
Unable to become another Sinaloa beauty queen married to a big time gangster, Arellano allegedly became a big time gangster herself, named by authorities in 2008 as the first female drug kingpin, the head of the Tijuana Cartel. Her bachelor’s degree in accounting no doubt proved useful in handling the astronomical profits. She is said to have brought her son and her sister into the organization.
While her brothers were still in charge, one of them, Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix, decided to become the latest gangster to marry a beauty queen by abducting the 1990 Mazatlan Carnival Queen, 17-year-old Rocio Del Carmen Lizarraga Lizarraga. He was undeterred by the fact that she was already engaged to a young man from a prominent family.
"CARNIVAL QUEEN MAZATLÁN KIDNAPPED," read the front page headline in a local paper.
The victim then released a statement reporting that she had accepted an offer she couldn’t refuse to marry her abductor.
"I, Rocío Del Carmen Lizarraga Lizarraga, Queen of Mazatlan's Carnival 1990…accept with resignation the path that fate has brought me and if God put me on this path I must follow it. I hope that with the blessing of God, my parents and all of you who came to appreciate me a little, manage somehow to be happy." Three years later, gunmen affiliated with the Tijuana cartel run by the Arellano family tried to kill El Chapo by firing on what they thought was his luxury car. Instead, they killed Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo. El Chapo escaped in a taxi, but in the ensuing furor he was arrested and sent to prison.
By several accounts, El Chapo essentially ruled the facility. He was even able to have a mistress, a woman in her 20’s named Zulema Hernandez.
“After the first time, he sent to my cell a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of whiskey," Hernandez later told a Mexican writer. "I was his queen."
In 2001, El Chapo escaped by hiding in a laundry cart. Hernandez was released soon after and El Chapo made her part of his cocaine operation only for her to end up in a car trunk, with “Z” for the rival Zetas carved into her breasts, abdomen, and buttocks. El Chapo wanted a real queen, anyway.
In 2006, he met 17 year-old Emma Coronel Aispuro from La Angostura, a remote village of a dozen houses reachable only by a rough dirt road. She put her name in contention that November to become the queen of the following year’s Great Coffee and Guava Festival in Canelas, but she was initially considered a long shot, as the four other contestants were from larger towns.
In keeping with tradition, each contestant hosted a party to promote her candidacy. Coronel’s was set for January 6, 2007, the Day of Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day.
At 11 a.m., some 400 men on 200 motorcycles roared into Canelas in black uniforms and fanned out through the town toting automatic weapons and pistols. A plane landed at the local airport with a band called Los Canelos. Six more planes later swooped in and El Chapo stepped from one of them in black leather sneakers. He was wearing a baseball hat, a jacket and jeans with a pistol stuck in his waistband. He was also carrying an automatic weapon, as were three planeloads of men in green, military-like attire.
The party commenced in the town square and Coronel announced that she and 54-year-old El Chapo were engaged to be married on July 3, her 18th birthday. Bodyguards made sure the couple had room to dance as the band began to play “Crossing Mountains and Streams,” the song that El Chapo was said to have used to woo his bride-to-be.
Across mountains and streams I've come to see you You're a flower, you are beautiful
You're a perfumed rose who was born for me.
Hold your breast close to mine
And embrace me because it's cold, and I will be happier.
The next morning, El Chapo flew away. Nobody was more surprised by all the extravagant partying than his No. 2 in the cartel, Ismael Zambada Garcia, who had always known El Chapo to be prudently low key.
“I knew about that party, but it was an exception in Chapo's life. If him or me were to exhibit ourselves that way, they would have had captured us already,” Zambada, who is known as El Mayo, later told a Mexican writer in a rare interview.
A detachment of the Mexican army arrived the next morning and stayed until February 21, two days before the new queen was to be crowned. Nobody could have been surprised that the onetime long shot Coronel was the winner.
On February 23, Coronation Day, El Chapo arrived with three bands. Each played “Running across Mountains and Streams” after the carnival’s director set the crown atop Coronel’s fair head.
On July 2, a day before the date the couple had announced, El Chapo became the latest local gangster to marry a beauty queen. The ceremony was more in keeping with his usual inconspicuous style, with only a few guests and the guards ringing the town for security, not show. Her reign as Coffee and Guava queen ended with the nuptials and the title automatically passed to the princess, the runner-up who otherwise would likely have been the queen to begin with.
The day after the wedding, the Mexican military swooped into town. The couple had already headed off to their honeymoon, by one report in Colombia, by another in the nearby mountains, but perhaps someplace else altogether.
A half-century after Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana decided Miss Sinaloa of 1958 was not good enough for his nephew, El Chapo could luxuriate with his beauty queen in the knowledge that he controlled virtually all drug sales in that faraway American city and had been declared its Public Enemy number one.
“Clearly more dangerous than Al Capone at his height,” the Chicago Crime Commission declared.
In the summer of 2012, the wife of the drug dealer Forbes was calling a billionaire and one of the most powerful people on earth traveled to the town of Lancaster north of Los Angeles. Coronel gave birth to twin girls on August 15 at Antelope Valley Hospital, the first at 3:50 pm, the second a minute later, both automatically American citizens. The space on the birth certificates for the name of the father was left blank. After all, the twins’ birth country was offering $5 million for their father’s capture.
El Chapo had maintained at least indirect contact with his two previous wives, and a wiretap targeting one of them is said to have helped American agents track down one of his henchmen. That, in turn, led to one of his safehouses, which may have made him fear that none of his safehouses were safe. He ended up living decidedly modest in the fourth floor apartment in Mazatlan where he was captured.
He did have a weapon, but he did not reach for it, maybe because he was too surprised or maybe because the kids where there. The enduring image of the capture is not of an arsenal as in other cartel busts, but of the two little pink suitcases.
The breakfast he had been cooking sat on the stove as he was trundled off to a waiting helicopter. His twins remained in the care of their mother, a beauty queen of iffy legitimacy in a long tradition of beauties who ended up with beasts that do not belong in a kid’s fairytale.
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