Inside 'first great war' of Narcos Mexico cartels where hitman hurled KIDS from bridge & killer clown took out drug lord

IT'S not every day you'd spot a stray dog wandering the streets clutching a bloody human arm – but for residents of Guadalajara in Mexico, it's a sight that barely raises an eyebrow.

That's because for decades the country has been ravaged by the effects of warring drug cartels, with the grim discovery of mass graves and dead bodies becoming the norm.

The third and final series of action-packed drug trafficking drama Narcos: Mexico launches on Netflix later this week.

Set in the early 1990s, as newly independent gangs struggle to survive political upheaval and escalating violence, a new generation of Mexican kingpins emerge from the Tijuana, Sinaloa and Juárez cartels.

Here, we take a closer look inside the history of some of the most notorious real-life cartels, and the horrifying violence and brutality that has followed in their wake.

Kids thrown off bridge in 'first narco war'

There are thought to be hundreds of gangs fighting for power in Mexico, and a staggering 40,000 people have disappeared amid the chaos since 2006.

In the first half of 2019, there were no less than 17,608 gangland murders – with 94 people being brutally killed every single day.

The foundations of this grisly street war were laid in the 1990s, as a bloody fight for supremacy erupted between the Sinaloa and Tijuana cartels.

Following the arrest of 'boss of bosses' Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, which was retold in the last series of Narcos: Mexico, previously-allied criminal organisations split off into factions.

Gallardo's nephews would go on to lead the Tijuana cartel, while the notorious trafficker Ismael 'El Mayo' Zambada headed up the Sinaloa cartel alongside Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman.

As the two groups battled for control of Tijuana, Mexico's streets flowed with blood in the 'first great narco war', with corpses hacked apart and left hanging from bridges.

The Arellano Felix brothers, Benjamin and Ramon, reportedly tried to murder El Mayo's son, Vincente – who recently testified against the cartel – when he was just 16 years old in 1991.

Upping the stakes, El Chapo and his henchman 'El Guero' Palma tried to kill Ramon at a nightclub, but left six others dead after botching the hit.

It proved to be a fateful mistake for El Guero.

The brothers ordered a hitman to seduce his wife and infiltrate the Sinaloa cartel – when he succeeded, they told him to execute her and sent her head to their rival in a refrigerated box.

They didn't stop there, later throwing El Guero's four and five-year-old children off a 150-metre bridge in Venezuela, filming the deaths on a videotape for him.

Meanwhile, El Chapo became the face of Mexico's drugs trade when he was blamed for the death of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas during a cartel gunfight at Guadalajara Airport in 1993.

Arrested later that year, the drug boss later shot to fame for twice escaping maximum-security prisons in Mexico, once by digging a mile-long tunnel from his cell.

By the early Noughties, the Felix brothers' influence was waning. Ramon was shot dead at a carnival in 2002, while Benjamin was arrested a week later and sentenced to 25 years behind bars.

Another brother, Rafael Arellano, was gunned down by a hitman dressed as a clown in 2013 in California.

But as the Sinaloa cartel grew to become one of the most fearsome criminal organisations in the world, another was waiting to steal its crown.

Next generation of killers dig mass graves

Today, the most bloodthirsty gang in Mexico is the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Founded in 2009, they have been known to rip out victims' hearts, dissolve bodies in barrels of acid, and once even shot down an army helicopter, killing six soldiers.

The discovery of mass graves is disturbingly common, with news reports revealing over 3,000 secret graves and nearly 5,000 bodies were found across Mexico in 2019.

Guadalajara human rights activist Guadalupe Aguilar – who is forced to travel with armed guards – estimated there were dozens of clandestine burial sites across the state of Jalisco.

Speaking to The Guardian about the discovery of 26 bodies in a shallow grave in the neighbourhood of La Piedrera, Guadalupe said: “They’d thrown something on them – acid or something – because it hadn’t been long [since their murders] and the bodies were already in a real state of decay.”

One group looking for graves in Sinaloa found bags full of thousands of finger bones, thought to be from hands severed during torture.

In 2019, authorities found a mass grave containing the cut-up bodies of at least 50 people at a farm outside the city of Guadalajara, and recently 113 butchered bodies were uncovered in a mass grave.

In 2019 Jalisco cartel kingpin Nemesio Cervantes – or El Mencho – became the United States' new “most wanted” man with a $10million bounty slapped on his head.

Thought to be even more violent than El Chapo, El Mencho was believed to not even take mercy on women or children.

DEA agent Kyle Mori told Latin American news channel Univision: “They are very violent.

“Decapitations, dissolving bodies in acid, public executions, ripping out the heart, killing women and children, bombings against people.

“It happens almost every day. El Chapo was violent, but El Mencho has taken it to a new level.”

Children as young as 12 recruited to kill

They don't just kill children, but some gangs also recruit them too, with kids as young as 10 asked to carry out their dirty work.

17-year-old Jacobo*, who is serving a four-year youth offender sentence after being shot and left for dead by the same cartel that hired him, was just 12 when he was recruited to carry out his first murder.

Associated Press reported he said: “They go around looking for kids who are out on the streets and need money.

“At 12 years old, I became sort of a hired killer.”

While killing is an everyday occurrence, sometimes if a cartel really wants to make a point, they take things one step further to make an example out of their victims.

The body of one notorious gangster known as El Cholo was dumped on a park bench in Tlaquepaque, a tourist town near Guadalajara famed for its pottery.

A kitchen knife had been used to pin a warning to the black body bag, saying: “El Traicionero”, which translates to “The Traitor”.

Earlier this year a gang left a severed head hanging from a bridge with a chilling warning to a powerful rival.

Inside the bag was also a message that warned: "This is going to happen to all the people who hang out with the new f****** filthy people."

The final season of Narcos: Mexico begins on Netflix on Friday November 4

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