Death on the Cheap: The Big Sleep

By Jake Strickler, Editor-in-Chief

“When Mr. Grim joined us [atop the cathedral] he took one look at the eagles and said: ‘I want to get down. This place specializes in cruelty.’

…[Ledesema] reminded [him], ‘But that is why you have come to Mexico. To see death…The cardinal principle of Christianity is that Jesus Christ died for us. He died on a cross, suffering the most extreme agony, with his arms and legs broken, as you see here. He did not die quickly, but he slowly bled to death.’

‘…The inescapable fact is that he came from a violent God, into a violent world, to save violent men from a terribly violent hell. We fool ourselves in the most bitter mockery if we try for the sake of prettiness to gloss over the terrifying fact that Jesus Christ died in the agony you see depicted there, and by and large, only the Spanish peoples have been brave enough to acknowledge that fact.’”

                                 – James A. Michener, Mexico, 1992

“What did it matter once you were dead? In a dirty sump or a marble tower on the top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.”

                                 – Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep, 1939


At some point following the Jesus Valenzuela debacle, Ruth appears to have hired a sort of P.R./media insider. This person’s job was to help her in tracking down and enlisting persons of certain influence that could be used in calling attention to the story of her husband’s disappearance. One of the lists of contacts which has made its way into the T-bird archives was a wholly surprising thing for me to stumble across; home phone numbers of newscasters like Walter Cronkite and publishing magnates like Ben Bradlee; routes of access to ex-presidents and other politicians, retired and active.

IMG_0211Ruth called in the help of one Megan P. Brill, who I believe to be either her sister or Nick’s sister, in working down this list and following up on any bites. One undated letter, sent from Mrs. Brill to Ms. Pamela Hill, V.P. an Executive Producer at ABC Nightline News, runs down the facts of the case up to that point. One of these details, in particular, sticks out: “Ambassador John Gavin told Mrs. Schrock when it became clear that the Mexicans had sent the wrong body, that he was concerned, but worried about ‘stepping on toes.’”

For a U.S. Ambassador to apply pressure in what was beginning to look more and more like a massive coverup involving potentially dozens of murdered Americans, common sense would tell us that “stepping on toes” should be among the least of his concerns. Arizona Republic columnist Tom Fitzpatrick published a piece making essentially that same point, and in the form of such a ham-fisted analogy that I’m, frankly, impressed by it and would like to quote it at length. It’s a cheap shot, but I’ll be a son-of-a-gun if I don’t love a good below-the-belt jab as long as I’m not on the receiving end.

For context, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film Psycho, which explores themes of robbery, murder, psychological deviance, aberrant behavior, and a character played by Gavin searching the countryside for his missing lover (does any of this sound familiar), was maybe Gavin’s most famous role outside of the same year’s Spartacus, directed by Stanley Kubrick. Writes Fitzpatrick in “A Country of Unbelievable Beauty Flawed by Incredible Corruptness:”

“The most stunning thing in this grisly comedy about the murder of Schrock is the incredibly inept performance of our Ambassador to Mexico.

John Gavin, like his pal, President Reagan, is a former actor. His role in the movies generally was to play the part of a man accustomed to feats of derring-do.

In Psycho, a film directed by the late Alfred Hitchcock, Gavin portrayed a lover searching for his murdered girlfriend.

She, too, had left on a car trip with a large amount of cash and had been murdered.

She was stabbed to death in the most famous shower sequence in film history, and her body disposed of in a swamp.

Gavin followed the script in the movie. He found the girl and the guilty party.

I would like someone to explain to me what Gavin has been doing for the past two weeks about this case. Has he lost the power of speech? Is he unable to speak without a prepared script? Does he need Hitchcock to tell him when he should become outraged?”

psycho-1960-movie-posterIf life were as simple as the movies that Gavin so frequently played in (entries from Hitchcock and Kubrick notwithstanding), this may serve as a viable critique. But what Gavin may have possessed in terms of physical prowess and willingness to commit acts of “derring-do” on the silver screen, he may have lacked in terms of actual political power. Gavin, it must be remembered, was a political appointee, not a career diplomat. While prior political experience may have provided something resembling a script for him to follow in this case, Gavin was no swashbuckling hero in reality…he just played one in the movies.

In fact, in the over-under-sideways-down logic that characterizes this case, Gavin would become a scapegoat himself in determining just where to pin the blame during the slippery slope of deteriorating U.S.-Mexico relations that characterized the brief remainder of Portillio’s presidency. Though this step ending up not being taken, on 7/7/82, Geer, in an interview with the Arizona Republic pondered the potential necessity of ending AGSIM’s program in Guadalajara: “Suppose, instead of a professor, it had been one of our students who disappeared…Nicholas Schrock was being paid by [AGSIM] and had experience in Mexico before. The shoe is very much on the other foot, though, when you think about students who are paying us to educate them.”

On August 1, however, the Directors of the University of Colorado voted unanimously for “the immediate termination of Study Abroad activity for college credit in Mexico.” In a letter to the Mexican National Tourist Council, Douglas R. McKay, Chairman of the Department of Foreign Languages, explained that “This determination has been reached as a protest against the inconceivable stupidity, unparalleled human cruelty, and ungracious response of the government officials of the State of Sinaloa in the mishandling of the Nicholas Schrock case.” The letter concludes, “our Department hopes that this meaningful decision will induce other language programs to respond in a similar fashion. Indeed, we will make a concerted effort to disseminate our recommendation on a national basis.”

In a letter sent to Ruth accompanying a copy of this note, McKay writes, “I am one who earnestly believes in the importance of standing up to be counted. We feel so helpless in the face of these contemptible human dealings, that whatever splash we can make as a protest to gross incompetence and deliberate chicanery should and must be made. In my small role as department chairperson I will do all I can to wage a campaign of touristic and academic drawback from study abroad activity in Mexico. The enclosed letter is my first effort; others will follow…Beyond this negative resolve is a strong and deep personal commitment to support and sustain you in this period of great difficulty.”

A week previous to this, Ruth had made national news by contacting Presidents Reagan and Portillo directly in order to “Appeal to [their] humanity in obtaining bilateral cooperation…in determining the facts about the disappearance” of her husband. Soon after, Ruth told the New York Times that “[She thinks] the State Department is culpable in this” and that “They should re-institute the advisory that warns Americans of the danger of traveling along Route 15.”

0awtkflb12zzk3This previous advisory had been issued in December of 1976 after three incidents in which lone Americans had been murdered while driving along the highway, and had struck a significant blow against Mexico’s tourism industry. Sheer body count tells us that this advisory should have been re-instituted long before or, perhaps, never lifted in the first place. But logic, as has been discussed, is perhaps not the first place to turn to when looking at the Schrock case.

On July 25, ABC News aired a special in the U.S. titled Mexico: Times of Crisis. The program was banned by the Mexican government, but bootleg VHS recordings were fetching prices as high as USD $50 in the country. Though I have been unable to find a copy of the video, a Knight-Ridder story reports that it features Gavin “referring to fears that Central America’s political violence will spill into Mexico and saying Mexicans have a ‘problem of confidence’ in their financial institutions.” A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy claimed that the portions of the report featuring Gavin were taken out of context.

“Nevertheless,” the story goes on, “officials and journalists have launched a string of harsh attacks against Gavin, not so much for what he said but for the fact that he commented at all on internal affairs.

Of course, what he said was true. But he had no right to say it,’ one top Mexican diplomat said [Emphasis mine].

‘Because of this, Gavin has been frozen out of the Foreign Ministry,’ the diplomat added. ‘When he calls on the ministry, we treat him with tortugisimo’ –  a turtle’s pace.

‘There is no desire on our part to talk to him. Before the ABC program, we used to give him nada…Now we give him even less.’

The diplomat said that at the height of the anger over Gavin’s comments, the ministry considered declaring him persona non-grata, ‘but that was too extreme a reaction.’”

Wrote AZ Congressman Bob Stump to Berger Erickson while these events were taking place: “It is regrettable that the international relations of the two countries could be severely jeopardized by the actions of the Mexican Police Force and the inability of Mexico to satisfy the U.S. regarding the whereabouts of Professor Schrock or his body.” Whereas Gavin may have once possessed a modicum of political capital and influence in the search for Schrock, he and the Foreign Ministry were now strictly splits-ville, for the time being, at least.

The Minister of Tourism was angry. Seaside resort towns that counted on summer crowds from up north to keep the bills paid for the rest of the year were angry. Other police departments around the country that had maybe been running these same schemes with a bit less flamboyance were angry that one group of bad eggs had to go and spoil it for everybody. Ruth was angry for obvious reasons. The U.S. government was angry because Ruth was angry and kept showing up in the press, pointing fingers. Gavin became a focal point for this anger, like an ant under a magnifying glass, although this blame was now, officially and definitively, misplaced. Blame needs something or someone to affix itself to. Gavin was nada; nadie; menos de cero, but the blame stuck. The man was in over his head; we can’t fault him for trying to swim.

“Our Soft Underbelly”

The relationship between the United States and the nations that lie below it, geographically, is, and, has for a long time, been, well…complicated. After the wars in which these states gained independence from the colonial powers that governed them, the U.S. made the decision that it was within their purview to step in and, to a certain extent, fill the vacuum. The wonderful thing about looking at historical events that took place long in the past is that we generally don’t have to make conspiratorial leaps of logic; the documents, the writings, the histories, are there. And this story starts with one of the first of the young U.S. government’s codified outward-facing pieces of foreign policy: The Monroe Doctrine, authored by this nation’s fifth president, James Monroe in 1823. While the main points of the document are summarized above, it reads, in part:

“The American continents [emphasis mine], by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers…It is impossible that the allied powers should extend their political system to any portion of either continent without endangering our peace and happiness; nor can anyone believe that our southern brethren, if left to themselves, would adopt it of their own accord.”

monroe doctrineIn other words, over a century before the Cold War began, the lines between the Eastern and Western hemispheres were being drawn according to ideology. Monroe had laid claim to this half of the world, and made it clear that any attempt to breach it either militarily or dogmatically would be seen as a threat to the United States itself. Throughout the 20th century, when leftist movements began making incursions into the United States’ proclaimed sphere of influence, the Monroe doctrine would be invoked by U.S. presidents as late as Ronald Reagan as justification for anti-communist meddling in the foreign affairs of sovereign states.

By-then-ex-president Richard Nixon, in his 1980 book The Real War, had made much the same argument that Barry Goldwater did in his The Conscience of a Conservative, published twenty years earlier: that the continued existence of the Soviet Union following WWII meant that the war never really “ended,” and that the Cold War constituted a mere continuation of it. He writes:

“Latin America usually makes the front pages our newspapers only when there is a revolution, an earthquake, or a riot at a soccer match. But it deserves attention equal to that we give to Europe, Asia, and Africa, and in some ways even more because of its proximity to us.

Latin America is a prime Soviet target for three major reasons: it has enormous natural resources; by the end of the century its population will be substantially greater than that of the United States and Western Europe combined; and it is close to the United States – it is our soft underbelly [emphasis mine].

The nations of Latin America won their freedom largely as a result of our example. They were able to keep that freedom during their early years because of the protective mantle the Monroe Doctrine spread over them. By allowing a Soviet client state in the Americas – Cuba – we seem to them to have abandoned that doctrine.”

By this point, the Monroe Doctrine had been used to justify actions ranging from the Spanish-American War (which turned Cuba into an economic American pseudo-colony for half a century), the C.I.A.-induced coup of Guatemalan president Jacobo Árbenz in 1954, the Bay of Pigs debacle, the Brazilian Golpe de 64, U.S. support for the violent overthrow of Chile’s Salvador Allende, and recognition of the resultant dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in 1974, under whose 20-plus-year-regin, over 3,000 were murdered or “disappeared” (according to the Chilean government) and tens of thousands more imprisoned and tortured. And then there was Ronald Reagan, who strode into office with a doctrine of his own.

From Containment to Rollback

46896472-cachedThe Regan Doctrine put an end to the stated U.S. policy of “containing” Soviet influence in place and instead focused on “rolling it back” to whence it came. This was to be accomplished by secret, plausibly deniable, and incredibly violent means, something that would have to be the case due to the actions of Reagan’s two predecessors: Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. Following the country-wide hangover induced by the military binges of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations, Ford and Carter sought to make transparency and human rights the centerpieces of their administrations.

In 1974, the Hughes-Ryan amendment was passed, which required the C.I.A. to inform at least eight congressional committees of its covert actions; two years later a dedicated oversight committee would be created. Executive Order 11905 was signed by Gerald Ford in 1976, which prohibited the assassinations of foreign leaders during peacetime. That same year, a handful of congressional Democrats including New York’s Ed Koch sought to halt U.S. aid to Latin American dictatorships, specifically Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. In Chile, Pinochet’s secret police presented the President with plans to assassinate Koch in the U.S. Earlier that year, Pinochet’s men had killed Orlando Letelier, a former Allende official and critic of the Pinochet regime, with a car bomb in Washington D.C.’s DuPont Circle, also known as “Embassy Row,” about a mile from the White House. A C.I.A. document declassified in 2015, nine years after Pinochet’s death, states that “Contreras [one the plot’s organizers] told a confidant he authorized the assassination of Letelier on orders from Pinochet.”

cbn_700club_demons_house_130730a-615x345As Greg Grandin, author of the National Book Award finalist Forlandia, writes in his 2006 Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism, “As with the New Left, the Vietnam War radicalized the New Right.” In the America of Ronald Reagan, the crew-cuts were the radicals. Due to the restrictions passed by the last two administrations, they formed ad-hoc shell NGOs like the Committee on the Present Danger and the Committee to Maintain a Prudent Defense Policy (this is a path that I’m going to let you explore yourself, though I urge you to take a hard look at Pat Robertson’s 700 Club and the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church) through which federal money was funneled to right-wring death squads operating in Latin America.

As quoted in Grandin’s book, Jerome Levinson, a former official at the Inter-American Development Bank states that the 1982 debt crisis, “’afforded an unparalleled opportunity’ for the U.S. Treasury to achieve ‘the structural reforms favored by the Reagan Administration,’ which included a ‘commitment on the part of the debtor countries to reduce the role of the public sector as a vehicle for economic and social development and rely more on market forces and private enterprises.’”

Attendees of the 1981 North-South Summit. Note Reagan and Margaret Thatcher at left.
Attendees of the 1981 North-South Summit. Note Reagan and Margaret Thatcher at left.

In October of 1981, Portillo held the International Meeting on Cooperation and Development, also referred to as the North-South Summit, in Cancun. Some of the left-leaning attendees, like Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and West Germany’s Willy Brandt were in favor of the establishment of what was being called a “New International Economic Order,” in which more developed countries would massively increase their aid to less developed ones,  facilitate the transfer of new technologies to them, grant them greater control over their own natural resources, and set uniform prices for a number of globally-traded commodities, protecting the countries that produced them from market fluctuations. Instead of this quasi-utopian vision of a “flatter” and more integrated world, the idealists would be steamrolled by the proponents of Chicago School market ideology due to the massive amounts of sovereign debt offered out and taken up by these countries during the initial phases of their generally natural-resource-driven development.

Returning to Grandin:

“Compelled by the debt crisis, one country after another implemented a program that was the mirror opposite of what was [being] called for…They slashed taxes, drastically devalued their currencies, lowered [their] minimum [wages], exempted foreign countries from labor and environmental laws, cut spending on healthcare, education, and other social services, did away with regulations, smashed unions, passed legislation that allowed up to 100 percent repatriation of profits, cut subsidies designed to protect national manufacturing industries, freed interest rates, and privatized state industries and public utilities…the debt crisis forced a race to the bottom to attract foreign capital. It was every nation for itself.”

That's more like it: admitting a problem is the first step to resolving it.
That’s more like it: admitting a problem is the first step to resolving it.

The nascent Reagan Doctrine, in one fell swoop, managed to reduce the impact of leftist thought in Latin America dramatically, while at the same time imposing its brand of hardline neoliberal capitalism on a broad swath of the hemisphere.  And for those movements that refused to die off of their own accord, like Nicaragua’s Contras, the administration used back channels to fund repressive dictatorships and brutal right-wing death squads aimed at getting the job done regardless. In President Portillo’s successor, Miguel de la Madrid, Reagan would find a true companion in reforming Mexico along those guidelines. The question is: were the reforms good for the country, or did they end up only worsening pre-existing conditions? Were they good for the gander? Or were they good for the goose? One thing’s for sure: Mexico wouldn’t be giving any aid to those pesky little communist guerillas south of its border with Portillo out of the picture.

The socioeconomic conditions created by these policies – increased economic inequality, the dismantling of social safety nets, the cutting of spending on social services (such as policing) – also necessarily result in an environment ripe for the kinds of crime that resulted in Nick Schrock’s death. Prevalence of corruption, bribery, and murder for economic gain are all signs of a society where something isn’t going quite right. Mexico’s USD $2.2 trillion economy makes it the 12th largest in the world, according to the CIA World Factbook. Yet Mexico’s per-capita GDP is a third of that in the U.S., bringing the country in at 91st in global rankings. The wealth, it would be fair to say, is obviously not being spread equitably. Ironically, this is the kind of thing that Nick would have loved to have debated vigorously.

These numbers, by the way, are from 2016. If we were to compare them to the same rankings from 1982, we might have some evidence to make certain arguments in response to these questions. Or, we could just take a look at the all-out drug warfare taking place in broad swaths of Mexico today. The face stitched to the soccer ball, I think, makes for a more compelling argument than an economic analysis does. But that’s a question for another time.

Bringin’ it all Back Home: The Trial of the San Ignacio 7

The investigation proceeded at an achingly slow pace. On July 19, a story hit the UPI newswire that El Nene had been arrested south of Mazatlán. The next day, however, Sinaloa Attorney General Chavez Castro denied the report and told the press and U.S. consulate that the latest information found in the investigation, which wasn’t ever produced, showed that El Nene had actually fled to the U.S, effectively dumping the search in the F.B.I.’s lap.

On August 8, the tests of the stains on the front seat of the Datsun came back negative for blood. There had been so much tampering with the truck and so much time had passed, though, that these results should maybe be taken with a grain of salt. On August 23, Culiacan officials finally accepted the Denver coroner’s report concluding that the mummified corpse sent to Colorado did, in fact belong to Jesus Valenzuela. The remains were allowed to be repatriated, and the corpse was re-interred. For the San Ignacio 7, who had been held in jail since their arrest nearly two months prior, this was an amazing stroke of luck (or something that certainly looks like it). If both the Mexican and American governments agreed that the body didn’t belong to Schrock, then where was the case? Without a corpse, the evidence was circumstantial. Maybe the cops actually did find the truck abandoned on the side of the road with the keys in the ignition; maybe that really was how Schrock’s glasses and clothing had made their way into the Chief of Police’s house.

The offices of Noroeste in the wake of a 2010 attack which followed the publication of a particularly controversial story.
The offices of Noroeste in the wake of a 2010 attack which followed the publication of a particularly controversial story.

What happened next shouldn’t come as a surprise: the recanting started. Of the seven men, six started crying coerced confession. I still don’t understand why the seventh didn’t; maybe he was afraid of what his jailers would do to him if reneged on his testimony. Maybe he suffered an attack of conscience. Who knows? Our ringleaders, Velarde Cruz and Trevino, were the first to take it all back. In late July of ’82, Velarde Cruz showed a reporter from Mazatlán’s Noroeste marks on his body that he said came from repeated beatings undergone while refusing to confess: “On the fourth time they hit me, I declared myself guilty…I said what they wanted me to say.”

Federal law at the time said that, after being charged, a prisoner could be held for up to a year before a trial had to be held. Appeals took the case to the Sinaloa state court and held up the process for a couple of months, but the following summer, on July 29, 1983, the seven men found themselves sitting in a courtroom. Three, including Trevino and Velarde Cruz, faced a homicide rap. All faced charges of robbery, “crimes of official responsibility” (which translates to something like “dereliction of duty”), and clandestine burial and concealment.

courtroom_stories_193203Not much had happened in the interim; the officers had whiled away their time awaiting this date and, from what the evidence indicates, undergoing repeated instances of torture and beating in their jailers’ attempts to get them to keep their story straight.  Ruth and her allies had kept up their fight, but after a time, something like compassion fatigue seems to have set in. Not necessarily on their part, but on that of the press and public. Crime needs to have drama and excitement in order to sell papers. After a certain point, after the gruesomeness of the summer’s events had passed, Nick’s disappearance seems to have reached that point; to have run out of play with the arbiters of public opinion.

The Library of Congress’s Research Service produced a translation of the trial’s transcript. Of course, it ended up in Nelda Crowell’s shoebox. It is one of the strangest documents I’ve ever read. The defense goes to bat first, and offers up weepy stories of the men’s lives. They’re all good, honest, and hardworking. None of them are fond of cigarettes or inebriating drinks. By all accounts, the document says, “records indicate their good behavior and honest lifestyle.” The men’s lawyers, as well as the D.A.’s office, recommend “non-accusatory conclusions in favor of all.”

The charges of murder and clandestine burial and concealment are thrown out in about the first minute. No body; no charges. In the words of presiding judge Samuel Lopez Calderon, “it is justified to decree a resolution of DISMISSAL [emphasis original] in this criminal case, in favor of [the accused] …without the need to go into the study and analysis of the evidence making up this proceeding, since it is obviously inadmissible, so that IMMEDIATE and ABSOLUTE RELEASE of the accused named above is ordered.”

Regarding the charges of robbery and dereliction of duty, the men’s testimony is offered. Trevino’s is a rambling and un-punctuated jumble:

“A Datsun van (camioneta) had been found with the trunk open, with many things strewn about the new van, so that I ordered the representative from Coyotitan [an individual who appears in no other case literature I’ve been able to locate] to go to the place where the van was while I was arriving at the place of the events…and on going up toward the road that leads to the microwave tower, I was able to realize… perfectly that there were books, bags, articles such as a sleeping bag, empty suitcases, a lot of medications, a semi-destroyed case apparently of a musical instrument, several broken bottles of wine and a cup and a vase of crystal, some pieces of iron that looked like orthopedic instruments since they had frames that looked like aluminum, there was a suitcase with several zippers, a large olive green suitcase…a bag containing herbal medicines, a pair of shoes, new galoshes, coffee color, with a shoe block like a plastic foot…once finished I found tracks towards the mountain…I and Ismael [Garcia Olivas; another of the accused] set about to follow the tracks…from there we returned to where the van was with the things and he told the boys to set about throwing things in the van…and since I liked the suitcases, one of them having several zippers, a blue-colored bag with several zippers, a vest, a suitcase of cloth and with handles, and the blue tourist bag with aluminum piping, a shovel, having told the boys accompanying me to put those things in the back of the van because they were the things I was going to keep and for them to take what they wanted and then I told Ismael to take a coffee-colored [illegible] and he took it and also put it in the van, and also I told him on seeing him with the bottle of cream in his hands to keep it…”

On and on it goes. Pages and pages of almost fetishistic description of the divvying up of the bounty. One passage from the testimony of Trevino’s wife describes her husband arriving home from the day’s events excited to show off the toothbrush and tube of toothpaste which he’d left the scene with. Based on this testimony, eagerly describing how the town of San Ignacio had divvied up Shrock’s belongings at the insistence of the police, the men were found guilty on charges of robbery and dereliction of duty. The punishments were laughable: jail sentences that amounted to time served and fines averaging about $20 each, according to an AP story about the trial picked up by the New York Times on 8/8/83. Ruth, in the final quoted statement I have from her, said, “No one could have any confidence in the quality of the investigation mounted.”

The verdict wasn’t a blow to her: it was just another in a long chain of disappointments and injustices. But she did, at least, have a kind of confirmation. Her husband had been murdered for a handful of multi-zippered suitcases and a tube of toothpaste. This, in the estimation of the men who carried out his murder with even weapons that were makeshift and primitive, was the value of a human life. Nicholas Schrock died cheap, and the men who were responsible squirmed free for even less. But, without a body, how could anybody besides, well, Nick, have been sure that he was actually dead? Maybe he was stumbling around coastal Mexico with amnesia, as one theory held. It would be two more years still before this question was answered.

The Big Sleep

On July 23rd of 1985, nearly two years to the day after the trial of the San Ignacio 7 and the moment when the Schrock case officially went cold, a group of public service workers were clearing trees and brush from along the side of Highway 15, a few miles down the road from the Pemex station and soon before the turnoff to the town of San Ignacio. They discovered something that wasn’t a part of their normal work day: a human skeleton, buried not far from the edge of the road, in a grave of about a foot in depth.

DNA analysis confirmed that the remains were Nick’s, and that the cause of death was as has been described. After more than three years of pain and forced confessions and improperly exhumed corpses, of Ruth lying awake and alone at night and experiencing the torment of not knowing, the answer had been right where the initial suspect had said that it was the whole time: in a shallow grave on the roadside. The area had been combed, thoroughly we’re told, by a detachment of soldiers. They’d found absolutamente nada. Maybe they’d avoided the places that seemed too obvious. Maybe the answers to the whole Schrock mystery had been hidden in plain sight this whole time.

I have nothing else on Genaro Juarez after he had been declared no longer a suspect. El Nene remains, to my knowledge, a ghost. The San Ignacio 7 had been cleared; they couldn’t be retried although there was now a body. But why all the intrigue? Why the dissembling? Why the Jesus Valenzuela affair? Was Juarez the scapegoat, or had the San Ignacio 7 done something to anger the wrong group of people? Were they they real scapegoats? Juarez cracked on the body’s location immediately; the 7 held up under torture and a year in prison.  Damnit, I don’t know. It’s all part of a web of darkness and corruption that maybe nobody who wasn’t there to be a part of it will ever truly understand.

I don’t have a satisfying end to this story, and there won’t ever be one. We know how it’s turned out for the country of Mexico; descent into chaos. The legacy of the Reagan Doctrine is closely guarded by most conservatives. Like the Schrock case, things like “Iran-Contra” are ancient history. Their consequences reverberate throughout our daily lives, yet we generally lack the sensory instruments to detect them and see the ways in which they interact with one another.

Marty Geer contacted me after one of the last installments was published to let me know that he’s still alive. Ruth, he said, was in the same condition when they last spoke. He didn’t indicate when that was. Nick Schrock is sleeping the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how he died, where he fell, or the events that followed. He’s never been bothered by things like that.

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