Briar Patch


(IN AUGUST,TEXAS MONTHLY PUBLISHED an account of drug trafficking between Mexico and San Antonio. Much of that article concerned the activities of Fred Carrasco, at that time at large. Since then, he has been apprehended. Our correspondents sent us this account of his capture.)

Around midnight July 22 a portly, neatly-barbered man in a $300 suit stepped from a San Antonio motel room toward a waiting car; after a moment’s hesitation, San Antonio police inspector Jack Button called over a loudspeaker: “Carrasco!” The most spectacular South Texas manhunt in years was at an end.

One of the reasons Carrasco had been so elusive was that nobody on the side of the law knew exactly what he looked like. All anybody really knew was that in March a man later identified from old photographs as Carrasco walked into a San Antonio bar, told drinking fellows he was about to kill a man sitting at the counter, then did just that, with two .45s.

The victim was the money-man of a San Antonio drug ring commanded by Carrasco, a business that operated under the most autocratic of rules: If you crossed the boss he would kill you. During Carrasco’s rise to power, his cousin Jesse Santoy, for years the biggest narcotics broker in town, fled the heat to Europe; and organization enforcer Pete Guzman, a man who also aspired to be Number One, wound up weighted with 45 bullets in a Mexican ditch. Alone at the top, Carrasco operated shrewdly but flamboyantly, dressing and living in high style on both sides of the Rio Grande, allegedly threatening to assassinate U.S. Congressmen, bragging that his outfit was tougher than the Mafia, cultivating an image as a machismo badman with a few redeeming features: He loved his wife, took care of his parents, and cowed before no one.

Known on awed San Antonio streets as Don Ramon, Carrasco operated in Mexico during most of 1972, and the two-gun execution was the first widely-publicized evidence he was back in San Antonio. He was seen laughing in Bexar County bars, dance halls, restaurants, family reunions. Then in early April two organization runners were found dead in their car in rural Bexar County, victims of a gunman with a 9 mm Luger. Both victims were under close police surveillance, and more spectacularly, the press reported that both men were names on an execution list of 12 carried by Carrasco. Three down, nine to go.

Law officers fidgeted through countless stakeouts, checked out long-shot tips, patrolled the county in helicopters. Carrasco was always one step ahead, but the officers kept hearing about him and his bristling, omnipresent bodyguards. One night a man thought to be Carrasco dodged deputy sheriffs in a cantina crowd, and an hour later outran police officers in a hot-rod Chevrolet. Then in early June two young gang members also under close surveillance were found dead near their overturned car in rural Bexar County, victims of a gunman with a 9 mm Luger. Police traced $500 wreaths at their funerals to Fred Carrasco. Five down.

The reward for conclusive information jumped from $3000 to $5000, and though almost everyone in South Texas had heard Carrasco’s name and seen his frightening photograph, he kept moving freely, leaving word that when he went, some police officers were going with him. One highway patrolman almost fainted when he saw an updated photograph and realized he had written Fred Carrasco a traffic ticket, and word spread that the police may not try to take Carrasco alive, though those actively involved in the hunt were reluctant to admit it, fearing Carrasco’s reaction should they be the ones to look him in the eye. Bill Weilbacher, the intimidating San Antonio sergeant who had been at odds with Carrasco for a decade, said, “I think he’s crazy…he wants to be the kind of guy they sing about in beer joints.” If Carrasco indeed aspired to be a folk hero, he probably got his wish: Toward the end of a UPI reporter was comparing him to Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Clyde Barrow.

After all the buildup, Fred Carrasco’s final date with the man was anticlimactic. The tightened San Antonio squad had begun tailing Carrasco’s relatives, particularly his wife, Rosa. On July 18 they got a tip she had checked into El Tejas motel in south San Antonio. They watched Rosa come and go for three days before she checked out and they wrote off several more wasted hours. But the same Saturday night they got another tip she was returning to the same motel, and she showed up with her well-dressed companion. Task force policemen in anonymous attire sealed off the escape routes, adjusted sniper scopes, climbed into trees, and watched the motel room door for three hours before Carrasco stepped out.

When Hutton barked his warning Carrasco whirled with a .357 Magnum in his hand, but this time the police had the upper hand. Rosa Carrasco probably saved her husband’s life by yelling just as a police lieutenant triggered a shotgun; the blast missed Carrasco, but an automatic rifleman wounded him in the shoulder and devastated his left hand. Disarmed and bleeding, Carrasco ran a blind zig-zag that ended 100 yards later with more wounds in his foot and stomach and a police gun barrel under each ear lobe.

Carrasco had failed to measure up to his boasts, but wide-eyed and in shock, he manfully tried to salvage his dignity. The police led him cursing back to his room, where they allowed him to sit in a chair, cursing. He called the officers gringos, took pride in their numbers, spat at Express-News photographer Nathan Sherman, told his old adversary Bill Weilbacher, “All right you big sonofabitch, you finally got me. Now leave me alone.” When the ambulance arrived Carrasco kissed his wife goodbye then went to the hospital, cursing the ambulance drivers.

Most of the other motel registrants were out-of-state overnighters, and they reacted to the midnight gunplay in different manners: One plunged under his

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