Briar Patch

September 1973By and Comments


(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 bed and spent the night there; another left his companion in bed and started home on foot; another came out wielding a gun and got promptly manhandled by spooked police. The next morning they read the papers and exchanged bits of nervous information before they returned to the highway with the vacation story of their lives. Later in the day small boys stared in awe at the chalk-rimmed bloodstains on the motel parking lot, and one man called the motel office requesting shell casings from "the great Don Ramon" to give to his son.

A week later, however, a man checked into Room 10 and said he not only didn't know what had happened there, he didn't want to know; and Don Ramon had been transferred to the County jail in lieu of $1,000,000 bond. As a result the heroin market in San Antonio is extremely tight, but it may not be for long: Jesse Santoy, the old Number One, is reportedly back in town. Santoy is a $500,000 federal bond-jumper himself and is wanted under two smuggling conspiracy indictments, but unlike his folk hero cousin, Jesse is a master of the low profile.




WHEN THE WHITE HOUSE HIRED University of Texas Law School professor Charles Alan Wright as "official consultant counsel" for the President on Watergate matters, an audible murmur could be heard in legal conference rooms across the land. A Texas attorney and long-time Wright-watcher remarked, "That may be the best break Richard Nixon has had since Eagleton beat Farenthold."

The 47-year-old Wright is one of the most able and the most agile constitutional law scholar in the United States today. His professional specialty—the constitutional basis for federal court jurisdiction—is central to the President's emerging defenses of executive privilege and separation of powers. One senses that Wright approaches his task with the same sort of measured awe that diplomatic historian Henry Kissinger is said to have felt when he was called upon to transform his own academic theories into the hard stone of contemporary fact. Scholars usually must content themselves to let their theories, those great syntheses in which they take such pride, trickle slowly and unpredictably into the world of practical affairs. Most lawyers dream of becoming judges; few succeed. Wright's White House duties afford the tantalizing privilege to shape the law, to write a new chapter in his own treatise on the federal courts, that is otherwise reserved only to the members of the United States Supreme Court itself.

Ironically, it is the members of that Court whom Wright must eventually persuade, if his defense of Nixon is to become part of American constitutional law. While that is no easy task (the issues must first be pushed into the courts by Congress, which has formidable constitutional allies itself), many of the lawyers' murmurings these days concern the remarkable degree of respect which the members of the Court have shown for Wright.

Some years ago, quite by accident, we happened by the Supreme Court chamber in Washington while Wright was making one of his infrequent oral arguments. The case involved a double jeopardy prosecution by the State of Texas; Wright represented the indigent defendant. In the course of winding up his presentation, he magisterially fielded questions from Justices Hugo Black and William Brennan: not a word out of place, not a superfluous syllable. Finally, silence. Mr. Chief Justice Warren: "Professor Wright, you still have a minute and a half of your time left. Is there anything you would like to add?" Pause. The tall, ramrod-straight professor soberly attired in a three-piece suit surveyed the Court. "No, your honor; I believe that is all."

The black-robed Chief Justice drew back almost imperceptibly (rare is the lawyer who fails to fill his every available moment before the Court with words); then he visibly relaxed and smiled. "Well, Professor Wright," he said amiably, since we have a moment, I would like to congratulate you for your fine presentation today. We know how interested you have been for so many years in the constitutional questions raised by this case; you've given us a brilliant discussion of them." Attorneys for the State sank low in their chairs. "We know how busy you are, Professor Wright, what a busy schedule you have, and we certainly appreciate your taking the time to come here today and discuss these issues with us."

Wright, of course, won the case as he is accustomed to doing, and that is the point of the story. If the Court is asked to decide, and does decide, that Congressional investigators may not constitutionally insist upon access to presidential papers and White House aides, its decision is not likely to be shaped by such simplistic reasoning as the fact that several of its members were appointed by Nixon himself. The "Nixon Court" is a convenient fiction for the press, but the concept fails to leave room for the rigid sense of duty and self-respect that the justices feel when confronted by landmark issues like these. Much more likely their ultimate decision will be influenced by sheer persuasiveness of a lawyer whose books they themselves have read, whose presence commands their respect, who knows how to put together an argument the Court will buy.


THE U. S. SUPREME COURT ruling that just about anything can be considered obscene so long as local community standards say it is has generally been greeted in Texas with a rousing chorus of yawns. While in Dallas a panel of film watchdogs declared objectionable Peter Bognaovich's new movie "Paper Moon," which contains such startling words as "smart ass" and depicts such decadence as a nine-year-old girl smoking, the rest of the state took its obscenity in stride.

In San Antonio for example, where movie exhibitors have continued to refuse even to entertain the idea of showing a film such as Deep Throat, since they aren't prepared to assume the legal fees that would inevitably accompany screening it, there weren't any dirty movies to be jerked off the screen, except perhaps by Dallas standards. But that didn't keep Bexar County Dist. Atty. Ted Butler from trying. Working under a nuisance law that requires some citizen complaint before the DA can take action, Butler sent the San Antonio police vice squad out beating the bushes, hoping to come up with some complaints. He finally got one from one of the downtown merchants: "No, the dirty movie places aren't bothering me," the merchant said. "What's bothering me is all the police coming around to ask if the dirty movie places are bothering me."

Every town in Texas from Houston to Luling has its own festival each year, pushing the local product whether its oil or watermelons, but there's only one Texas Folklife Festival.

Presented for the first time last year at the Institute of Texas Cultures in San Antonio, the festival is a composite of some 80 of the various festivals that are presented around the state, all with an aim of showing the diversity of Texas' ethnic and national origins. Displays of Polish Christmas decorations are next to samples of Cajun food alongside demonstrations by one of the few remaining men who can make a rope out of horse hair.

But what gives the festival a special style is its lack of commercialization. There are some things for sale, but mostly it's food from 'possum to enchiladas. Most of the festival is devoted purely and simply to demonstrations of how Texans of all types used to live. They are fascinating and don't cost a thing except for the nominal gate admission.

Institute of Texan Cultures/ HemisFair Plaza/ San Antonio/ Sept. 6-9.

Operation Gemstone

Remember that fossil fern you found while plowing in Bryan; that blue rock you plucked from the banks of Big Sandy? The 20th Annual Houston Gem and Mineral Show this month has a free identification service for fossils, rocks, and minerals; bring it and see what they say.

The show also has down-to-earth exhibits featuring hundreds of representatives from the national underworld, including rare gems. You can watch demonstrations of faceting, tumbling, sawing, and silver-smithing.

Among the special exhibits are a collection of cameos (including a spectacular specimen from the collection of Benito Mussolini), a group of topaz specimens from the University of Texas, a display of Biblical gems, and a demonstration of jewelry-making.

20th Annual Houston Gem and Mineral Society Show/ Sept. 21 thru 23/ 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. (to 6 p.m. Sept. 23)/ Shamrock Hilton Hotel Hall of Exhibits/ Houston/Adults $1.50, children 50.

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