It was 10:00 p.m. on a good day in 1947, when a police patrol vehicle left the Municipal government building and headed west from the city, to a place known as “La Piedrera” (“The Quarry”), which was used to extract material for public works projects. The passengers in the patrol vehicle included the mayor, Carlos Villarreal Ochoa, the Police Commander, Col. Rosendo de Anda, and a parent who some hours earlier had gone to the mayor to ask for justice because they had raped and murdered his 14 year old daughter. The individual accused of committing these crimes was there, too.
–You want justice? Here’s my .45. Cut him down!” said Villarreal to the grieving father, who had not expected to be placed in a situation like that and was barely able to utter an “I can’t do that, Mr. Mayor.”
–You are such a coward”, the Mayor upbraided him. Then Villarreal grabbed the weapon, loaded a round and aimed it at the evildoer’s head. The blast broke the night’s silence in that remote place. It was just one shot. The accused fell, lifeless.
Seconds later, the patrol vehicle left the place with one less passenger, to return to the Mayor’s office. The anecdote was narrated years later by the mayor himself to the lawyer Filiberto Terrazas Sanchez, then a criminal court judge in Juarez and currently the city’s chronicler.
With a character forged during the years of alcohol Prohibition in the United States, when he was imprisoned for smuggling liquor, Villarreal Ochoa was municipal president from January 1 to February 17, 1947, then from February 25, 1947, to December 31, 1949.
When he took office, the city was undergoing a period of insecurity and violence caused by the recent upsurge of bars and whorehouses that serviced U.S. soldiers, and the proliferation of drugs and gangs.
The “heavy hand” that he applied to crime was facilitated by the opportunity to to avoid judicial proceedings, which allowed him to impose summary judgments against disturbers of public order and political enemies; in six months, he was able to pacify the city to the degree that its inhabitants slept with windows and doors open, says Terrazas Sanchez.
The seal he imposed on his government earned him fame that endures to this day, surrounded by myths and legends, but substantiated by the violence he used to combat that same violence.
From Durango to the border…
Originally from Inde, Durango, where he was born on December 23, 1904, Villarreal Ochoa came to Ciudad Juarez at the age of 19. He quickly found employment in the groups that were formed on the border to consolidate the alcohol industry, which supplied the Western United States during the Volstead Act. Politicians also came out of those groups.
During that period, Juarez experienced an economic boom that diminished when the Volstead Act was repealed in 1933. However, after 1941, there was a resurgence when the North American government got involved in the Second World War. The economic impact on the border was direct, since Fort Bliss grew until it became the third largest military base in the United States, with close to 25,000 soldiers stationed there permanently, of which at least 10,000 would cross the border into Juarez every weekend to relax, faced with the possibility they would be shipped to the front.
At the same time, the Bracero Program was implemented, drawing thousands of Mexicans looking for work. Nevertheless, when the program ended, hundreds continued to arrive, many to remain in Ciudad Juarez.
The misconduct broke out soon, public insecurity problems caused by gangs, narcos, pickpockets and bar brawlers. Of the gangs, the most representative were “Los Pachucos” and “Los Tirilones”, while the consumption of heroin and marijuana became more and more widespread.
In that manner, when he arrived at the municipal Presidency, then located to the rear of the Mision de Guadalupe, Carlos Villarreal appointed as Chief of Police Col. Rosendo de Anda, graduate of the Military College, who was assisted by Raul Mendiolea Cereceres and Teodoro Perez Rivas, whom he tasked with bringing peace and tranquility to the citizens of Juarez.
Methods ranged from shaving the heads of repeat offenders, arresting them for 15 days, and, if nobody claimed them, making them disappear. In many of the interventions, the mayor would get involved in applying “justice” at the request of the complainant.
On one occasion, the mother of a 17 year old girl who was sexually assaulted went to him for justice, but the same mother asked the mayor not to kill the aggressor because she was Catholic and she knew about Villarreal’s methods. “For God’s sake, don’t you go and kill him, because God is merciful,” said the woman.
“I promise you I won’t kill him, but he will not commit that offense again,” the mayor promised. He kept his promise; the aggressor was castrated, narrates the city’s chronicler.
“Would you believe, he never repeated that offense,” Villarreal himself would say when he recounted the anecdote to his friends.
“They cleaned up Ciudad Juarez to the point that people could leave a bicycle in front of their house or in the garden and nobody would take it,” adds Terrazas Sanchez.
“They would warn narcos that they should leave the city, or else they would be found dead in ‘La Piedrera’; they would arrest pickpockets, shave their heads and put them in a bus and leave them stranded near Jimenez or in the desert, not without telling them beforehand that if they returned to Juarez they would be killed.”
“Leave Ciudad Juarez. The climate is not healthy for you…” was the most common warning, according to a newspaper article.
Public safety was not the main aspect of Carlos Villarreal’s government. As mayor, he ordered the construction of bridges over the Acequia Madre (the city’s main canal) and of the General Hospital, which every subsequent State Government has claimed credit for.
He built the Municipal Auditorium and the School for Social Improvement for Minors, afterwards conveyed to the Ciudad Juarez Technological Institute; he installed mercury street lighting, he built the Puente Libre border crossing, afterwards named “Carlos Villarreal”.
The Miguel Hidalgo, Gregorio M. Solis, Felix U. Gomez, Toribio Benavente and Francisco I. Madero schools were built during his administration, as well as Fire Station No. 2 and the Supermercado (shopping center). He also acquired the (municipal) slaughter yard.
The list of public works is longer, but what stands out is the installation of radio equipped police patrol vehicles, with brand new, well equipped cars.
When his term ended, he had paved 350,000 square yards of streets and acquired mechanical street sweepers to clean them.
To pay for some of these works, he imposed compulsory contributions on businessmen, many times with unorthodox methods. In one of these cases, a businessman who sold adulterated liquor was called to the Mayor’s office, where the mayor explained to him that the city required money to pay for public works. The businessman refused, and the mayor ordered his chief of police to keep an eye on him 24 hours a day.
On the third day, things changed, and the businessman returned and gave in to the mayor’s pressure.
After leaving the Municipal presidency, Carlos Villarreal continued in politics. He dreamed of becoming governor, an office he could have achieved given his friendship with Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, later President of Mexico.
However, his life was cut short on February 10, 1963, when he was inside the Mint Bar, located on Juarez Avenue, barely half a block from the Paso del Norte International Bridge.
That day, Villarreal was unarmed. He was accompanied by Victor Ortiz, also a former mayor; Clemente Licon, policeman Gregorio Ogaz Tellez and Francisco Olivera Castel, his executioner, as it turned out.
Accompanied by mariachis and drinks, Villarreal joked and made nasty jokes about Olivera Castel, who at one point stood up to leave the table, apparently tired of being the butt of the jokes.
“Knock that loser’s ear off,” says Villarreal to the other former mayor, who takes his weapon out and fires at Olivera Castel, hitting the target.
He didn’t have a chance to shoot twice. Olivera Castel brought out a weapon and emptied the magazine into Villarreal and Ortiz, who died instantly. Clemente Licon was left badly wounded.
The incident took place while Ogaz Tellez was in the bathroom, which he didn’t leave until Olivera Castel had left, although he was captured at the international bridge.
The suspicion that it was a politically motivated crime came up from the moment of the murder and grew when Olivera Castel was sentenced to a brief stay in prison, then transferred to Villa Ahumada where he was imposed the “town as his prison.” He was later appointed State’s Collector of Revenues in that municipality.
An age of gunfights
The death of Villarreal Ochoa ended the period in Ciudad Juarez when political groups settled their differences with gunshots and in which certain murders stand out, such as that of Senator Angel Posada in 1938, killed by former governor Rodrigo M. Quevedo, and that of Mayor Jose Borunda, killed in an explosives attack on the offices of the Municipal Presidency.
However, the legend of Carlos Villarreal would be born in Juarez. Today, there is no lack of older persons who recall the “iron hand” of the former mayor… and they long for him.
(Juan de Dios Olivas/El Diario)
(Sources: Vision Historia de la Frontera Norte de Mexico; Breve Historia de Ciudad Juarez; http://www.2.uacj.mx)