Gunmen disguised as clowns have murdered an infamous Mexican drug lord, after infiltrating a children's party at a tourist resort. Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix, 63, the inspiration for the Oscar-winning film Traffic, was shot dead by three men at the party in Cabo San Lucas.
Two bands were entertaining more than 100 guests when the gunmen struck on Friday night. "He was hit by two bullets, one in the chest and one in the head," said Isai Arias, prosecutor for the Baja California region.
Photographs said to be of his body showed a corpse covered in a blood-soaked sheet lying on the floor of a grand dining room. The gunmen escaped in a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The eldest brother of the infamous Arellano Felix clan, which ran the Tijuana Cartel, Francisco Rafael in his heyday was head of the family that for 20 years controlled the most powerful smuggling route from Mexico into the United States.
American authorities once described the seven well-dressed and well-spoken brothers as "dashing, multimillionaire, savage criminals". Arellano Felix was one of 11 children born to a modest family in the Sinaloa region.
He and his brothers began by smuggling contraband into the United States, before graduating to cocaine. He also found time to form a band called Los Escorpiones - the scorpions - which played throughout the region. The animal became his symbol and he took to wearing a four-inch-long diamond-encrusted scorpion pendant around his neck.
To launder the drug money, he paid for theatre shows and cultural performances in Mazatalan, a sprawling coastal city in Baja California. He also ran what was billed as "the world's largest disco" - a club called Frankie Oh's, emblazoned with scorpion designs. For decades, Arellano Felix was seen as untouchable - detained three times for drugs and gun offences, yet escaping each time.
Many believed that the law enforcement officials were in his pay. He is thought to have masterminded the assassination of the Archbishop of Guadalajara, Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo, in 1993 - although authorities were never able to pin the murder on him. In 1990, Rocio del Carmen Lizarraga, the 18-year-old "Carnival Queen" of Mazatalan, disappeared. Her parents claimed she had been kidnapped; she later resurfaced as the wife of Arellano Felix.
Arellano Felix was eventually captured in 1993, and sent to prison. In 2006 he was extradited to the US, but was released two years later for good behaviour and repatriated to Mexico, where he was thought to be living quietly. In his absence, the power of the Tijuana Cartel waned, with rivals taking over its territory. Raul Benitez, a drug trade expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the murder was likely to be the result of long-festering feuds "due to unpaid old debts, and old retributions".