Mexico kidnap: The inside story
This is the real story of "Maria" and her husband "Jose". Jose was taken by kidnappers in central Mexico over a year ago.
The following is a transcript of the story originally published on chat app Viber published over six days from Sunday 6 March to Friday 11 March. It contains strong language and disturbing scenes.
NARRATOR: This is a story about the dark side of a country I know well…
NARRATOR: Mexico is arguably the kidnap capital of the world.
NARRATOR : There were about 270 kidnappings A DAY in 2014, official figures estimate: though barely 1% of these are reported.
NARRATOR: And it's no longer just rich people who are being taken.
NARRATOR: You're going to follow Jose and Maria's story. It's TRUE. It happened just over a year ago and we're going to share it with you over six days, as if in REAL TIME.
NARRATOR: We've changed their names to protect them.
NARRATOR: And the photos you will see are just to give you an idea of what Mexico looks like; they're not specific to this story.
NARRATOR: Be prepared for violence, and some bad language.
NARRATOR: Maria is a working mother.
NARRATOR: A feisty, articulate woman in her forties.
NARRATOR: And Jose is a businessman.
NARRATOR: He's tall but shy, with an anxious smile.
MARIA: Jose is taking the girls to school this morning.
MARIA: Now, must let the dog out…
JOSE: Just about to drive around the corner but… that's odd.
JOSE: There's a van right in front of me.
JOSE: I can't turn right, or left… I brake, reverse, but.
JOSE: There's another van behind, blocking my way.
JOSE: Girls, get out…
MARIA: Is that children shouting? And tyres screeching?
MARIA: OMG what's going on?
JOSE: What do they want? The car?
JOSE: One of my daughters is running back down the street.
JOSE: Oh no.
JOSE: One of the vans is right behind her, they're going to run her over.
NARRATOR: A gun goes off.
JOSE: I'm falling…
* * *
MARIA: Our neighbour's gardener is washing the car.
MARIA: He turns to me "That was a gunshot."
MARIA: A gunshot? Really?
MARIA: It sounded like a door banging…
MARIA: I'd better tell the security guards.
NARRATOR: Lots of housing estates have security in Mexico.
JOSE: They're dragging me across the floor.
JOSE: And heaving me into a van.
JOSE: They get in next to me "Where's the money? How much have you got?"
JOSE: What money? I'm confused.
JOSE: "The land you sold, for $40m, where's the cash?"
* * *
MARIA: I'm talking to the school.
MARIA: They must call me back… as soon as my girls arrive.
MARIA: Eugh, I'm nervous, REALLY nervous…
MARIA: This doesn't feel good.
MARIA: My in-laws turn up from next door.
MARIA: Let's go to the security office.
MARIA: The security guards are going through the CCTV footage.
MARIA: What's that guard got in his hand?
MARIA: Children shoes.
MARIA: Oh no…
MARIA: They're my daughter's.
MARIA: They've been kidnapped.
MARIA: Policemen are suddenly milling around, who are they?
MARIA: I find myself talking to a police commander, someone must have rung them.
MARIA: The cops are all his men, he says, I must do whatever they tell me to.
* * *
MARIA: I've gone back to the crime scene with the police.
MARIA: There's a pool of blood on the floor.
MARIA : My mobile's ringing, I pick up.
MARIA: I can't really understand: all I hear is, "Your daughters, the girls…"
MARIA: They hang up.
MARIA: I'm at the police station. A man has just walked into the room.
MARIA: But he's not wearing a uniform: who is he?
NARRATOR: It's a special agent, a trained police negotiator. Maria doesn't know it yet but he will stay RIGHT by Maria's side until the kidnap is resolved: one way or the other. He'll eat and sleep in the same house.
MARIA: Back home now.
MARIA: The police negotiator has moved in and is telling us what to expect.
MARIA: We have to wait for the kidnappers to ring.
MARIA: He says it's absolutely crucial we don't let them know that the police are with us.
NARRATOR: We managed to find a police negotiator who was willing to talk to us: anonymously.
NARRATOR: He wasn't involved with Jose and Maria's case but he knows EXACTLY what it's like. He's handled dozens of cases like this.
NARRATOR: We're going to call him Enrique.
ENRIQUE: Our only sources of information are the family and the calls from the kidnappers, so it's really important to gain the family's trust and get them to tell us as much as they can.
ENRIQUE : The first job is to work out who in the family will be the best at handling the phone calls with the kidnappers.
ENRIQUE: They need to have the right kind of personality: it's a tough job. Some are calm under pressure but others explode.
ENRIQUE: Someone may appear strong but they break down when they first hear the kidnapper's voice.
NARRATOR: Who should talk to the kidnappers? The police negotiator is worried that Maria is not suitable as she's the most vulnerable person.
MARIA: NO WAY.
MARIA: I'm their MOTHER, who else could possibly handle the calls?
MARIA: At last, he gives in.
NARRATOR: At this point the girls are being held in a house by armed guards. They have no idea where their dad is. They were split up from him earlier in the day.
MARIA: My mobile rings, an unknown number.
MARIA: I hear a couple of voices: they want $40m.
MARIA: I've got five days to get it.
MARIA: They hang up.
NARRATOR: Maria and Jose are not rich. The kidnappers seem to think he is a wealthy property developer. But he isn't. Maria has no chance of being able to raise this kind of money.
ENRIQUE: The calls will get more and more aggressive, especially if the kidnapper's demands are not met, that's when we really have to start supporting the family emotionally.
JOSE: I'm in some kind of safe house.
JOSE: Lying on a bathroom floor.
JOSE: It's disgusting, stinks of shit.
JOSE: Someone's blind-folding me and putting handcuffs on.
JOSE: My girls? I have no idea…
JOSE: The bullet went into my back, I'm in agony.
JOSE: Is this it? THE END? I want to see my daughters first…
NARRATOR: The guards who are holding the girls change shifts.
NARRATOR: "Your dad is coming soon," they say and then they are suddenly left on their own.
NARRATOR: The oldest one tries the door: amazingly, it's unlocked. She grabs her little sister and they start to run: but her sister resists: "They said daddy will be coming, they said daddy will be coming."
NARRATOR: Late at night, Maria is taken out in a van with the police negotiator. Apparently they might have found the girls! She's on her way to find out.
MARIA: We're nearly there.
MARIA: I've never seen so many police cars.
MARIA: They're blocking the street.
MARIA: A policeman is coming up to us.
MARIA: It's the commissioner, he's taking us up the street.
MARIA: Past all the vans, it's hard to get past.
MARIA: ARE THEY GOING TO BE HERE?
MARIA: ARE THEY?
MARIA: I can see them.
MARIA: MY GIRLS.
MARIA: Are they OK?? They look OK… they look OK.
MARIA: My youngest is clutching a bag of toys, the one her dad gave her.
MARIA: I can feel my soul returning to my body.
MARIA: They're OK… they're calm… I'm going to start crying.
MARIA: It's them, it's MY GIRLS. "Don't cry mummy, don't worry," they tell me.
MARIA: Now I've got to find my husband.
NARRATOR: So what happened?
NARRATOR: No-one can know for sure, but the police suspect the kidnappers tried to sell the girls onto another gang and the deal went wrong. In the confusion the girls managed to escape.
NARRATOR: They knocked on the door of a nearby house, dogs ran out and the neighbours heard and stopped a passing police patrol.
NARRATOR: But Jose is still locked in that filthy toilet, slowly bleeding to death.
Maria has no idea if she'll ever see him again.
NARRATOR: Maria may have got her daughters back from the kidnappers but she's got no clue about her husband Jose. And the kidnappers are demanding far more money than Maria can ever hope to get.
NARRATOR: A police negotiator is secretly living in Maria's house, at her side 24/7.
NARRATOR: Be prepared for violence, and some bad language.
NARRATOR: Let's hear from a kidnapper: we'll call him CRACK. He wasn't involved in Maria and Jose's case, but he abducts people like Jose for a living.
NARRATOR: When we meet him: somewhere safe and neutral: he looks normal; slim, early twenties.
NARRATOR: He offers to kidnap someone for us, to show us how professional he is.
NARRATOR: We turn down the offer. Firmly.
CRACK: There are lots of young men like me… we look normal but we're very sick in the head.
CRACK: The cartels use people like us.
CRACK: Some of us do the job because we're crazy… others because we're sad, or rebelling against the world.
CRACK: I class myself as a good guy, but if you mess with me I'll **** you up. I'll kill you.
CRACK: They used to hire grown men, ex-soldiers but now they prefer boys.
CRACK: Boys who've grown up on the streets, who've always known violence.
CRACK: The street trained me. Nothing but the street.
CRACK: There are lots of ways to kidnap.
CRACK: Usually I stare at the victim, let them see my eyes.
CRACK: They start crying and I say calm down bro, we're going to do this the civilised way. I don't want to scare you. I'm interested in money, that's all. Just co-operate, stay cool and speak nicely to the boss…
NARRATOR: Although the largest ransom for a single kidnap victim: $37 million: was paid in Mexico, it's not just the rich who are targeted.
NARRATOR: Lots of poor people are being kidnapped: ransomed for as little as $500. That may not sound much but it can be crippling for families on low incomes.
NARRATOR: It can be motivated by envy, a small business may hire a kidnapper to see off a rival.
Or someone might discover a neighbour has won a prize, or has some savings.
NARRATOR: In Jose's case, the kidnappers THINK he's rich: but he's not. And if they find out they've got the wrong guy, they might just decide to kill him to make life easier.
NARRATOR: Maria still hasn't heard anything.
NARRATOR: Enrique is a police negotiator. He wasn't involved with Jose and Maria's case but he's handled dozens like it.
ENRIQUE: Silence increases the pressure on the family. When the kidnappers eventually call, they are more likely to pay up.
ENRIQUE: The call patterns can tell us a lot. When the calls are constant it can mean they don't have the ability to hold the victims for very long, and they're pushing for a quick resolution. When there aren't many calls it usually means they can hold them for a couple of weeks, maybe even months.
NARRATOR: All Maria can do now is sit and wait.
* * *
NARRATOR: But Jose is only just alive: he's still slumped in that filthy toilet, bleeding slowly from a bullet in the back.
Unless he gets urgent medical attention he won't last much longer.
JOSE: It's getting dark again.
JOSE: Everything goes silent at night.
JOSE: So silent…
JOSE: All I can think about is my daughters.
JOSE: What if these men are planning to kill them, sell their organs?
MARIA: The phone rings.
MARIA: I pick up, putting the speaker on so the police team can hear and take notes.
MARIA: But the screen goes black as if someone's hung up.
MARIA: Hold on, something isn't right.
MARIA: I hit the screen again.
MARIA: OMG I think the call is still live.
MARIA: IS IT?
MARIA: I gesture frantically to the police.
MARIA: They sign: HANG UP.
NARRATOR: The police team have a hand gesture code they use to communicate with Maria while she's on the phone.
MARIA: The negotiator says we have to be very, very careful about this.
MARIA: It's a trick they do on purpose to hear who I'm with… family or the police. They mustn't find out…
CRACK: If I suspect the police are with the family, I tell them. Listen bro, I'm not going to mutilate him man, not unless you're ******* this up.
CRACK: But if I suspect you're ******* with me, then I'm going to start pulling his limbs off.
CRACK: And we start smashing them to pieces so they get the message.
CRACK: I mean, if he doesn't give a shit about his relative then I care even less.
NARRATOR: Maria may have got through this first call: but next time, the negotiations will begin. She'll need to be calm and have her wits about her.
JOSE: I've been moved to another safe house.
JOSE: Different guys, they say they'll look after me.
JOSE: I ask them to remove the handcuffs. But they're worried I'll run away.
JOSE: What? I've been shot in the back, I can barely walk.
JOSE: They haven't even realised I'm bleeding heavily.
NARRATOR: The police team are trying to support Maria. She has no idea where her husband, Jose is. And she had a close shave last night when she nearly let on to the kidnappers that the police were in the house with her. How will she cope when the pressure builds today?
MARIA: There's nothing to gain from getting hysterical.
MARIA: I'm going to get Jose back because I have to get him back.
MARIA: I'm NOT going to start crying.
MARIA: I mustn't break down, I MUSTN'T…
NARRATOR: Whilst the police negotiators wait with Maria 24/7 in her house, other police teams are out trying to find Jose.
NARRATOR: The kidnappers decide Jose won't be worth anything to them if he dies from the bullet wound.
JOSE: A doctor comes to see me. He says the bullet has gone straight through and out the other side. He throws some alcohol over me and leaves.
NARRATOR: The kidnappers are demanding $40 million, which they say Jose has from the recent sale of a plot of land.
NARRATOR: Enrique is the police negotiator: he didn't work on this case, but he has worked on similar ones. He tells us this about the money…
ENRIQUE : Paying a ransom doesn't always bring a loved one home. It can often put them in more danger.
ENRIQUE: The gangs used to release the person when they got the cash, but that's not the case anymore.
ENRIQUE: Sometimes they decide it's better to kill the victim so they can't testify against the kidnappers. They're very careful not to leave loose ends.
NARRATOR: In any case, Maria has no hope of getting $40 million.
NARRATOR: Jose is not the property developer the gang thinks he is.
NARRATOR: The police know that: sooner or later: the kidnappers will work that out. And then they might just decide he's worthless, and kill him.
MARIA: The phone rings…
MARIA: But I don't reach it in time.
MARIA: It stops ringing.
MARIA: The policeman tells me not to worry, they'll call again, try and stay calm.
MARIA: The calmer I am the more control I'll have over the situation.
(screen grab CRACK interview)
NARRATOR: It's all about strategies. And not just for the police and the victims.
NARRATOR: Here's CRACK again: he was not involved here: but has kidnapped other people…
CRACK: You need to be tough to survive in the cartels. I make sure I get the really bad cartel members on side. That I get along with the worst, hardest guys of all.
CRACK: I don't start arguments, but if there is friction between guys, I'm ready to make the most out of it.
I'll bite someone's face, take a chunk out of it. Or cut their throat and play with their windpipe. I make sure the others see it, so they're impressed.
CRACK: You must always have FEAR.
CRACK: Fear and adrenaline. When you stop being afraid?
CRACK: That's when you're…
D E A D
NARRATOR: Jose is still locked in that filthy toilet, slowly bleeding to death. Maria has no idea if she'll ever see him again.
NARRATOR: Maria is finding it harder and harder to keep her emotions under control. Police negotiators are living with her in her house, guiding her through every moment, and working hard to keep her calm.
NARRATOR: Her husband, Jose, still hasn't had any medical treatment. He's dying from a bullet wound. His fate is in the hands of someone like CRACK..
NARRATOR: CRACK a kidnapper we interviewed at a secret location. He wasn't involved in this case, but has kidnapped others. He has this to say…
CRACK: Kidnapping people is easy in Mexico.
CRACK: And it's fast cash, better than drugs.
CRACK: Drugs can get messy, with the authorities.
CRACK: I don't work much, about once every four months.
CRACK: Some guys work all the time, but they only do the small jobs. They don't plan, they don't know shit about anything.
CRACK: The cash is hard to give up, when you have $5,000 in your pocket everything feels free.
NARRATOR: What about remorse? Does CRACK feel any remorse?
CRACK: Yeah kidnapping is drastic, and cruel. But I don't feel any remorse, at all.
I just don't.
* * *
JOSE: I've lost track of time. I know days have passed, but I don't know how many.
JOSE: Another doctor comes. The guys tell me not to talk to him, not to tell them who I am.
JOSE: I suddenly realise: they've kidnapped the doctor as well.
(Any more animated stills of Jose?)
JOSE: They ask him how many days I have left to live.
JOSE: Two days, he says. Then leaves.
JOSE: Two days.
* * *
NARRATOR: That's not Jose's only problem.
NARRATOR: It's only a matter of time before the kidnappers realise they've got the wrong guy: and maybe kill him.
NARRATOR: Kidnappers tend to call at night, when relatives are tired, frustrated from nothing happening all day and more likely to be alone and vulnerable.
Yet again, they call Maria late.
MARIA: It's the kidnapper. He begins to speak to me but…
MARIA: I can't listen to this guy anymore.
MARIA: I can't bear it.
MARIA: RAGE is running through me.
MARIA: "Put my husband on the phone."
MARIA: "SHUT UP," he commands.
MARIA: "We'll put him on in a minute, make sure you answer," the kidnapper tells me.
MARIA: He hangs up.
MARIA: The phone rings again.
MARIA: "BE QUIET," he says.
MARIA: "We're going to put your husband on the line."
MARIA: Is this my husband?? Really? No…
MARIA: I can hardly hear what he's saying. I'm feeling desperate. I'm losing control.
MARIA: I scream down the phone I want to speak to my REAL husband.
MARIA: I'm not going to talk to you again until I can speak to him.
MARIA: **** OFF!
MARIA: Then I slam the phone down.
MARIA: I turn to the policeman.
MARIA: OH NO
MARIA: WHAT HAVE I JUST DONE?
MARIA: The negotiators don't look too shocked. They tell me not to freak out, that I did well.
NARRATOR: The negotiators are only saying that to keep Maria calm.
NARRATOR: It wasn't a good move…
NARRATOR: Maria's daughters have been found and are safe. However, her husband, Jose, is bleeding to death from a bullet wound in a safe house somewhere. And the kidnappers haven't called back since last night when Maria lost her temper.
NARRATOR: All Maria knows is that someone, somewhere is holding her husband hostage and they want $40m: money she doesn't have.
MARIA: The police negotiators are trying to support me up. They're saying it's great my daughters managed to escape. They're saying the kidnappers messed up: when they have someone's children, they can ask for more cash.
MARIA: But they do still have something to negotiate with…
MARIA: MY HUSBAND
MARIA: The police say to me, "Madam we've never seen you cry."
MARIA: I don't have time to cry.
MARIA: I'll do what I have to do and when Jose is back we'll see if I start crying or not.
MARIA: I'm not mad, I'm not hysterical. I can't afford to be.
NARRATOR: By this stage, when the family have heard so little from the kidnappers, the stress is really starting to build.
The police negotiators: who move in with the family while it's going on: have to work hard to keep things under control.
NARRATOR: Maria has to deal with all the calls, the kidnappers must NOT find out the police are with her.
N: Enrique is a police investigator. He didn't work on this case but has worked on similar ones.
ENRIQUE: It's a very demanding job, emotionally.
ENRIQUE: Sometimes we are supporting a family of up to 20.
ENRIQUE: There are moments of calm. But it can get suddenly get very tense, family members can often explode or do something unpredictable.
ENRIQUE: And sometimes they forget to eat or sleep. Or they won't eat because they feel guilty that they have food and their relative might not.
ENRIQUE: We have to support them through all of that.
NARRATOR: Just when Jose is beginning to give up hope, the kidnappers come into his room and begin to untie him.
JOSE: They say they're going to let me go.
JOSE: They want me to blame another gang for the kidnap…
JOSE: They're giving me some names.
NARRATOR: Jose is now very weak from blood loss.
JOSE: It's pitch black.
JOSE: We're in a car, driving through some kind of wasteland.
JOSE: They stop, drag me out onto the ground…
JOSE: …and drive off.
JOSE: It's dark but I can see some lights in the distance.
JOSE: I'm alone.
JOSE: And I can't move…
JOSE: Is that a man?
JOSE: With a child?
JOSE: They're coming closer…
JOSE: …handing me a phone…
JOSE: I can hear sirens.
JOSE: Someone's helping me into an ambulance.
JOSE: I'm fighting for my life…
JOSE: I've got to make it.
* * *
NARRATOR: The kidnappers have realised they've got the wrong guy: and rather than just killing him, they've taken him out and dumped him.
NARRATOR: It doesn't always work out like this. Maybe they thought he was so far gone he'd die anyway. Certainly he needs urgent medical attention if he's going to see his wife and daughters again.
Jose and Maria's story is part of a wider TV documentary about kidnapping in Mexico.: Our World: Kidnapped in Mexico. It's on Friday and over the weekend.
If you're in the UK you can watch on Saturday and Sunday at 21:30 on the BBC News Channel or catch up on the iPlayer
If you're outside the UK you can watch on BBC World News at 20:30 GMT Friday and at these other times.
NARRATOR: The kidnappers dumped Jose near some wasteland. They must have realised they had the wrong guy. But they could have just killed him.
NARRATOR: He's in a bad way but luckily he was FOUND and is now in hospital, finally receiving the medical care he urgently needs.
NARRATOR: Maria is home, still waiting for the kidnappers to call. She knows nothing of what's happened.
NARRATOR: The phone rings.
MARIA: "Madam", a male voice says "Your husband has been found."
MARIA: I'm heading to the hospital with the police negotiator.
MARIA: It's pouring with rain. So heavily it's hard to keep moving. We're going as fast as we can.
MARIA: Where's the Trauma department? They tell me Jose's there…
MARIA: A policeman stops me in the corridor and checks my details.
MARIA: Then I go in.
MARIA: He's there.
MARIA: It's him…
MARIA: He's in a bad way, really bad. But he's back.
NARRATOR: The police still have a big job left to do.
NARRATOR: Will they catch the men who took Jose?
NARRATOR: The trauma will take a very long time for Jose and Maria to come to terms with.
NARRATOR: And no-one comes out of the process unscathed psychologically, including the cartel men like Crack. He knows there are no winners in this business.
CRACK: It's a very hard job to give up.
CRACK: The cash, and adrenaline.
CRACK: But there is sadness in me which will always be there. It's like a hole.
CRACK: And it's weird: the adrenaline, mixed up with the emptiness. Together they drive you kind of crazy.
CRACK: I can only be happy 70%, 30% is totally ******.
CRACK: The truth is.
CRACK: I **** my life man.
* * *
NARRATOR -Just over a year on from the kidnap, Jose is paralysed from the waist down and will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
JOSE: After the gunshot injury I will never walk again… and I will never be able to forget what happened.
But the criminals will be in jail the rest of their lives: which makes me feel like I won in the end.
MARIA: If there is anything positive about this ordeal, it's that we have become stronger as a family.
NARRATOR: It's probably fair to say that on every level of Mexican society people are fed up with the problem of kidnappings and organised crime.
NARRATOR: Many are afraid of becoming victims: or of being kidnapped again. The pressure for the authorities to act increases every day.
NARRATOR: People adapt to the risks and dangers around them: and for many Mexicans, the normal pattern of life has changed because of the dangers on the streets.
NARRATOR: Many have stopped doing certain activities: and others have become hardened to the dangerous society they live in.
NARRATOR: But the vast majority can't wait for the day when the risk of kidnapping disappears.
NARRATOR: That's it: THANKS for following!
NARRATOR: And please do let us know what you think: so that when we tell a real life story like this again on a chat app, we can do it better. You can tweet us: @BBCOurWorld or use #MexicoKidnap. You can email with your comments.
NARRATOR: And if you'd like to watch the TV documentary, Our World: Kidnapped in Mexico you it's on at 20:30 GMT globally and at these times.
If you're in the UK it's on Saturday and Sunday at 21:30 on the BBC News Channel or catch up via the iPlayer.
Reporter: Vladimir Hernandez
Viber production and script: Jo Mathys and Nathan Williams
Executive editor: Kavita Puri
Animations and illustrations: Luis Ruibal
Stills researcher: Laurence Coss
Field producer: Almudena Garcia-Parrado
Photos courtesy of Reuters /Getty Images/ AP/ Alamy
Police video courtesy of State of Morelos Police