EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A Sinaloa cartel operative suspected in the murder of two Jesuit priests and two members of an amateur baseball team in Mexico has reportedly turned up dead.
Chihuahua Attorney General Cesar Jauregui said he sent members of the state’s Medical Examiner’s Office to Sinaloa to verify the identity of a body with a single gunshot wound to the head found Tuesday in the town of Choix, Sinaloa. The body lay next to 16 spent bullet casings but no weapons were found, the AG said.
“We received information that the body could be that of our most wanted subject,” Jauregui said in a Wednesday news conference broadcast on social media. “We are sending people out there, who must be about to land [….] But I have been told that his sister, Diana Carolina Portillo” already identified him.
Jose Noriel Portillo last June allegedly became upset after a baseball team he sponsored in the mountain town of Cerocahui, Chihuahua, lost a game. He allegedly abducted two baseball players and a local tour guide at gunpoint.
The tour guide escaped and fled to the town church, where the Revs. Javier Campos Morales, 79, and Joaquin Mora Salazar, 80, came to his aid. Portillo allegedly gunned down the three and fled the town with the baseball players, Mexican officials said. One of the two baseball players later turned up dead.
The killings sparked rage among Mexico’s Catholic hierarchy and led to the intervention of the Interamerican Human Rights Commission and an investigation of law enforcement officials in the region.
Portillo, also known as “El Chueco” (The Crooked One), was already suspected in the 2018 murder of Patrick Braxton-Andrew. Portillo mistakenly believed the tourist from North Carolina was an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Mexican authorities said at the time.
Jauregui, who took over as attorney general in January, said security has improved greatly in the mountains of Western Chihuahua.
“The authorities will continue to protect the priests and also bring about a safe environment for the community and offer (employment) alternatives for young people,” the AG said. “Under no circumstances will another criminal come and sow fear among the population.”
State officials said Portillo kept a low profile since the June 2022 murders and felt cornered. The state police and the Mexican National Guard arrested 32 suspected members of his drug trafficking cell in the meantime, the AG said. “He felt watched, surrounded, permanently (hunted) in Chihuahua. That is why he left the state,” Jauregui said.
The AG did not say if anyone has come forward to claim a $250,000 reward offered for the capture of “El Chueco.”
Choix is the same Sinaloa state town where Mexican authorities last July captured fugitive drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero.