Taken and Tortured

Aug. 17 2005 12:53 p.m.
Mexico City

Mexico has recently passed Colombia as the #1 country for kidnapping. Statistics, though, are tough. There is something new in Mexico called "express kidnapping" in which someone is snatched for just a few hours for a quick cash payment. The victims are often from the middle class or students. Little research is done by the kidnappers — anyone in a nice car or clothes can be grabbed. Anti-kidnapping activists we have interviewed estimate that up to 75 percent of the express kidnappings go unreported to the police. So you can imagine how that encourages criminals if 75 percent of the time their crimes are not even reported.

We spoke with one woman whose husband was kidnapped. They cut off four of his fingers, one at a time, to pressure the family to pay a large ransom. The man was held for 29 days. The woman said the kidnappers' research was bad; the family did not have the money they were demanding. After a few days they got a call on where to go to pick up the first finger.

"So you had to go out and pick up the finger?" I asked.

A little bit of water began to form at the bottom of each of her eyes. They were told on what highway to find the finger. It was taken to doctors who tested it and determined the finger came from a living body and that it was the same blood type as her husband.

After 29 days the husband was rescued by anti-kidnapping police. One of the kidnappers was using the same cell phone he made the ransom demands with to call his girlfriend.

The woman became an activist against kidnapping in Mexico. They recently held a march which drew several hundred thousand people and surprised everybody by the depth of the anger against what many say is an out-of-control situation. The organization, Mexico United Against Crime, made some public service television advertisements where victims told their stories. The man who had four fingers cut off made one of the spots. Here is what he said:

"When they cut off my first finger, I was scared. When they cut off my second finger, I was angry. When they cut off my third finger, I was outraged. When they cut off my fourth finger, it gave me confidence."

At the end of the ad he holds up both hands. He asks people to report kidnappings. He says if they are scared, if they need a hand, they can use his. You can see they started with each pinky then took two more fingers off of the left hand.

His wife said no one is the same after a kidnapping. I asked her how it is different. She answered something else, so I asked her again.

"You have to choose," she said. "You have to choose life or death. Most people choose death...They stay inside, they are afraid to go out, and life goes by."

E-mail Harrigan

I’d rather read your blog than 99% of the other “news” that’s out there. Keep it up!

— Patrick

Hi Steve,

I really enjoy reading your notes. My 76-year-old Mom sent me envelope last week, taped over the flap, of course. And I remember visiting her Mom in an old, warm apartment in Hollywood that had a Murphy bed. We thought Grandma was eccentric – she bought my sisters fishnet tights in the 70’s & took us out on public transportation - the bus. Thanks for taking me there again, Steve.

Stay safe,


I admire you so much for what you are doing and the story you are trying to uncover but it almost seems to be an impossible situation. We pray for your safety and admire your courage.



Thanks for the great reporting about the ongoing troubles here on the US/Mexican border. We live just south of Laredo, Texas in the Rio Grande Valley. We are extremely pleased that someone is finally exposing this corrupt and dangerous area to the rest of our nation.

Keep up the good work!

Harlingen, Texas