Servando Gómez Martínez, a.k.a. “La Tuta,” the leader of the Knights Templar cartel and one of Mexico’s most-wanted fugitives, was captured thanks to his fondness for partying – agents pricked up their ears when on the eve of Feb. 6, his 49th birthday, they noticed an unusual movement of people coming and going from one of the homes they were staking out in the small city of Morelia in the state of Michoacán.
When a vehicle registered under the name of María Antonieta Luna Avalos, one of Gómez's known girlfriends, arrived at one of the homes, the agents knew they were onto something big. Luna Avalos, who reportedly has had three children with Gómez, had come in bearing a chocolate birthday cake.
Gómez was arrested late that night, when exiting that house while wearing a hat and wrapped in a heavy scarf. No shots were fired.
Federal Police Commissioner Enrique Galindo toured a group of reporters to the different places and farms Gómez lived in the last few years.
“This is their land, and they perfectly knew how to move,” he said, as quoted by El Nuevo Herald. He added that they had not been able to estimate how many hideouts Gómez had in Morelia.
“He would arrive and he would be hosted, willingly or through violence. They were private homes. He came in and threw [the owners] out of the house,” Galindo added.
The alleged drug trafficker had several “messengers” at his disposal, several of whom were being closely followed.
“He felt comfortable here, he felt safe,” Galindo said at one of Gómez’s farms. “Practically all this territory, he dominated with his men,” he said, referring to the hilly, forested countryside.
“A year ago this was practically inaccessible,” he added.
The Washington Post describes another of his hideouts, in Arteaga, as an underground cavern at the base of a cliff face. According to officials interviewed by the Post, the Knights Templar leader also used the cavern as a prison to hold his enemies or people who failed to comply with his extortion demands.
As the head of the Templars, a quasi-religious criminal group that once ruled all of Michoacán state, Gómez controlled politics and commerce through extortion, intimidation and coercion. For a time he also dominated Mexico's lucrative methamphetamine trade.
He evaded capture for more than a year after the federal government took over the state to try to restore order.
Though it started in drugs, his gang even took over the state's primary port city, Lázaro Cárdenas, and made millions from illegal mining of ore.
Gómez's long reign was untouched by several attempts by the federal government to send troops and police to regain control of the state and only began to unravel when a band of vigilantes decided in early 2013 to take up arms and do what local government wouldn't.
The "self-defense" groups, which are mainly made up of farmers and ranchers, alleged rivals and former cartel members, marched through the Knights' territory, taking town after town and finally forced the federal government in late 2013 to mount a real offensive to find Gómez and other Templar leaders.
Gómez was a talkative and public cartel leader, a rarity among capos known for keeping their silence. He gave a British television crew an interview in January even as the government was mounting the major assault on his gang that eventually led to its demise. He told the reporter that his illegal work was all about business.
"As we told you, we are a necessary evil," Gómez is seen telling a group of townspeople on tape. "Unfortunately or fortunately we are here. If we weren't, another group would come."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.