MEXICO CITY—The abduction and apparent killing of Dallas restaurateur Oscar J. Sanchez has all the elements of similar crimes that take place in Mexico’s capital and countryside—a couple of times a day.
Although most victims here aren’t killed, authorities warn that amateur kidnappers are fueling the crime wave and that they are more likely to panic and kill their victims even after ransom has been paid.
Kidnapping has become so widespread that it is now an entry-level crime for juvenile delinquents, the Mexico City attorney general’s office said last month.
In Mexico, 98 percent of crimes go unpunished.
In the United States, kidnapping for monetary gain is among the least successful crimes.
“Kidnappers in the United States have a high probability of getting caught,” Mr. French said.
Here in the Mexican capital, even relatively poor people are abducted and forced to take money out of ATMs. These “express” kidnappings often yield only a few hundred dollars. Some victims are snatched after boarding privately owned “street” taxis.
In the countryside, successful ranchers, store owners and restaurateurs—and their wives and children—are targeted because they are seen as having ready cash. In Acapulco, an American running a successful real estate agency was held for months before ransom was paid.
Police and former police are often involved in the crimes.
There have even been cases of teenagers staging their own abductions to squeeze cash out of relatives. “You hear periodically that [the kidnapper] is basically a kid trying to get money out of his parents,” Mr. French said.
Mexico is considered the No. 2 kidnapping hot spot after Colombia. Officially in Mexico, there are about 300 kidnappings per year, but security experts say most kidnappings go unreported because police aren’t trusted. The real number of abductions is probably several times higher.