The gruesome case of a man who was stabbed and beheaded in a suburban Phoenix apartment has police investigating whether the killing is potentially the most extreme example of Mexican drug cartel violence spilling over the border.
Martin Alejandro Cota-Monroy’s body was found Oct. 10 in a Chandler apartment–his severed head a couple feet away. One man suspected in the killing has been arrested, and a manhunt is under way for three others.
Detectives are focused on whether the men belong to a Mexican drug cartel, and they suspect that Cota-Monroy’s killing was punishment for stealing drugs. The brutal nature of the killing could be designed to send a message to others within the cartel.
Decapitations are a regular part of the drug war in Mexico as cartels fight over territory. Headless bodies have been hanged from bridges by their feet, severed heads have been sent to victims’ family members and government officials, and bags of up to 12 heads have been dropped off in high-profile locations.
If the suspects in the Arizona case belong to a cartel, the crime could be the only known beheading in the U.S. carried out by a drug cartel, said Tony Payan, a political science professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has done extensive research about border violence.
The killing could also affect the immigration debate in Arizona. Supporters of the state’s controversial immigration law frequently cite this type of violence as reason to crack down on illegal immigrants. The decapitation victim and the suspects were all illegal immigrants.
The killing has unnerved residents in the neighborhood and apartment complex where Cota-Monroy was killed.
The tiny, run-down complex sits along a side street across from ramshackle trailer homes in a neighborhood not far from brand-new strip malls with big-box stores in the suburb of Chandler.
Moroyoqui was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and hindering prosecution. He pleaded not guilty on Wednesday and has refused to speak to police. He declined to speak with The Associated Press.
The other suspects have been identified as Jose David Castro Reyes, 25; Isai Aguilar Morales, 22, and a man between the ages of 20 and 27 only known by the nickname “El Joto,” a derogatory Spanish term for a gay man.
They are believed to have fled to Mexico, making it very difficult to locate them.