A child of East LA, Jose Saenz started as a graffiti “tagger” and worked his way up. After joining a gang and cutting his teeth on violent crimes, he soon became a ruthless enforcer and hit man for a Mexican drug cartel.
In July of 1998, he reportedly killed two rival gang members in LA’s Hollenbeck area. Two weeks later, authorities say, he kidnapped, raped and killed his girlfriend, who was the mother of his then two-year-old child. Sigreda Fernandez had to die because she knew too much about his crimes.
Fernandez was taken to Saenz’s grandmother’s house in an unincorporated area of East LA. There, he told his grandmother to leave. She did so because Saenz told her he and Fernandez were trying to reconcile.
Three hours later, at 11 a.m., he called and told her not to come home, telling her he had “just made a big mistake.” Ignoring his instructions, she returned and found the body of Hernandez in the back bedroom, sprawled half-nude with a bullet wound to the temple.
When called to the scene, police detectives found .357 Magnum shells on a dresser with a note saying, “the guys who drove me hear [sic] have nothing to do with this.” Saenz had also scrawled a message on the living room wall asking his grandmother to take care of his child.
Murder charges were brought against Saenz, but he quickly went on the run. A fugitive warrant was issued in 2002.
Working hard to mask his identity, he underwent plastic surgery, had tattoos removed and tried to strip off his fingerprints with Krazy Glue, according to Scott Garriola, an FBI special agent and member of an LA-area fugitive task force.
With drug proceeds to cover his expenses, he traveled freely through Mexico, Central American, Canada and the United States using as many as twenty aliases such as Gabriel Saenx, Louie Sanez and Giovanni Vasquez.
While in California, Saenz shot Oscar Torres to death in Whittier over a half million dollars in drug money that had been seized by police. The killing was caught on video. With this fourth murder now tied to him, Saenz was put on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List in 2009.
During the 14 years he evaded being captured, there were plenty of leads for them to follow, but he always managed to get away.
“When you have that many aliases and have that much money and connections and you move around that much, it makes it a little more difficult,” Garriola said.
So how was he finally caught?
Saenz says he got “sloppy” – staying in his current location too long and using phone too often.
On November 22, 2012 he was found and arrested outside his apartment in Guadalajara by the Mexican Federal Police while working for a drug cartel. The 37-year-old Saenz gave his name as Giovanni Torres, but he was soon identified as the man the FBI had been searching for. Having no authority to participate in his capture in another country, agents stood by and watched until he was in custody.
Saenz had sworn to kill a police officer if captured, but he surrendered without incident.
There was no need for extradition. An American citizen, he was in Mexico illegally and was simply deported from that country to face justice at home.
Afterward, Saenz bragged about his time as an escapee and even told authorities he had attended Los Angeles Lakers games while on the run. He said he had been stopped by police many times but got away because he had good fake identification.
Now safely behind bars, the elusive Saenz was charged with four murders, rape, kidnapping, parole violation and unlawful flight to avoid prosecution.