Saturday, August 22, 2015

Great Escapes: The Grey Automobile Gang

Translated by Otis B Fly-Wheel for Borderland Beat from a Sinembargo article

[ Subject Matter: Great escapes, the Grey Automobile Gang
Recommendation: No prior subject matter knowledge required]

Reporter: Humberto Padgett
Its difficult to find something new in Mexican criminal life. Its been a century, since the most notable criminal gang of the epoch, Higinio Granda, made various escapes from porous Mexican prisons, and as always with weak authorities, they celebrated making the agreements that would allow them to act with impunity.

Like El Chapo now, Granda crossed the palms of Police Chiefs and the Military with gold, to allow him to act with impunity, to rob, violate, kidnap and kill. His history, is the legend of the Grey Automobile Gang, and shows the vulnerability of the institutions and their historic propensity to take the criminals hand and go against the citizens.

A wall of the Belem prison exploded into pieces, the prison was always a real hovel, adjacent to the Court, where people felt the "tug of justice", they said about the place a century ago.

Like the corruption of Justice, nothing is new and nothing is old.

Higinio Granda, shook the dust from his shirt, and looked at his companions. Following him were Santiago Risco and Angel Fernandez Teixero, Spanish and prisoners like him. After them came Frances Mario Sansi and six Mexicans.

Breathing the air full of dust they escaped to Mexico City. The thieves had escaped from Belem prison, which was in decline as the new "Black Palace of Lecumberri prison was being built, and its worth noting from where the drug trafficker Javier Sicillia Falcon would later escape.

Inmates at Lecumberri Prison

Its the ninth of February of 1913 and Granda is newly free and leading a gang.

This is the start of the tragic ten years, Victoriano Huerta usurps the presidency of the Republic. Francisco I Madero and Jose Maria Pino Suarez, President and Vice Deputy President, are murdered on the orders of Manuel Mondragon, the future Chief of Police of Mexico City.

(Otis: see picture of Manuel Mondragon left, he designed the Mexican Army's first semi-automatic rifle and a 75mm Howitzer.)

The uniforms that Granda and his gang wear are of the Zapatista Army, which controls Mexico City since the fall of Huerta.

The fugitives sought refuge in the misery of the East of the City, where the Police never went, nor were they interested in going. Iztapalapa, Chimalhuacan, Chalco and Ixtapaluca, villages far from the Mexican Capital, they would be devoured after a few decades by the urban expansion, and suffered the same abandonment of disinterest, with a reputation for lawlessness.

They met at the Cantina "El Grano de Arena" or "The Grain of Sand", to plot the future of the gang.

The older brother of Higinio, Juan, who grew up in Cangas de Tineo in Spain, was from the Military. Juan understood the opportunity that would present itself if he enrolled in the service that patrolled the City, he enlisted and made Captain.

The keys to the treasury were in his hands, uniforms, official information on search warrants for weapons and people outside the law. Crime was the owner of the Capital City. Government carries out little surveillance, and robbery, murder and rape is widespread.

How many thieves, rapists, kidnappers, murderers and smugglers of anything prohibited by law, stole, raped, kidnapped, killed and trafficked under the protection of the shield of the law? Impossible to answer, but thousands if not tens of thousands.

During his 30 years, Higinio Granda had entered and left on 20 occasions, all forms of Mexican prisons. In an approximation of criminological language, those of his species who escaped multiple times, their names are Nicolas Andres Caletri, and Joaquin Guzman Loera.....

Granda was a ghost who had a choice of women with whom to spend the night. Like Marcos Tinoco Gancedo "El Coronel", a remarkable kidnapper and briber of authorities during the 1990's. Higinio understood that a good criminal must not appear as one, so he dresses elegantly, his posture is distinguished and he spoke with corrected voice.

In his world, in his double world, one as a policeman and the other as a thief, the synthesis of one with the other, is respected and feared.

On the 7th of April, Granda gives uniforms to his gang and a late model powerful car. It is driven by El Japon, they wait for the night then knock on the door of a Spanish businessman Luis Toranzos opposite the Alameda Central.

Higinio, in a Generals uniform, spoke to the business with gravity. He showed him a duly authorized search warrant, as soon as they are through the door they ransack the house. The formula worked dozens of times, a corrido was written about them which made the top ten of the last century.

A still from 1919 Mexican silent movie about the Grey Automobile Gang

The thieves, were imprisoned again in the jail they previously escaped from, the custodians abandoning the prison, who followed the Villistas and Zapatistas northward and southward to avoid the forces of Venustiano Carranza arriving to Mexico City.

Carranza appointed Pablo Gonzalez as Governor of the Federal District. The city had lost the security it enjoyed under the regime of Porfirio Diaz, recalls historian Alejandro Rosas  in a monograph on the Grey Automobile Gang.

When they entered the Capital for the first time, the constitutionalists looted homes and businesses and became known as "Carriclanes" or "Consusunaslistas", and the verb "To Rob", soon had a synonym "Carrancear".

Granda's gang scaled the heights of kidnapping. The searched for Alice, the young daughter of Francois Thomas, a rich Frenchman, according to Agustin Sanchez Gonzalez in the "The Grey Automobile Gang" published in 2007.

Granda instructs Mariano Sansi, the Apache, a pimp of french origin who fell in love with Magdalena Gonzalez, the maid of Alice, the pimp being efficient got the agenda of Alice.

The gang met up at the Grano de Oro, and decided to snatch the girl, it was July the 10th and Granda distributed orders to his team, surveillance of the Thomas residence and its neighbourhood, the Grano de Oro becoming the safe house for a few days while Francisco Oviedo and Santiago Risco are designated to look after the kidnapped girl.

The gang got into their car. Alice and Magdalena were intercepted at the corner of Colon, and the gang headed for the Paseo de Reforma. At the roundabout at the Critobal Colon monument, they let Magdalena go and set the price for her freedom, one hundred thousand pesos in gold.

The rich mans daughter was thrown onto a pigsty filthy sofa, and there 12 men raped her 23 times in less than 3 days, says Tere de Las Casas, in his book on the Grey Automobile Gang.

An original picture of some of the gang members

Thomas sought out the French Ambassador in Mexico and presented his complaint of his daughters kidnapping to him.

The authorities were incapable of doing anything, and the businessman got the money together in three days. The exchange would take place at the Bosque de Chapultepec. The same night Alice returned, or better said, what was left of her returned.

Irate, Thomas returned to the authorities. Their servant said that the kidnappers wore official uniforms, and one of them spoke with a Spanish accent.

There was no doubt it was Granda.

another still from the film The Grey Automobile Gang 1919

After a few months, in a circumstantial manner, the Grey Automobile Gang is detained. Also apprehended were two officials who were working for him, giving protection to the gang. One was the Chief of Security Commission of the Police reserves and the other the Assistant Chief.

Soon Granda and his gang returned to the streets. One time passing themselves off as Military and now they were passing themselves off as Reserve Police. Other convicts at large, joined the First Regiment of Artillery, both sides in the revolution were thirsting from men and ready to recruit anyone without the formality of requests.

Only Granda knew all of the criminals in his gang, it was for the time a forward thinking structure for organized crime.

They were not pretenders, and would not be what the Federal Police are, such as in 2008 when they  stopped the youngster Alejandro Marti to kidnap him for ransom and then killed him.

One of the gang, Francisco Oviedo, had obtained a commission to spy for the Police Chief on his subalterns. From this position, he could tell other gang members which houses to raid without problems, they came and went around the city with orders of search warrants signed by Pablo Gonzalez, which is substantiated in alleged reports of houses used as safe houses to store weapons and hold seditious meetings.

The gang would go out and assault the owners of large houses, once inside they would ransack, and beat and torture the house owners, even in extreme cases hanging men up on their own porches by their thumbs.

Rosas refers to a written open card by Zapata to Carranza in 1916:

"That Soldiers... carry their audacity to fearsome gangs that terrorize the rich and organize the "industry" of robbery, such as the infamous mafia of the grey car, who operate with impunity, with accomplices such as Directors and Principals of  your force and prominent positions in the Army".

The rumour spread that they raided the General Treasury of the Nation, behind the back of the National Palace. The media dealt with the subject repeatedly, and when the matter becomes a scandal, as if by magic, Pablo Gonzalez detains and presents the criminals. Various members of the gang were imprisoned in the sorry prison of Belem. Some were shot at a Military Academy.

Granda was not one of them. Its said that he had the protection of the incumbent General Carrancista, beneficiary of loot stolen by the Grey Automobile Gang. The Spaniard died free and old.

The history of the Grey Automobile Gang was immortalized in a film in 1919, directed by Enrique Rosas, who used in some scenes, real weapons confiscated from the Gang.

Since then, the thieves entered and left prison and converted to kidnappers, the Police kidnap, the kidnappers understood the value of information and technology, in their case a Grey four door Lancia and the authorities could do little about it.

Ninety years before the public appearance of the French woman Florence Cassez, Mexico and France had its first diplomatic conflict caused by the issue of kidnapping.

( Otis: for those who speak Spanish the original 1919 film is available on youtube.

Original article in Spanish at Sinembargo


  1. Nice story this reminds of la banda del carro rojo the gang of the red car who my tio was the lider sadly he die in a shoot out whit San antonio sherrifs , theres a corrido sing by los tigres del norte descanze en paz lino quintana , brave man die on the line
    -Juan Dos Cabezas-

    1. Wasnt it the title to one of their albums too??

    2. My tio le puso una chinga al jefe de la banda del carro rojo...

    3. Mi tio vende discos piratas afuera del oxxo

    4. That is why this country is all fucked up...some people just keep putting crooks, criminals, drug runners, up there as if they were some kind of national heroes when they are only a bunch of criminals.

  2. Thanks Great Article. I guess Mexico never really changes, These 100 years after the revolution were pretty nice. During the Diaz government things were pretty good. Things were pretty good during the 70 years of the PRI. I did not know that Carranza was a crook. I thought he was kind of a Hero. My great grandfather for Porfirio Diaz

  3. Nothing new under the sun.

  4. So, let me see if I understand this. The only difference between the outlaws of Mexico then, as well as now, is that they (the criminals) do not have badges and the police do?

    1. WRONG! The police in Mexico have always been and still are very corrupt . The corruption has spilled over to the border patrol on the North side of the border . I know of several Texas National Guard personnel that claim to have been confronted by strangers while out of uniform on the border . The stranger would recite all the guardsmans information , home address family members ect. so on . Changes are a commin .
      Maybe not in Mexico but on the border . The drastic changes the US will make will force Mexico to make changes .

    2. Doesnt that make you wanna party??

  5. The only difference is they are many more crooks passing for federal or estatal, police officers, many many more crooks posing as government officers, helped by many many more and better weapons provided by the US government, behind the backs of the american people, and today's manuel mondragon y kalb is maaaybe the grandson of your manuel mondragon...

  6. Alfredo Rios Galeana can be added to the list of Escaped Multiple Times

  7. I already did an article on him two weeks ago you can find it with the search engine

    1. Otis,are you going to put more instalments about Alfredo Galeana'El Feyo' 1-5 ?

  8. Its been a century, since the most notable criminal gang of the epoch, Higinio Granda, made various escapes from porous Mexican prisons, and as always with weak authorities, they celebrated making the agreements that would allow them to act with impunity.
    Graphite head gasket


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