Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Monday, June 19, 2017

Kaplan: The mysterious gringo that escaped by helicopter

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

Subject Matter: David Joel Kaplan
Recommendation: No prior subject matter knowledge required

Other articles in this series by Humberto Padgett
Traconi the escape artist of La Tanga Rosa
The Grey Automobile Gang

David Joel Kaplan starred in what was known in 1971 as "the escape of the century". As spectacular as the escape of El Chapo Guzman from Altiplano. David Kaplan was imprisoned in the Santa Martha Acatitla Prison, which was considered the most secure in the country, his escape was planned with milimetric precision by his sister.

Reporter: Humberto Padgett
A Bell helicopter fitted with a super-charged turbine, and piloted by an ex Vietnam vet was his vehicle to liberty.

Previously, like El Chapo in his escape from Puente Grande, he had tried to escape hidden in the pile of dirty clothes, the escape was foiled by someone giving up his plan.

Another escape idea by Kaplan was to hide in the false floor of a van owned by another USA prisoner called Church, who had been imprisoned for assassinating a Mexican policeman with his bare hands, this escape was also foiled.

These escape attempts proved fruitless until 18th of August of 1971 around 6:30 pm he achieved it, and like El Chapo, from under the noses of the guards.

Nine: Look Kaplan, its coming, you see it? The helicopter is close, Carlos i'm scared, Kaplan was trembling, a veteran of a dozen escape attempts.

Eight: 7600 inmates bar 2 were inside the dormitory passing the afternoon watching a film

Seven: The Bell helicopter with bubble cockpit descended through the rain into the interior of the prison, in the same manner that one really appreciates a girls when he has laid with her a long time, said the pilot.

Six: David Joel Kaplan, American, and Carlos Contreras, from Venezuela, leave their cell and head into the courtyard.

Five: Prison officers are confused, the helicopter is the same blue color as those used by the Federal District Police who come and go to the prison.

Four: Kaplan and Contreras run through the basket ball courts, its all or nothing now.

Three: Prison officers know something is wrong, the rain, the surprise, something is not right about the helicopter.

Two: The vigilante Cruz Victoriano raises his weapon and pulls the trigger, but the gun misfires.

One: Joel and Carlos acknowledge, the wide grin of Roger, a combat pilot vet from Vietnam with a reputation for being able to fly through a rainbow. The prison guards are stunned as the helicopter rises, the prison was considered the most secure in Mexico.

Zero: In ten seconds, at 6:35 in the afternoon of the August the 18th, 1971, he has accomplished the escape of the century.

The film  biography of Kaplan is so peculiar that it perked the interest of a porn film producer born in the Soviet Union, featuring strip clubs and teams of Cuban sicarios.

The film includes a dead body, who he is accused of murdering, Luis Vidal Jr., with brown eyes instead of blue eyes like the real person.

The murdered mans wife claimed that the dead man was her husband and that he was also recognized by a waitress who saw in the Continental Hilton, where he stayed before disappearing.

When his wife was asked about how his eye color had changed she answered, "surely someone took my husbands eyeballs and put them in someone else".

The mysterious of Vidals death and the prosecution of Kaplan, his business partner is recounted in the book, Kaplan Fuga en diez segundos, by Eliot Asinof, Warren Hinckle and William Turner, published in Spanish by Lasser press in 1973. There also exists and autobiography about Carlos Contreras, cellmate and fellow escapee with Kaplan, called La Fuga del Siglo, or the escape of the century, published by Carnel in Venezuela, also in 1973.

Also Sinembargo has possession of the prison records and antecedents of Kaplan.

The most accepted version of Joel David Kaplan is that he was agent undercover for the CIA, and arms trafficker, and a family member of business empresarios with political interests in Cuba, from where they left after the revolution in 1959. For his part, Vidal Jr. was the son of Spanish businessman with friends in the Caribbean and in particular the Domincan dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, who was godfather to Vidal Jr.

On October 22nd, 1971, two boys found a pack of dogs devouring a corpse, which was later identified as Vidals.

After a trial plagued with irregularities, and beyond the propaganda in the biography written by Asinof, Hinckley and Turner in favour of Kaplan, the American and partner of Vidal was arrested, presented by the Mexican press as a murderer, tried and sentenced in 1964 to 27 years in prison for the crime of homicide, and three years for vidals clandestine burial.

Why did the Mexican system act with such ferocity against the wealthy American, in this epock at a quiet moment of the Cold War, it is speculated that Kaplan was a victim of his Uncle, a sugar and molasses magnate, Jacob M Kaplan, whose connection with the CIA, who was funding Latin American regimes which was widely known.

It was said that Kaplan was part of the assassination plot against John F Kennedy, and a drug smuggler with the knowledge of participation in the business of politicians at all levels.

At the end of the sixties and the start of the seventies, the penitentiary of Santa Martha was responsible for, according to former prison officers, the dissapearances of dozens of students and communist dissidents of the times, who were cremated in a smelting furnace that existed there.

To a high class American Jew, the Mexican jail was supposed to be the closest thing to a mediaval dungeon. Kaplan together with other prisoners from Lecumberri, they were transferred to Santa Martha, at that time outside of Federal District, with confinement in cells rather than dormitories.

These sites were called ZO or zones of oblivion, and its existence lasted until at least the middle of the last decade, at the start of the government of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

In Kaplan, fuga en diez segundos, he is described as a having dull, plaster-white skin with a musty smell typical of someone who has lived in confinement without sun or fresh air, but in the same book there are constant references of the benefits he received, thanks to the definitive corruption of the Mexican prison system, better food, unlimited conjugal visits, poker nights, a cell shared only with the Venezuelan who accompanied him on his escape, and bottles and bottles of whisky and rum.

In September of 1967, the Supreme Court Justice of the Nation denied the appeal of Joel David Kaplan, if the gringo wanted to leave Mexico, he would have to escape. The idea of escape became as ever present in his mind as the air in his lungs.

He conceived a plan to fake appendicitis and agreed with an ambulance driver, his departure and delivery, outside of Mexico City, to a group of two American women and a lame Canadian with whom he would travel to the North looking like tourists. The ambulance driver accepted a payment of 75,000 pesos. The plan failed when the Ambulance driver was fired at work for being drunk with drink he bought with Kaplans money.

His next ruse was, after giving bribes of 100,000 dollars, he would be pronounced dead and his corpse taken out of jail in a body bag, outside his body would be substituted with another actually dead person and he would flee to Peru. He asked for money from his Uncle, executor of his fortune who it turned out would not release the funds.

Judy, David's sister joined in his escape plans. He sought help from CIA ex-agents, ex-lieutenants and deserters of the Cuban regime, and distributed thousands of dollars in any number of ideas that included even burning down the penitentiary.

Something more viable happened in October 1970, when a young Mexican couple acquired some land in the plain of the former Lake of Texcoco, a land that was turned into a chicken farm, just 200 metres from the cell of Kaplan. Instead of increasing the number of chickens, the amount of land increased. The plan was to dig a tunnel that was only foiled when they ran into volcanic lava which was impossible to dig out clandestinely.

Judy Kaplan won the support of Victor Stadter, a former world war 2 fighter pilot and smuggler of everything from Capuchin Monkeys to influences gained in the most ostentatious brothels of Latin America.

Something that was especially interesting about Stadter, a proud descendant of Prussians and organized crime on the continent; this American was forged as one of the largest carriers of illegal goods flying his own planes, from Guatemala to Texas, a couple of decades before Carillo Fuentes earned the nickname Lord of the Skies.

Kaplan devised another plan that involved him being hidden inside a truck compartment. Another American called Church worked inside the prison building truck compartments which were sold by the prison to private businesses. After Kaplan had given up 50,000 pesos of the 100,000 agreed, Church gave him up.

Another idea was to get a transfer to the prison in Cuernavaca arguing health reasons, the need to breathe clean air at a lower alititude. The prison in the capital of Morelos is described at that time as a prison without doors, in which the prisoners were allowed to go to the city, enjoying great freedom.

The transfer never took place because enough palms could not be greased to make it happen.

Next Kaplan hired a makeup artist from the USA. A hairdresser in New York designed a wig for $700 that would fit Kaplans head, who in the infirmary of Santa Martha, would take a drug that mimicks the symptoms of malaria. The make up artist would arrive as a nurse to the infirmary and the two would change identities of each other so Kaplan could make good his escape, and the make up artist would be freed after proving he had been drugged by Kaplan, when the time came to execute the plan Kaplan actually was sick, too sick to carry out the plan and escape.

To flee by air? At the time it probably seems the worst of most of his hair-brained schemes. It was an idea born in the mind of Kaplan, according to the research of Asinof, Hincle and Turner, and the idea came about because of his knowledge of operations of the US Army in Vietnam that extracted prisoners taken by  the Vietcong behind enemy lines.

Stadter contacted an old Texan friend, an Irish descendant by the surname Orville and nicknamed Cotton, who was working as a crop sprayer and who could contact the helicopter pilot, Roger Hershner, a fighter pilot in Vietnam and 29 years of age.

While Kaplan knew many of the details, they organized the escape. Kaplan had taken a photograph of the landing area for the dimensions of the space. The images were no good, but Stadter managerd to infiltrate a real estate agent from his family mascarading as a criminologist, and to whom the director of the prison provided a guided tour.

Kaplan decided to include Carlos Contreras Castro in the escape, a Venezuelan drug dealer who managed to disconnect the alarm from the watch tower, which was referred to as the control tower.

Roger took off at 5.53 of the afternoon of August 18th, from Pachuca, Hidalgo. He arrived at Sant Martha Acatitla at 6.35.

The escape was named "The escape of the Century".

Kaplan, successful in his escape by helicopter, opened up this method of escape from prisons. Two years after him, three members of the IRA escaped from a prison in the UK, once a companion of the terrorists kidnapped a helicopter pilot and forced him to fly it in the escape.

Since then there have been 42 escape attempts using this method, 30 of these have been successful. The last recorded was on June 7th 2014, in a Quebec prison where three men that fled were returned a few weeks later.

In 1975, Charles Bronson played Nick Colton in Breakout, a pilot hero in the rescue of a US  prisoner in a dirty and corrupt Mexican dungeon.

It will be possible to see the escape of Kaplan, a CIA Agent, thanks to the film "The Fourth Company", a Mexican thriller directed by Amir Galvan and Vanessa Arreola and that will be released in the last quarter of 2016.

Galvan and Arreola used an identical helicopter to the one used by Kaplan, the Bell with dragonfly body and transparent bubble canopy. They filmed in Santa Martha penitentiary and the scene of Kaplans escape was filmed in the actual courtyard he escaped from in 10 seconds. Many of the smaller bit parts in the film were played by inmates of the penitentiary.

The film is a fiction resulting from years of documentary research and addresses the existence of a group of car theives, all housed at Santa Martha, who leave the prison every night to rob Grand Marquis automobiles. The criminal operation is directed by the police of Federal District, then in the hands of Durazo.

One would think that for a command of prisoners of the DF Penitentiary, better known as Santa Martha Acatitla, who have an opportunity to go out and operate on the streets of Mexico City in the late seventies, is an event that dazzles.

After leaving and entering the prison, commenting in an interview with Arreola and Galván, directors of The Fourth Company. The Fugue of the Century, where Joel Kaplan and his cellmate, Carlos Contreras, rose in a helicopter in the 10 seconds that gave them freedom forever, produces fascination equally in many free men, in the inmates of the present and in the short-lived survivors of "the fourth company," the squad of prisoners and in turn notable football players, whose story the filmmakers recover in a film that will bear the same name and which is released in the winter of this year.

Where the flight of the"Chapo is already the precocious aspirant to be the great escape in Mexico this century ", says Galván. The Fourth Company is a Mexican film of recent production where the loss of innocence of a young man and the self-governments in prison, twist a little known but as real and surprising history as the current self-government in 65 percent of the prisons of our Country-control in the hands of criminals in detention, of which specialists comment.

 In our history we take Kaplan's escape as an allegory, as an astonishing symbol of freedom, absence of pressure, and presence of individual expansion and solidarity with others.The escape is one of the episodes that we recreate in the Penitentiary of the DF, the same place where the historical story of the fourth company originates during the six years of López Portillo.

"We achieved this thanks to the collaboration and support of both the population of inmates and authorities of the Government of the Federal District (GDF) during the management of Marcelo Ebrard and, well, the heart beats in a singular way when it is necessary to recreate a flight in a jail where a helicopter went down and when it took up took two prisoners and left a third that stayed, and is still remaining, because Raymundo Moreno Reyes, the oldest prisoner, close to serving half a century in the national prison system and who is part of our cast.

Raymundo is called Burrorero because he sold the milk of his donkey, and this one, according to him, is the third film in his filmography. Raymundo arrived at the old prison Lecumberri when he was 21 years old, and in the sixties he was transferred to the Penitentiary. On the afternoon of August 18, 1971, 6:35, he looked up at the sky and saw him arrive and go to the Kaplan helicopter.


  1. I'm sure there are thousands of escapes from gringos that go under the radar. In the drum game there are thousands of gringos that pull strings from behind the scenes but never heard of. The fall guys are alwAys the Mexican Capos like amado Carrillo and chapo ext ext....

    1. Nah just rich bussiness men who invest but are not really pulling any strings. The Mexican Gov pulls the strings.

    2. The capos are results of a conspiracy within cartel structure within the government. Pawns
      of an elaborate political system. With every new political power comes alliances.


    3. Why does everyone love the capos but hate the "shadow boss"?

  2. Awesome story Otis!! Crazy gringos!!

  3. Major, huge NYTimes bombshell investigative report on Mexican govt. misusing legaly obtained spyware to target MX journalists, human rights activists, those seeking justice in the Iguala case, etc:

    1. @10:34 Thanks Tu Fren as always. Yaqui beat you to it and already has part of it up in draft and should be published shortly.

    2. And here we go its in The NYT, its what i wrote you guys few month earlier.

    3. 9:47 yes I know, that why I pass the tip to yaqui to steal your 'esclusiba' atentamente el ddb
      (El dos de bastos)

  4. I had a friend once who's mom actually looked strikingly similiar in appearance 2 Charles Bronson. We use 2 get a kick out of that. We'd get her 2 pose with a revolver and laugh about that shit. She was his female doppelgänger. - Sol Prendido

    1. Jajaja pretty funny stuff

    2. Hehe... mehr als ein deutscher hier.

    3. 9:49 Grüße und Begrüßungen. - Sol Prendido

    4. Irma Vazquez Calderón, wife of Joel david kaplan receives no comments, SHE WAS THE PRETTY GIRL HERE. But no comments about her, you all only have eyes for the pinchi gringo, WHY?

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. I have a roommate that broke a guy out of a Honduran jail.He got himself incarcerated on purpose to break him out.Let's just say he worked in 'black ops'.I will have to get more details on it someday.I don't press him on it.He does tell me everything that goes on in Latin America has been going on a long time but internet is bringing it out,people just didn't know it and that Latin's are no 1 t 'f**k with!

    1. Anything good from your buddy involving Mexican cartels?

    2. He must not make too much money if he has to room with you or anyone else telling his secrets.

    3. He did it right. Not too much talking and keeping low profile.

    4. Lmao my roommate is a navy seal that freed Nelson Mandela I don't press him about it but he'll occasionally trade a story when he's short in rent money hahaha u people crack me up

  7. That's pretty bad ass lol

  8. Gringos don't need to escape, they always make bail, own the courts or
    don't need bail to get in or out of hell...or heaven...

  9. So what happened to the dude AFTER he escaped ? Where did he go? Did he ever get recaptured ?

    1. 6:41 wiki or Google that,
      maybe get his ass extradited back tu mexico.

  10. I posted about this story here in BB about a year ago. Glad to see the story featured here now.

    1. Almost forgot, there is another famous escape of a gabacho from a Mexican prison.

    2. In the 80s a gabacho dressed up as a woman to escape a Mexican prison.

  11. Great news in veracruz. On the 21st of june theirs going to be an operation witch means more federal police and civil forces. Their not going to take the day off or accept requests for days off for them. Idk how is going to be. Probably like tamaulipas. Only in reynosa and ciudad victoria has insecurity problems. I never heard much of nuevo laredo matamoros san fernando tampico and ect. Still hot since armed forces shot el toro and the zeta druglord. Reynosa been having shootouts with rivals and armed forces. In guerrero 4 police officers and one narco die on a ambush. Dont remember what town. In bcs armed forces arrested a leader. In sinaloa there was a shootout at el lics town. The marines killed 3 at that area where demaso el lic is from.

    1. Yeah, I saw it coming, and hitchhiked a rait to Niw Yor',
      cobra caro el pinchi coyote, 100 pesos, la grifa y el cabús.
      -El Sol Perdido.

  12. I also would like to know what ever happened to him, still alive and where? I cant seem to find out via a google search, Thanks

  13. CODES have always been amongst us. People GO on about their lives never realizing that their there. History has proven that THROUGH out the ages esoteric knowledge exists. I see those explicit messages EVERYDAY.

    It is in understanding what is being said that goes a long way in comprehending so much. Pay attention because it is all there as plain as day. - Sol Prendido

    1.'s ironic that you say 'Pay attention...' and most of your post is gibberish. Too funny!

    2. Echoes and resonances from the pre-incarnate Realm

    3. All of the comments from Poser Prendido are blather.

    4. 3:56 Not! A memorable one is where chole commented about "El Muletas" ordeal in Prison El Topo Chico"

  14. From what i found, ge returned to gringo land and died in the 90s as old.lonley but rich man.follow The guy names stapler and You will find it

    1. Elaborate man sounds interesting

  15. CIA code name was Cock Furioso was heading the Rapido Furioso group.

  16. At least he picked a good chopper pilot! If youve ever seen them medevac chopper pilots from vietnam fly those things youd know! They some crazy motherfuckers and fly those things treetop high and in places in no way do u think they can get! Ive seen them do this up close and personal!

  17. Radio controlled helicopters can be made out of polycarbonate, polystyrene, fiber glass, and carbon fiber.beginner quadcopter reviews


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