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on the border line between the US and Mexico

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Throwback Series: Newly Uncovered Details on Z-1's Death

"Morogris" for Borderland Beat

This article is part of the Borderland Beat's exclusive "Throwback Series," delving into the old Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas.

The image above was the first mug shot of Arturo Guzmán Decena released by the former Attorney General's Office (PGR). Released in 2002, this photograph was featured on the PGR "Más Buscados" (Most Wanted) website, which has been unavailable since the mid-2000s.
It has been more than twenty years since Arturo Guzmán Decena, also known as Z-1, a founding member of Los Zetas, perished in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. However, a recent discovery of archival newspapers in the possession of Borderland Beat has brought to light fresh details regarding his death.

According to the majority of reports available online, Z-1 met his end in a confrontation with the Mexican Army. The precise details differ, but the main version suggests that Z-1 initially visited the said establishment and subsequently departed to visit his girlfriend, Ana Bertha González Lagunes, a few blocks away.

Allegedly, he cordoned off the street near Ana Bertha's residence to avoid disruptions, but a neighbor alerted security forces. When the Mexican Army arrived at the scene, they were shot upon arrival, ultimately resulting in Z-1's demise.

However, none of these versions align with the original investigation, news coverage, and eye witness testimonies that were reported in Matamoros back in 2002.

A rare photograph depicting the lifeless body of Arturo Guzman Decenas, also known as Zeta 1, covered in a white blanket. Although reporters managed to capture images of him without the covering, authorities on-site confiscated their hard copies. These pictures were then retaken by other photographers.
His Demise: Was It an Execution?

On the morning of 22 November 2002, residents of Matamoros woke up to the news of a man that was killed outside a restaurant. The front page of El Mañana's newspaper displayed an image of a deceased individual covered in a white blanket, wearing black boots, a white shirt, and blue jeans. His identity remained unknown that morning.

The restaurant, situated between 9th and Herrera Streets in downtown Matamoros, bore the name "Pisa y Corre".

The key element of this investigation comes to light through eyewitness accounts collected by reporters at the restaurant on the night of the murder and in the subsequent days. Borderland Beat currently possesses these reports.

According to statements given to news reporters, the man killed (who we know is Z-1, although he remained unidentified in initial reports) was having dinner inside the establishment when uniformed gunmen arrived unexpectedly. Witnesses recounted that the gunmen, who identified as law enforcement, forcibly removed Z-1 from the restaurant and executed him.

One witness, identified as Jorge, informed El Mañana reporters that Z-1 was dragged outside and killed by two assassins.

"At no point was there a shootout; instead, it was an execution carried out by two individuals," the witness stated.

Another witness employed at the restaurant reported that Z-1 was dining with another individual. When Z-1 went towards the restroom to wash his hands, the assailants abruptly entered the restaurant, forcibly removing him from the restaurant and executing him outside.

He said that the assailants were wearing green military uniform and also black police uniforms.

"They had their faces covered with ski-masks", the report said.

Several witnesses testified at the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) office in Matamoros days after the shootout and provided similar testimonies. 

Investigation and analysis

At the crime scene, authorities seized a green 2002 Chevrolet Suburban. This Suburban was abandoned after colliding with a wooden house near the restaurant. 

Investigators found a fragment of the Suburban's license plate holder (shown below). The inscription on it reads "M. Aleman, Tamps," abbreviating Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas, indicating that the vehicle was acquired there.

Part of the vehicle's license plate holder recovered at the crime scene; the insignia reads "M. Aleman, Tamps" (photo credit: El Mañana, 2002)

As previously reported by Borderland Beat, Miguel Alemán played a pivotal role in the birth and ascent of Los Zetas, the former armed wing of the Gulf Cartel. This border town served as the starting point for the criminal careers of Z-1, Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, alias Z-3, and other cartel members under the command of local cartel bosses Zeferino Peña Cuellar, alias Don Zefe, and Gilberto Garcia Mena, also known as El June.

The recovery of a vehicle from Miguel Alemán at the crime scene in Matamoros provides several insights. If the vehicle was driven by the perpetrators, it suggests they originated from Miguel Alemán and traveled to Matamoros, approximately 115 miles (185 km) away, to carry out the murder of Z-1. It is probable that the assailants were either affiliated with Los Zetas or the Gulf Cartel, both of which had a presence in Miguel Alemán.

There are accounts suggesting that Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the highest-ranking leader of the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, experienced a rift with Z-1 in May 2002 following the death of their comrade Raúl Alberto Trejo Benavides, alias El Alvin, Z-6, and/or Z9-HK24, in a shootout against rival gang member Dionisio Román Garcia Sanchez, known as El Chacho. Z-1 was reportedly involved in threatening Cardenas Guillen for El Alvin's death, raising the possibility that Z-1's murder was an internal targeted attack.

Upon close examination of the obtained photo evidence, it was discovered that the Suburban that struck a wooden house close to the crime scene displayed at least four gunshots on its driver and back-seat windows. This suggests that the vehicle might have been involved in a shootout prior to or after the murder.

Reporters propose that this vehicle was employed by the assailants, who accelerated and lost control of the vehicle either upon arrival or departure from the restaurant. If this narrative holds true, it would suggest that the assailants were met with gunfire from armed individuals stationed at the restaurant, possibly Z-1's bodyguards or even Z-1 himself. Alternatively, it is possible that Z-1 himself was driving the Suburban, engaged in a vehicular pursuit, and then sought refuge in the restaurant before being forcibly removed and executed outside.

At the scene, the Specialized Unit Against Organized Crime (UEDO) detained three individuals, but their names or affiliations were never disclosed.

The green Suburban seized at the crime scene displayed multiple bullet holes on the driver and back-seat windows. The identity of the driver of this vehicle is unknown.

The restaurant Pisa y Corre (depicted above), where Z-1 met his demise, was situated between Herrera and 9th Streets in downtown Matamoros. It was known for offering traditional Mexican cuisine from Central Mexico and Puebla, Z-1's home state. The white markings on the street indicate the spot where Z-1 lost his life.


The case was shrouded in "absolute secrecy" for several days. Initially, when the news broke, Z-1 remained unidentified. It took approximately a week for authorities to officially confirm to the public that the individual in question was Z-1, described as a "high-ranking boss of the local mafia."

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Los Zetas were not as widely recognized as they would become in subsequent years. Very few sources mention Los Zetas before 2002. The earliest reference to this group that Borderland Beat has uncovered dates back to 1996. In a newspaper in our possession, there is a mention of an "Unidad Zeta" in the Matamoros Municipal Police. This was an auxiliary police unit headed by Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez, alias El Coss, when he was still in the Matamoros police. The group was tasked with addressing organized crime activities. This may be where the group drew inspiration for its name.

Following the recovery of Z-1's body from the crime scene, it was transported to a local morgue and closely guarded by law enforcement. Reports indicated that he was buried after a private ceremony in Reynosa, although this information may be inconclusive, considering Z-1 was originally from the state of Puebla.

Rare picture of Angelica Lagunas Jaramillo, the owner of the restaurant where Z1 was killed. Gunmen carried at an attempt on her life a few weeks after Z1 was killed (photo credit: El Mañana, 2002)
About two weeks later, Angélica Lagunas Jaramillo, the owner of the restaurant, narrowly escaped an attempt on her life after leaving a store in Matamoros. She recounted that four men in a vehicle followed her while she was driving and shot at her before she managed to escape. During a police interview at her residence, she disclosed that suspicious men had visited her days after Z-1 was killed, warning her not to cooperate with investigators.

Lagunas-Jaramillo was reportedly in a relationship or married to high-ranking Zetas member Omar Lorméndez Pitalúa, alias El Pita and/or Z-10. Her restaurant, Pisa y Corre, was a popular establishment for early Zetas members. Z-1 was in a relationship with Angélica's daughter, Ana Bertha, who was also killed in 2007.

Sources (offline):
• Borderland Beat archives
• Rodríguez Duéñez, Rafael (22 November 2002) "Mortal enfrentamiento". El Mañana. Page 48. Section 6. No. 2348
• Rodríguez Duéñez, Rafael (23 November 2002) "Guardan absoluto hermetismo oficial". El Mañana. Page 44. Section 6. No. 2347.
• Espinosa, Raúl (24 November 2002) "Sospechan fue ejecución". El Mañana. Page 52. Section 6. No. 2348
• Espinosa, Raúl (29 November 2002) "Ejecutado era uno de los más buscados". El Mañana. Section F
• Pereda Rangel, Rosy (13 December 2002) "Tirotean a dueña del 'Pisa y Corre'". El Mañana. Section F. 

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  1. El Mata Amigos en su mayor expression. Ah pero nomas los de Sinaloa ponen a su propia gente . Lol . Entre los mugrosos de mafia no ahi codigos. Todos son una bola de corrientes.

    1. Mas corriente eres tu hablando mal por el internet

    2. 10:31 porque hablo mal de los narcos? Eres un alucin o porque te ofendes?

    3. Asi es. Son unos mugrosos cobardes. Para los vergasos son culos.

  2. Interesting article and thnx for these pics. Stories like these show that we know very little about the past and that it’s good to continue revisiting it. Keep digging BB/Morogris.

  3. I remember that Más Buscados page quite well. It was easy to find many the old Zetas pictures there. I’m glad some of them made it across the Internet. I wonder if it’s possible to request the govt to release these old websites or if maybe its archived somewhere?

    1. It is certainly possible to request them through an INAI petition, but that may take a few months and the process is very cumbersome.

      Your best bet would be to check in Archive Wayback Machine and manually search through the (which no longer exists). If I manage to find the CDG/Zetas ones I'll try to make a post about it.

      For example, here is one from October 2000 that has pictures of Sinaloa/TJ bosses:

    2. Había muchas fotografías de los Zetas ahí?? Que tantas??? Sabes si galdino mellado Cruz falleció? El chuta en verdad se llama Edgar Octavio Ramos??

    3. Sí estaban muchas fotos de Los Zetas originales. En el 2003 la PGR ofreció una recompensa por 31 integrantes del CDG/Zetas. Recuerdo que la mayoría de ellos tuvieron sus fotos en la página web de Los Más Buscados. Estos fueron:

      Creo que sí falleció pero muchos dicen que no. La verdad no me formado una opinión al respecto de eso. Y no sé si ese es el nombre real de El Chuta, saludos!

    4. I know of at least 5 or 6 other pics of Z1 when he was in the army and part of the cartel.

    5. 6:18 aquí en BB había un artículo de la muerte de El Mellado con varias fotos. Tenía parte de la cara dañada y si mal no recuerdo también el gobierno hizo comparaciones de su rostro para confirmar que era el.

    6. Ohh muchas gracias. En reddit había varias fotos de el cuando había caído preso y luego se fugo o salió libre por corrupción, según su hija dice que el murió en el 2014

    7. 12:30 fue abatido como por el día de las madres del 2014. Hay dos artículos en BB de cuando paso pero ya ninguno de los dos tiene fotos o vídeos.

    8. Oh muchas gracias

    9. Si, Mellado si murió el 9 de Mayo del 2014 en Reynosa

  4. Osiel snitched on Zetas/Gulf operations to get less time, Then had the nerve to ask Zetas/Gulf for 30 millions to pay the court judgement. Im sure this article is correct Osiel is responsible. I dont think he will last a month if he returns to Mexico.

  5. I do sense a connection to his death and that of Lazca…

    1. Lazcano caused his demise by killing Lalo Moreira.

    2. It was Z 40 that ordered the hit on Lalo Moreira, since a nephew of Treviño was killed before in Piedras Negras, the same place Lalo was shot. After his capture, Z 40 blamed Lazca but that was BS

    3. Didnt 40 take lazcas body & turn him in to his sister...
      Was it true that he partied/drank himself in sorrow for a few days before he turned in his body?

      He musta knew then that his time was limited as z3 had all the old generals

      Even more....
      Did they really kill lazca cuz he wanted to do a golpe del estado & make a parallel narco government and the Si-Eye-Ay got a wind of it

      And poof no more lazca

  6. Excellent work MX

  7. According to Chocotorro, Betancourt was actually an Army Officer.

    1. Correct. He was Second-Lieutenant in Mexican intelligence. According to old sources

    2. That is correct. He was also working as a Commander for the Federal Judicial Police in Las Norias, Matamoros in the late 90s. The earliest mention of him I've found is from 1998, where he was already suspected of moving drugs through Matamoros with an aircraft business in Reynosa.

    3. If anyone has a picture of him, I'd be great if you can share it with me via email.

      He also meant by the name Carlos Morales Betancourt.

    4. Z3 betancourt was the first/biggest snitch that most likely got OCG arrested
      I've never seen any pictures of him

      i wonder what he turned out to do for the past 20+ yrs
      Interesting guy none theless

  8. So now the first mention of the Zetas may be from 1996 assuming the Matamoros group was what inspired the name. Wasn’t the word Zeta also used to describe the color of the uniforms of the police or something like that ?

    1. I don’t remember where I read or heard this, but originally they were known as Los Rojos.

    2. Los Rojos are from Reynosa originally. Nothing to do with the Zetas. 3:43.

      If anything it comes from this Unidad Zeta from 1996 or the name was just made in or around Miguel Alemán in the late 90s.

    3. I've always remembered the word Zeta to have been used as codenames within the GAFEs, which the zetas then also used, albeit in a different order, after deserting. A bit boring but it makes sense to me.

    4. Zeta was a call sign and the cdg ex military commander used it. Plain and simple.

    5. There are sources suggesting that the term "Zeta" may stem from the color "Azul zeta" (deep cobalt blue), the uniform color of the GAFE. Now, with the discovery of the 1996 reference to the squadron "Unidad Zeta" within the Matamoros Police, led by El Coss, I wonder whether this served as inspiration for the group's name.

      Another early mention of the group dates back to October 2001. In a newspaper, Jaime Morales Navarro, also known as Jaimito and/or El Nene, is reported to have collaborated with a "Zetas" cell of the CDG.

      This arrest was a month after Z-2 Betancourt. After November 2001 authorities confirmed the existence of Los Zetas.

    6. I think I know exactly what it is
      It was explained to me long time say 20+ yrs ago in miguel aleman right after Don Zefe era/his escape

      Guys like Lazca had codigos that they recieved after gafe training that ended up like Z3-HK22
      I think im messing it up somehwere on the sequence though but its pretty close

      Zeta was the radio call and ID of the operator/soldier
      HK was the firearms and courses per gafe training they were qualified/profecient/trained speciality as Gafes

      Mamito was something like Z7-HK31
      Z7- ID of the zeta
      HK 31 - The cursos they specialized trained and got qualified in as gafes

      After they deserted & worked for OCG they just used the same radio id they used as soldados.
      They didn't all get the Same exact training as they were gafes hence why the zeta radio codes differ a little amongst all of em

      Think Lazca was actually a Cabo in Gafe, which is pretty good as they never let soldados razos or non affiliated guys move up
      Means he actually had skill, he probably had 4-5 soldados that would report to him
      Z1 was a completely other beast tho from what I was told
      Would mutilate guerillas back in gafe as a soldado
      Lazca became more than him tho, but out of the military/civillian life

      I never knew much of Z1
      But Z3 was skinny & normal back in early 2000s before ocg capture
      You'd see him alone all the time and wearing all black
      Usually visiting puteros in Moros/Mty after doing osiels errands
      He was pretty scary already then tho
      All business, he didnt get along with guys like Coss/Meme Loco they treated him like justa guardia/soldado
      Little would they know

      I wanna say I'm about 80% right on zeta radio codes

      Anyone else care to clarify?

    7. Back in 98 and 99 los Amezcua de piedras negras brought los zetas to clean la plaza for them alot ppl in piedras knew that the grupo existed or had heard of a grupo from matamoros had arrived kill los de Sinaloa

  9. I do not believe they were surprised just like that. They have said Z1 was a pain in the ass and he will close the entire street when he was there. He was an asshole. But if he was executed I’m ok with that. He was a murderer so is ok in my book.

    1. Que ha sido de la mamá de la novia de Zeta Uno? La Angelica Lagunes Jaramillo?

    2. Esta en la carcel todavia

    3. Si y luego la hija (esposa de z1) la mataron junto con esa cantante Saida Pena no?
      Me acuerdo que era un hotel se me have El Monaco en moros

      Los Z hasta la tuvieron que rematar en el hospital tambien por wue no su murio a la cantante

      Alguien sabe por que las mataron a pos 2???
      Esposa de Z1 y Saida Pena
      Era como en los 2007

    4. 9:50 - There's no proof that it was the Zetas who killed Gonzalez Lagunes. The police suspects it may have been her ex lover who was from Texas since the descriptions of the assassin and the vehicle he was driving match.

  10. Damn i see his mata amigos nickname served him well , prob thats why the zetas broke from el golfo

  11. Las dos ciudades más pesadas de Tamaulipas son Matamoros y Miguel Alemán. Donde nacieron los del Golfo y Los Zetas.

    1. Los zetas fueron hechos en matamoros. Miguel aleman no tiene nada que ver

    2. Los Zetas nacieron en MA si cuentas la era de Don Zefe y El June como el verdadero "inicio".

    3. @ 8:19
      Si muy bien, era la idea del mero chingon Don Zefe
      Que empleaba a z1/z3 y abajo de el al mentado M3
      Zefe trabaja junto y al mando de El Cebezon/Meme Loco hasta su arresto y luego subio por que lo encerraron
      Meme se ponia muy loco que osiel le dio Karis pa que lo cuidaba
      Y ni asi le ayudo haha
      Pinche Meme era viejon pero pal pericaso que si le pegaba

    4. 9:44 - Don Zefe huyó del país después de que trataron de matarlo en el 2001.

  12. Damm great article Morogris!!! Thank you and keep up the amazing work you all do!!

  13. So the restaurant is owned by the woman that was kidnapped by zetas early on because I think she sold drugs independently, if I remember correctly? Then she marries/dates Omar Lormendez Pitalúa, a high ranking Zeta, which in itself is a strange turn of events.

    Then the zetas are known to be regulars at the restaurant, they know the restaurant is owned by the wife of a zeta. If this assassination was an internal matter and the zetas, ordered to by Osiel, kill their leader Z1, then it would seem strange to me that they would also threaten and try to kill the wife of another high ranking Zeta member?

    Just brainstorming here, but that would seem like a weird course of action. But I also can't imagine the cops that killed Z1 to not be corrupt as I am not familiar with 'real' cops using ski masks when assassinating someone. What other criminal group could have enough pull here to corrupt cops or pull of such a brazen attack.

    Additionally, the story being covered up does point towards the assassination being an internal settling of scores.

  14. I think it's just a coincidence about Unidad Zetas and the "zetas". It has been widely reported they derived their name from the radio call signs.

    1. Yes, that's one strong version too. Other sources suggest that the term "Zeta" may have originated from the color "Azul zeta" (deep cobalt blue), the uniform color of some old GAFEs.

      The challenge with these assertions is that they are not "contemporary sources" during the birth era of Los Zetas (1996-1999). While the mention of Unidad Zeta is intriguing, it by no means serves as conclusive evidence regarding the origin of the group's name.

  15. What do you think about Chocotorro’s statements on his YouTube videos that Z3 turned the Zetas into something that Z1 wouldn’t have recognized/approved of (aka traffickers rather than a small elite enforcement/protection cell)? Any chance Z3 worked with Osiel to remove Z1 and take over Los Z?

    1. His videos are gone now cant find his channel either
      They didnt lasta week

      Wonder who told him something as he was very open mentioning a lot of Zs

      FGR probably got on his ass quickkk

    2. Does anyone have a saved or archived version of the youtube videos? I've only just now heard about this and as 8:50 stated, his videos are now private/deleted.

    3. 8:50 his channel is still up. It's called Gafe Coleccionista.

    4. Shit sucks I really wanted to know more from him regarding El Chuta and other Zetas.. He had actually replied to me saying he'll talk about all that in new videos and his book. I hope you guys at BB can uncover more inforation regarding Chuta and other Zetas. Great article!

    5. @ 3:56
      His channelss still up....
      But all videos of Z's/Gafe stuff is Goneee

      Like @ 8:50 said they probably told him something maybe even threatened him

      He mentioned pretty personal things
      I remember him saying el alvin z2 liked the beretta 9mm model rhink 92
      So he fondly remembers these guys
      He mentioned lazca mamito chuta priscilliano yepis etc
      And I didnt wven watch all his videos just 1

    6. @9:41 did he said anything about Luis Alberto Guerrero Reyes?

  16. Very good read. Zeta stories are always of top interest. Thanks MX

  17. Does anybody know how or why Z-1's girlfriend Ana Bertha got murdered? Was she still involved in cartel stuff? Who killed her? I can't find anything on the net. Anybody have links to her story? Thanks.

    1. The Wikipedia article for Omar Lorméndez Pitalúa mentions the murder of a certain "Ana Bertha Gonzalez".

    2. That is correct 4:27. I wrote that Wikipedia page several years ago. Ana Bertha was murdered in 2007 along Zayda Peña and a motel staff.

      Both of them were publicly friends, but the police stated that they were dating in secret.

      There's a whole chapter about Peña's murder in the book "Que me entierren con narcocorridos" by Edmundo Perez. Happy to provide more info if you need it.

    3. Morogris, wow. Thanks.

    4. this video is about zayda pena, its all spanish and no subs available, so i dont know but maybe there is some info in it.

  18. I used to think more information would come out as the fear slowly subsided, from the people who really lived that time when their name was like a curse. The problem is that the people who survived or dealt with them have absolutely no reason to tell anybody the truth. Z1s kid finally forced Google to stop showing Flanders, and I spoke to people in Nuevo Laredo- an old lawyer and a police captain with a bullet in his side, a decade ago now, who said they wouldn't say a word about anything until their grandchildren are grown, then check my safe, or dig for papers in the fields behind my house, and they laughed. But they meant it too, I think. The more time goes by the more people will lose their fear of telling the truth, but it will be like a dream you can't quite remember by that point, told through folk tales and rumours.
    Great stuff though Morogris.

    1. So true, thanks for sharing. It's also sad to see websites from the early 2000s die out. There used to be a lot of info on the old Zetas in El Universal and in the PGR's former website. Most of it is gone.

      Time is also taking its toll on local archives. The newspapers are literally deteriorating, and one has to manually sift through them as none of this content is photo-scanned or searchable through a device.

      Some of the pictures of Juan N. Guerra, for example, were ripped from newspapers from the 50s through 80s. And also from Z-2... but the search continues.

  19. Que no había confesado un Zeta que está en la cárcel que Osiel lo había mandado matar

    1. te acuerdas del nombre o quizas la epoca? 9:51

  20. That was very good read, with a lot names and more details to look after.
    Thank you guys.

  21. Always been rumoured the zetas took him out themselves el hummer was speculated as the one behind it he saw decena as a liability due to excessive alcohol and drug use and most did not like him in the group don't know if true


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