Mexican police say a man jailed for drunken behavior hung himself in his cell, but the forensic evidence points to murder.
The town of Rosarito Beach, Mexico, lies only 25 miles south of San Diego, California, just below Tijuana. It’s known for its beautiful sunsets and romantic beaches. That’s why two Los Angeles couples headed there one summer weekend in June of 1992. But their vacation soon turned into a deadly nightmare. Less than 24 hours after arrival, one of them, Mario Amado, was arrested after a fight with his girlfriend. Two hours later, he was dead. The local authorities claimed that he committed suicide. His brother, Joe Amado, thinks differently:
“I say it was murder, plain murder, and I knew that from the beginning, because I know my brother very well. They stole his life away from him. And we’re going to get to the bottom of this.”
Mario and Joe Amado arrived in Rosarito Beach at 1:00 A.M. on June 6, 1992, ready to party. Mario’s girlfriend, whom we’ll call Paula, provided the condo. Joe and his girlfriend, Debbie, were just happy to be invited.
The two couples quickly broke out the tequila. They partied through the night, and around 4:00 A.M., Joe and Debbie went to bed. They awoke at around 7 A.M. to find Mario and Paula still awake, arguing. Mario told Joe and Debbie that he wanted to go home. Debbie was worried:
“I felt very disturbed, because I know Mario liked this girl very much, and he wouldn’t have wanted to leave if it wasn’t something serious.”
By late the next morning, Mario and Paula had apparently made up. It was the last time Joe would see his brother alive:
“I can still remember the expression on his face. He seemed very happy, like nothing was wrong.”
That afternoon, Joe and Debbie took a long romantic drive along the coast. Meanwhile, back at the condo, Mario and Paula got in another heated argument on the front porch. Police soon arrived at the scene. Mario was arrested for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, and taken to the police station. He was placed in a holding cell, but was never formally charged with a crime.
At around 6:30 P.M., Joe and Debbie returned to the beach house. To their surprise, nobody was home, and there was no key under the mat. A housekeeper explained that there had been trouble a few hours earlier.
Debbie crawled through a window to get inside the condo. Almost immediately, four police officers from Tijuana showed up. They asked for Paula by name. Debbie was immediately suspicious:
“A little later, Mario’s girlfriend comes just waltzing in the house. Like nothing was wrong. We asked her where Mario was. She said she didn’t know.”
Two hours after Paula returned, a group of detectives arrived looking for a relative of Mario’s. Joe still had no idea that his brother had been arrested. The detectives informed him that his brother Mario was dead.
“I was hoping they had made a mistake and I was just in disbelief that this could be happening.”
Detectives took Joe to identify Mario’s body. When he got there, he noticed that Mario was not wearing a shirt. The detectives claimed that Mario used his shirt to kill himself. Joe didn’t believe it:
“I’m said, ‘Oh no, you can’t kill yourself with a sweater.’ So I asked, ‘Wasn’t anybody in the jail that would have stopped him from doing this?’ He said ‘No, they were all sleeping.’ Four guys sleeping at 5:30 in the afternoon? I just couldn’t believe that.”
Mario Amado died three months before his 30th birthday. The Mexican authorities refused to release his body until after their autopsy. Joe was forced to return to the United States without his brother. Within a week, the Mexican autopsy was complete. It listed the cause of death as “a loss of oxygen to the brain,” the result of Mario hanging himself. Joe believed that was ridiculous and contacted Congressman Howard Berman, who did some digging:
“The Mexican autopsy confirmed the report of the jailers in Tijuana, that Mario Amado had hung himself with his own sweater. This is the oldest excuse for a jail murder, that the prisoner hung himself.”
As soon as Mario’s body was returned to the United States, Joe hired a pathologist to do a second autopsy. This examination revealed internal injuries to Mario’s liver, strong evidence he had been punched in the upper abdomen. The report stated that with such injuries, “the victim would not likely have been able to hang himself.”
Ultimately, the Los Angeles County coroner reviewed both the American and Mexican autopsy reports. He determined that Mario Amado had probably been murdered. There is another disturbing aspect to this case. Mexican authorities violated International agreements by not contacting the U.S. consulate as quickly as possible following Mario’s death. Congressman Berman suspected a cover up:
“The people involved in this incident did not want authorities coming quickly to the scene of the crime. They wanted the period of time to elapse. They hoped that Joe Amado would forget about it, that his brother was dead, and that he’d go back to the United States and drop the whole issue.”
Joe Amado remains determined to find the person or persons behind his brother’s death.
Congressman Berman wrote to the President of Mexico and eventually got the case opened. Mario’s body was exhumed. This time, a new autopsy found enough evidence to call the death a murder. Soon after, a Mexican police officer was arrested, tried and convicted of Mario’s murder. However, his conviction was overturned four months later and he was released.
To date there are no new suspects and the case is still unsolved.