One of the biggest summer movies this year is "Public Enemies," starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale in the story of how the FBI caught (okay, killed) bank robber John Dillinger in 1934. While still exciting, those gangster-laden days were 75 years ago. In recent years, there's been a lot more gangster action in South Texas than in the Midwest. Someday movies will be written about it - perhaps the story of the baddest bad dude of them all, Fred Gomez Carrasco.
Like John Dillinger, Fred Carrasco started out as a punk - but it didn't take him long to learn what it took to be in the big leagues. In Fred's case, it was killing people early and often. Fred was put in an American jail at an early age, violated parole and was later was put in a Mexican jail. Once he escaped from that, he was a drug business murder machine.
The general public heard of Fred in April of 1973, when a $3,000 reward was offered for information that would lead to his arrest. It seems Fred was the likely suspect in the "gangland slaying" of Gilbert Escobedo at the Bustamante Ice House on Pearsall Road. Somebody certainly wanted Escobedo dead - he was shot four times by two different guns. Three grand would just about buy a new car in '73, but the question was who would live long enough to drive that fine new vehicle if they did rat Fred out? Both police and sheriff's officers called Fred "extremely dangerous," and "allegedly in charge of one of the biggest narcotics rings in the country." They added that Fred had been seen in several cafes in south Bexar County accompanied by two bodyguards - as if Fred needed them.
On June 7 of that year, as the rest of the world was concerned with the Watergate scandal, Fred was paying off old debts - in lead. Richard Garcez and David Garcia were each shot in the head in an isolated part of south Bexar County by someone wielding a large-caliber weapon (they were found in a perfectly-preserved classic 1930s car - "perfect" except that it was on its roof). Sheriff's deputies not only knew it was Carrasco, they'd known for months the two were at the top of Fred's hit list. Both had moved in on Fred's drug sales territory when Carrasco was in the Mexican calabozo, not thinking he might escape. Oops. Fred had a list of a dozen men who he believed deserved death, officers said. By June 8, five had been killed in Bexar County, two were in prison and the rest were "still running and hiding," according to Detective Lieutenant Alfred Carreon.
But knowing Fred did it and catching Fred were two different things. He was finally run to ground on July 21 of 1973 at the El Tejas Motel on Roosevelt on the South Side. After a couple of hours of stakeout, police watched a Carrasco-connected car pull up in front of room 10. When Fred walked out, police moved in. He got off one shot and missed, and police fired at him, striking his arm and knocking the gun, a brand-new .357 Magnum, out of his hand. Police later described Carrasco as "the most dangerous man the San Antonio Police Department has ever captured." Carrasco was wearing an expensive suit and custom boots that had a compartment for extra ammunition. Police had no doubt he would have kept shooting if the gun had not been physically separated from him, and if his wife had not been behind him in the motel room (for all that can be said against him, Fred wasn't a cheater).
The wheels of justice usually grind slowly, but they sped up for Fred. His murder trial was scheduled to start on January 7, 1974 in Corpus Christi (on a change of venue). Fred surprised most everyone by pleading guilty - a deal made to keep his wife out of prison. The prosecution had wisely set Rosa Carrasco's trial for Corpus on the same day, and a jury was being chosen for her as Fred pled guilty. The sentence? Life, retroactive to the day he was arrested. The report in the San Antonio News pointed out that he might qualify for parole in 15 to 20 years.
But Fred certainly wasn't going to wait that long. Next week, a look at what he did in prison that got the whole world's attention.