MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen. Coming up, a look at the darker side of holiday movies.

BRAND: But first, Mexico is being torn apart by drug violence and kidnappings, and the man behind a lot of it is a crime boss that thousands of police officers and soldiers can't seem to find, but who is unleashing a reign of terror in Tijuana. He's a man who is reportedly fond of dissolving his enemies in acid and of keeping kidnapping victims in cages around the city. Four hundred people have been killed there in just the last three months in a drug war, a war that the crime boss has allegedly directed. Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Marosi is here now with more. He's been covering this man, and tell us, who is he?

Mr. RICHARD MAROSI (Staff Writer, Los Angeles Times): His name is Teodoro Garcia Simental, and his nickname is El Teo, or Tres Letras for the first three letters in his shortened name. And around Tijuana, he cuts quite an intimidating figure. Lots of folks are very frightened of this man, even though not much is known about him aside from his murderous killing spree that was launched roughly in late September.

BRAND: So, how did he become so powerful and so feared?

Mr. MAROSI: Well, he started out as a lieutenant in the existing organization called the Arellano Felix Cartel, and he became known as one of the head of the key kidnapping cells and grew powerful and rich that way. And at certain point, there was a rift between him and the leader of the Arellano Felix Cartel, who wanted him to cut back on the number of kidnappings, because he was just running amok, kidnapping doctors and influential political figures, and was bringing down too much heat on their traditional trafficking, drug-trafficking activities. So, in April, they had a big shootout down there in an expressway in eastern Tijuana where 14 people were killed, and that pretty much triggered the rift, and then later in September, when Dale(ph) returned from Sinaloa, the wider war.

BRAND: And is this a war primarily to control the drug trade?

Mr. MAROSI: To control the drug trade and, basically, for the heart and soul and the pockets of the police department and the crucial protection that these criminals need to operate all of their criminal activity, be it drug-trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, whatever. Teodoro Garcia Simental is not known as a major drug-trafficker, ironically. He built his wealth through kidnapping. So, what we're seeing in Tijuana is a new breed of criminal down there that the government wasn't counting on. They were attacking the drug-trafficking organizations, but a lot of these organizations have mutated into bigger organized-crime groups that focus on - and other criminal activity as well.

BRAND: So, Richard, why can - or maybe I should say, why won't - authorities find Simental and arrest him?

Mr. MAROSI: Part of the reason is he's protected by the many people in the police department who act as his lookouts, his drivers, his hitmen; and another reason is fear. A lot of cops are scared to death of this man. He's killed numerous, numerous police officers, on up to the deputy chief. He has all their telephone numbers; he has all their addresses; he makes threats directly. So, he strikes fear in the hearts of good people trying to catch him down there. Right now, his most potent enemy is probably General Duarte. He's the top ranking military commander in Tijuana who is going after him as best he can. But he's limited on how he could do it. Though he has a lot of manpower, they're not mobile for the type of urban net warfare necessary to capture a guy like Teodoro Garcia Simental, who cruises around the city in these convoys of very fast-moving vehicles, as opposed to the military that are on their big clunky Hummers, 10, 12 soldiers at a time. So, they're not having much luck tracking him down.

BRAND: How dangerous is it, then, for people who are not involved in the drug war and Mexicans and Americans in Tijuana?

Mr. MAROSI: For folks who aren't involved in the drug war, who aren't dealing drugs, haven't been touched - although there have been a lot of innocent victims out there in some of the eastern neighborhoods of Tijuana; it is affecting everyday life down there, especially folks who live in the eastern part of the city, where they come across, you know, crime scenes pretty regularly, gruesome displays of beheaded bodies. A lot of these bodies turn up - are tossed outside of schools sometimes, in parks, playing fields, things like that. So, most of the people dying are somehow connected to drug dealing or the drug cartels.

BRAND: Richard, thank you.

Mr. MAROSI: You're welcome.

BRAND: That's Richard Marosi of the Los Angeles Times, and we've been talking about one of Mexico's most ruthless crime bosses, Teodoro Garcia Simental. Again, Richard, thanks.

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BRAND: Stay with us. NPR's Day to Day continues.

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