MEXICO CITY, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- Mexican drug cartel boss Heriberto Lazcano, who evaded police in life, eluded them in death with his body stolen from a funeral home, authorities said Tuesday.
Officials in Coahuila state said an armed commando unit took the Zetas cartel leader's body Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported. Mexican navy officials said Lazcano, known as The Executioner, was killed along with another man, Mario Alberto Rodriguez, in a battle with a special forces patrol in the northern Mexican state Sunday, the newspaper said.
Coahuila state prosecutor Homero Ramos told reporters the owner of the Garcia funeral home called to say armed commandos, "faces covered and well-guarded, showed up, overpowered the personnel and took away the bodies in a hearse from the funeral home, forcing the owner to drive it."
State prosecutors and navy officials said they had collected enough evidence from the body, including fingerprints, to confirm it was that of Lazcano, the Los Angeles newspaper said.
The New York Times reported Coahuila state prosecutor Homero Ramos said the body snatchers put the remains of Lazcano and Rodriguez in a hearse and forced the funeral home director to drive it away.
The newspaper said the episode was embarrassing for authorities as they assert they have been making major inroads in controlling drug traffickers.
The shootout in which Lazcano died occurred along a highway south of Piedras Negras, a border city across the Rio Grande from Eagle Pass, Texas, the San Antonio (Texas) Express-News reported Tuesday. Mexican naval personnel on patrol in vehicles were attacked by gunmen armed with grenades and firearms in another vehicle, CNN reported. One naval service member sustained non-life-threatening injuries and two attackers were killed, the navy said.
Grupo Savant, an intelligence and security firm in Washington that tracks the drug war, said it had received confirmation of Lazcano's death as well.
"Grupo Savant sources in Mexico indicate that Mexican navy forces have killed Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano," a spokesman said. "Mexican authorities ... confirmed through scientific means that Lazcano was among the persons killed."
Reports of Lazcano's death came soon after the Mexican government announced the arrest of Alfonso Martinez Escobedo, 31, accused of participating in some of the most horrific killings in northern Mexico, including the massacre of hundreds in a rural area in northeastern Mexico and the killing of a U.S. tourist on Falcon Lake on the Mexican side of a reservoir on the Rio Grande, the Express-News reported.
Lazcano, a former Mexican special forces soldier, was an original member of Zetas, which includes former members of the Mexican military's special air group. At first, Zetas was an assassin squad for the Gulf Cartel, but it split in 2010 and began fighting a gruesome, deadly turf battle along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Lazcano, for whom the U.S. State Department offered a $5 million reward, had been reported captured or dead before.
Concerning the Saturday capture of Martinez, nicknamed "The Squirrel," navy spokesman Vice Adm. Jose Luis Vergara tied the alleged field commander of the Zetas cartel to a string of crimes, including the 2010 execution of 72 migrants in the northern state of Tamaulipas and two prison breaks, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Vergara also identified Martinez, 31, a confidant of Miguel Angel Trevino, another Zetas leader.
Vergara said Martinez was "presumed responsible" for the possible death of Colorado native David Hartley, 30, who disappeared Sept. 30, 2010, during an outing on Falcon Lake. His body has not been found.