Things That Matter

A Man Didn’t Like How Slow Mexican Authorities Were Investigating So He Solved His Father’s Murder

The most intense true crime stories seem to follow an unlikely plotline: someone goes missing, the authorities fail to follow up, and a friend or relative of the victim vows to solve the crime—to avenge them with the justice they deserve. Although this type of vigilante justice seems most believable in fictional situations, the truth is that it can absolutely happen IRL. And when Juan Carlos Quiroz’s father went missing in 2017, Quiroz became the protagonist of his own harrowing true-crime tale.

Quiroz’s father disappeared in the spring of 2017. As a retired middle school principal, Albino Quiroz Sandoval spent lots of time at his home in Tepoztlán, Morelos—so it seemed strange when he did not return that afternoon after running an errand at a hardware store nearby. When his family searched through the small mountain town, they eventually found his car abandoned about a mile from the store. They assumed that he had been kidnapped, as more than 40,000 people are currently registered as “missing” in Mexico, and this type of situation is not exactly of as national homicide rates continue to rise.

Quiroz aimed to file a missing person’s report the next day, but bureaucracy held him up, requiring him to visit four separate government offices over the course of 12 hours.

Credit: Unsplash

In spite of the sluggish administrative process, police dispatched a single officer to investigate. But the officer returned to the state capital of Cuernavaca with no information. As hours passed without any leads, it became evident that Sandoval was not the victim of a random kidnapping. And due to Mexico’s notoriously ineffectual justice system (in Mexico, only 5 percent of killings end in a conviction, and just last year, the conviction rate in Morelos was less than 1%), Quiroz realized that he not only had to face the source of his father’s disappearance—he also had to deal with an incredibly difficult legal system.

Understanding the tenuous situation his family was in, Quiroz opted to take matters into his own hands. “I realized that it wasn’t my job to grieve,” he said. “I had to look for answers, or I wasn’t going to get any.” 

So just two days after his father had disappeared, Quiroz paced the streets of Tepoztlán, visiting shop after shop in search of surveillance footage that might lead him in the right direction. He later found out that the police hadn’t even checked for this type of evidence—evidence that would end up being pivotal to solving the mystery of what happened to his father.

One video showed Sandoval leaving the hardware store that he’d originally set out for, driving in the opposite direction of his home. Later that night, the family heard rumors that Sandoval had been lending money to a man named Juan Carlos Reyes Lara—a local attorney who claimed that his daughter was in the hospital—and that Sandoval and Reyes had gotten into an altercation about money on the day of his disappearance.

Witnesses had observed this altercation and reported it to local police, but no action was taken. When Quiroz approached the police for more information, they barely acknowledged the event, though one officer did give Quiroz the name of a witness who had reported the incident.

Eventually, the witness shared his story with The Los Angeles Times, saying, “We all want the system to change. But if you don’t do your part, it will never happen.”

Credit: Unsplash

Two weeks later, police apprehended Reyes in his home on charges of kidnapping. But while this seemed like a small victory, the next steps were incredibly frustrating for Quiroz and his family. In a preliminary court hearing, prosecutors failed to mention that they had an eyewitness account for Sandoval’s beating. Ultimately, one prosecutor told Quiroz’s family that it would be best to avoid a trial and instead try to negotiate a deal with Reyes, which would require him to pay the family restitution without admitting guilt.

Desperate for further assistance, Quiroz sought help from a human rights group, which ended up connecting him with a lawyer named Efraín Márquez Dur’án. Márquez was all too familiar with the corruption of Mexico’s justice system, and he took on Quiroz’s case con gusto, eager to meet to challenge of making the state to do its job—which, let it be known, he did.

After a year of news conferences and meetings with officials, Marquez lobbied for a new prosecutor to be assigned to the case—a prosecutor who believed Reyes should be charged for kidnapping with intent to harm.

Credit: Unsplash

In seven days of hearings, held over a three-week period, 22 witnesses and experts testified, leading to a guilty verdict. Reyes was ultimately sentenced to 50 years in prison—a partial justice for Quiroz and his family, who plan to continue fighting for Mexico’s justice system to overcome its toxic corruption.

“I think it’s our only option to escape the cruelty of the violence that we’re living,” he said. “We have to be able to come together again as members of the same community and make the criminals responsible for their actions.” 

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