Rafael Aguilar Guajardo, a former federal police officer and one of Mexico's most-wanted drug traffickers, was shot to death while vacationing with his family in the Caribbean resort of Cancun, officials confirmed Wednesday.
An American tourist from Colorado also was killed in the attack in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo. She apparently was walking by at the time of the shooting and was caught in the automatic gunfire.
Aguilar, a 43-year-old multimillionaire, allegedly controlled narcotics trafficking in the central U.S.-Mexico border area.
He is believed to have headed the so-called Juarez Cartel, one of the country's most powerful trafficking organizations and the one that had smuggled into the United States the 21 tons of cocaine confiscated from a Sylmar, Calif., warehouse in 1989.
Although Quintana Roo has become an important landing area for South American cocaine shipments headed for the United States, authorities believe Aguilar was vacationing rather than doing business in Cancun.
The flamboyant fugitive, who was supposed to have been in hiding, reportedly spent Easter weekend with 15 members of his family at a five-star hotel in the popular resort.
Aguilar was gunned down late Monday afternoon as he returned from a submarine tour with family members. He was shot outside of Gypsys Restaurant on the city's tourist strip.
Tourist Georgina Knafel, 32, of Nederland, Colo., was the other victim.
"She apparently had nothing to do with the victim or the assailants," said Gerardo Amaro Betancourt, assistant state attorney general.
Aguilar's wife, Maria Teresa Delgado Varela, 35, and son, 11, were wounded in the attack.
Police arrested three suspects fleeing by car on a highway leading out of Cancun. According to Mexican newspapers, they have confessed that they were hired to assassinate Aguilar. Police confiscated from the suspects an AR-15 submachine gun that had fired 19 rounds, plus several other guns and grenades.
One of the alleged gunmen carried police credentials from the state of Morelos; the other two are residents of Baja California. U.S. officials say they have no records on the suspects.
"We assume this was a contract hit by other traffickers," said a U.S. source who asked not to be identified by name.
Aguilar supposedly had been on the run since last June, when police confiscated a $3-million house belonging to him in Ciudad Juarez. The house was surrounded by an 18-foot-high wall with lookout stations and solid steel garage doors.
Police just missed Aguilar in the raid. He had the neighborhood covered with his own guards who tipped him to approaching police.
"Aguilar probably has a lot more people working for him than the police have working for them," Travis Kuykendall, special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration office in El Paso said in an interview last year.
Police also confiscated a luxury vacation house from Aguilar in Acapulco with 20 suites, salt-water and fresh-water swimming pools and a dock with two 60-foot yachts.
Aguilar's brother-in-law, Rafael Munoz Talavera, and Eduardo Munoz Talavera were arrested in 1991 on trafficking charges stemming from the Sylmar raid. But Mexican police only issued a warrant for Aguilar last month, and he had been spotted several times in Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana and San Diego.