This month's capture in Mexico of an elusive drug lord revived a decades-old trauma for two daughters of a slain Minnesota writer who fear that he could again evade justice for their father's murder — even while in custody.
Rafael Caro Quintero, one of Mexico's most powerful drug bosses, had long been the target of American authorities for his connection to the killing of DEA agent Enrique Camarena in 1985. But Caro Quintero is also linked to the torture and murder that same year of John Clay Walker, a Minnesota writer who was in Mexico doing research for a novel when he and a friend were killed.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who wants Caro Quintero extradited to the United States to face charges, mentioned only Camarena's name when hailing Caro Quintero's capture this month. Now, Walker's daughters — Lannie and Keely Walker — are on a mission to add their father's name to the charges Caro Quintero could face in the U.S.
"Our dad was a writer, was following his dream of writing a novel. Sadly, his own life and death became part of a storyline played out on a TV series," said Lannie Walker, now 46, in an interview this week, referring to the depiction of her father's brutal killing on the Netflix series "Narcos: Mexico." "But it is important to remember that Quintero is not a fictional character. He is a real-life criminal, a vicious murderer who should not be glamorized. His crimes have left a trail of many victims who are still hurting like our family."
They are appealing to federal law enforcement leaders and U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith to not forget their father in the effort to bring to justice a cartel leader who already escaped Mexican authorities once in 2013.
"This was a horrific murder," Klobuchar said in a statement Friday. "I have long advocated for the safety of journalists around the world. The Justice Department and other relevant law enforcement agencies should investigate all crimes committed by Caro Quintero, including this one. There must be accountability."
Walker, then 36, and friend Alberto Radelat, a dental student from Texas, visited a Guadalajara seafood restaurant on the night of their deaths in January 1985. They were unaware that Caro Quintero was holding a private party in the restaurant. Caro Quintero and his associates, believing the two Americans to be drug enforcement agents, tortured the men with ice picks for hours before wrapping them in carpet and burying the men at a nearby park. Their bodies were found nearly five months later.
"When your father is murdered in such a brutal way it creates a lifelong trauma for those left behind," said Lannie Walker, who was 8 at the time of her father's death and now lives in Florida.
Following her father, Lannie earned a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota and established a career in the field. She describes a nearly 40-year mourning process for her and her sister, made worse by reminders that their father would never be able to meet his granddaughters. She remembered her father for his sense of humor and imagination: "He made everything fun for us as children."
Mike Vigil, the DEA's former chief of international operations, told the Associated Press last week that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration had a special focus on Caro Quintero and his associates for murdering an agent, adding that "we will hunt these people down to the end of the Earth and not spare any expenditure, any resources or any activity that we have to do to get the job done."
Walker has a brother, Paul Walker, still living in Minnesota and his mother, Florence Walker, died last year after living in Edina for 50 years. Lannie Walker said Florence never recovered from the loss of her son. Walker nearly died serving in Vietnam, his daughter said, and he is buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
"The U.S. government has an obligation to do everything within its power to bring his killer to justice," she added.
Walker's other daughter, Keely Walker, 47 and living in Georgia, wrote to Klobuchar and Smith seeking "assistance in pressuring the U.S. Justice Department to expand their call-to-action to include the prosecution of Caro Quintero for the homicide of my father."
"I invite you to consider for a few moments what it has been like to have my father ripped from my life and my little sister's life, at 10 and 8 years old respectively, and to spend the subsequent 37 years living without any real justice," she wrote. "But to also leaf through newspaper headline after newspaper headline, TV mini-series after mini-series ... and press release after press release ... condemning the criminal exploits of Quintero but rarely, if ever, seeing my father's name in the copy or context."
A spokesperson for Smith confirmed this week that "our office has been in contact with John Clay Walker's daughter and will work with her to inquire with the Department of Justice on her father's case."
Walker is named as a victim in a federal indictment from 1991 out of California. His family believes he should also be named in a 2017 indictment out of New York. His two daughters are seeking a victims rights attorney to aid their search for justice, Lannie Walker said.
"We feel for the Camarena family, but our dad's life was important, too, and the U.S. Department of Justice needs to make him a priority as well," she said.
A U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment beyond Garland's July 15 statement on the arrest of Caro Quintero, citing the ongoing extradition process.
Caro Quintero was one of the primary suppliers of heroin, cocaine, and marijuana to the United States in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He was first sentenced in Mexico in connection with Camarena's killing and that of a Mexican pilot in 1985. But he has been linked to the killings of a half-dozen U.S. citizens around the same time.
In 2013, Caro Quintero walked out of prison on a Mexican appeals court decision that was later overturned. By then, he had returned to drug trafficking — recently getting into the deadly fentanyl trade.
Mexican authorities intend to extradite Caro Quintero. His lawyers signaled through their court filings that the extradition process will be drawn out and it could be many months before he is seen in a U.S. courtroom.
"When he was released nearly a decade ago, it was like a punch in the gut for our family. Now that Quintero has been captured again, we are tentatively hopeful he could face justice here in the U.S.," Lannie Walker said. "We are not naïve about how the Mexican judicial system works or how Quintero's lawyers will fight an extradition, but we hope the U.S. will prevail in bringing him here to face a very long overdue punishment."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.