The Art of Ordeal

Kidnaped, tortured and nearly killed in a Mexican hellhole, a Phoenix entrepreneur wants to teach others about the perils of doing business south of the border

Kidnapings are relatively rare in sleepy little Reynosa. FBI spokesmen in McAllen, Texas, say there are one or two a year in that region, usually having cross-border implications because of the drug trade.

In that way, Krusensterna's case was an exception. But he felt that it could still be a cautionary tale for Americans doing business in Mexico.

He has only just started his consulting business, with a handful of lectures lined up, in which he will recount his ordeal for interested midlevel managers, then tell them things they should know but probably don't. Don't tell people why you're in Mexico, for example. Don't cut a flashy figure. Watch the cabs you get into. Don't drive at night, and so on.

Gabriela Leyva's house, where Ken Krusensterna was kidnapped
Gabriela Leyva's house, where Ken Krusensterna was kidnapped
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Olademis Gabriela Leyva Ortiz was a silent partner in Krusensterna's trucking business.

Johnny Alexandre Pedroza Bautista, alleged kidnaper for hire.

Alfredo Torres Zumaya, the alleged ringleader of the kidnap plot.

Elvia Ortiz de Leyva, Gabriela Leyva's mother. She was initially implicated in the kidnap plot but charges were dropped.
Top To Bottom:

Olademis Gabriela Leyva Ortiz was a silent partner in Krusensterna's trucking business.

Johnny Alexandre Pedroza Bautista, alleged kidnaper for hire.

Alfredo Torres Zumaya, the alleged ringleader of the kidnap plot.

Elvia Ortiz de Leyva, Gabriela Leyva's mother. She was initially implicated in the kidnap plot but charges were dropped.

He's written a book, Terror in Mexico,which he published himself. It comes out next week. There are some scant how-to-stay-out-of-trouble-in-Mexico chapters tacked on. But mostly it's an account of his harrowing captivity, though it reads less like autobiography than an attempt to write his way out of any number of bad decisions.

There's a popular tee shirt sold in Mexican resort towns: "What happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico." It seems to apply to legal documents and straight stories as well. Krusensterna is not crystal clear about some things, in person or in print. He doesn't know for sure what happened to his captors.

The FBI thinks that two men went to prison but that Leyva and her mother, who was also apparently involved, went free. Because the kidnap took place in Mexico, the FBI agents have not investigated it. Their job was to help free a U.S. citizen, and they accomplished that task. The perpetrators, however, were beyond the FBI's jurisdiction, and so once they got Ken Krusensterna past the border, they had no reason to pursue the case further.

Besides, everything becomes mythology in Mexico. The Mexican police commander who investigated Krusensterna's case has moved on, and so have the news reporters who wrote about it. New Times sent two Mexican reporters and one American to get the court records, but none could shake them loose.

Krusensterna remembers bleeding casualties after the cops rescued him, but there is no mention of those in the Mexican press accounts or the FBI's recollection of conversations with Mexican authorities.

There are recollections suggesting that Krusensterna had been romantically involved with Gabriela Leyva. The Mexican papers claimed they'd carried on for three years, which Krusensterna denies vehemently. And Krusensterna's business associates in Texas and Mexico say they didn't pick up on any inappropriate relationship between the two. Still, Krusensterna cannot adequately explain where this attractive 26-year-old woman came from. One FBI agent had heard from Mexican police that she came from a gentlemen's club in Reynosa, but he couldn't vouch for that information.

This story has been put together from a wealth of sources, none of them unimpeachable. If some of it seems fuzzy, it's because it is.


Ken Krusensterna now lives in one of those Valley neighborhoods where there are still saguaro cactus that weren't planted by landscapers. He'd rather keep the exact location secret, because he's not sure where his kidnapers are and he'd prefer they not know where he is, either.

He spends his days in the company of his wife and a handsome Rottweiler named Bubba, a well-muscled bodyguard who makes it clear that he's an amiable guy, just so long as you don't make any false moves.

Krusensterna at 57 strongly resembles the actor Charles Durning, who played Jessica Lange's father in the movie Tootsie and who plays the father on the current sitcom Jesse. In his book, Krusensterna claims he's six feet tall; in person he says he's 5foot-10. But he seems shorter. He weighs about 250 pounds. He's got the kind of tattoos sported by old Navy veterans, a gravelly voice, and an "I seen, I been, I done" diction that gives away his blue-collar Midwestern roots. He'd be the first to say he was a tough old bird, and one look at him tells you that his Mexican kidnapers would have had a hard time wrestling him to the floor.

He grew up in Wisconsin, but his business ventures took him to Atlanta and Alabama. He says he's always had good business luck. He owned land near an Indian reservation in Wisconsin, for example, and when the tribe built a casino across the street from his land, he and his wife, Corrine, built a small hotel, which they then sold to the tribe for a healthy profit. Krusensterna worked for the Kimberley Clark company for 12 years, then made a career building trucking firms, first in Atlanta and then in Dallas. When he was kidnaped, he was several months into a new venture that took advantage of the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement, which loosened restrictions in commerce among the three countries on the continent.

Before NAFTA, anyone shipping to Mexico had to engage two different firms on opposite sides of the border. The American trucks would have to stop at the border and transfer their loads onto smaller Mexican trucks, often leaving part of the load for a second trip. There would be pilferage, damage; the load would show up in two trips. Krusensterna started out ferrying loads between Zenith electronics plants on the U.S. side and maquiladoras on the Mexican side. Then he expanded operations in conjunction with an American firm so that the American tractors would pull trailers up to the border, where Krusensterna's Mexican tractors would hook up and pull them across into Mexico without transferring loads. He had 75 trucks and was grossing about $6 million a year, he says, pulling loads for Zenith and Campbell's Soup and Union Carbide to Tampico and Guadalajara and Monterrey.

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