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

Platt and Keith carried the kidnapers' message back to Krusensterna's family. They had been told not to contact any authorities, so they acted as if they had not. The FBI told them to keep absolutely quiet so that the media would not catch wind of the kidnaping and muddle negotiations. So Corrine Krusensterna refused to take phone calls for the next two weeks, fearful the tone of her voice would let on to friends that something was wrong.

The FBI moved into Krusensterna's Dallas house as everyone waited for the kidnapers to call.

Alfredo Torres Zumaya, the alleged ringleader of the kidnap plot.
Alfredo Torres Zumaya, the alleged ringleader of the kidnap plot.
Krusensterna was held for two weeks, strapped naked to a chair in this house.
Krusensterna was held for two weeks, strapped naked to a chair in this house.

Krusensterna's chair-bound imprisonment wavered between sensory deprivation and sensory overload. He felt sure at times that the kidnapers had cut off one of his arms because he couldn't feel it, and since he was blindfolded, he couldn't see it. He had to sit in his own body wastes, which tore at his skin and attracted insects that feasted on him, though he couldn't swat at them. His throat was so parched that he could no longer swallow. In two weeks, his captors gave him a banana and a cup or two of water.

He drifted in and out of consciousness, kept company by football games on the television. He could hear the English narration beneath the Spanish announcers talking over the broadcast. He could hear life going on outside, the children going to school each day, his captors talking to the neighbors.

Occasionally, his guard would take the time to torment him, pressing the gun against his face, firing potshots into the ceiling to put the fear of death into him. He wondered why no one in the neighborhood seemed to take notice.

A woman would come daily and knock pots and pans around the kitchen. The smells of frying food only made Krusensterna nauseous. And when the eating was done, his unseen guard and the unseen woman would engage in loud and sloppy sex on a bed close by Krusensterna's chair. He could never understand a word they said, but he felt they treated him like an animal because they were animals themselves.

At night there would be the same number of taps on the window, a secret code to let the other conspirators in, and from the routine, Krusensterna thought "they either watched a lot of movies or they were military or police."

Once, they roused him out of his chair, and led him to the bathroom and allowed him a shower. He tried to get as much water as he could down his swollen throat. He pondered running for his life but realized he could barely move his legs.

The shower was preparation for an outing. The gag was left off. Circles of tape were placed over his eyes, covered by sunglasses, and a baseball cap was plopped on his head. He was propped in a car and driven to a phone booth. One of the captors talked a moment, then held the phone to Krusensterna's ear so that he could utter a few words to convince the folks on the other end that he was still alive. Then they drove Krusensterna back to the house and strapped him back in the chair.

When Krusensterna talks and writes about his rescue, he tells of spy planes and infrared cameras and bugs placed in Leyva's car. The FBI tells a more low-tech tale. Since fact and reality are blurrier concepts in Mexico than in the United States, it's difficult to piece together exactly what happened.

One female Hispanic agent posed as Keith Krusensterna's girlfriend and together they met in a McAllen hotel room with Gabriela Leyva to find out what the kidnapers wanted. Keith Krusensterna stalled, telling Leyva that it would be difficult getting so much money so quickly, but he gave the impression that his family would do its best. The agent fielded the phone calls from the bad guys and she and her FBI colleague, Jorge Cisneros, then coordinated with the Mexican police departments.

Mexican tracing technology could identify the phone number that the kidnapers were calling from, but police weren't certain where those numbers were. So police officers drove around to all the phone booths in town and wrote down their numbers. Then they stationed officers within short distances of those booths. When the next call came through, they radioed the closest agent to move in.

The kidnaper -- the cops don't say which one -- saw him coming and took off running. After a 12-block chase through downtown Reynosa, the cop tackled the kidnaper and took him to the police station.

Krusensterna thinks the Mexican cops tortured the bad guy and pulled out his fingernails, but there is no evidence of this. The FBI says that they took a sneakier tactic -- good, old-fashioned lying -- and told the suspect that they'd been listening in on his phone conversations, knew what he was up to, and wanted in on the scam. In Mexico, given the number of media accounts of police complicity in kidnapings, this was not an outrageous scenario. Suddenly, the kidnaper was willing to talk, and promised to bring the cops to his hideout that very evening.

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