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

Ken Krusensterna knew he was in trouble the moment he knocked on the front door of Gabriela Leyva's house and it swung open from his touch. She had told him many times that she kept the door and the gate locked because she lived alone.

It was 8:30 at night, November 4, 1998. He was already nervous, though he says now he wasn't sure why. He had driven from the Harlingen, Texas, airport to a motel in McAllen, where he expected to spend the night. The next morning, after breakfast with an executive from Zenith, he planned to drive to the office of his trucking firm across the Mexican border in Reynosa. But as he neared the international bridge, his cell phone rang. It was Leyva.

On paper, Olademis Gabriela Leyva Ortiz owned 51 percent of Ken's firm. Mexican law requires that Mexican nationals be the majority owner of a business. Leyva got a nice salary and a car to be the silent partner, and about all she did was serve as a conduit for government paperwork. And that was why she had called: She needed Krusensterna to come to her house right away to sign some forms demanded by the Mexican equivalent of the IRS or they were going to shut the business down the next day.

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.
Gabriela Leyva's house, where Ken Krusensterna was kidnapped
Gabriela Leyva's house, where Ken Krusensterna was kidnapped
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.
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.

Interior shots of the house where Krusensterna was held captive
Interior shots of the house where Krusensterna was held captive
Ken Krusensterna and Bubba
Paolo Vescia
Ken Krusensterna and Bubba
Krusensterna's book is slated to come out this week.
Krusensterna's book is slated to come out this week.

Her insistence put Krusensterna on edge, but he exited on the bridge and drove into Mexico. A few minutes later, the phone rang again. It was Leyva, wondering how close he was.

"It was almost like a wife wondering where you're at, what time are you going to be here," he says now. "I felt real uneasy about that."

He parked his rental car on the street outside her little stucco house. She told him she'd leave the gate open, which he found odd, and when the door practically opened by itself, he turned to run.

Immediately, there was someone on his back, pushing him in the door, and he found himself facing three men dressed like ninjas, black ski masks hiding their faces. One held a long knife, the other two held guns, and when a hand came up with a gun in it, Krusensterna batted it away and it went off. His hand continued on to the gunman's jaw, knocking him to the floor. He grabbed a chair by the leg and swung that at the next man, but the next thing he knew, he was face down on the floor, wondering whose blood was washing over the tile.

It was his own; he still had too much adrenaline pumping through his body to realize the bullet had grazed his forehead.

The gunmen were all over him. They duct-taped his wrists and ankles together behind his back, shoved a filthy rag in his mouth and then wrapped tape tightly around his entire face, blinding and gagging him. They were kicking him, damn near ripping his fingers off as they stole his rings. Then they left him face down on the floor, motionless, trying to figure out what the hell was going on.

Ken Krusensterna had just become a victim of the burgeoning Mexican kidnaping industry. He would he held for two weeks, chained naked to a reclining lawn chair without food or water, sitting in his own wastes, plagued by insects, until Mexican police kicked the door in and shot up the house where he was imprisoned.

After his rescue, Krusensterna spent less than a week in a hospital on the Texas side of the border, then returned to his wife in Dallas. Within two weeks, he fled Texas altogether and moved to Phoenix. After 60 Minutes II sought him out for a story it was researching on Mexican kidnapings, Krusensterna realized he had a new calling. He became part of another growth industry, namely educating Americans on the perils of doing business in Mexico.

The U.S. Consulate in Mexico City reports that 43 U.S. citizens were murdered in Mexico last year, the biggest number of them (18) in the border town of Tijuana; 28 were murdered in 1998; 25 in 1997.

According to executives at Control Risks Group, a Virginia-based firm specializing in negotiating crises situations such as kidnapings, there were more than 200 kidnapings for ransom last year in Mexico, more than 400 the year before. There are no statistics on how many of those involved U.S. citizens. And those conservative figures do not include the epidemic of "express" kidnapings in which unsuspecting people are snatched off the street or held in bogus taxicabs, occasionally killed while their captors clean out their bank accounts at ATMs.

According to the U.S. Consulate, there were nine such "taxicab crimes," assaults and/or robberies reported against U.S. citizens in Mexico City alone last year, 35 in the two years before. In several scandalous kidnaping or express kidnaping cases against U.S. or Mexican citizens, Mexican police have been found to be perpetrators in the crimes. In a 1998 case that was widely reported in the international press, 44 police officers in Mexico City were arrested as members of a kidnaping ring. In another, the heads of that city's anti-kidnaping police unit were themselves held as hostages.

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.

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.

Krusensterna today is a humble man who appreciates the company of his wife and family. Before he was kidnaped, he was a workaholic, playing the part of the big American company president, traveling to the Reynosa office several times a month and entertaining bigwigs from Mexican firms. Like most Americans abroad, he saw himself as invulnerable. His Mexican manager, Otilio del Angel, would take him to task for driving the highways after dark, but Krusensterna would pooh-pooh his concerns.

"I never thought about it," he says. "I should have been kidnaped earlier."

He admits in his book that he was a textbook ugly American, dropping money at clubs, whooping it up for his Mexican business contacts who would drop him off drunk at his hotel. And he didn't pay any attention to del Angel's suggestions that he tone down his act.

"I was a foolish, middle-aged man who needed to somehow prove his manhood by carrying on in Mexico like I was some high-profile, corporate bigshot," he writes. "[. . .] I was having an affair with Mexico, not because her people seduced me or because my wife didn't understand me or even because I was stressed from the pressures of work, but because I wanted to feel the excitement and power of making a 'deal' and hitting the big time in the eyes of others. To a man in his 50s, when the toned body doesn't turn the heads of young women any more, there is something irresistible about having people, CEOs of major corporations, look to you to help them make preposterous businesses in a foreign country, or so I thought."

His daughter, Deanne, who had more experience traveling in Mexico, thought he was at risk.

"I would tell Mom, he better watch his ass because he has no rights, he has no authority."

So Ken Krusensterna walked right into trouble.


In his book, Terror in Mexico, Krusensterna discusses the dos and don'ts of conducting business in Mexico, but he doesn't get into how to choose Mexican business partners. He is evasive as to how he found Olademis Gabriela Leyva Ortiz, who went by the name Gabriela. He says that he was connected to her by a Mexican attorney who is no longer around. His Mexican lawyer at the time of the kidnaping says that Krusensterna and Leyva were already business partners when he came into the picture. In his book, Krusensterna distances himself from Leyva, as if she were someone he barely knew and found to be evil. And he is nervous enough about what he says of her that he decided to change her name to Rosa in the book.

After the kidnaping, the Mexican newspapers reported that she and Krusensterna had been romantically involved for as long as three years, which Krusensterna denies. The newspapers got their information from the Mexican police, who also told the same to FBI agents in McAllen. Special agent Jorge Cisneros told New Times that Leyva was rumored to have been a stripper at a gentlemen's club in Reynosa, but a reporter in Reynosa was unable to confirm that.

Krusensterna's Mexican lawyer, Gilberto López Sanavía, and his Mexican manager, Otilio del Angel, both say that on the few occasions they met Leyva, she and Krusensterna seemed more acquaintances than lovers. Del Angel tells New Timesthat the way gossip travels in his small Mexican town, he would certainly have heard all about such a romance. Krusensterna is sure she set him up. After all, he was kidnaped at her house. She and her mother were initially arrested as conspirators, but, according to the FBI, both women were ultimately let go. And whether she did so under duress, she was the go-between for the kidnapers to Krusensterna's family.

How she came to be Krusensterna's partner is something he can't explain other than to say that some lawyer found her. In his book, he claims that he checked into her background and her family and was satisfied.

Certainly, Americans in Mexico often seem to cast aside basic business sense and put together deals they wouldn't dream of doing in the States. Take, for example, the number of Americans willing to buy property in Puerto Peñasco on a handshake only to discover they have nothing but an empty bank account in return.

Krusensterna entered into a deal in which he thought he was getting around the system. If the government wanted a Mexican co-owner, they'd get one.

He got one -- and more than he bargained for.


Here's his account:

Krusensterna lay gasping on the floor of Leyva's house, his nose pressed into the tile, and every time he tried to turn his head to breathe, he'd get smacked with the butt of a pistol. He'd been there an eternity already when Leyva showed up. She was pressed up against him with the gentlest semblance of force, and the story she told was that she, too, had been kidnaped, that her mother was being held, that the kidnapers had Krusensterna's family as well, and they wanted $350,000 to let everyone go.

Then Leyva started speaking Spanish to the captors, and the only word that Krusensterna understood was c#aacute;llate, "shut up," which she said repeatedly, and it struck him as odd.

"She's 110 pounds, and these guys had weapons, and she's telling them to shut up?" he says.

But she'd conveyed her message to Krusensterna, and so it was time to go. Krusensterna was wrapped in an old carpet, dragged outside and tossed onto his face into the back of a van, where he bounced and skidded as the van made its way into the night.

"If I had a heart attack today, I'd be pissed off," Krusensterna says now. "Because I should have had it then. I missed my window of opportunity."

He could barely breathe for the rag in his mouth and the tape on his face, and the blood from his head wound had filled his nose with an odious, choking scab. His heart pumped wildly with fear, and at one point he had a near-death experience, feeling as if he was passing through a long tunnel toward a light at the other end.

When the van finally lurched to a stop, the kidnapers grabbed the rug and pulled it straight out the back of the van, letting the load drop. Krusensterna crashed onto the curb of the carport with such force he was sure he broke his shoulder. He was dragged into a house and stripped naked, then chained to a chair. The rag was pulled out of his mouth. Then the captors put new tape over his mouth and poked holes in it so that he could breathe more easily, the way a kid would poke holes in the top of a jar full of bugs. At least one captor stayed with him at all times, and every time he made the slightest movement, he'd immediately feel the gun butt crashing into his skull. After a while, he says, it stopped hurting.

He stayed that way for two weeks.


Larry Platt, a vice president in Krusensterna's Dallas office, was the first to realize that something was wrong. Krusensterna was a micromanager, on top of every detail, and he called the office so many times a day he was a pain in the ass. So when Platt realized he hadn't heard from Krusensterna for more than a day, he picked up the phone and began to call around. No one in the office had heard from Krusensterna, including his wife, Corrine.

Corrine Krusensterna was undergoing treatment for lung cancer (she was later found to have breast cancer), so she was heavily medicated and barely able to cope with her husband's disappearance. She enlisted her children, Beth and Deanne and Keith, and they all started making calls. Meanwhile, Otilio del Angel, the Mexican office manager, started making calls as well.

One of them called the McAllen hotel, and a clerk told them that Krusensterna had already checked out. In fact, he'd never checked in, but the girl at the front desk called up his name, got a record from weeks earlier and assumed those were the dates in question. They called every hospital on both sides of the border, and police stations. They called the car rental company and learned that Krusensterna had not yet returned his rental car. Platt asked what color it was so that he could look for it and was told it was blue. In fact, Krusensterna had a red car, because the car he was assigned was blocked in the agency's parking lot and Krusensterna was in a hurry, so the rental crew tossed him the keys to another car and forgot to note as much on the paperwork.

Platt and Keith Krusensterna traveled to Reynosa to see what they could find. Cruising the streets of Reynosa, they found a red rental car, but by the time they found out that it was Krusensterna's and got back to it, it had been broken into and all of Krusensterna's bags had been stolen.

While Keith Krusensterna and Platt were in Reynosa, they got a call from del Angel, who'd heard news of Ken Krusensterna. When they got to the office, they were confronted with the crying and screaming apparition of Gabriela Leyva, who was tugging hysterically at del Angel while yammering about Krusensterna and about her mother. And for the first time, Platt and Keith realized that Krusensterna had been kidnaped.

Leyva was so hysterical that neither man could remember what she looked like. She was doubled over and her face was covered with running mascara, and both men were so shook up that they assumed she had to be sincerely terrified. She may have been.

"She won the Oscar. She sold it," says Keith Krusensterna.

"If that was acting, it was one of the best jobs I'd ever seen," says Platt.

But Platt was suddenly afraid, wondering if the kidnapers were nearby and if Krusensterna's son was also at risk. He rushed Keith Krusensterna back across the border, where they contacted the FBI.

Otilio del Angel also was living a nightmare, not knowing if the kidnap had anything to do with the company's bad relationship with the local cartel of trucking firms, not knowing if he and his family could be the next victims. He moved them out of his house and kept them moving for the duration of the ordeal. But he faithfully and courageously served as Krusensterna's advocate in Reynosa.

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.


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.

"Once he was taken to the spot, all bets were off," says FBI agent Cisneros.

Krusensterna's guard was sleeping when the cops kicked in the door. Krusensterna had dreamed about rescue, imagined the noise and the chaos, and when the real thing went down, he wondered if he were dreaming again -- until the gunfire.

"Then I knew I wasn't dreaming," he says. "My first thought was I was going to be shot sitting in the chair, sure as shit."

When the noise stopped and Krusensterna's blindfold was removed, he saw a bleeding body on the floor in front of him, he says. The FBI says it knows nothing of casualties, and there was no mention of any in the Mexican newspapers.

He wasn't sure if he was being freed or if he had just been rekidnaped, and he cried out when the cops sat him back down in the chair. But they assured him they were only taking pictures to be used later as evidence. He has a printout of one digital shot taken while he was in the chair, but it is so eerily muddled it's reminiscent of the Turin Shroud.

When he got outside, he saw his captor, whom the police identified to the Mexican press as Johnny Alexandre Pedroza Bautista. According to the Mexican press, he'd been hired by Alfredo Torres Zumaya, who allegedly was Gabriela Leyva's boyfriend. While the plot was unfolding, said the papers, Leyva's mother dropped in for a visit. Elvia Ortiz de Leyva allegedly entered into the caper to help convince Krusensterna that she had been kidnaped as well. When the police broke down the door to Krusensterna's prison, she was sleeping in an adjacent bedroom, placed there, ostensibly, as a prop for the evening's meeting with the cops. At first they thought she was another victim. According to the FBI, charges were ultimately dropped against Leyva and her mother, but the FBI would not speculate as to their guilt.

How many others were involved is another mystery. Krusensterna claims to have been assaulted in the first place by three men, and given his size and demeanor, it's hard to believe that two smaller, even younger men could have taken him down so handily.

But Krusensterna's account of his rescue, however vivid, has to be considered the memories of a man nearing death from blood loss and dehydration. He remembers an understandably surreal evening in which the cops loaded him into a police SUV and drove off to catch bad guys for the next five hours. He remembers hanging his head out the window of the truck. He remembers one of the cops giving him a Pepsi, which he drained and immediately threw up, and another cop buying him a pack of crackers, which Krusensterna managed to keep down -- tiny details that would seem insignificant, except that in his condition, they were miraculous.

They passed another police SUV; Leyva was inside, and the cops told Krusensterna they'd surrounded her house and only got her to come out by saying her mother had been shot. The Mexican newspapers later said she'd been caught trying to cross the international bridge into Texas.

Then the cops drove Krusensterna to a nightclub where they told him they were looking for more "bad guys," which he took to mean kidnapers. He sat on the curb like a drunk until the cops finally took him to meet with Jorge Cisneros and the female FBI agent, who talked the Mexican police into letting Krusensterna go to a hospital in McAllen instead of in Reynosa.

Krusensterna had lost 45 pounds during his ordeal, but he was out of the hospital and back home in Dallas after four days in the hospital. But he couldn't stay there. He'd been so shaken that he walked away from his business and told his wife to sell the house. Within weeks they piled into a big RV and moved to Phoenix.


In March, Krusensterna got a call from CBS because 60 Minutes II was producing a segment on the Mexican kidnaping industry. It was the first time he had talked to anyone about his ordeal. Though he was having nightmares, he didn't want to go into therapy, but he did take out a concealed-weapons permit. And then, after talking to CBS, he started thinking that his next career would come out of the very trauma that possessed him, his kidnaping.

He hired a ghostwriting firm to write Terror in Mexico. It's slated to come out on January 14. The book paints a compelling picture of what went through his mind as he was chained to the chair, but it is fuzzy on either end, namely in explaining just how and why he was taken for ransom in the first place and just what happened to the people who kidnaped him when the gunsmoke cleared. There is no resolution of the wheres and hows, the disparities between his account and the published reports. But it may be the only version of facts that Krusensterna knows.

In the book, Leyva is identified as "Rosa," and a fair amount of vehemence is leveled at her, which is understandable since he feels she betrayed him, even if the Mexican authorities ultimately didn't agree.

Overall, he seems a man trying to write his way out of a number of things: his business or personal indiscretions perhaps, and certainly his trauma. It may be spin, it may be therapy. The bold, defiant tone helps compensate for the helplessness that Krusensterna must have felt at the hands of his captors, kept motionless and speechless without food or water in his own wastes.

Still, it's a good read, and Krusensterna intends it as a cautionary tale. There are a final few chapters tacked on to teach Americans how to act and what to look out for while abroad. And Krusensterna and his ghostwriter are also writing a handbook to be passed out to participants in seminars he's planning to educate other businessmen on the hidden dangers of overseas business. More to the point, on the dangers of travel in Mexico.

There are four or five international firms that advise corporations on business security abroad, broker kidnap insurance, even negotiate on behalf of those companies, especially in countries where the police cannot be counted on. Such negotiations can cost $10,000 to $20,000 a week.

Colombia leads the world in kidnaps for hire. Control Risks Group, a McLean, Virginia, firm, has documented 4,737 such events in Colombia since 1992, more than 600 last year alone.

Mexico follows, with 1,190 since 1992; 201 in 1999, as of November, and 405 in 1998. Armando Lara, CRG's associate director of operations and a former director of the Colombian equivalent of the FBI, cautions that these are only cases that his firm could document, and he says that actual numbers are far greater.

Krusensterna calls his new venture STAND International, short for "Security Techniques and Natural Defenses," and he's aiming it at midlevel managers.

"The executives of the corporations are going to the Krolls and the Pinkertons [two security firms], and they're getting all this protection and all this advice," he says. "But what's happening is the guy from Moline [Illinois] who's going to the John Deere plant in Guadalajara for two weeks or three weeks. They give him the ticket from the travel agency. He thinks, 'Oh my God, I'm going to Mexico.' He doesn't have a clue what the hell he's getting into. These are the people I'm trying to pinpoint, and at least give them some kind of idea what to do and what not to do to keep them out of trouble."

He's set up a Web site: www.standinter.com. He'll be doing TV and radio spots and book signings in San Diego on January 19. He's got gigs lined up in Fort Lauderdale and London over the next two months to speak on security abroad. He'll be honing his speech. And looking over his shoulder.

Contact Michael Kiefer at his online address: michael.kiefer@newtimes.com

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