LOS ANGELES (AP) – A murder suspect on the FBI’s most wanted list gained weight and switched identities to evade authorities for 14 years, but his notoriety and a $100,000 reward finally led to his capture, the agency said Monday.
Jose “Joe” Luis Saenz was arrested in Guadalajara, Mexico, on Thursday on suspicion of four murders and remained jailed in Southern California, the FBI said.
The joint operation involved U.S. and Mexican authorities.
At a Los Angeles news conference, FBI officials said Saenz, 37, had altered his appearance and lived in a modest apartment over a beauty shop when he was taken into custody.
Saenz, a former East Los Angeles gang member who once went by the nicknames “Peanut Joe” and “Zapp,” had been a fugitive since being suspected of two Los Angeles killings in 1998.
He was placed on the FBI’s top 10 fugitive list in October 2009, joining the likes of Osama bin Laden and Boston crime lord James “Whitey” Bulger.
To evade arrest, he moved frequently, used some two dozen aliases, gained weight, had prominent tattoos removed, and tried to alter his fingertips with glue, FBI officials said.
Saenz had money to move around from his work as an enforcer for a Mexican drug cartel, authorities said.
“We were dogged in our determination to find him, but when you have that many aliases, and you have that much money and connections and you move around that much, it makes it a little more difficult,” FBI Special Agent Scott Garriola said.
Tips generated by Saenz’s placement on the list and by a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to his arrest aided his capture.
Los Angeles County prosecutors allege that Saenz shot and killed two rival gang members in July 1998 to retaliate for the beating of one of his associates.
Weeks later, he was accused of kidnapping, raping and killing his girlfriend, who was the mother of his daughter, because he feared she would tell authorities about the killings.
Authorities believe that Saenz fled to Mexico but was back in Southern California in October 2008, when a Whittier man was killed for failing to repay $600,000 in drug money after police seized the cash during a traffic stop.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)