Longtime Arizona cowboy Ed Ashurst has published a book about what it’s like living near the U.S.-Mexico border as a rancher, Kidnapped: Mystery and Collusion in the Bootheel of New Mexico. It’s based on his real life experiences. There are a couple of counties in the Southwest known for high levels of drug cartel activity, Cochise County in Arizona, where he lives, and Hidalgo County in New Mexico, known as the Bootheel of New Mexico. Mexican narcos passing through burglarize, vandalize and commit murder in the area. He says the Border Patrol does what it wants, despite the complaints of ranchers or politicians. The agency tightened security in border towns, pushing the illegal activity out into the countryside.
The book tells the story of a rancher he calls Ben Moody, who was kidnapped by narcos within the last few years after their main truck carrying marijuana breaks down 12 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, seizing his truck in order to continue transporting their load. Ranchers want the Border Patrol to monitor that border area, but they don’t. The narcos took Moody on a long drive, telling him they will eventually release him, but they made him sit in the back bed of a truck blindfolded and handcuffed much of the time, driving with no headlights. His friends went searching for him, reporting him missing to the Border Patrol, but a day later when encountering a Border Patrol agent in the field, the agent said he hadn’t even been informed about it.
The Border Patrol never bothered to tell his wife that they’d found his belongings scattered in an area near a truck with Mexican plates that was stuck in the mud. The county sheriff finally told her. Moody escaped 26 hours later at a gas station when one of the narcos stopped to get gas.
The investigators made him feel like he was a suspect, not a victim. When he offered to show them the crime scene, located within a vast area owned by one family known as the Las Animas Ranch, law enforcement told him they would not go into the area because it was too dangerous.
Jim Yarbrough, a fellow rancher in Cochise County who speaks out about the Border Patrol’s failure to protect Americans, decided to go find the narcos. Yarbrough had no confidence in the Border Patrol. He’d uncovered evidence with the help of a reporter of how the Border Patrol allegedly tried to cover up the murder of an agent by saying it was friendly fire. The reporter wrote a book about it, Who Shot Nick Ivie? Yarbrough said the Border Patrol once tried to frame him by sending an agent disguised as a Mexican to his ranch offering to sell him drugs.
A Border Patrol agent asked to meet with Yarbrough, and told him that he should stop telling people that Moody was kidnapped, claiming Moody was in on the drug smuggling. Another agent said to him, “We know all of you ranchers south of I-10 are dirty.” Yarbrough demanded that the agent name one “dirty rancher” in the area and the agent could not. The FBI was also investigating and treated Moody as if he was guilty.
As Moody continued to talk to investigators, he discovered things that didn’t add up. They knew that he had escaped from the narcos at a truck stop — but he’d never told them where he’d escaped. When he was with the kidnappers, they drove by a spot where the Border Patrol was supposed to be but they weren’t there.
Incredibly, the kidnapping never got any local or national media coverage on TV or in newspapers. But Yarbrough and the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association got together and put on a forum to reveal to the public the truth about how dangerous the narcos are and the government’s failure to protect people. Yarbrough told the crowd there is a 60-mile stretch of road along the border where agents will not enter at night due to the danger. He said even though the Border Patrol has a new $20 million station and 200 agents in the area, 90% of them were all north of the area where Moody was kidnapped. A New Mexico congressman who spoke at the event, appropriately named Earnest Dolittle, gave a speech about how terrible the situation was and how he was going to do something about it.
Investigators insisted that Moody take a lie detector test. All along, he’d never had an attorney. After he took it, the agent doing the test said it came out 98% lying and told him he was going to be arrested. The threats continued, but he was never arrested. He discovered they were secretly listening to his cell phone conversations.
Two of the women cattle ranchers in the area were invited to testify to a congressional committee by Dolittle. But when they got to Washington D.C., they discovered parts of their speeches were blacked out; they were not allowed to give key testimony. One of them still went ahead with the unwatered down version, and they cut her mic. But not before she was able to get across her point; that the government doesn’t have a good idea of who or what is coming over the border. When she talked to Dolittle about it later, he said the committee doesn’t care about the ranchers on the border and they already have their minds made up. He admitted he thought Moody was guilty.
The book concludes telling the story of how low-level Mexican drug dealers are used by the cartels as decoys, in order to distract the Border Patrol and keep them busy arresting them while the cartels transfer serious amounts of drugs.
Moody never received any follow up from investigators when he asked, not even a case number. He suffered PTSD. His gun was never returned to him. They destroyed his cell phone after examining it. And the media never covered his story.