|Illustrations by Greg Houston|
|Guillermo Eduardo Ramirez-Peyro, a.k.a. Lalo, insists he's no longer the same man who participated in cartel murders. Missouri officials aren't so sure.|
Ramirez-Peyro recalls that they were heading toward the southwestern border of Missouri when Schroer's phone began to vibrate.
"I saw the 1111111 [on the screen], and I knew it was the cops," he says. "I said, 'Hey, Kelly, the police is calling you.' She said, 'No, I don't want to answer.'
"And then they call once again, and she did not want to answer. And I don't even force her to call or not call or speak," continues Ramirez-Peyro, a soft-faced Mexican with wispy black hair.
The couple, both in their forties, would continue east on Interstate 44 for a few more miles without speaking. Schroer, a strawberry blonde from Ramirez-Peyro's new hometown of Buffalo, New York, considered her boyfriend too controlling.
He, in turn, didn't trust her.
They met last summer in a Buffalo bar, and their relationship had been a prickly one from the outset. Within a few months of dating, Schroer accused Ramirez-Peyro of harassing and physically abusing her — a complaint that led a New York court to issue a "stay away" order of protection against Ramirez-Peyro in early December. That same month, police in the Buffalo suburb of Tonawanda picked up Ramirez-Peyro for violating the order. He was soon released, and a few days later Schroer signed an affidavit, prepared by Ramirez-Peyro's attorney in Buffalo, stating that the allegations of harassment and abuse she made "are not true."
"He never physically hit or abused or hurt me, and I want to be able to spend time with him without there being a violation of a court order," Schroer wrote in an affidavit.
Now, alone in the cramped Ferrari, whatever reconciliation the two arrived at before setting out on their cross-country journey was gone. As they entered the city limits of Joplin, Ramirez-Peyro exited the highway and pulled the sports car into the parking lot of a La Quinta Inn. By 11 p.m. he was in bed and out cold. He awoke an hour and a half later to a pounding on the door. Schroer was gone.
Once the officers arrived, Schroer breathlessly launched into a story that seemed almost too outlandish to believe. Ramirez-Peyro, she told the patrolmen, was an extremely dangerous man holding her against her will.
"He has cartel contacts in the U.S. that will kill my family, and I'm afraid what's going to happen now. He's going to have them killed," Schroer told the cops, according to a probable cause statement.
Schroer then handed one of the patrolmen her smartphone, on which the officers could read for themselves the articles about how Ramirez-Peyro — better known by the nickname "Lalo" — had once been a police officer in Mexico before becoming a top lieutenant for the powerful Juárez Cartel. In that role Ramirez-Peyro had overseen multiple murders in a home, just across the El Paso, Texas, border, that came to be known as the "House of Death." And the story didn't end there.
This Lalo character — fast asleep in Room 365 of the adjacent La Quinta — was more complicated than that.
According to the articles, while working for the cartel Lalo had also been an informant for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He later became an embarrassment to the American government when it got out that one of its own undercover operatives participated in gangland killings south of the border.
It's a hell of a tale, and, if Lalo's version is to be believed, includes a government conspiracy to discredit him. One thing is certain, though: The story of the alleged kidnapper and former cartel snitch in a Ferrari is one of the sexier cases to hit rural Newton County in a long time.
"This is really more intrigue than I'm used to dealing with. I'll tell you that," confirms prosecutor Jake Skouby. "Basically, I-44 runs through my district, and that's how I caught this case. That's it."