Miriam Rodríguez: How She Took Down Her Daughter’s Cartel Killers

Rodríguez studied her suspect’s habits, she memorized their addresses, researched their friends and stalked their lovers. It didn’t matter how high the stakes were, she dyed her hair, masqueraded as an election official and exploited unknowing family members for information. She was a one-woman private investigation squad hunting down her daughter’s kidnappers and killers across Mexico. In three years, she single-handedly tracked down 10 men who were involved in her daughter’s torture and death.

Hell Hath, No Fury

As William Congreve would have put it, “Hell hath no fury like a mother scorned.”

Miriam Rodriguez was digging through dirt in an old, abandoned ranch outside of San Fernando, Tamaulias in Mexico when she found a scarf, following the abduction of her 20-year-old daughter, Karen Alejandra Salinas Rodríguez.

The discovery expedited Karen’s case, allowing the police to uncover more gruesome remains buried beneath the sea of dirt.

Police would later find Karen’s femur in the same location as well as what turned out to be a mass grave with dozens of other victim’s bodies around the area.

Miriam immediately suspected the Mexican cartel of taking her daughter away, but the cartel wasn’t just another killer; it was an organization of perpetrators. The violence and power of the cartel was no shock and the havoc being wreaked on the territory had been clear for a long time. Citizens and police were tormented by the organization’s members for decades by then, the potential of having a family member disappear into the night and never to return was a common occurrence.

Rodríguez was up against over 70,000 cases of missing people due to cartel activity. Homicide rates had doubled in Mexico, while no one was doing anything about it. No one cared.

Rodríguez took the case into her own hands and began her years of a long mission to bring her daughter’s killers to justice.

Back in 2014, the San Fernando community was still grieving from the 2011 massacre by the Mexican cartel. About three years earlier, a subsection of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas, slaughtered almost 200 people. Most of the victims had been kidnapped from bus hijackings, they were stolen from their families and likely trafficked to fund the cartel war. Meanwhile, those who tried to escape didn’t get far. Their remains were found in mass dumping grounds around the abandoned ranch area.

The community was terrified by the seemingly unconquerable power of the cartel, it led to a mass exodus from the region, this included Rodriguez’s other child, her son Luis.

Luis, like many others, fled to escape the danger of San Fernando, however, Karen chose to stay, to finish up her education as well as helping at her mother’s cowboy store, “Rodeo Boots.”

La Civil film Miriam Rodriquez
Miriam Rodriguez’s story was made into a film by FACEBOOK La Civil


One day, Karen was driving her truck in a relatively rural area when two cars surrounded her vehicle. Armed men ripped her from the car and into theirs. The men moved onto the second phase of their ransom plan; they brought her to the Rodríguez’s house where they bound her with rope and waited.

Their strategy experienced a hiccup when a family friend stopped by the Rodríguez’s home to perform maintenance on a car. This surprised the men, so they decided to take both Karen and the friend as captives and left the residence.

Rodríguez and her husband had no problem obtaining a ransom loan from the bank, the city had seen so many abductions that the bank offered specific money borrowing payments for ransoms. The cartel’s tedious demands were:

  • For the Rodríguezs to drop off the money at a nearby health clinic.
  • Then wait for further instruction in a nearby cemetery.

Nonetheless, the Rodríguez couple was never contacted as they made numerous attempts to bring their daughter back even meeting up with a member of the cartel – allegedly went by the name “Sama” – who claimed that they didn’t have Karen but that he could help, for a small fee.

The desperate Miriam gave the gang $2,000 as compensation, however, the gang never contacted her back until they asked for an additional $500. Once again, however, the gang took the money and ran.

The Rodríguez family maintained hope for their daughter’s return until Miriam, who was now separated from her husband and living with her older daughter, Azalea, predicted that Karen would never be coming home. The family’s matriarch vowed that she wouldn’t stop until she found those responsible for what happened to Karen.

She decided to start with her “informant”: Sama.

Phase 1: Investigation

The family friend who had unknowingly walked in on Karen and her abductors was soon released. Although he was not deemed valuable to the cartel, his recollection of the abduction day was worth everything to a mother searching for her daughter.

The friend was able to confirm that Sama was involved in Karen’s kidnapping. With that in mind, Miriam scoured social media platforms for any trace of her informant.

She eventually discovered a photograph of a man on Facebook, resembling Sama standing next to a woman wearing a uniform of an ice cream shop. Further research revealed that the uniform belonged to a shop two hours away in Ciudad, Victoria.

Like cat and mouse, Miriam stalked her prey, waiting outside the ice cream store for weeks, until she was finally able to track the woman who appeared to be Sama’s partner.

Photograph: San Fernando Missing Persons Activists Collective Handout/EPA
The real Miriam Rodríguez. PHOTO: San Fernando Missing Persons Activists Collective Handout/EPA

Phase 2: Suspects

Miriam disguised herself as a Health Ministry worker by wearing a uniform she had left over from a previous job. Now, hidden in plain sight, she knocked on neighbor’s doors to obtain information under the façade that she was conducting a local survey.

Miriam didn’t want revenge, not yet. She wanted answers. She hoped that any information obtained, she could relay to the authorities and maybe finally receive justice.

With evidence from her investigation and her family friend as an eyewitness, Miriam had found enough for police to arrest Sama under reasonable suspicion. Unfortunately, after a warrant was issued for Sama, he simply vanished.

In what can only be described as a possible divine intervention or fate, there was another break in the case.

While closing his store, Luis, who had moved to Ciudad for safety from the cartel, spotted Sama. He was subsequently arrested and interrogated. Sama immediately revealed names of other gang members that took part in Karen’s abduction: Zapata Gonzalez, an 18-year-old boy whose age shocked Miriam when he was initially taken into custody. She claimed that her motherly kindness and compassion helped convince the young boy to reveal her daughter’s location.

This led Miriam to the abandoned ranch riddled with bullet holes, its front yard ingested by dirt and decay. This was where Rodríguez unearthed the painfully pivotal finding: her daughter’s scarf.

The revelation led to mass excavation of the area where an endless supply of dead bodies was found. It was only after Miriam demanded a second investigation that Karen’s femur was uncovered.

A simple observation would lead to the next break in the case.

Miriam and Azalea were eating in a restaurant outside the ranch when Rodríguez recalled speaking to a well-known acquaintance named Elvia Yuliza who exuded bizarre and elusive behavior. It wouldn’t take long before a quick web search that revealed Yuliza’s ties to the cartel. She had been in a relationship with one of the abductors who had already been imprisoned and was virtually unreachable to Miriam.

Once it was discovered that the kidnaper’s calls had been made from Yuliza’s home, she was subsequently arrested. Rodríguez followed the same procedure while head hunting more suspects: research, infiltrate and expose:

  • She tracked down born-again Christian Enrique Flores, after rooting out intel from his grandmother and studying his behavior while attending mass at his church.
  • After years, Miriam’s investigation propelled her onto the trail of a suspicious florist, who she followed to the border of Texas and Mexico. When the florist recognized her as Karen’s mother, he attempted to flee only to be tackled by Miriam who held him at gunpoint until the police arrived.

Phase 3: Justice

Over the years, Miriam received endless death threats from the cartel and their families but she would not let herself become deterred. After three years of dedicated and obsessive search, Rodríguez was able to find almost all ten of the living gang members.

Miriam’s devotion brought her fame in Mexico, unfortunately it came with risk exposure. From the outside looking in, Rodríguez was a relentless mother in her 50’s, fighting head-to-head with a notorious gang comprised of members ranging in the thousands. After bringing many of her Karen’s killers to justice, Rodríguez didn’t disappear into obscurity. She continued to fight to bring light to the hundreds of families whose children had been missing for years under similar circumstances.

In 2017, Miriam’s selfless, vigilante courage got the best of her when she was shot dead outside her home on Mother’s Day in San Fernando, Tamaulias Mexico. Weeks before her murder, she had handed over another member of the gang who was likely involved in her daughter’s murder. Even with an armed Mexican government escort, the cartel’s range was far too vast and easily accessible. Despite protection, she was killed.

A plaque was erected in her honor, authorities vowed to find her killers.


Luis took up the spear for his mother and replaced her as head of the support group she founded years earlier for parents of kidnapped children. Colectivo de Desaparecidos de San Fernando (The Vanished Collective) had accumulated over 600 members, however, Miriam’s assassination sent shockwaves of terror across Mexico and participation in the group began to wane out of fear that members would become the cartel’s next target.

Even in death, Miriam’s work continued to bring Karen’s killers to justice. A month after the famous mother’s death, an unnamed woman in Veracruz was arrested thanks to a tip that Miriam had given authorities posthumously. The woman was fleeing San Fernando with her son in a taxi where she was taken by the police. It was revealed to be Karen’s torturer who had beaten her while she was hanging from her wrists while in captivity.

Since 2011, violence and crime has only escalated in Mexico. This is largely attributed to continued cartel activity. Miriam Rodríguez may have been her city’s very own vigilante superhero, but the torch has yet to be taken up by a successor. Fear, retaliation, kidnaping, torture, murder and trafficking continue to haunt the city and occupants of San Fernando. Nonetheless, the families of missing children in the city continue to yearn for their loved ones, but the longer the situation in Mexico persists the less likely questions will be answered for the loved ones of the missing.

Allison Hinrichs

Content Editor Associate

Hailing from Minnesota, Allison is a vegetarian, meditating yogi who practices a conscious lifestyle. An adrenaline junkie at heart, she has gone rock climbing in Germany and surfing the waves in Mexico. She is a keen reader who loves to learn, as long as it’s not math. And she has hopes of discovering “the secrets of the universe” by exploring the globe, experiencing other cultures, and finding a variety of different perspectives.

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