Alleged leader of Los Krazy Boyz drug gang
Up until Wednesday night the whereabouts of 39-year-old Juan Humberto Astillo-Alvarez was a troubling loose end in the June 1997 murder of 15-year-old Gregory "Sky" Erickson, who was kidnapped from Spencer.
Prosecutors think the suspected drug kingpin, who was called Ricardo Castillo locally, orchestrated the abduction, torture and execution-style death of the Estherville teenager more than nine years ago.
Deputies from Clay County returned at about 7:30 p.m. to Spencer with Astillo-Alvarez, who is considered to be the last of 10 men believed to be involved in Erickson's death. A lengthy negotiation spearheaded by the Clay County Attorney's Office led to the extradition of Astillo-Alvarez from Mexico City to Houston. Federal agents flew him from Houston to Omaha, Neb. where local authorities met him.
Sgt. Bradley Hawley of the Clay County Sheriff's Office spoke with Astillo-Alvarez on the route back to Spencer. The deputy said Astillo-Alvarez didn't seem surprised about being back to Iowa, noting: "He's been in custody a long time, so he knew what ultimately was possible, so no, I don't think he's surprised that he's here."
Hawley said his English is broken, but understandable. "He told us that he hasn't spoken English very much since he's been gone and he apologized for it being so poor."
Astillo-Alvarez has been in custody in Mexico City for a year.
Negotiations between U.S. and Mexico officials have taken place over the past year.
Astillo-Alvarez faces charges of second-degree murder and second-degree kidnapping, plus conspiracy to commit a forcible felony. He is being held in the Clay County Jail on $1 million bond.
Clay County Sheriff Randy Krukow was a member of the Spencer Police Department when details of Erickson's abduction and murder unfolded.
"The return of Juan Humberto Astillo-Alvarez has been a long time coming," he said. "I'm sure I speak for several involved by saying 'this is a great day.' I and others wondered if the day would ever come that Astillo-Alvarez would face justice in Clay County for this heinous crime."
Erickson was kidnapped and murdered by members of the Los Krazy Boyz, an Estherville gang, over a disputed drug debt allegedly owed to Astillo-Alvarez.
Led by Luis Lua of Estherville who was 21 at the time, members of the gang assaulted and abducted Erickson in Spencer on June 6, 1997.
Erickson's head was covered with a pillow case as Lua and others stopped at Fort Defiance State Park and Swan Lake near Estherville. Erickson was then bound and gagged with red bandannas as he was repeatedly beaten by gang members. He was then placed in the trunk of the car, covered by a garbage bag, and driven to the abandoned Minnesota farmstead where he was allegedly shot to death by Lua.
Lua remains in a "super max" federal prison in Colorado.
The body was found partially burned at a rural Jackson County farm house less than two miles from the Iowa border. The 10 people charged in the death ranged in age from 16 to 27 at the time they were charged.
Astillo-Alvarez was the owner of Mexico Lindo, a Mexican restaurant in Estherville and was the apparent leader of the gang. He disappeared after the killing, but according to Mike Zenor of the Clay County Attorney's office, witnesses and sightings led officials to believe he was hiding out in Mexico, where extradition is difficult and complex. Southern Texas FBI agents were also reportedly aware of Astillo-Alvarez' whereabouts. The suspect told Hawley he sold cars while being a fugitive in Mexico.
The deputy learned just a week ago that a successful extradition was a possibility.
The State Department, DCI, FBI, and Iowa and Minnesota officials all worked together to have the suspect returned to Clay County. Eventually, the suspect waived his right to resist the extradition, which could have delayed the process additional months.
Astillo-Alvarez was secured with leg irons, a "belly belt and handcuffed in front," Hawley said.
"I think the thought was always there that he may not ever be found or face justice," Hawley added. "The most shocking thing to me was the age of the victim," Hawley said. "This is a brutal, heinous crime perpetrated on a 15-year-old boy and it just brought it home that you don't have to live in a big city for these things to happen."
It has not yet been determined whether Astillo-Alvarez may be moved to a different facility.
Zenor said that getting the suspect back is just the beginning of the process. After nine years, prosecutors will have to try to gather evidence and depose witnesses in the murder again.
He has been in touch with the family of "Sky" Erickson. "On one hand, it's 'Here we go again and we have to relive this whole thing,' but on the other hand, I think that they are pleased the process is going forward," on the final suspect, he said.