U.S. Student Became Mexico Drug Kingpin La Barbie
LAREDO, Tex. — The other children in his middle-class suburb teased him by calling him Barbie because of his looks, which reminded them of a Ken doll. The name stuck, and three decades later it would become associated with sadistic gangland slayings.
Few people who knew Edgar Valdez Villarreal back when he was a square-jawed football star at United High School here would have pegged him as likely to become one of Mexico’s most feared and savage drug leaders. None of the clichéd roots of crime could be seen is his youth: no broken home, no abusive father, no poverty.
Instead, his father was a shop owner in downtown Laredo who emphasized church, hard work and the value of a college education. He grew up in a well-appointed brick home with a wooden swing set in the backyard. Most of his siblings went to college and started businesses, becoming the sort of law-abiding people who are the mortar of society, neighbors and relatives said.
“He chose that road,” said his older brother, Abel Valdez Jr. “We are a good family.”
The authorities in the United States and Mexico say Mr. Valdez, who is 37, moved to Mexico after being indicted in the 1990s on charges of dealing marijuana, and rose quickly to become a violent leader in the Beltrán-Leyva gang, at the helm of a corps of gunmen engaged in almost constant warfare with other cartels.
He is the only American citizen known to have moved so high in the command structure of the Mexican cartels.