Endangered

The Mysterious Disappearance of Lourdes Contreras

Cases from my hometown always seem a bit more personal when researching them, not just because I grew up in the area, but because I know how they were handled and this is apparent when you read about it in the newspaper. It never fails to disappoint. Aurora, Illinois, first claim to fame was Wayne’s World, a popular SNL skit in the early 90’s that spawned into a popular feature film and subsequent sequel. Not sure who made the decision to have the skit and films take place in Aurora, but it was an “alternate reality”.

Aurora at the time was the most dangerous city in Illinois (including Chicago) and more often than not ranked in the top ten most dangerous cities in the nation. Things were so hopeless for the city that most people who grew up there just left, even if it was just a few miles away. At least you could sleep. The police didn’t seem to help much, in fact, many would argue, myself included… they were worse. Many of us growing up in the city were getting shot or shot at, and the police took to arresting people for whatever they could think of. They took a page right out of the playbook of LAPD’s CRASH unit and ran with it. Hit them so hard and get them off the street before they ever think of hitting you.

In going over paperwork, I fought over a dozen bogus arrests. When you’re a juvenile, you can plea the case. Besides, then I couldn’t afford to clear my name. When you’re an adult, it’s a different story- it follow you. Aside from three occasions when I could afford it, I fought the cases alone and I’ve been lucky, but that’s a story for another time.

Sadly the disappearance of Lourdes Contreras received little to no media attention except for an article or two in the local newspaper. Despite living just less than a block from where I grew up, even for a short period back when I had lived there and friends telling me she partied at our houses a few times, I don’t remember her. Lourdes disappearance was overshadowed by and attached to something much more sinister during Aurora’s darkest hours. With no family in the state and police initially believing she took off because she thought she feared prosecution, her case quickly went cold.

 

Background Information

Only until recently, Aurora was more often than not the most dangerous city in the state of Illinois and made the top ten nationwide here and there. This wasn’t unusual for towns in Illinois either. Rockford and East St. Louis seemed to be fighting for the honor and sure enough, they won the battle. In the late eighties gang violence exploded in Aurora and virtually overnight it became part of our identity. While I haven’t resided in the city for close to twenty years, I moved close by about five years ago and follow cases from there. I’m far from an angel, but the culture at the Aurora PD is far from a police department. At one point it seemed they weren’t the least concerned with cracking down on dangerous criminals and focusing more on city ordinances.

By 2002, things had come to a head. As low level gang members were mowing each other down anywhere from Chicago, the Motherland to places like Aurora, Rockford and Elgin, fighting what they felt was a war against their worst enemies often people they believed to responsible for killing their friends and family- a business arrangement had been underway in Aurora. The Latin Kings and Gangster Disciples, each were the largest organization in rival alliances, People and Folks respectively, and while blood was spilled on the street in the name of their “nations” and revenge, a few rivals got together and made a business arrangement.

Juan “Orco” Corral, 29 was a ranking Latin King from Aurora, however, had not much of a name for himself. That is until Orco found that it was much more profitable to sell cocaine to his gang’s rivals, the Gangster Disciples since they converted cocaine into crack and flooded housing projects with it for astronomical profits. Despite an elaborate code system developed by Corral and his underling Robert “Droopy” Rangel for associates to use cellular phones to buy and sell kilos of cocaine and pounds of marijuana, federal law enforcement officers from the FBI, ATF, DEA and state and local authorities managed to isolate 19 individuals, decode their “language” through informants and simply monitor and gather evidence by recording over 5,000 phone conversations between April 2, 2002 and June 25, 2002.

On the evening of June 23, 2002, Juan Corral was pulled over by police not far from his home for allegedly running a stop sign. In the trunk of his car was 50 kilos of cocaine. This wasn’t an ordinary traffic stop, it was the start of a series of raids that by the next day resulted in the arrest of 13 individuals and arrest warrants issued for another 6. Corral was returning home from Hammond, Indiana, after securing 50 kilos of cocaine to distribute over the next couple of weeks. Most of it was sold before he picked it up. Law enforcement didn’t want to tip him off that they were executing raids and instead lead him to believe it was a routine traffic stop to give them time to round up the drug traffickers.

The next day on June 24, several Latin Kings arrived at the Kane County Correctional Center with duffel bags containing $500,000 cash to bail out Juan Corral, who was being held for the cocaine and a parole violation. While police claimed “the Latin Kings had so much respect for Corral, they gathered $500,000 to bail him out of jail”, word on the street was that long time Aurora leader, Angel “Doc” Luciano put a green light on “Orco”. See, Juan Corral wasn’t always considered one of the “hardest or baddest” Latin Kings in Aurora, he had quite a suspect reputation. There was fear he would “snitch”, and this of course, would prove to be true in the end. Corral knew too much, and he wasn’t a major Latin King insider until after he became a major player in the drug business. For those who lived in Aurora and knew or at least knew of Juan Corral growing up, he didn’t seem like the ruthless type, but he would prove otherwise.

What most people don’t understand, sometimes including law enforcement, is there is another element to major busts impacting criminal organizations- there are unseen or unknown casualties. No, it’s not the children, girlfriends/wives and mothers losing their fathers, husbands and sons to prison or gang violence, rather there is a purge or a clean up period where higher ups cut all ties to the crime. A witness elimination program. It’s not just other criminal members that could potentially become a “rat”, it’s the girlfriends, kids, nieces, nephews, parents, neighbors or anyone else that is rumored or just remotely perceived to become a “snitch” that is eliminated or simply just “disappears”.

Worse, it’s hard for investigators to pinpoint whether or not these people skipped town out of fear of prosecution or retaliation; or they were the victims of foul play.

On July 5, 2002, as part of the investigation into the Corral Trafficking Ring, federal investigators spoke to a twenty-six year-old woman named Lourdes Contreras. While law enforcement has never disclosed why she was interrogated that day, it’s no secret that she associated with those involved in the organization.

juan corral

 

Chicago Tribune July 25, 2002

 

Without a Trace

On Thursday Oct. 3, 2002, the uncle of Lourdes Contreras called the Aurora Police Department to report that his twenty-six year-old niece who lived on the 1000 block of North Avenue in Aurora, was missing. The last time he or anyone else in the family spoke to her was on August, 6, 2002. Sure enough, upon further investigation by police, no one in her family had heard from her since around that time, including her two daughters residing in River Bank, California. To complicate matters, virtually all of her family lived out of state which makes the exact date of her disappearance hard to pinpoint. From what investigators could gather, it wasn’t unusual for her family to go a week or two without speaking to her, so they were not immediately alarmed.

At 5:30 am the very next morning on Oct. 4, a patrol officer located her 1995 Chevrolet 1500 pickup truck abandoned in the parking lot of the Target located at 1951 W Jefferson Ave, in Naperville, five and a half miles from her residence.

Little is publicly known about Lourdes Contreras. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico and moved to the United States at a young age. She lived in Texas and California for a time, then in 1997, moved to Aurora, Illinois. She worked at a hospital for a period of time.

Some speculate that law enforcement knows a lot more than what they’ve revealed due to the vast number of phone lines that were tapped and the number of individuals arrested and turned state’s evidence in this operation and subsequent ones.

It’s believed she was eliminated for what she knew or as retaliation for what she said or what someone else said.

 

Aftermath

Ultimately, Juan Corral turned states evidence, which if rumors are correct; prove Doc Luciano and other’s suspicions to be true. It was the first major blow to gangs in Aurora and has virtually decimated the gang since. While it sapped cocaine and marijuana supplies, things didn’t get better at first. In fact, it got much worse. Whenever major gang leaders are taken off the street it’s a domino effect. That gang leader usually starts working with police and leads to other higher ups taken off the street and then younger guys, with little life experience and no experience or desire “politics”, try to take over and it becomes a power vacuum. Rather than long term results, their focus is just making a name for themselves. As result of Corral’s cooperation it lead to many arrests that resulted in many others to turn state’s evidence.

In June 2007, Kane County prosecutors indicted 31 current and former Aurora gang members for 22 cold case murders in “Operation First-Degree Burn”, which 28 were Latin Kings. This included Angel “Doc” Luciano who was already serving time in prison and his son Michael Luciano who had relocated to Mesa, Arizona.  In the late nineties Aurora was averaging over two homicides a month. In 2012, Aurora, Illinois went homicide free for the first time in decades despite a population increase of almost 40% since they peaked. Today, while there has been a recent spike in shootings, including a good friend of mine, it has not reached double digit homicides in nearly a decade.

doc luciano

 

Chicago Tribune July 11, 2013

 

Even today, the ghosts of Aurora’s past still haunt it. While the culture at the Aurora Police Department has changed in the last twenty years and became more proactive, there is still a lot of work to do. Sadly for the family of Lourdes Contreras there is little hope that anything will change. With little to no publicity and the initial uncertainty in the circumstances surrounding her disappearance, it’s hard to tell exactly how far we’ve really come since the city’s darkest hours. Lourdes is a perfect example of the lost casualties over the years. Without a family in the area to put pressure on police, today’s political climate towards immigrants and because of those her name was associated with- there is no doubt this case will remain cold.

I do believe the law enforcement knows a lot more than they’ve released. With 5,000 phone calls recorded in just a few months and interrogating her weeks after one of the nation’s biggest gang and narcotics busts at the time just a month before she was last heard from, it is certain they know something. While they might not have an answer as to what happened exactly, they certainly could give the community and the family a better idea of where to start.

She just like every other woman- is somebody’s daughter and somebody’s mother. Her daughters deserve the truth and closure in what happened to their mother.

Today, Lourdes Contreras would be 42 years-old. At the time of her disappearance she was 5′ 5″ and 130 lbs, with natural brown hair and eyes.

If you have any information on the whereabouts of Lourdes Contreras or believe you have information on what happened to her or the individual(s) who may have information, please call the Aurora Police Department at (630)801-6655.You are not required to leave your name.

 

Additional Information and Resources

http://charleyproject.org/case/lourdes-contreras

https://www.namus.gov/MissingPersons/Case#/11841

Categories: Endangered, The Missing

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