One of the most memorable talks at ICMI18 was the one given by Ramon Sosa – My wife thought she’d hired a hitman to kill me for $12,000 (44:09). A piece in today’s Sunday Times:
After learning his wife was planning a hit on his life, boxing coach Roman Sosa went to extreme lengths to catch her first
I first met Maria Durantes at a Mexican restaurant in a suburb of Houston, Texas. After 10pm the restaurant would turn into a nightclub. I remember walking in dressed sharp, with a sweater on, looking nice. The place was packed. I saw her in the middle of the dancefloor, dancing with this guy. And I said to myself: “Wow, man, she is very attractive.” She danced salsa really well. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. Later she stepped on my toe in her heels — it really hurt! I suggested she make it up to me with a dance and we danced all night. Back then I was divorced from my first wife and my children were grown up.
At first she treated me like a king. I used to be a boxing pro — they called me the Puerto Rican Express. Boxing is like playing chess: you always have to outthink your opponent and find their weaknesses. In Texas I ran a gym and taught kids how to box, and she supported my boxing, she even helped me with my kids.
It was all very nice, and in 2009 I finally asked Lulu — that’s what everyone called her — to marry me. She started crying. She thanked me because she knew her life was going to change: as a Mexican immigrant living in the United States on short-term visas she was always having to cross the border. But right after we got married in the courthouse, her mother came and gave me a hug and whispered in my ear, “Now she’s your problem,” and walked away. That always stayed in my mind.
The trouble started with her son. He had issues with me. I understood that he didn’t have a father figure in his life and I would tell him this: “I will help you. But in this house there’s only one man. And that’s me. I’m the one that puts a roof over your head, clothes on your back and food in your stomach.” When I tried to discipline him, Lulu would get in the way and be on his side.
Then Lulu started spreading rumours about me, especially to parents of kids that I trained. She said I was an alcoholic, that I was abusive to her, to her kids, that I wasn’t the person they thought I was. This was all lies. She was just building a case to use against me: in 2015 she filed for divorce. Yet during this time we still lived and worked together at the gym.
Then, one day, everything changed. My friend Mundo [not his real name], who worked at the gym, walked in on Lulu discussing a family in Mexico that killed people — chopped them up for money. Mundo heard Lulu say something like: “Wow, maybe we can use them.” Mundo told her: “Hey, you know, you need to be careful what you say around people — ’cause you don’t know who’s listening.”
Later Mundo approached Lulu and asked if she had been talking about hiring a hitman to kill me. She said that she was looking for someone to make me “go away”. After that he had an idea. Years ago he had been in a criminal gang and Lulu knew that. To save my life Mundo pretended he was going to help her find that hitman. In reality he came straight to me.
I was driving to the grocery store when Mundo called me and said: “This lady wants to kill you.” He added: “I saw that look in her eyes. I’ve seen that look before.”
That’s when I pulled over on the side of the road. So many different emotions came through me. I still get chills thinking about it. I later found out she was after my pension and so wanted me killed before the divorce went through.
Mundo’s idea was to tell Lulu that he had hired two hitmen already. He called one Paco and the other one John Boy. Lulu believed that these were the two hitmen who were going to kill me. In fact it was me on the other end of the phone. I was texting her: I was playing my own hitman.
The police encouraged us to continue these conversations and gather evidence. We discussed the price of the hit and she even offered them my jewellery and car.
Finally one day the police called me into their office. They told me that they had enough evidence to arrest Lulu, but they didn’t want to take a chance on going to trial only to have one of the jurors feel sorry for her and acquit her. “We want this to be a slam-dunk case,” they said. “We want you to fake your own death.”
I thought they were kidding; I couldn’t process it. I had been through so much — and now this?
The plan was to show Lulu a picture of my “dead” body. Her reaction, they hoped, would prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she really wanted me dead. Not beaten up, not threatened: dead.
The district attorney started pulling out photographs of people who had actually been murdered — pictures of people with bullet wounds, with half their heads blown off. They were looking for an image that they could copy. I was thinking, “This is crazy.”
They started putting make-up on me. I thought the officers knew what they were doing — it turned out they had just watched a make-up tutorial on YouTube, but they made the bullet wound look great. Next they put me into an SUV with blacked-out windows and drove me to a shallow grave that they had prepared.
They told me to strip down to my underwear and then get into the grave so they could take pictures of me. I wasn’t convinced Lulu would fall for it and, as I lay in that grave all I could hear was the clicking of the camera. What would my kids think when they saw this? What would my parents think?
After that I had to go into hiding for three days. It was like being incarcerated. I didn’t have a phone, and my family and friends had no idea where I was — not even Mundo knew.
At the same time an undercover officer met with Lulu, pretending to be the hitman. The officer showed her my picture and told her I was dead. Later I saw a video of that moment: she just started laughing and had the nerve to ask him: “He’s not getting up, right?” She left happy.
The next day police officers returned to the gym. Lulu pretended that she had no idea where I was — and that’s when, finally, the cops arrested her for solicitation of capital murder. She looked confused but she knew exactly what was going on. They took her away in handcuffs.
After Lulu’s arrest I was allowed to leave the hotel. The first people I called were my parents. My father answered. In the background, my mother was screaming and sobbing. Everybody was so upset. I went to their house and my mother was just hugging me and crying. She couldn’t believe that I was alive.
Lulu was charged. All the time that she was locked up I slept with a loaded gun by my side. I was afraid someone would retaliate against me on Lulu’s behalf. After 15 months she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
At her first hearing she walked out in handcuffs and a prison jumpsuit. It was sad to see her like that, because she always used to wear fancy clothes and shoes. I thought: “Look how she ended up — she came to this country for a better life, and here she is in chains.” She didn’t look at me once during her hearings. I wanted her to look at me as though she was sorry, but she never did.
At her sentencing they let me speak. The courthouse was packed and I forgave her for everything she did. I had so much anger and that was the only way for me to release it. I told her: “There’s not one person in this courtroom that is perfect. We all make mistakes. But we have to pay the consequences.” It was like a balloon went off — I could breathe again.
My story could have ended tragically. I now use my experience to speak out about abusive relationships and I’ve written a book, I Walked on My Own Grave. I hope to empower both men and women to find the courage to ask for help. My message is this: being abused doesn’t make you “less of a man”.
I have also found love again. I’m engaged to a wonderful lady and I’m the proud grandfather of two boys. They are my pride and joy.
Maria Durantes remains in prison and was recently denied parole. Ramon shares his story in Damon and Fiennes’s new crime podcast, Pseudocide, available now on Spotify
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