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Inside Mexican beauty contest where drug lords like El Chapo pick brides & queens are kidnapped, murdered & shot by cops

FLASHING a smile as she was crowned Miss Sinaloa 2012, Maria Susana Flores told the audience: “You cannot change your past. But you can choose today what your future will be.”

Nine months later, she died in a hail of bullets from Mexican soldiers after getting caught up in a brutal drugs war.

Maria – known as Susy – is just one of the many winners of the Mexican beauty contest whose coveted crown has led them into a life of drugs, guns and murder.

Boasting a steady stream of tall beautiful women, the Miss Sinaloa pageant has produced a record seven Miss Mexicos.

But it'salso notorious as a hunting ground for drug lords in search of a wife.

The region's most powerful lord, El Chapo, even chose the pageant to propose to his wife Emma Coronel Aispuro, flanked by 100 gunmen, after she won the crown at 17.


This week, Emma, 31, was arrested on drug trafficking charges and accused of trying to help her husband escape jail, after flaunting her glamorous life of huge houses and designer clothes online.

It’s a lifestyle that draws the Mexican beauties to the powerful cartel bosses like moths to a flame.

"A lot of young women are attracted by the false riches of the drug gangs,” Judith del Rincon, a women's rights activist and former Sinaloa legislator, told the Associated Press.

“They offer the fantasy of a life of riches without much work. A lot of beauty queens wind up as girlfriends of some narco."

Many of the girls are keen to kickstart a modelling career and their agencies are in the pockets of the local narco kings, arranging dates and giving out addresses so they can shower a potential queen with gifts of diamond rings, necklaces and cars.

But the romances can be a fatal attraction – and the contest's dark history stretches back to the 1950s, with numerous winners kidnapped, murdered and arrested.

Human shield in deadly gun battle

Maria Susana Flores was just four when she won her first pageant, organised by her mother.

But she grew up in a life marred by violence – her farmer dad was killed by gunmen who opened fire on his truck when she was six, and her family were kidnapped for ransom when she was in her teens.

After accepting the 2012 Woman of Sinaloa crown – a stepping stone to the Miss Sinaloa title – at the age of 20, Susy attended pageants as far away as China.

But she was secretly dating one of El Chapo's top lieutenants Orso Ivan Gastelum, known as "El Cholo Ivan" – a ruthless hit man whose violence was legendary among the Sinaloa cartel.

In November of the same year, Mexican soldiers were called to the village of Caitime, where El Cholo’s men had set up an illegal checkpoint, stopping members of the public and searching their cars, as part of a territorial war with a rival drug gang.

A gun battle broke out between soldiers and gang members, who attempted to flee in two pickup trucks.

When they closed in on one truck, Susy – dressed in a yellow blouse and leggings – jumped out, holding an AK-47 automatic rifle, and screamed “Don’t shoot!”. But they did.

She was shot in the neck and collarbone and died at the scene. Four men were arrested but El Cholo escaped.

Local police claimed Susy had been forced out of the truck as a human shield.

Susy was buried with her father in a mausoleum that her mother decorated with glass and marble, adding a red suede throne "for the queen."


Teen bride of billionaire kingpin

When El Chapo – real name Javier Guzman – wanted a young beauty to become his fourth wife, he was determined she would win the Miss Sinaloa title first.

Emma Coronel Aispura was the daughter of one of his loyal henchmen and, after meeting her at a dance and asking her father for her hand, he fixed the contest in her favour.

To celebrate the win, the 50-year-old drug boss – whose £10billion drug empire holds the grip of power on the whole of Sinaloa – marched into the ceremony with 100 men, weilding AK-47s, and announced he would marry her.

They wed on Emma’s 18th birthday in 2007, while he was on the run from the police, and went on to have twin girls, now 10.

She proved a loyal wife, standing by him through his 2016 arrest and turning up every day for his trial in the US, which eventually saw him jailed for life plus 30 years in US' most secure prison, ADX Florence in Colorado.

Emma’s reward was a life of luxury, with expensive houses and designer clothes and bags which she constantly flaunted on Instagram

But the price of her loyalty came this week, when she was charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana.

She is also accused of conspiring with others to help her husband escape from prison in Mexico in 2015, when he fled through a tunnel on a specially adapted motorbike.


Stripped of title after cartel arrest

Laura Zuniga was named Miss Mexico International after winning the 2008 Miss Sinaloa crown.

But two months later, in December 2008, she was arrested by Mexican police along with her boyfriend, Ángel Orlando García Urquiza, and six other men.

Soldiers searching their car found £38,000 in cash, two AR-15 rifles, three handguns, 633 ammunition cartridges and 16 cellphones

The 23-year-old initially claimed she and Urquiza – a high-ranking member of the Juarez cartel – were on their way to a shopping trip to Bolivia.

But in a radio interview she claimed she had been kidnapped by her boyfriend and had not been aware of his criminal activities.

On Christmas day, the pageant organisers stripped her of all her titles.

She was sentenced to 40 days under arrest but was released on January 30, 2009 after being cleared by a judge.

The 2011 film Miss Bala – meaning Miss Bullet – was based on her story.


Kidnapped and forced to marry

When Carmen Lizarrago was crowned Carnival Queen in the Sinaloa town of Mazatlan in 1990, she caught the eye of Francisco Rafael Félix – founder of the Tijuana Cartel.

After finding she was engaged to another man Félix, a rival to El Chapo, kidnapped the 18-year-old, took her to the neighbouring state and forced her to marry him.

Months later a chilling statement, claiming to be from Carmen, was published in a Mexican newspaper, claiming she has accepted her fate.

It read: "It would be embarrassing to have to say whether I left of my own will or was taken by force.

“I do not want to judge or point out the man who will be the father of my children, the one who gave me his last name and from whom I have only received attention, because I have never received bad treatment from him.

“I accept with resignation the path that destiny has given me and if God has put me on this path, I must continue.”

Three years into the marriage the couple went on the run and in 1993, Félix was arrested and jailed for 15 years.

Carmen was thought to have stuck by his side and was with him in 2013, when he was shot dead by hitmen dressed as clowns at a family celebration.

Murdered by the Mob

The link between the Miss Sinaloa crown and drug traffickers goes back as far as 1958, when the nephew of Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana wed 1958 winner Kenya Kemmermand Bastidas.

The daughter of a poor grocer, Kenya moved to Sicily with her husband, Vittorio Giancana.

But after three years, she was shot dead in her ocean-front home – apparently murdered by Mafia members unhappy at the fact that Vittoria had married a Mexican. She left behind an 11-month-old daughter.

Kenya was thought to have been the first Miss Sinaloa to marry into a crime family but she was certainly not the last.

Ana Victoria Santanares, crowned in 1967, was just 18 when she married cartel boss Ernesto Carillo Fonseca, then 37.

She fled the country with their two children after four years, moving to Colombia and remarrying.

Carillo – known as Don Neto – was convicted of participating in the torture and murder of DEA agent Enrique Camerena in 1985 and jailed for 40 years.

The deadly alliance between beauty queens and rich, powerful criminals stretches back decades and is driven by grinding poverty among wider population.

"Most of the girls know this guy might kill them any minute, anytime, anywhere,” says Javier Valdez Cárdenas, author of the 2010 book Miss Narco.

“But that’s the only way to mobilise in this society. There’s no employment here. That’s the only option they see.”

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