El Chapo: The Life and Crimes of a Drug Lord

Born in the heart of Mexico's drug production, El Chapo has a history of outrageous escapes, horrific violence and pure profit

For the past two decades, El Chapo has led the most influential and profitable drug syndicate in the world.

December 25, 1954, or April 4, 1957
Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán is born (the official date is contested) in La Tuna, Sinaloa. His father was "officially" a cattle rancher, but according to Malcolm Beith's biography, The Last Narco, locals say he was actually a gomero, or opium farmer.

Late 1970s
El Chapo begins running drugs from the Sierra to major Mexican cities and to the border. He develops a reputation for efficiency and ruthlessness.

Early 1980s
El Chapo is introduced to the Sinaloa cartel's leader, Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (a.k.a. El Padrino), the godfather of the modern Mexican drug trade.

El Padrino's cartel is divided among the capos, making it more self-sufficient and less visible to law enforcement. El Chapo and "El Mayo" Zambada take over the operations along the Pacific Coast.

Early 1990s
El Chapo methodically builds his cartel while providing services for the poor, earning fierce loyalty in his home turf. "You are financing everything: Baptisms. Infrastructure," a former Mexican ambassador said. "You are Santa Claus. And everybody likes Santa Claus."

Early 1992
El Chapo begins to expand into Tijuana, encroaching on the Arellano Felix brothers of the Tijuana cartel and setting off a deadly gang war.

June 1993
El Chapo flees across Mexico to Guatemala, where he's arrested and sentenced to 20 years for murder and trafficking.

El Chapo escapes from a maximum-security prison in a laundry cart. The escape costs him as much as $2.5 million, and results in the detention of 73 prison officials.

Early 2000s 
El Chapo muscles into Tijuana and Gulf cartel territory, and open warfare breaks out. "Sinaloa was very much the instigator of much of the violence in Mexico in the early parts of the 2000s," Vanda Felbab-Brown, of the Brookings Institution, said. But "they never adopted the same level of violence and carnage [as their rivals]."

The escalating violence draws renewed attention from U.S. and Mexican authorities, leading to at least two almost-captures of El Chapo. The Mexican army receives a tip that he is throwing a party. Helicopters rain down on a ranch that they suspect is owned by Chapo. "Every time he gets away, they tell us, 'He got out the back door,'" said one American official. "U.S. officials have started to joke that there is no word for 'surround' in Spanish."

July 2, 2007
El Chapo throws a wedding party for himself and his fourth wife, beauty queen Emma Coronel Aispuro, on her 18th birthday. The military tries to raid the festivities, only to find the couple had left on their honeymoon.

May 8, 2008
El Chapo's son Edgar is killed in a parking-lot shootout. The murder inspires a rash of revenge killings, and beheadings become a common sight throughout Sinaloa.

Cartel members begin to use unlicensed drug-rehab centers as safe houses in Ciudad Juarez. In September, men stormed a rehab clinic in the city and murdered 17 patients – one of several similar attacks rumored to be the work of the Sinaloa cartel.

February 22, 2014
After 13 years on the run, Chapo is arrested in Mazatlan. "I killed two or three thousand," Chapo told law enforcement. "I'm a drug trafficker. I don't kidnap or steal or extort or anything like that."

July 11, 2015
El Chapo escapes from a maximum-security prison through a tunnel under a shower, and was the target of a nationwide manhunt.

January 8, 2016
Chapo is captured in Los Mochis, Sinaloa.