The O.G.’s Are Falling – Part 3
(This is the Third Segment of a multiple-part series focusing on significant Mexican Mafia members who have died)
COMING NEXT in PART 4 : “Richie” and “Nico”
For a Mexican Mafia prison predator, engaging in hand-to-hand mortal combat was part of “the program” on the inside. Prison gang confederates experience a long term relationship, an unmistakable bond is established which unites them in their common cause. They refer to each other as Carnales, brothers. On California’s prison yards, the shrill of guards’ whistles would penetrate through the air, warning sirens blared, and the reverberating deafening blasts from officers’ rifles and shotguns announced to the convict population that the “shit had hit the fan” somewhere in the facility. Were these seasoned killers living a Big Lie or was there “fruit” at the end of their journeys? Decide for yourself. The following three Mexican Mafia members were longtime legends who killed for each other and toed the company line for decades. When the glory days evaporated and their life’s journey concluded, “No Mexican Mafia Carnales came to their funeral.”
On March 19, 2001, Mike “Acha” Ison, 54, one of the older Mexican Mafia legends, was beaten to death in San Francisco by bar patrons. Feared and/or respected by all prison convicts and underworld figures, he was known by various handles: “Killer Mike,” “The Hatchet Man,” “Ison,” and the prison administration likely had some pet nicknames too. Correctional officers officially referred to him as inmate Ison – A66534 – whereas his EME brothers and the convict population simply called him “Acha” (Spanish for hatchet). The first wave of Mexican Mafia prison murders, a period known as Black December, took place in San Quentin between December 12th and 24th, 1961. “Acha” made his bones early, stabbing inmate Thomas Devers to death on December 19th. On November 15, 1963, he participated in the San Quentin stabbing death of Antonio “Tony” Chacon inside the Adjustment Center. In 1971, he was found guilty of murdering another inmate at Folsom Prison’s Greystone Chapel, made famous by Johnny Cash who first sang this song at the old prison. On the day of the killing, “Acha” timed his attack to coincide with the church choir’s rendition of Rock of Ages, drowning out his “work” and the victim’s death throes. One of the best chess players in the California Department of Corrections system, “Acha” was a stone killer and longtime EME leader. A notorious heroin and substance abuser, he eventually fell from grace and the news of his unceremonious death outside a San Francisco dive was received by his Carnales with a collective shrug. Nobody cared.
On February 18, 2001, Benjamin “Topo” Peters, 60, died of liver cancer at Corcoran State Prison. Ascending the criminal corporate ladder, “Topo” is another example of yet another Mexican Mafia member who went from the penthouse to the basement. Like most of his fellow comrades, his arrogance and ruthlessness were evident when dealing with EME associates and those he preyed upon in the prison and street world. Recruited in the early 1960’s, most of his adult incarcerated tenure was at San Quentin and Folsom prisons. In early years, “Topo” (Spanish for gopher) was affectionately dubbed “dientudo” (big tooth) and was considered a hothead, possessing a temper that often affected his judgment. On several occasions, this volatile trait would get him in trouble with his Carnales. Like an unruly child, “Topo” had to be reined in by other EME associates to prevent him from crossing the line and committing an infraction that would get him killed. As the years progressed, “Topo” established an impressive criminal resume and maintained a lofty status within the organization. In the 1980’s and 90’s, many younger members respected the veteran “Tio Pio,” another affectionate handle he inherited from his underworld peers, whereas Sureño associates would tread softly, fearing becoming fatal victims of his unpredictability. Following the 1993 death of Joe Morgan, “Topo” became to many the unofficial heir to the EME throne. But “Topo” reverted to his previous behavior, became a master politicker, and was responsible for many unnecessary deaths and the creator of dissension and discord among EME members and associates. A longtime hope-to-die heroin user, he succeeded in alienating his EME confederates and was saved from their wrath only by contracting the drug-related disease which ultimately led to his demise. If a headstone were generated summing up his EME legacy, it would simply read: “Nobody came to his funeral.”
In November 2004, Robert “Robot” Salas died of what was described as “natural causes.” Before anyone in the law enforcement community could mobilize to investigate the exact cause of death, his body was hastily cremated which led to widespread speculation from those not in the loop. Did he die of a “hot shot” (forced heroin overdose)? Some guessed he had AIDs. Growing up in the Ramona Gardens Housing Projects in the Boyle Heights section of East Los Angeles, “Robot” went from a toddler with polio, hence the nickname “Robot,” to a longstanding member of the Big Hazard gang. Recruited at San Quentin in the mid-1960’s, he made his bones early in his membership by stabbing inmate James “Sonny” Peña to death on the prison yard. He was also the instigator of the so-called Shoe War, a Hispanic uprising that took place in 1968 throughout San Quentin after “Robot” had ripped off a pair of shoes from a San Jose Hispanic inmate. He was an ambitious man who shared many visions with his closest Carnales while serving nearly a decade at San Quentin and Folsom, then doing time in the feds. A dedicated soldier with a high business acumen, he was one of dozens of EME “rising stars” from the 60’s and 70’s, an early example of the famous rule shared with new recruits by their sponsoring padrinos: “The EME comes first, even before your blood family.” On the outside, after serving a decade in prison, “Robot” joined a group of like minded kindred spirits, willing to die but more importantly, willing to kill for La EME. Joe Morgan, “Mundo” Mendoza, “Alfie” Sosa, and “Sailor Boy” Gonzales became the core group, unofficially known as the “Inner Circle,” who pioneered the proliferation of heroin and cocaine distribution in Los Angeles and throughout the state of California. It was “Robot” who revealed the essence of politicking within the Mexican Mafia. During his final years of existence, his status and popularity had greatly diminished and “Robot’s” name was often associated with talk of “EME termination.” His dissenters accused him of conducting business as the Lone Ranger (looking out for himself only) and not functioning as a team player.
COMING SOON (PART 4) : “Richie,” “Nico,” and “Big D”