Friday, February 5, 2016


Call them head games...

Ninety years ago (on Feb. 6, to be precise), someone broke into the grave of assassinated Mexican Revolutionary General Francisco "Pancho" Villa and made off with his head.

Pancho's skull remains MIA, so far as we know officially, on this 90th anniversary of the sacking of his grave.

Just a very few years ago, one of the last men who rode with Villa passed away at the age of 109. (Mark that staggering age: it could be regarded as some kind of foreshadowing, perhaps.)

My Edgar/Anthony-nominated Hector Lassiter novel, HEAD GAMES, explores many of the legends attached to the theft of Villa's head, including the possibility a certain political dynasty with the last name of Bush and a Yale secret society played a role.

Either way, to mark the occasion of the disappearance of Pancho Villa's head, a flashback to a 2010 blog entry:

Pancho Villa meets
Black Jack Pershing,
who would later hunt


Time is a funny thing: stuff that seems so long ago, really isn't. This man passed away last month. A very old man. He lived a lot of the things I wrote about it in my first novel. He experienced Pancho Villa, up close and personal.

1916: That was the year Pancho Villa attacked Columbus, New Mexico and triggered the "Punitive Expedition."

Columbus New Mexico (named after
the Ohio city) burns after an
attack allegedly staged
by Villiastas.

The resulting expedition into Mexico to catch Villa was Woodrow Wilson's kind of foreshadowing of George W. Bush's invasion of Afghanistan in search of Bin Laden.

Wilson's incursion across the border stoked a lot of resentment against America on the part of Mexico's people.

Wilson sent 100,000 men down into the desert to chase Pancho bring him back "Dead or alive." The chase didn't go well.
In my fictional universe,
Hector Lassiter was
among those
hunting Villa.

In my literary world, one of the men who rode down into the desert after Villa was a young Hector Lassiter, who lied about his age and rode off after Black Jack Pershing into the Mexican desert (all of this fuels my first novel, HEAD GAMES).

Like Bin Laden many decades later, Villa proved infuriatingly elusive. Once we lost interest in him, Villa eventually settled down on his ranch, put on some weight, stepped up his legendary womanizing, and started amassing this arsenal.

What he meant to do with that latter remains a mystery: Villa was gunned down by parties unknown before he could stir up further revolts or revolutions.

A few years later, Pancho's grave was robbed and his head was stolen. (Again, all covered in sexier fashion in HEAD GAMES.)

Villa's head remains missing. We'll get back to that, shortly...

Now, I don't consider myself a relic, but I have actually known/met a couple of Punitive Expedition members (both dead for some number of years now). 
This gent is Emil Holmdahl.
A soldier of fortune, he was
busted for stealing
Pancho's head. You can learn
more about him in

One I met as a child. The other I met as a young reporter: I spent an afternoon with the man hearing tales of the trail and looking through old photo albums only to be told by that lonely old man he forbade any article be written about him. He just wanted company to pass a summer afternoon. That man, and the other man from my hometown who rode with Pershing, are both name-checked in HEAD GAMES.

The Villa assassination.
I'd come to believe most of the men of that time were long passed. But last evening I ran across this obituary for a man pretty wonderfully named Juan Carlos Caballero Vega. He claimed, at the age of 14, to have ridden with Villa into New Mexico that night to attack Columbus. He claimed to have been Villa's young chauffeur. In a sense, his actual story reflects an opposite-sides-of-the-border version of Hector Lassiter's tale.

Vega passed away on March 30, 2010, at the age of 109. He'd hoped to live to see November 20, the centenary of the Mexican Revolution in which he fought alongside Villa.

According to an article in the Telegraph, he attributed his long life to "love," much walking and an active sex life (he remarried at the age of 99).

You can read Vega's story, much of it in his own words, here. An image from Corbis of the old Villista shows a man with some real character etched into his face:

The late-Mr. Vega

So Vega's gone.

Pancho's head remains elusive.

Interestingly enough, the Wall Street Journal this past week took another look at Villa's missing remains (more than just his noggin, really)... Of course, Skull & Bones (the culprits behind Villa's grave-robbing as posited in HEAD GAMES) also got a mention.

You can read that piece here.

ONE TRUE SENTENCE: Paperback/eBook


TOROS & TORSOS: Paperback/eBook


ROLL THE CREDITS: Paperback/eBook

THE RUNNING KIND: Paperback/eBook

HEAD GAMES: Paperback/eBook

PRINT THE LEGEND: Paperback/eBook/audio

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