MEXICO CITY — What are three things that sell news stories? Scantily clad women, violence and celebrities.
Put all three together and what do you get? A sexy female assassin who happens to look like a reality TV star.
Such is the latest story that bounced rapidly from social media to Mexican newspapers to newsrooms around the world.
According to the spicy narrative, Claudia Ochoa, a 27-year-old in the Mexican city of Culiacan who models herself after Kim Kardashian, is really the head of an elite squad of hitmen for the world’s biggest drug cartel.
The proof: Ochoa posed in Instagram photos wearing tight bodysuits and short skirts while holding guns, like this pink AK-47:
In this juicy tale, Ochoa even has a fitting gangster name: “The Empress of the Anthrax” — the Anthrax being a cell of assassins of the Sinaloa Cartel, which was headed by the world’s most famous gangster Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman until his arrest in February.
The story has swept across Latin America over the last week and jumped over the Atlantic, where it was picked up by, among others, Britain’s Daily Mail — which was then cited by Mexican newspapers as more proof of Ochoa’s ranking cartel position.
There is, however, an inconvenient detail in this delicious tale: there’s a good chance it’s not true.
There are as yet no arrest warrants for Ochoa. No police or prosecutors have gone on record saying she’s a killer or leader of killers, no witnesses claim the fact, and there are no specific victims that she is alleged to have killed.
So who exactly is alleging that Ochoa is a boss of assassins? The media, citing other media, citing Facebook and Twitter.
— Complex (@ComplexMag) June 6, 2014
Ochoa sprang to social media fame in late May with an Instagram account displaying photos of her posing with guns, piles of money, and her young kids — and sometimes with two of those things at once. Various Facebook accounts then appeared under her name, rapidly claiming tens of thousands of followers.
She was mentioned on the Blog del Narco, a website that shows violent cartel videos, and then her story quickly spread to reach as far as Canada and Australia.
Reacting to her new infamy on Wednesday, Ochoa called a local newspaper in the city of Culiacan to deny the allegations. "I am not the person they are saying I am," she said, adding that the Facebook accounts under her name were false.
Now, it’s clear that someone going by Ochoa’s name has posed with guns and alongside masked men with guns.
But in Sinaloa, the cradle of Mexican drug trafficking, posing with weapons is hardly news. There’s an unfortunate popular culture in the troubled state of doing just that. Even if those posing might own illegal weapons it’s unlikely they all head squads of narco assassins.
Ochoa is also reported to have been the lover of various arrested cartel members, including one who is rumored to have fathered her three children.
This may well be the case — and would explain why she’s so often around guns and piles of cash — but again, this is very different from being a ranking cartel member.
In Sinaloa, wives and girlfriends immersed in the gangster culture as are known as buchonas. Their signature style includes diamond-encrusted finger nails, fake breasts and posing suggestively with weapons. Ochoa might be a buchona — but is she really a queenpin?
It could be so. But the present story has holes as big as the one in Kim Kardashian’s Halloween leopard suit.