The Journalist and the Murderer

A new book investigates the death of veteran Mexican crime reporter Regina Martínez Pérez—with a surprising conclusion.

By , an author and the head of editorial at Intelligence Squared U.S.
Journalists and students protest the murder of Mexican journalist Regina Martínez in 2012.
Journalists and students protest the murder of Mexican journalist Regina Martínez in 2012.
Journalists and students protest the murder of Mexican journalist Regina Martínez in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, on April 29, 2012. SERGIO HERNANDEZ/AFP/GettyImages

Her gravedigger remembered her name. In the violence-wracked Mexican state of Veracruz, those who work in overfilled cemeteries rarely recall even that much. Burials are not only too many, but blurred lines between cartels and authorities make it safer to avoid committing names to memory, especially those of journalists. And yet according to Katherine Corcoran’s deeply reported new book, In the Mouth of the Wolf, the name Regina Martínez rolls off the tongue.

Tough and locally revered, the 48-year-old correspondent for the investigative weekly Proceso was known for rooting out government corruption, narco violence, and the relationship between the two. Mention Regina, and the name evokes both an unsavory portrait of the Mexican state and those who have struggled to bring accountability to it. She was strangled to death on her bathroom floor on April 28, 2012. The name of her killer has remained maddeningly elusive.

Corcoran, a former Mexico and Central America bureau chief for The Associated Press, set out to investigate the journalist’s death not just because Martínez was a colleague—someone who had braved the “pig swill of Veracruz politics”—but also because her death marked a turning point. In 2012, there were few Mexican equivalents to Jamal Khashoggi and Anna Politkovskaya, murdered journalists whose deaths drew international attention and outrage. In fact, journalistic prominence in some ways seemed its own form of protection; nefarious actors were less willing to risk the scrutiny that the death of a notable figure might bring. But with the murder of Martínez, who had acquired a degree of local renown, those protections seemed to have worn away. Both her reporting and her death made the nexus between organized crime and the Mexican state seem ever more apparent. And in death, her legend only grew.

Her gravedigger remembered her name. In the violence-wracked Mexican state of Veracruz, those who work in overfilled cemeteries rarely recall even that much. Burials are not only too many, but blurred lines between cartels and authorities make it safer to avoid committing names to memory, especially those of journalists. And yet according to Katherine Corcoran’s deeply reported new book, In the Mouth of the Wolf, the name Regina Martínez rolls off the tongue.

Tough and locally revered, the 48-year-old correspondent for the investigative weekly Proceso was known for rooting out government corruption, narco violence, and the relationship between the two. Mention Regina, and the name evokes both an unsavory portrait of the Mexican state and those who have struggled to bring accountability to it. She was strangled to death on her bathroom floor on April 28, 2012. The name of her killer has remained maddeningly elusive.

Corcoran, a former Mexico and Central America bureau chief for The Associated Press, set out to investigate the journalist’s death not just because Martínez was a colleague—someone who had braved the “pig swill of Veracruz politics”—but also because her death marked a turning point. In 2012, there were few Mexican equivalents to Jamal Khashoggi and Anna Politkovskaya, murdered journalists whose deaths drew international attention and outrage. In fact, journalistic prominence in some ways seemed its own form of protection; nefarious actors were less willing to risk the scrutiny that the death of a notable figure might bring. But with the murder of Martínez, who had acquired a degree of local renown, those protections seemed to have worn away. Both her reporting and her death made the nexus between organized crime and the Mexican state seem ever more apparent. And in death, her legend only grew.


“When I first heard of it, I was sure it must be an exaggeration,” Corcoran wrote. “An assassinated journalist being lionized by her peers.” But as Corcoran researched Martínez’s work—reporting on contaminated drinking water and contract violations at a giant Mexican brewery that all but forced the wives of laid-off workers into prostitution—she was inspired.

“Nobody was writing things like that in Mexico at that time,” an assistant Corcoran hired to catalogue Martínez’s work told her. “Especially not in the provinces.” Others sounded the same note. “Regina would always write about one-third more of the real truth than I dared to do in any story we covered,” a journalist from Xalapa, the provincial capital of Veracruz, told the Committee to Protect JournalistsIn fact, in the weeks leading up to her murder, Martínez had been pursuing stories on cartels and police corruption, and may even have been working on a blockbuster scoop.

Her death should have been a wake-up call, but the violence continued. More than 150 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2000. At least 13 have died so far this year, already a record high for the country. A joint report produced by the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, and Free Press Unlimited found the probability of a journalist being murdered in Mexico was “five times higher than for the general population.” The motivation behind 36 of 82 such murders since 2010 was thought to be “retaliation for reporting.”

Ten years ago, the scope of the problem was less clear. Back then, Martínez’s colleagues considered her adept at being critical without making herself a target, a veteran reporter with 20 years of experience, capable of navigating the rough-and-tumble landscape of Mexico’s often lawless regions without provoking a response. Her death clearly had a chilling effect. It “ran a lot of good people out of journalism,” Corcoran wrote. Who precisely was responsible, however, remained something of a mystery. Unsatisfied by government investigators who leaked information that hinted it was a crime of passion, Corcoran began traveling the country and interviewing those who knew Martínez, especially during the last days of her life.

“What happened?” Corcoran asked fellow reporter Rodrigo Soberanes at the beginning of her investigation. “Who killed her?”

“The government,” he replied, though he couldn’t prove it.

“There is nothing more tantalizing to a journalist than the words ‘we can’t prove it,’” Corcoran wrote. “From that moment, I wanted to find out what really happened to Regina Martínez.”

What follows is a captivating account of intrepid Mexican journalism and a damning indictment of the Mexican state. “While most reporters barely left their desks, writing from government press releases and telephone calls, Regina traveled all over for stories,” Corcoran wrote. Her home state of Veracruz was often her focus, as well as the place from which she cultivated high-level sources. “In early 2003, [Martínez] had a bylined story based on a leak of U.S. Embassy documents to the newspaper Notiver,” Corcoran wrote. “Dated 2001, the documents outlined a complaint by the FBI to its Mexican counterparts that several unnamed high-level public security officials in Veracruz were taking bribes from the Gulf Cartel, presumably in exchange for protection.” The link between cartels and the state would soon become more apparent.

This book captures that colliding intensity of politics, crime, and reporters—often in jarring fashion. In one instance, Corcoran documents how Javier Duarte, then-governor of Veracruz, convened with Martínez’s editors at Proceso one day after Martínez was murdered. Duarte reportedly promised a thorough investigation. Proceso’s editors were unconvinced.

“Mr. Governor,” replied the newsmagazine’s founder, Julio Scherer. “We don’t believe you.” An investigation was indeed conducted, but its thoroughness remains in doubt. A man authorities said confessed to the murder, Jorge Hernández Silva, later claimed he was tortured and that his mother was threatened with death if he did not confess. Scherer’s terse response seemed to expect this sort of thing: a rejoinder emblematic of a courageous Mexican press in the face of authorities. But that same press has since struggled to maintain its teeth amid the often-diluting effects of social media, as well as various continued forms of intimidation.


Corcoran herself undertook considerable risk in the reporting of this account, traversing the country to lay bare the interconnected web of government investigators, politicians, pliable journalists, financial institutions, and law enforcement. Under her stewardship as bureau chief from 2010 to 2016, the AP had already “changed the way we covered the country.” The dangers of operating as a working journalist in Mexico were growing, so they traveled in teams, often with GPS tracking and fixed phone check-ins. There was little recourse when things went badly. In the year of Martínez’s death, 89.6 percent of Mexico’s murders went unresolved. And after former President Felipe Calderón’s use of the Mexican army to break up the cartels only a few years earlier, a hydra of fresh factions had led to new levels of violence, as additional cartels jockeyed for power and local defense groups took up arms. Though the precise who-done-it still remains elusive, Corcoran’s work made considerable advancements surrounding the context of Martínez’s case.

Her retracing could not arrive at a more appropriate time: This year is set to be among the deadliest years on record for journalists in Mexico. But it is her revelation that Mexico’s problems are not exclusively its own that is particularly interesting. “In the course of investigating Regina Martínez’s murder, my country started to look more like Mexico,” she wrote of the United States. “Truth became optional; and information, a weapon used to control and manipulate.” While the scope of Mexico’s violent track record with journalists has little comparison to that of the United States, the growing trend that Corcoran notes is a cause for concern. Not only is information increasingly weaponized, as she writes, but American reporters covering their own country’s politics have also been increasingly assaulted. Last year, the U.S. Justice Department filed charges against Jan. 6 rioters who allegedly attacked reporters and destroyed their camera equipment. A pattern of labeling journalists as the opposition—with accompanying levels of harassment, detentions, and physical violence, including from authorities—is more commonplace.

In former national security advisor John Bolton’s book The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir, he claimed former President Donald Trump said that “these people should be executed,” referring to the press. Two years later, Trump called the press “truly the enemy of the people.” That language is remarkably similar to words Martínez’s old newsmagazine fought against decades earlier, when, as Corcoran notes, its “editors decided to print a manifesto decrying a campaign that had cast them as ‘enemies of the country.’” With press freedoms her focus, perhaps Corcoran’s next book should examine this side of the Rio Grande.

Books are independently selected by FP editors. We earn an affiliate commission on anything purchased through links to Amazon.com on this page.

David Ariosto is the author of This Is Cuba: An American Journalist Under Castro’s Shadow
and the head of editorial at Intelligence Squared U.S. Twitter: @davidariosto

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