Don’t blame Edgar “Barbie” Valdez’s upbringing for turning him to a life of crime. The linebacker-turned-drug lord came from an affluent Texas suburb, and his father constantly urged him to go to college. Instead, he joined a group of drug smugglers straight out of high school. “He chose that life,” his brother, Abel, tells the New York Times. “We are a good family.” He also says his brother had noble intentions when he joined the drug war.
In 1998, he moved to Mexico to avoid arrest in the US, and opened a small shop. Soon afterward, his town was targeted by the Zetas. Valdez objected to the Zetas’ tactic of killing their enemies’ families, so he joined the fight against them. “I’m not saying he’s an angel,” Abel Valdez says. “He’s done things that are not legally right, but he has principles.” Later, of course, he became a vicious enforcer infamous for beheadings.