A Cop Discovers A Tunnel In KFC


He had no idea the investigation would send him rummaging around a deserted KFC restaurant when he awoke that morning.

Were they genuinely hoping he would discover something? It seemed less like a real-life narcotics investigation and more like a scene from his favorite television show, "Breaking Bad." But he recognized this was very much the real thing as he looked at the kitchen wall.


For Officer John Erwin, it seemed like a lead that was unlikely to check out. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement worker had rooted through dozens of potential narcotics stores, but this was the first one that led him down such a curious rabbit hole.

Soon, Erwin would be knee-deep in chicken grease and conspiracy - and it all started with an anonymous tip-off.

Traffic Stop

Erwin got a tip-off from Homeland Security Investigation special agent Scott Brown after a routine traffic stop in San Luis, Arizona unearthed something that he decided was worth digging into.

At first, everything seemed normal to the traffic cops, but the police dogs felt very differently, leading them to open up some suspicious boxes in the trunk of the car.


While the license and plates all checked out, Ivan Lopez was hiding something that couldn’t evade the keen noses of the hounds: two containers of hard narcotics worth over a million dollars.

But once news of Lopez’s arrest became common knowledge, local rumors about who Ivan really was and how deep the case went started to circulate.

Deeper and Deeper

It was clear to the officers that discovered the high-value contraband that Ivan wasn’t your run-of-the-mill smuggler, so a full investigation into his dealings was quickly greenlit.

Soon after word had gotten around, Brown received an anonymous call that had him looking into an abandoned KFC restaurant, but it wasn’t until he started to dig into Ivan’s other dealings that he started to take it seriously.

Local Rumors

San Luis’ KFC had been left to rot. And as with a lot of abandoned buildings, rumors about what was inside quickly spread amongst locals.

Brown didn’t have time for ghost stories, so he couldn’t just take the caller’s word for it. But it was enough for him to dig a little deeper. And when he found the records he was looking for, he was straight on the phone to launch a full investigation.

Moving In

“What could they possibly hope to find in there?” thought Erwin as he waited outside the KFC. He was well aware of Lopez’s arrest, the value of the narcotics found in his possession, and Brown’s suspicions.

But what reason did they have to believe the creepy old chicken restaurant was somehow part of his operation? No one would use a fast-food restaurant as a cover for an illegal operation outside of a TV show. Would they? 

False Alarms

Cops received tip-offs from local busybodies to investigate abandoned buildings and cars all the time, but it’s usually a case of rumors that got out of hand.

But when Brown discovered the empty KFC property was registered in the name of an Ivan Lopez, they simply couldn’t ignore it. Could it really be the same guy?

For Cash

It’s hard not to be suspicious of a property that was bought for $390,000 cash, but that’s not what made it a hot topic amongst the townspeople.

The citizens of San Luis loved grabbing a bucket of chicken when the KFC’s doors were open, but when they closed without warning, whispers of the reason started to spread.

Lights Out

Despite having closed its doors, many residents of San Luis reported seeing lights turn on and off in the kitchen during the early hours of the morning.

Many suspected that someone was gearing up to open up the restaurant again. If not, why would there be cars visiting the property at night? And why were they drilling in there? As he stood outside the building ready to give his team the go-ahead, Erwin was about to find out.

State Of Decay

The sign out front had faded after years of the Arizona sun beating down on it and the paint had blistered off the walls long ago. 

Erwin ignored the building’s unsettling exterior and quietly led his team through the empty building. As he looked at the desolate booths and abandoned fryers, Erwin figured he would be writing this one up as a dead end. Then they entered the kitchen.

Can’t Stand The Heat

Erwin ordered his team to spread out through the large, dirty kitchen to search for any evidence of late-night refurbishments, but there were no tools or any dust in sight.

But before he could wrap up the investigation, a hole in the wall caught Erwin’s eye. “It’s probably nothing,” he thought. But he wasn’t the type to leave a stone unturned.

Chipping Away

The eight-inch hole was quite difficult to look into, so Erwin called his team over to help chip away at the opening so they could see what was behind the wall.

As the hole got bigger, Erwin realized they were onto something. Once his team had opened it up to make it large enough to peer inside, Erwin had to pinch himself to confirm he wasn’t dreaming.


He looked around at the faces of his team. Each expression reflected his own. They were in complete disbelief at what they had discovered. “What the?”, one officer exclaimed. 

Erwin told one of his men to hold the rope steady. He was preparing to go down when another officer cautioned that he should wait. “Hold on Erwin”, he said. “We should call for backup”. 

Sensing Fear

Erwin listened to the officer voicing caution as he stared down into a deep shaft. He dug out his flashlight from his pocket and shone it into the dark, dusty space. It was so deep he couldn’t get a clear idea of what it was. 

“Sir, we have no idea what’s down there”, another officer said. “We could be walking into a ticking time bomb”.

Voice Of Reason

Erwin ordered them to remain calm, call for backup, and remember their training because they were going in. Erwin came to the conclusion that in moments of discovery like these where the scene reeks of crime, every second is crucial. 

If they waited for backup, perhaps they would miss out on an arrest. Perhaps they would let someone bad run free and that wasn’t in his job description.  

Going Down

After they called for backup, Erwin looked at the faces of his men. “We’re going in. No sudden movements, no loud noises, or firing without justification. Stay level-headed and pay close attention to everything we may encounter down there, understood?”, he said.

Then he climbed through the hole and prepared to jump down into the darkness while his team waited for the all-clear.

Secret Tunnel

Erwin found himself crouching in a man-made tunnel lined with hundreds of wooden planks. He shone his flashlight in front of him to see the wood-planked tunnel disappear into the darkness.

He stood for a moment in darkness until he was sure it was safe to bring his team down. As his team dropped in to join him one by one, the additional flashlights lit the way ahead.

Tight Space

The tunnel was a tight space, measuring just three feet wide and five feet high. The smell of damp earth, wood, and dust filled the stale air. It felt like they had walked back in time to one of the historical tunnels built in Europe or Asia designed to flee war. 

There was nothing to do but follow the tunnel to what Erwin suspected would be a hidden storeroom, but he would soon find out how wrong he was.

Crawling Through

Erwin and his team crawled through what turned out to be, a 600-foot tunnel with only their flashlights to show the way ahead.

Suddenly, Erwin had a dreadful realization that they should have waited for backup. If he knew how long this tunnel was and how it was big enough for people to walk through, he might have made a different decision. Now, he worried he made the wrong one.

Second Thoughts

Just as Erwin was thinking that there could be dozens of unsavory characters waiting for them at the other end of this tunnel, he spotted something in the distance.

It was a ladder, and behind that ladder was a wall. They had reached the end of the tunnel, but it was just the beginning. As they got closer, they realized the ladder led to a trap door. They weren’t out of danger yet.

Trap Door

Erwin knew this was crunch time. The whole search was leading up to this moment. If they were going to make an arrest or encounter a dangerous situation, it would happen right behind this door.

He signaled a command at his men to draw their weapons. Then he ascended the ladder and pushed the trap door open.


Erwin felt confident that if they were going to be outnumbered, at least they had the element of surprise. This alone would give them the upper hand.  

Using both hands, he pushed hard on the door above his head. If he was entering a bad situation, he would have to act fast to grab his weapon. 

Big Entrance

He flung the big wooden door open, ducked down, reached for his weapon, and rose again with his weapon at the ready. He climbed out and scoped the room while his team crawled up behind him.

Now, they were even more confused. Not one of the men could make sense of how they’d ended up where they did.

Crossing Borders

Before they could relax or speculate about where they were, they covered each other as they went from room to room, surveying the area. It was clear. There wasn’t a sign of a single living soul.

They had broken through the trapdoor and climbed out straight into an almost unfurnished bedroom of a Mexican home. They had crossed the border. 

Long Gone

Erwin couldn’t believe his eyes. Thankfully, they avoided the dangerous situation he was imagining in his head. 

Unfortunately, however, the lack of evidence and abandonment of the house meant that whoever had been using the tunnel was long gone. Then he noticed something lying next to the trapdoor. Was that what he thought it was?

The Clues

A long rope lay right next to the trap door. Now, everything made sense. He could see the transactions that happened here. 

He looked around the house again, searching for any other clues that would lead them to the full understanding of what went on here and how this operation was orchestrated and carried out. 

Border Crossers

After putting two and two together, it was clear to officials that the reason for this brazen under-border tunnel was to enable Lopez and his cohorts to smuggle contraband into the U.S. from Mexico.

Indeed, Lopez’s confiscated toolboxes held narcotics worth around $1 million. But how had they gotten away with it for so long?

Tunnel Vision

Officials believe that, due to the tunnel’s size, the people involved in the trafficking would climb down through the trapdoor in the Mexican home and walk the 600-yard passageway until they were directly underneath the old KFC building.

They would then deposit the illicit substances that were lifted out with a rope through the eight-inch hole in the restaurant’s wall. And this tunnel isn’t even the first one of its kind in Arizona.

A Growing Occurrence

Erwin and his team knew that this kind of thing happened around the Mexican border but they never thought they’d come to uncover one in their lifetime, on their watch. 

But then again, a lot of things have been changing recently, especially in relation to the U.S. border. And as Erwin and his team were about to find out, this was becoming a common occurrence. 

Ramping Up

“Tunnels are a time-consuming venture, but [they have] definitely increased since border security measures have ramped up,” H.S.I special agent Scott Brown said in a statement.

"One of the things that tunneling does tell us is that as we increase infrastructure, resources, patrol, that's forcing them to go to more costly routes into the U.S.," he added.

Behind Bars

Authorities believe that Lopez is a prominent member of the Mexican cartel. He is currently in prison without bail while he awaits criminal charges.

And while these cartel tunnels are becoming more common around the Mexican border, agent Scott Brown reveals that there was something particularly frightening about the KFC tunnel in Arizona.

Scary Tunnel

According to Brown, the substances authorities found were all “hard narcotics”. He said, “I think that’s what makes this tunnel a little unique and, frankly, a little scarier than some of the other ones we’ve seen.”

Meanwhile, Richard Jessup, the town’s Chief of Police told the Washington Post that the surge in tunnels is not surprising.

Going Underground

“Generally along the southwest border, every couple of months, we’re encountering a tunnel,” Jessup explained. “Of course, if you can’t go over the wall, you go under [it].” And while most of these tunnels are left unfinished, some aren’t.

The KFC tunnel wasn’t the longest cartel tunnel by any means. In 2016, agents discovered a tunnel in San Diego, California that was nearly half a mile long, ending in Tijuana, Mexico. 

Heavy Load

And the tunnel isn’t even the first to start in San Luis. A case from 2012 found a passageway that linked the Arizona city with San Luis Rio Colorado in Mexico.

The tunnel shooting out from the abandoned fast-food restaurant is still a noteworthy addition to the long list of incidences along the border, mostly because of the sheer weight of hard narcotics seemingly transported through it. But there’s another tunnel that makes this KFC one look positively amateurish.

Keoki Skinner

In the 1980s, a reporter named Keoki Skinner covered the drug trade at the border for the Arizona Republic newspaper and spent a lot of time in Mexico. 

After a while, though, he grew tired of traveling and decided to settle down in Mexico to build a life for himself. He took residence in Agua Prieta – a town right on the border where he’d covered stories before. Before long, an unbelievable story unfolded right in front of him. 

El Mitote

Keoki decided to do less reporting and pursue his dream of opening up a juice and smoothie bar, so that’s exactly what he did. He prophetically named his shop “El Mitote,” which means “gossip spot.”

But trouble wasn’t far behind the reporter. And, sure enough, Keoki caught wind of some unsettling gossip about some of his shop’s patrons.

The Sinaloa Cowboys

Keoki couldn’t help but notice a group of men who would hang around the area. They had a certain attitude about them as they swaggered with their bodyguards, and Keoki started referring to them as the “Sinaloa Cowboys.”

They all wore Levis, cowboy boots, and leather vests. And they often double-parked outside Keoki’s shop and generally acted as if they were above the law. 

The Beginnings Of The Sinaloa Cartel

When all this was going on in the late 1980s, the Sinaloa Cartel wasn’t the sprawling criminal empire that it is today. But it was well on its way. 

The Sinaloa Cartel controlled most of the trafficking corridor that ran through Mexico’s Sinaloa and Sonora, across the border into Arizona. The big distribution points of Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Agua Prieta fell along that corridor, too. One man, in particular, stood out to Keoki. 

Francisco Rafael Camarena Macias

Keoki noticed Francisco Rafael Camarena Macias because he looked more like a businessman than the other “cowboys.” 

Francisco told Keoki that he was a lawyer who had moved to Agua Prieta to build houses and pursue business opportunities across the border in Douglas, Arizona. At the time, Keoki had no idea that Francisco was a key player in the drug trade. However, it became very apparent over the next year. 

Making Connections

In 1989, Douglas, Arizona was a small town that was populated by just 14,000 people. Francisco made a point of being social and quickly forged connections with prominent citizens – including a local justice of the peace and the chief of police. 

The local justice of the peace also happened to own a lot of land, so Francisco bought a plot and the business standing on it. To an outsider, everything appeared to be above board and legal. 

A Construction Business

Francisco’s business was called “Douglas Redi-Mix. It sold gravel, sand, and concrete for construction projects. 

He built a warehouse on his property for the business that was conveniently located just 100 paces from the U.S.-Mexico border. Then, he bought another plot across the border and built a sprawling country home. Now, Keoki was growing suspicious.

A Large Hole

Neighbors of Francisco noticed that there was a large hole on his plot. When questioned about it, he said it was for a swimming pool. However, the “swimming pool” began to fill up with dirt over time and the rumors in the town were starting to get wild.

People were saying that Francisco wasn’t only building a warehouse on the U.S. side and a ranch-style mansion on the Mexican side.

Speculation Grows

People in the town were telling Keoki that Francisco was building a tunnel between his two properties. 

And the dirt that had slowly filled the “swimming pool” was the dirt that had been dug out to create a passageway that ran underneath the U.S.-Mexico border! Before long, U.S. Custom Officials were inundated with tips in Douglas and Phoenix. 


Eventually, U.S. Customs Officials discovered that Francisco was smuggling contraband through the underground passageway from his home in Agua Prieta, Mexico to his warehouse in Douglas. 

But, even though law enforcement had received enough credible tips from informants, there wasn’t much they could do about it. They needed proof that the smuggling was happening. 

The Stakeout

Law enforcement couldn’t enter Francisco’s warehouse to see the alleged tunnel for themselves without a warrant – they needed more proof that the smuggling was actually going on before they could take any action. 

So they staked out the Redi-Mix warehouse in Douglas for weeks. Then – finally –  something happened that blew the whole case wide open. 

The Raid

While law enforcement was staking out Francisco’s warehouse, they saw a suspicious flat-bed truck leave the property. They trailed the truck all the way to a property in Phoenix, where they conducted a raid to confirm all their suspicions. 

The truck had a hidden compartment beneath its bed, and it was filled with more than a ton of hard narcotics. 

Revealing The Tunnel

In 1990, law enforcement was now positive that Francisco was part of a cartel. They raided his warehouse in Douglas, where they found the entrance to the tunnel underneath what appeared to be a drainage grate. 

Other law enforcement officials went to the house in Agua Prieta, but to everyone’s dismay, Francisco and his family had received a tipoff and had already fled. What they found next stunned everyone.

Something Strange About The Floor

Law enforcement officials searched a recreation room with a pool table and were stunned when they pulled up the carpet. 

There, the floor looked different from the rest of the room and appeared to have a separate concrete slab underneath it that looked like a trap door. They searched for a lever or secret button, to no avail. Until someone turned a water spigot on.

The Secret Door

One of the agents has turned on a water spigot just outside the recreation room. Suddenly, the pool table rose to the ceiling via specially-designed hydraulic lifts, revealing the tunnel’s entrance below. The tunnel was 30 feet underground, four feet wide, and 270 feet long. It had a concrete roof and walls, and it even had solar-powered lighting and ventilation. 

“Just the complexity to this whole tunnel was something that had been unseen before,” says U.S. Customs agent Terry Kirkpatrick. “And no one, I think, in the United States government — especially in law enforcement –realized anything like this ever existed.”

In order to protect the privacy of those depicted, some names, locations, and identifying characteristics have been changed and are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblances to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.