Queen of the North: the forgotten story of how a woman more dangerous than Lucky Luciano, ran the first Mexican drug cartel for 50 years

By Christine Duhaime | January 7th, 2021

More dangerous than Lucky Luciano

Before she packed her bags for the last time and fled her home in Juarez, Mexico in 1973, with the federal police hot on her trail, Ignacia “La Nacha” Jasso had been one of the most powerful and feared gangsters in Mexico for decades, described by American officials as more dangerous than notorious American crime boss Lucky Luciano.

La Nacha ran 1st drug cartel

La Nacha created the first drug cartel and operated what the US government called the largest international drug operation in Mexico and she led it for fifty years, longer than any other drug cartel leader. She was famous for using violence to expand drug trafficking territory and eliminate rivals who stood in her way, once ordering the execution of eleven drug traffickers one night when they would not cede their drug trade to her. In Mexico, she established the first major drug supply and distribution routes to the US, which decades later were used by the Guadalajara, Juarez and Sinaloa Cartels which helped them scale their drug empires when she was gone. These underworld achievements made her a pioneer mobster in the annals of drug trafficking in both the US and Mexico.

But because of it, La Nacha dodged trouble most of her adult life. She started early in life trafficking drugs, and although it was not easy for a woman to lead an international drug trafficking organization in Mexico, she learned to align herself with corrupt Mexican law enforcement officials, especially the Mexican Polica Judicial Federal to avoid serious time in prison and thrive as a drug trafficker, eventually becoming the first Mexican drug trafficker to control drug operations at the Mexican-US border.

She also appears to have been the first Mexican drug kingpin wanted by the US government for extradition.

While La Nacha has been mostly forgotten and minimized in the history of drug kingpins, the Queen of the North paved the way for the emergence in Mexico of the powerful drug cartel phenomena.

La Nacha’s early life

La Nacha was born in the mid 1890s in Juarez, Mexico, a town that borders El Paso, Texas.

During prohibition the population exploded, particularly as American distillers moved operations to Juarez.

Scotch-making in Juarez, 1921

In 1921, the population of Juarez was 19,451. By 1930, it more than doubled to 39,669. It became one of America’s favourite towns for vices of all sorts, receiving over 400,000 pleasure-seeking tourists a year.

Americans who crossed the border to Juarez came for the brothels, casinos, cabarets, opium and morphine dens and alcohol. It was the final destination for those looking to park 1920s morality at the US border.

Juarez was a town you went to because everything that was prohibited in Texas was permitted there.

Bar scene in downtown Juarez, 1929 (Source: FilmImages YouTube Channel)

Street of the Devil

Juarez experienced a golden age and an economic boom during prohibition. As the cabarets, casinos, drug dens and brothels sprouted up along Calle Diablo – the Street of the Devil – organized crime was not far behind.

Tourists at a bar in Juarez, 1924 (Source: Ciudad Juarez dacadas de 1920-1940 on YouTube)

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