A Profusion of Corpses

Former Miami homicide detective Nelson Andreu's memories are etched in blood

It was four guys -- bound, gagged, and shot to death. It was drugs. There were empty grocery bags with coke residue in them, and somebody got sloppy and accidentally left a kilo under the bed. They were all Colombians."

A few heads turn when the man with the neatly trimmed mustache and salt-and-pepper hair begins telling his story in a crowded restaurant. The narrative sounds like a voiceover from a tough-guy movie, except for his measured tone and friendly demeanor. Were it not for the starched blue uniform and golden captain's bars on his collar, Nelson Andreu could pass for a typical middle-age man.

Of course, the other thing that differentiates him from your average 50-year-old is his mental warehouse of terrifying tales. Though he's now a captain with the West Miami Police Department, Andreu spent twenty years with the Miami Police Department, mostly investigating homicides. From serial killers to ruthless drug dealers to horrific sexual predators, Andreu has stockpiled bedtime stories grisly enough to make his grandkids mess their Pampers.

He started with MPD in 1980, when Miami was newly awash in cocaine, cash, and corpses. After only ten months as a patrolman, he became a homicide detective. "I guess you could say I applied at the right time," he deadpans. "They really needed Spanish-speaking officers. They only had a couple. And the homicide rate was really getting bad."

Andreu entered a department overloaded with cases. And the body count kept getting higher as the Colombian cartels and local Cuban traffickers fought over money and drugs. "The sheer volume of the killings had a bad effect on the police department," Andreu remembers. "Number one, it put a strain on uniformed officers, who knew there were a lot of bad guys out there with guns, and they were using them. A simple traffic stop -- be it an old junker or a new BMW -- could turn bloody if the wrong guy was in the car. And for the homicide detectives, it was three or four straight days on the job without going home. We had a lounge where we'd sleep, and everybody had an extra change of clothes in their desk or their car."

There was plenty of money to be made working overtime hours, but the work took a toll. "It was very trying for our families," Andreu says. "My son is a detective for Miami-Dade, and he'd always said he wanted to become a homicide detective. Then they offered him a position with homicide right after he had a baby, and he turned it down. I've never talked to him about it, but I believe he remembers that I was never there. I mean, all the money you made working overtime was spent on antacid, doctor bills, and divorce lawyers for some guys."

The cocaine boom and the attendant murders roughly coincided with the 1980 Mariel boatlift. Because of this, the popularly held notion was that Cuban criminals were responsible for much of the drug trade. Andreu, who came to Miami from Cuba at the age of two, says that wasn't the case: "Everyone got a piece of the cocaine trade, but the people behind it at that time were mainly Colombian."

The tactics employed by the cartels' soldiers were new to Miami police, according to Andreu. "The Colombians were a different kind of criminal for us to deal with," he recounts. "They were ruthless, but they were also foolhardy. Take the Italian Mafia: If they kill a guy, they cut him up and throw him in the ocean. The Colombians left the bodies where they lay. They'd shoot up a bar and not care about innocent victims."

Which brings him to the aforementioned quadruple murder, which Andreu, who has an encyclopedic mind for Miami's criminal past, recalls as one of only two or three quadruple homicides in Miami's history. "We arrested the Colombian guy who owned the apartment complex," he remembers. "He had $30,000 or $40,000 in his trunk, and we speculated that he rented the place to the four guys, then sold them out to someone else, but we never figured out exactly what happened."

The murders, which occurred in August 1982, were never solved. Worse, Andreu never learned anything more about them. "In this job, over the years you always pick up little tidbits of information from prison snitches or people on the street or other officers," he says. "I never heard a word about that quadruple murder. We never got a tip or a fingerprint hit, and I believe we got good fingerprints from the scene. It hasn't bothered me...." Here Andreu pauses, recounting the details in his mind. When he resumes, he sounds like a man trying to convince himself of something: "Not that it's bothered me, but I've always wondered why we never, ever got anything on that one."

Cocaine trafficking, once the province of small-time smugglers handling maybe a kilo or two at a time, erupted into many different million-dollar operations moving tons of powder from South America through the Caribbean and into Miami and New York in the late Seventies. "It wasn't something many people could afford before that, and it certainly wasn't something that hundreds of people were getting killed for," Andreu says. "By the time the police realized it had become this monster, it had already happened. This drug was coming into Miami in every way imaginable, and the bodies were turning up everywhere."

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