As a location scout for Hollywood projects filming in his native Mexico, Carlos Munoz Portal spent his workdays roaming the country, searching for landscapes that would look great on screen. By age 37, he had racked up an impressive list of credits that included the thriller “Sicario” and the James Bond film “Spectre.”
Last week, Munoz hopped in the car to hunt for locations for a new client: “Narcos,” the hyper-violent Netflix series that chronicles the lives of Latin American drug kingpins.
Several hours later, he was dead.
Local police found Munoz in his car slumped over in the driver’s seat in a field about an hour north of Mexico City, according to the attorney general’s office in Mexico state. He had been shot multiple times.
Beyond that, authorities have no idea what happened, said Claudio Barrera Vargas, a spokesman for the attorney general. The area where Munoz was discovered was rural and remote, Barrera said, and no witnesses had come forward.
In Mexico, as filmmakers mourned the loss of one of the country’s most respected location scouts, some couldn’t help but note that the mystery surrounding the apparent slaying felt a like a “Narcos” plot line. While the first three seasons of the series tracked the rise and fall of Colombia’s drug kingpins, an upcoming season is expected to focus on Mexico, where the military and competing drug cartels have been locked in a 10-year battle that has killed more than 100,000 people.
Mexico is on track to set a new record for violence this year, with 14,190 homicide investigations opened nationwide in the first seven months.
“Violence in Mexico surpasses fiction,” read the headline in El Pais, the newspaper that first reported Munoz’s death.
Mexico state is one of the deadliest in the country, with 1,174 homicide investigations opened between January and July. Temascalapa, the sparsely populated municipality where Munoz’s body was discovered, has been the site of frequent gasoline theft, according to media reports. It’s part of an epidemic of theft around the country that often involves drilling taps into pipelines.
In Mexico, where perpetrators of homicides and other crimes are rarely brought to justice, many family members of victims are afraid to speak out for fear that they too could be targeted by violence. A relative of Munoz who spoke on condition on anonymity out of fear of reprisals said the family was stunned and had no idea what was behind the death.
“He went out to do his job and he was killed,” said the relative.
He said Munoz was single, always cheerful and had many friends. “He was passionate about cinema,” the relative said.
He was also passionate about tennis. His Facebook page shows multiple photographs of him in action on the court, as well as a signed copy of the autobiography of tennis legend Andre Agassi.
Netflix acknowledged Munoz’s death but offered little insight into what had happened. Questions about what if any security protocols were in place during his location scouting were not answered.
“We are aware of the passing of Carlos Munoz Portal, a well-respected location scout, and send our condolences to his family,” the company said in a statement. “The facts surrounding his death are still unknown as authorities continue to investigate.”
The Mexican Institute of Cinematography offered its condolences and highlighted Munoz’s work on several top Hollywood films shot in Mexico. He helped scout locations and secure permits for movies including “Fast & Furious,” which featured car chases through the northern Mexican desert, and “The Legend of Zorro.”
He also worked on Mexican-produced films and shows. Actor Gael Garcia Bernal lamented his death in an expletive-filled Tweet.
“How it hurts!” he wrote. “What do we do, comrades of the cinema?”
Cecilia Sanchez in the Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.