After being arrested Thursday night outside his nondescript apartment above a beauty shop in western Mexico, he gave his name as Giovanni Torres.

But the 37-year-old man living alone there was actually one of the FBI's 10 most wanted fugitives: Jose Luis Saenz.

Suspected in at least four homicides in Los Angeles County, including the violent rape, kidnapping and killing of the mother of his then-2-year-old daughter, Saenz had been living an anonymous life 1,500 miles to the south in Guadalajara.

Now more than 14 years after the first of those slaying, he is facing multiple charges of murder, kidnapping and rape.

At a news conference Monday morning, the FBI, Los Angeles police and L.A. County sheriff's homicide detectives gave more details of his capture.

After tips led them to a neighborhood in Guadalajara, the FBI and Mexican authorities monitored Saenz for several weeks, FBI Assistant Director Bill Lewis said.

A tactical team of Mexican authorities arrested him late Thursday as he left the apartment. The FBI said its agents were nearby, but could not participate in the arrest itself in another country.

Saenz, who had said he would kill a police officer if captured, did nothing of the sort.

"The arrest was without incident," Lewis said. "He was surprised."

Saenz did not need to be extradited. An American citizen, he was in Mexico illegally and was simply deported from that country to face justice here.


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The FBI had offered a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to Saenz's arrest, and Lewis said at least one tipster will receive some reward. He did not know other details of the reward.

Growing up in East Los Angeles, Saenz was a graffiti "tagger" before he became a gang member and began committing violent crimes, LAPD Assistant Chief Michel Moore said. Later, associates called Saenz "a major enforcer and hit-man for a Mexican drug cartel," the FBI said.

Saenz is suspected of killing two rival gang members in the Hollenbeck area of Los Angeles in July 1998, then kidnapping, raping and killing his girlfriend, who was the mother of his child, less than two weeks later in East L.A.

In a 2010 article, L.A. Weekly reported that police believe Saenz killed Sigreda Fernandez because she knew too much about him.

After being charged in three 1998 killings, Saenz spent more than 14 years on the run, taking great pains to stay hidden. There had been a federal fugitive warrant for his arrest since 2002.

He had tattoos removed and tried to strip off his fingerprints with Krazy Glue, said Scott Garriola, an FBI special agent and member of an L.A.-area fugitive task force.

And there were the names: Gabriel Saenx, Louie Sanez. A fan of the name Giovanni, he used it with last names including Vasquez, Velasquez, Gonzalez and Torres.

Over the years, Saenz bounced between Mexico, Central America, Canada and the United States, Garriola said. He said the travel was funded by drug proceeds.

During one of his U.S. stints, Saenz shot and killed Oscar Torres in his Whittier home in October 2008, sheriff's detectives said. Detectives believe the killing was over more than $500,000 in drug money destined for Saenz that had been seized by police, Garriola said.

After the fourth slaying was linked to Saenz, the hunt intensified. In October 2009, he was added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list.

Bill Lewis, the FBI Los Angeles Assistant Director in Charge, right, and Los Angeles Police Assistant Chief Michael Moore, left, announce the arrest of
Bill Lewis, the FBI Los Angeles Assistant Director in Charge, right, and Los Angeles Police Assistant Chief Michael Moore, left, announce the arrest of suspect Joe Luis Saenz, one of the FBI Ten Most Wanted fugitives after he was arrested Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012, in a joint operation with the Mexican government, during a news conference in Los Angeles Monday Nov. 26 , 2012. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
| PHOTOS OF FBI'S TEN MOST WANTED FUGITIVES

For years, the FBI got tips about his whereabouts. Garriola made several trips to Mexico. But Saenz always managed to evade capture.

"When you have that many aliases and have that much money and connections and you move around that much, it makes it a little more difficult," Garriola said.

Finally, by his own admission, Saenz got "sloppy."

That was what he told agents after his arrest, said Garriola, who was in Mexico for the capture and flew back with Saenz on Friday night. 

The agent said the conversations on the plane back to California, about "life in L.A., life on the run," were interesting.

"He's quite an affable character. He loves to talk," Garriola said, adding that Saenz was nonetheless careful: "He knew how much to say and what not to say."

Saenz is the 492nd person put on the Ten Most Wanted list and the 467th caught, Lewis said.

"This is a great day for Los Angeles," said Moore, the LAPD assistant chief. "It's a safer place today than it was just a week ago."

eric.hartley@dailynews.com

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