LAS CRUCES – Charles Bowden, a writer whose graphic books on the violence in Juárez helped to expose the brutality and corruption that has gripped the city in recent years, died Saturday at his Las Cruces home after falling ill for reasons still unknown.
“This illness that laid him low was really devastating. I don’t want to speculate on what caused it because the doctors don’t know yet,” said Molly Molloy, who has lived with Bowden since he moved here in 2009. “It was a sudden onset of an illness that didn’t go away.”
A former crime reporter with the Tucson Citizen, where he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1984, Bowden first became interested in what was happening in Juárez following enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Molloy said. In 1998, he wrote “Juárez: The Laboratory of Our Future,” which included graphic photos taken by Mexican photographers. It was through that book that he established contact with photographer Julian Cordova and others in Mexico for the series of books that followed:
• “Down by the River; Drugs, Money, Murder and Family” (2004)
• “Some of the Dead are Still Breathing: Living in the Future” (2009)
• “Dreamland: The Way Out of Juárez” (2010)
• “Murder City: Ciudad Juárez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields” (2010)
• “Dead When I Got Here: Asylum From the Madness” (2014).
He also assisted Molloy, a New Mexico State University research librarian, on her book, “El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin,” just as she had helped with many of his.
“The violent reality that this kind of economic system produces is one where there is a huge amount of crime, and huge amount of poverty and social unrest,” Molloy said. “Chuck was, I think, the first U.S. writer to even come close to understanding this reality.”
When Bowden wrote his first book in 1998, he never imagined how bad the violence would become, she said.
“When it started happening in 2008, he and Julian got together and said, ‘We have to report this,’ and that became the book ‘Murder City,’” Molloy said. “This kind of economy is something that’s been imposed all over the world. Chuck’s work, I think, really set the standard for explaining it and for trying to get it across to the American people what this world was like.
“He did it with no fear. It has to be told and he had to tell it, because if he knew it and there was that level of injustice, he would not let it stay unsaid.”
Bowden had most recently worked with Molloy on a much different piece, on hummingbirds in Arizona, that was published in Arizona Highways magazine. He had started exercising more in the past year before the illness hit, she said, describing Bowden as “just kind of larger than life.”
“He was one of the most talkative, knowledgeable people you could ever meet,” Molloy said.
Cartoonist Max Cannon put it this way in a story published in the Tucson Sentinel: “He lived on his own terms to the extreme – he was a master wordsmith, a detective, a poet, a scholar, a gentleman rogue, and a fearless traveler into humanity’s darkest places.”