July 11, 1979, was a Wednesday. Ten miles above the surface of the earth Skylab, the world’s first long-term orbital space station was busy disintegrating.
The remnants of this 170,000-pound spacecraft showered western Australia with debris. The Australian Shire of Esperance subsequently fined NASA $400 for littering. At the same time, on the other side of the planet, Something Truly Horrible was about to happen in Miami, Florida.
Dadeland was urban Miami’s largest shopping mall. Occupying a full fifty acres of prime South Florida real estate, Dadeland was a 1970’s temple to disco, big hair, fast food, and tasteless fashion. Populated with anchor stores, specialty shops, a food court, and novelty kiosks, Dadeland could also meet all of your adult beverage needs. Nestled between a deli and a hair salon, Crown Liquors did a booming business keeping the locals supplied with their favorite spirits. One of Crown’s perennial customers was German Jimenez Panesso.
German was his name, not where he was from. Panesso was originally born in Colombia. While most of Dadeland’s customers were just typical American families out doing what they did on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, Panesso was different. German Jimenez Panesso was a serious player in the thriving Miami cocaine trade.
At 37 years of age, Panesso was the Jefe or Chief of a powerful cocaine smuggling syndicate, and his lifestyle was straight out of Hollywood’s central casting. Panesso traveled in an armored Mercedes, and his life was a panoply of sex, drugs, violence, and excess. Like most of the players in this sordid business, he had come from humble beginnings and now reveled in the trappings of the high life.
Panesso and his entourage burned through quite a lot of booze, and today he was at Crown Liquors to resupply his stock of Chivas Regal. Typically paranoid to a fault, Panesso nonetheless predictably made this run once a week. It was this predictability amidst a life otherwise awash in chaos that ultimately killed him.
Juan Carlos Hernandez, his hulking Colombian bodyguard, accompanied Panesso into the store. Hernandez was hired muscle, the kind of big imposing quiet guy who made a statement without opening his mouth. Hernandez’ weapon of choice was a 9mm Browning Hi-Power pistol, but he felt complacent this day. Maybe he was just sick of sitting on the thing. For whatever reason, he left his piece in the car for the quick trip into the liquor store. The two men entered the establishment at 2:30 in the afternoon.
At the same time, a white Ford Econoline van loitered at the curb outside. The van had recently been purchased new for $14,000 and had 108 miles on the odometer. One side of the van crudely read “Happy Time Complete Party Supply.” The opposite stated, “Happy Time Complete Supply Party.” I tried and failed to affix some deeper philosophical significance to this discontinuity.
Two men exited the van and followed Panesso and Hernandez into the liquor store. The taller of the two produced a sound-suppressed Beretta .380 pistol and shot Panesso four times in the face at point-blank range.
The other then unlimbered a full auto .45-caliber MAC10 and machine-gunned Panesso’s bodyguard. In the process, he wounded two clerks working in the shop as well. Apparently just for meanness they also liberally peppered both the liquor store and the surrounding environs with .45ACP rounds as they made their escape.
The two killers inexplicably abandoned the highly customized van just behind the shopping center. The vehicle was found to be sheathed in a quarter-inch steel armor plate and equipped with plastic gun ports. Inside the vehicle cops later discovered some twenty firearms including handguns, shotguns, and illegally converted automatic weapons. I could find no reference to the shooters ever having been apprehended.
Hernandez and Panesso were Miami’s 37th and 38th homicides for 1979. After having processed the bodies the local medical examiner rather adroitly remarked, “They looked like Swiss cheese.”
In a world where vacuous ill-informed talking heads chatter like chimps about assault rifles, weapons of mass destruction, and sundry other gun-related topics they clearly fail to understand, the gory machinegun murders of German Jimenez Panesso and his associate Juan Carlos Hernandez were actually the real deal.
Three months prior to the hit, an Audi owned by Panesso was liberally sprayed by a drug cartel hitman in a Pontiac wielding a full auto .45ACP MAC10. This furious exchange of fire took place on a crowded Miami turnpike. When the cops arrived they found the body of a drug dealer named Jaime Suescun along with several bags of powdered sugar packaged to look like cocaine stuffed in the Audi’s trunk. The working theory is that a rival cartel decided to rub Panesso out for the part he played in this obvious double-cross.
From the pictures, it appears that the suppressed Beretta pistol was likely a .380ACP Model 70S. This tidy little handgun was in production from 1958 until 1985 and was liberally exported around the globe. An evolutionary development of the earlier .32-caliber Model 1934, the Model 70S was a single action semiautomatic pistol that weighed about a pound and a half.
Early model 70 pistols sported a cross-bolt safety in the manner of the 9mm Beretta M1951. Later versions featured a more traditional lever. As the gun is single action the safety obviously needs to be intuitive and accessible.
The MAC10 was the brainchild of a WW2 veteran named Gordon Ingram. Originally produced in 1964, this compact stamped steel bullet hose should have been little more than a footnote to the pantheon of modern military small arms. However, by virtue of its low cost and ready availability, the MAC10 has become a staple in both Hollywood and the rarefied world of American machinegun collecting.
MAC stood for Military Armament Corporation. The company designation for the gun was always M10. MAC10 was something we gun nerds hallucinated up because it sounded cool.
The basic M10 chassis came chambered in either 9mm or .45ACP. A smaller brother designated the M11 ran .380ACP. Despite the M10’s compact dimensions, it remained surprisingly heavy at 6.26 pounds.
To put this in perspective, this is roughly the same weight as an M16A1 rifle.
The original open bolt MAC guns were extremely easy to convert to full auto and were administratively declared to be machineguns by the BATF as a result. The semi-auto pistol is shown on the left alongside a full auto gun. Converting the weapon involves nothing more than snipping that little peg off of the sear trip. The original open bolt semi-auto M10 pistols were grandfathered and remain legal though expensive.
The reason the MAC10 is a household word has nothing to do with the efficiency or effectiveness of the gun. The M10 sold new for around $120 back in the 1970s, and it was originally available in an open bolt semiautomatic format that was strikingly easy to convert to full auto. The universally misunderstood term “filing down the sear” to convert a semiautomatic weapon into a full auto machinegun arose from this particular firearm. In the case of the old open bolt semi-auto M10 pistols, you really could convert the little gun to full auto in five minutes with a Dremel tool. If you were in a rush you could do the same thing in a fraction of the time with a pair of bolt cutters.
As a result of its ready availability and amenity to illegal tinkering, the M10 was popular with the Bad Guys. I have an open bolt semi-auto M10 in .45ACP in my own collection that was once traded to an attorney by a future felon in exchange for legal services. Where Bad Guys running about fomenting mischief with HK 416’s and G36’s is pure Hollywood fiction, illegally converted M10 submachine guns were actually not terribly uncommon in South Florida back in the 1970s during the cocaine wars.
Those old .380 Beretta pistols produce some surprisingly snappy recoil. The .380ACP round is naturally subsonic and subsequently lends itself to efficient sound suppression. However, the .380ACP is no great shakes in the power department.
The MAC10 chambered in 9mm and sporting a sound suppressor cycles at around 1,200 rounds per minute and is a handful as a result. The same gun in .45ACP without the can becomes an area weapon system in anything but well-trained and experienced hands. Without some expensive aftermarket upgrades, these fast-firing little chatter guns lose their allure in fairly short order.
Interestingly, John Wayne was nearly killed during a range demonstration of a MAC10 submachine gun back in the 1970s, but that is a tale for another day.
The ultimate authority behind the murders of Panesso and Hernandez was Griselda Blanco Restrepo. Griselda Blanco headed up a cocaine importation empire that once brought in $80 million per month. One of her most prized possessions was a gold-plated MAC10 submachine gun.
Blanco’s life was an orgy of violence. She murdered three of her four husbands before being herself assassinated on a Medellin street at age 69. In a blood-soaked world fueled by drugs, sex, and unimaginable wealth, narco-traffickers like German Jimenez Panesso and psychopaths like Griselda Blanco murdered each other by the bushel.
I recommend the gripping 2006 Billy Corben documentary Cocaine Cowboys for its compelling tale of the blood, drugs, and money that drove the cocaine wars of the 1970s and 80s. You can find it on YouTube or Amazon Prime.