As long as life is cheaper than cocaine, they're not going to quit killing. - Homicide Lt. Willis

Who knows how they really began, all these Colombian cocaine killings.The best that investigators can figure out is that they started in July 1978. What they cannot figure out is when they will end.

"The first murder we've related to the same associations was a young Latin female involved in cocaine trafficking," said Dade County homicide Lt. Robert Willis as he sat in his sparsely furnished office, one wall decorated with a map, not of a precinct, but of Colombia. A joke, he says, given him by his squad.

Outdated organizational charts on another wall break down suspected Colombian families. The charts are as complex as the killings are simple.

"They had a falling out over wages. We believe she threatened to expose them. So he just paid her the cheapest way...."

Willis investigated almost as many drug-related killings in the first six months of this year (23) as in all of 1978 (28).

"The current rash was brought on because two people last Easter killed a Colombian woman guarding a "safe" house.They stole some cocaine at the same time," Willis said.

"Since then, it's just gotten progressively worse. You can't really explain it. "My group is angry at your group." They're not fighting for anything. It's the Hatfields and McCoys, "You killed one of mine, so I'll kill one of yours."

"They have a total disregard for life."

Four Miami-area police departments investigate homicides. Of 132 killings reported in the first half of 1979, they tied 37 to drug trafficking. In Dade County, drug killings accounted for 40 percent of the 57 homicides. Three years ago, drug hits accounted for less than 10 percent.

Not all are tied to Colombian vengeance. In Hialeah, three young pot purchasers were murdered early this year, investigators say, after they made an informal but insistent consumer complaint to their suppliers about the quality of the stash.

April 23. A black Audi came roaring down a turnpike, a Latino hanging out a window and wildly emptying a .45-cal. submachine gun at a Pontiac.Eventually the Audi pulled to a stop and the Pontiac followed suit. More automatic fire, but no hits.

When the police arrived, they found the body of Jaime Suescun and packages of sugar looking like cocaine in the trunk of the Audi. The car was owned by a fugitive drug trafficker, German Jimenez Panesso, a jefe (chief) in one of the Colombia coke organizations.

July 11. The man wanted to buy a bottle of Scotch, Chivas Regal to be specific. He was Latin, as was the man with him. And so were two others who suddenly came into Crown Liquors and emptied their submachine guns into Panesso.

Two store employes were incidentally wounded. Panesso and his companion didn't stand a chance.

"They looked like Swiss Cheese," a medical examiner told the Miami Herald.

In the Dadeland Mall parking lot, police found what came to be called the kilelrs' "war wagon," a van made up to look like a party supply delivery truck but equipped with bullet-proofing and a stock of weapons. It had cost $14,000, and had only 108 miles on it, but was abandoned in the lot.

"The word on the street," Willis said, "is that there's going to be more because of the Dadeland Mall thing."