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Classic Travel Scam Led To Death of Malcolm X's Grandson

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Family members have planned a private burial service for Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of slain civil rights activitist Malcolm X, in Hartsdale, New York tomorrow. He was beaten to death in a bar fight on May 9 in Mexico City. But in the widespread news coverageof the killing, one fact has been curiously underplayed: Shabazz was the unwitting victim of one of the oldest scams in travel.

Shabazz, 28, had recently traveled with a friend from Tijuana, Mexico, to Mexico City, where they were approached on the street by two women who suggested they go for a drink at a nearby bar. If you don't see it coming already, then you should read this story I wrote several years ago for this website, which described how the con goes down:

The Scam: Two male travelers in an unfamiliar city meet two pretty young women who invite them to a private room in a bar. When the bill comes, it is hugely inflated. The bartender demands cash (no credit cards, of course), and the doormen tell the travelers to pay up and leave.

Advice: Beware complete strangers who offer to take you to a bar or nightclub.

The two women took the men to a dodgy downtown neighborhood near Plaza Garibaldi and a bar called the Palace Club, which has been described by Mexican news outlets as little more than a brothel.  Once there, the four of them began ordering drinks--the exact number isn't certain. When the tab was presented to Shabazz at around 3 a.m., he objected to the $1,200 bill. And that's exactly how the scam is supposed to work: an out-of-towner ends up in a dingy gin mill at a late hour, thinking he might find friendship from the pretty woman who brought him there, only to discover the young lovely has been replaced by a couple of tough-guy waiters insisting that he pay cash for an outlandish check--or face the consequences.

In many such cases, the victim pays up and skulks away, grateful to avoid a possible beatdown and public embarrassment. In this particular case, though, Shabazz and his friend apparently refused to pay. For whatever reason, his friend escaped relatively unharmed. Shabazz, though, was allegedly beaten with a bat or stick by two waiters (since placed under arrest) so badly that he died of his injuries.

Shabazz had a troubled youth stemming from age 12, when he purposely started a house fire in Yonkers, New York, that killed his grandmother, Betty Shabazz, widow of Malcolm X. Malcolm Shabazz served 18 months in juvenile detention for that crime. He spent additional time in prison time on other charges, including robbery. "The guys on the corner were the closest thing I could see to a male role model," Shabazz was quoted in the 2012 book Fatherhood. "I gravitated toward the gangsters and the hustlers and that lifestyle." In recent years, Shabazz seemed to have turned his life around. But in the end, the ex-hustler got hustled, and this travel scam turned out to be the worst kind: fatal.

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Mark Orwoll is the International Editor of Travel + Leisure. Follow him on Twitter @orwoll and like him on Facebook.

Photo credit: Intellihub

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