According to Tiffany Hartley, Mexican drug-running pirates shot and killed her husband, David Hartley, on Sept. 30 as the couple was coming back from sightseeing on a dammed-up portion of the Rio Grande that straddles the Texas-Mexico border. Mexican officials, unable to find the body or Jet Ski Hartley says her husband was riding, initially cast doubt on her story. Then, in a gruesome twist, the Mexican sheriff in charge of the investigation was murdered, and his head was found in a suitcase. What's real and what's not in this mysterious, bizarre case? (Watch Tiffany Hartley's account)
What's Hartley's story?
Tiffany Hartley says that she and her husband rode their Jet Skis seven miles into Mexico on Falcon Lake to check out the ruins of Old Guerrero, a town flooded when the Rio Grande was dammed in the 1950s. On the way back, three boats with armed young men started following them. The men fired shots, one of which fatally hit David in the head. Tiffany says she jumped in the water and tried to lift David onto her Jet Ski, but was unable to, so she fled amid further gunfire.
What's suspicious about it?
After searching the area, Mexican authorities have been unable to find any evidence that this ever happened. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), who says he believes Tiffany, nevertheless asks, "My question is, OK if he had a vest, why is the body not floating?... Our Mexican friends have said they've been searching around; they've even used a helicopter. If you have a general idea of where that is, why is the body not floating? Why is there not a Jet Ski?" On NBC's "Today," Tiffany Hartley herself acknowledged "I have no proof... I don’t have anything except for my word."
So, what proof is there?
An unidentified witness on the U.S. side of the border says he saw Tiffany Hartley race back, sobbing, being chased by a boat, and there are two police sightings of the couple as they were headed toward the lake, one of them recorded on a police cruiser dashboard camera. Zapata County, Texas, Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez, who is leading the U.S. investigation, also says there appears to be a spot of blood on Tiffany Hartley's lifejacket. Gonzalez also says "other evidence has surfaced" that he cannot disclose.
Why is this in the news now?
Tiffany Hartley went on all the U.S. networks last week to tell her story. "I think [Mexican authorities] finally took it seriously once we started coming to the media," Tiffany told CBS's "The Early Show." "I think they finally decided this story needed some action behind it."
What is Mexico doing to solve this mystery?
Mexican authorities Saturday named two suspects in the case, brothers Juan Pedro Saldivar Farias and Jose Manuel Saldivar Farias, both suspected members of the violent drug enforcer gang Los Zetas. Mexico has also sent soldiers in boats, trucks, and a helicopter to scour the Mexican side of the lake for Hartley's body. Over the weekend, and in their first search on October 1, the Mexican searchers exchanged gunfire with pirates, according to Sheriff Gonzalez.
Who was decapitated?
Rolando Flores, who was the commander of state investigators in Ciudad Miguel Aleman, and the lead investigator on the Hartley investigation. According to a Texas sheriff, Flores' head was "found Tuesday in a suitcase outside a Mexican Army base."
Is the beheading connected to the case?
It's too early to say, since "Flores was working on several other important cases" at the time of his death. A spokesman for the Tamaulipas Attorney General's Office, told the media that Flores' death "had nothing to do with the Hartley probe" but "offered no basis for that assurance." (The same spokesman also denied that anyone had named suspects for the lake attack in the first place.) Texas Governor Rick Perry disagreed, claiming that the killing was "a sign from the criminals for officials to 'stay out of their territory.'"
Can the U.S. do anything?
The U.S. doesn't have jurisdiction over the scene of the alleged crime, so along with searching the U.S. side of Falcon Lake, Gonzalez has mainly pleaded with the Mexican drug gangs to return Hartley's body. Mexico invited Gonzalez and his deputies to search the Mexico side with them, the sheriff says, but he declined, "because it's dangerous."
There are really pirates right on the U.S. border?
Apparently, yes. Texas has warned U.S. boaters to avoid the Mexican side of Falcon Lake since April, and drug activity has reportedly only increased since then. Although Hartley is the first reported death on the lake, there have been at least five reported run-ins with pirates this year. "People that are trying to do their job on the Mexican side are facing a risk, they're right inside the hornets' nest," says Cuellar. But the U.S. side, Gonzalez says, "is still relatively safe."
This article was published on October 11, and updated on October 13.
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