Mexican authorities announced a nightmarish discovery in the western state of Jalisco last week, after raiding a property where gang members are thought to have dissolved their victims in barrels of acid.
The white-walled building, which has no street number and is covered in graffiti, is located at the end of an uneven dirt road in Santa Lucia, a small, underdeveloped town just northwest of Guadalajara, Mexico’s second biggest city.
Inside, investigators found five 450-liter tanks containing several human teeth, bones, plastic tape and traces of acid. The courtyard housed an empty swimming pool and a shallow grave that measured just over 50cm in diameter and contained human pelvis, femur and shoulder bones.
The top floor of the property was marked with bloodstains and the police also found a 9mm handgun, two knives, a shovel, gasoline, jewelry, clothing and 13 discarded cans and bottles.
The Jalisco Attorney General’s Office said forensic studies carried out last week showed the human remains corresponded to three victims: two men and a third person whose gender has not yet been determined.
The skeletal remains reportedly indicate that the victims were between 24 and 43 years old and died more than 18 months ago. However, there was no indication as to how many others bodies could have previously been disposed of at the property.
Neighbors contradict the authorities’ account
Jalisco’s attorney general, Eduardo Almaguer, told local press that state police officers made the grisly find after pursuing a group of car thieves and using GPS to track a stolen vehicle to the property.
Yet, there were no reports of any arrests made, or even of any vehicles being decommissioned.
The authorities announced the discovery on Thursday, September 3, and claimed the raid had taken place the previous day at 10am.
However, Latin Correspondent spoke to several local residents whose testimony raised doubts about the veracity of the official account of the bust.
Four neighbors confirmed that police cars had been stationed outside the house for at least a month before the authorities announced the discovery.
“At first there was a municipal police car and a state police car parked out front. Then there were two state police cars. They took it in turns to keep watch,” said one woman, who asked not to be named for fear for her own security.
It is unclear why the authorities did not announce the discovery sooner, or why they appeared to wait for over a month to carry out a forensic investigation of the site.
Residents were two young men
A worker in a nearby grocery store told Latin Correspondent that the residents of the property were two young men, aged about 18 or 19, who would sometimes come in to his store to buy soda and snacks. They dressed normally and did little to draw people’s attention, he said.
Another neighbor said: “They had a top-of-the-range truck with blacked out windows. Sometimes a motorbike would arrive and toot its horn as a signal for them to come out.”
There are over 2,000 missing people in the state of Jalisco but the attorney general sought to play down the possibility that criminals had been disposing of missing persons’ bodies at the ranch. Instead, Almaguer suggested, the victims may have been members of a rival criminal gang.
It is not clear which gang the perpetrators belonged to, but Jalisco is known to be the home of the New Generation Cartel, an organization that was founded in 2010 and has since established itself as one of Mexico’s most powerful and violent criminal syndicates.
There are several known cases of Mexican drug cartels disposing of bodies in acid. The most infamous case was in Tijuana, where Santiago Meza López, alias “El Pozolero” or “the stew-maker,” admitted in 2009 to having dissolved over 300 corpses.