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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Rolando Flores Beheaded During David Hartley Murder Investigation

Investigator In Missing Jet Skier Case Beheaded

A Mexican police commander investigating the disappearance of an American tourist on a border lake plagued by pirates was killed, U.S. and Mexican officials said Tuesday. The San Antonio Express-News is reporting that Rolando Flores' head was delivered to the Mexican military in a suitcase.

Flores, the commander of state investigators in Ciudad Miguel Aleman who was part of a group investigating the reported shooting of David Hartley, was killed, said Ruben Rios, spokesman for the Tamaulipas state prosecutor's office.

U.S. officials have said threats from drug gangs who control the area around Falcon Lake have hampered the search for Hartley.

Hartley's wife, Tiffany, says she and her husband were attacked by pirates on the lake on Sept. 30, while they were returning to the United States from Mexico on Jet Skis. Hartley was shot and presumably fell into the lake.

Lesley Lopez, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, who has been involved in the investigation, said U.S. authorities were "slightly concerned that it was someone who was working as a U.S. ally on this case."

U.S. officials, particularly Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Hartley's family have been pressuring Mexico to step up the search for Hartley and determine what happened.

Fred Garza, chief deputy sheriff in Webb County, on the Texas-Mexico border, said the search was continuing Tuesday.

Perry was expected to comment later Tuesday.

Falcon Lake is a dammed section of the Rio Grande, 25 miles long and 3 miles across. Pirates have robbed boaters and fisherman on the Mexican side, prompting warnings to Americans by Texas state officials, but Hartley's death would mark the first violent fatality on the lake.

Tiffany Hartley said men on three speedboats fired on her and her husband as they were riding Jet Skis back from a trip to Tamaulipas to photograph a half-submerged church, and that her husband was shot in the head. She said she tried to retrieve his body and his Jet Ski but the pirates continued firing and she fled to the U.S. side. Zapata County, Texas, Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez has said he has an eyewitness who corroborates her account.

Dennis Hartley, David Hartley's father, expressed shock and regret at Flores' killing.

"I just, I'm in shock about this right now," he told The Associated Press from his Colorado home. "I really don't have any hope that David will be found. I really hate other people putting their lives at stake. We don't need more sons lost. If this is true, I'm just really heart broken that this happened."

The Mexican Foreign Ministry says it has been using federal, state and local resources, including the military and helicopters, to search for Hartley's body and opened an investigation. Over the weekend, authorities named two possible suspects.

That part of Tamaulipas state is overrun by violence from a turf battle between the Gulf Cartel and the Zeta drug gang, made up of former Mexican special forces soldiers, and both are battling the Mexican military.

Last week, Perry said he expected Mexican President Felipe Calderon to call him within 48 hours to report a body had been found and that even the threat of drug gang violence against search crews was no reason to halt the efforts.

New Blood Evidence Found In Lake Pirate Attack

Zapata County's sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez has told CBS News he has blood evidence from the lifevest of Tiffany Hartley, the wife of David Hartley, that supports her account of a pirate attack on a lake that straddles the Texas-Mexico border.

CBS News correspondent Don Teague reported on "The Early Show" this evidence is in addition to witness testimony that supports Tiffany Hartley's story that her husband was shot in the head by pirates on Mexico side of Falcon Lake.

David Hartley is presumed dead, and officials on both the U.S. and Mexican sides of the lake are searching for his body.

Gonzalez told Teague he believes the Hartleys were attacked by enforcers of the Zeta drug cartel. The Hartleys, Gonzalez says, were innocent victims of a bloody drug war.

Escorted by heavily armed federal agents, CBS News took a boat ride to the border with Gonzales Thursday.

Gonzalez said, "There are problems along the border. Whether you admit it or not there are problems and it's spillover violence."

The sheriff's objectives were to show that the American side of Falcon Lake is safe, and to deliver a message to the drug cartel that controls the water, and land beyond the border.

Gonzalez said, "What I've told them is, 'I need a body. Give me a body, guys, and everything will go away. Give a body guys and the news media will go away.'"

Gonzales fears the same cartel enforcers who killed David have permanently hidden his body.

He said, "The body has been disposed of. They have it somewhere they've gotten rid of the body so there's no evidence."

But that's not something Tiffany Hartley is ready to accept, and says she's only now beginning to grieve.

Tiffany Hartley said, "At certain times there's points where you do feel like this is it. I'm never gonna see him again. He's gone. And then at other points he's gonna be walking through that door."

Doubt has been cast on Tiffany Hartley's story by Mexico officials, but she told CNN recently she would take a lie detector test if people continue to doubt her account of the attack.

Teague added on "The Early Show" that search for David Hartley's body in cartel-controlled waters is so dangerous for Mexican authorities, they had to briefly suspend searching for a time on Wednesday. He added, the good news, there has been no report of any actual violence against searchers and the search was back on Thursday and expected to begin again Friday.

On "The Early Show" Congressman Ted Poe, (R-Texas), who has been involved extensively in this case as well as ongoing border issues, said he has requested from the State Department that Americans search the Mexican side.

He said, "The Mexican government said yes, then backed off and said, 'No, we don't want the Americans over here.' We need to use the American resources that we have, because that area of the lake is controlled by the Zetas, there is an island on that lake where the Zetas really operate, the drug cartels. If we mean business about trying to recover David Hartley's body we need American involvement and the Mexican government needs to be relentless to find it. They are intimidated now, they really won't go near the area where the Zetas operate."

"Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith said, "We need to stop and pause a second because even the Mexican authorities themselves are clearly not in control. It's the drug cartel that is in control because…the Mexican authorities backed away when they were threatened."

Poe agreed, saying, "That area of Falcon Lake on the Mexican side, all the way to the American edge of the water is controlled by the Zeta cartels. They bring those drugs into the United States, usually at night by high-speed boats, and they operate -- that is their operation -- and the Mexican government hasn't been able to stop them, won't stop them, refuses to or cannot, whatever the situation is, and they control that area. The government, neither government, controls that area, the drug cartels. And we're being held really hostage by the drug cartels on that area of the lake."

Smith added that while there has been some doubt cast on Tiffany Hartley's story, this is not the only reported incident of violence on this lake.

Poe replied, "American fishermen, fishing both on the American side of the lake and on the Mexican side of the lake -- you can get a permit to do that -- have been robbed by pirates on the lake, some of them have been taken to the Mexican side, stripped of all of their clothing and their valuables and their boat and left stranded there. This is the fifth time since May there's been some type of violence -- but the first homicide."

Poe said he'd like to see the United States to have more involvement in the search.

"The United States needs to use our resources, the Coast Guard. That needs to be operating on the lake at all times, not just this time," he said. "We have been very lax, in my opinion, as a nation, of protecting the entire southern border of the United States, including Falcon Lake.

We don't protect it. We wait for something to happen, and then we just sit back, as a nation, and wait for someone else to react.

We need to cooperate, need better cooperation with the Mexican government, but need to have really the military presence on the southern border, and that includes putting the National Guard throughout the border, including the Air National Guard, if we are serious about protecting Americans and American property, and keeping the drug cartels out of the United States."

Mexico Authorities Intensifies Search For Missing American

Mexican authorities have bolstered their search for a missing U.S. citizen and the government rejects assertions that security forces aren't doing enough to find him, the foreign ministry said Friday.

David Michael Hartley has been missing since a reported pirate attack September 30 on a lake bisected by the U.S.-Mexico border.

Hartley's wife, Tiffany, told authorities her husband was shot and killed by pirates on Falcon Lake during a sightseeing trip. His body has yet to be found, leading to questions about the accuracy of her statements.

The ministry said the federal attorney general's office opened an investigation based on testimony Tiffany Hartley gave to Mexican authorities at the consulate in McAllen, Texas. The government also has been in close touch with several U.S. authorities.

"The search and rescue for Mr. Hartley started the day of the incident, and intensified this week with additional officers from the Army, the Federal Police, and from state and municipal forces, which cover the area where the incident reportedly took place," the ministry said.

On Thursday, Tiffany Hartley said she might take a lie detector test if people continue to doubt the veracity of her account.

If "that's what the authorities think I need to do, then that might be an option," she said when asked on CNN's "AC 360" about taking a lie detector test.

Hartley was on several CNN shows Thursday recounting what happened last week on Falcon Lake. She also talked about her feelings about people doubting her account of the alleged attack.

Hartley said on HLN's "Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell" that "I know what I know."

"It's hard being judged and thought of that I might have done something to him," she said.

But she added, "As long as I know the truth, God knows the truth. And other than that, it almost doesn't really matter to me, because I know what happened that day."

Mexican authorities said earlier this week that they could not verify the shooting, and Hartley was asked point-blank on NBC's "Today" show Wednesday whether she had anything to do with her husband's disappearance.

Pam Hartley, David Hartley's mother, said Tuesday that any suggestion that her daughter-in-law's account was inaccurate is "insane."

Investigators have found some evidence that backs up Hartley's account, including blood on her life vest, Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Jr. said Thursday. And the incident was similar to other attacks reported by boaters on Falcon Lake, about 70 miles west of the Hartley's home in McAllen.

Gonzalez has said the gunmen are typically teenagers hired by a drug cartel in the neighboring Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Mexican authorities have said the lake is controlled on their side by "organized criminals," and the sheriff called on the Zeta cartel to turn over Hartley's remains if they have them.

"We just want a body," he said.

Tiffany Hartley said she believes the attackers took her 30-year-old husband's body after he was shot in the head and fell off the personal watercraft he was riding. She said she suspects her husband's remains are more likely to have been dragged onto land than to have been left in the lake.

"We do believe if they would just go ahead and give us David's body back, it would be done. It would be concluded. We could go on with our lives," she said.

Authorities from both nations are conducting separate searches and are coordinating and holding regular meetings, State Department spokeswoman Virginia Staab said. But because the alleged crime happened on the Mexican side of the border, the United States cannot prosecute or make arrests in the case, the sheriff said.

Tiffany Hartley, 29, told HLN that the couple set out across the lake on personal watercraft for a sightseeing trip to Guerrero Viejo, a half-submerged ghost town on the Mexican side of the lake. Though there had been warnings about previous robberies on the lake, she said they had heard of no problems for several months, "So we figured everything had kind of calmed down."

Instead, she said, they were pursued by men in three boats as they left the site's historic church.

At first, "they just waved at us like we were friendly, a very friendly wave," she said. But then, as the couple passed, she said they began chasing them and firing shots.

David Hartley was shot in the head and fell off his personal watercraft, and he was unresponsive when she turned back to try to retrieve him, his wife said. While she was trying to haul him onto her craft, their attackers pulled up alongside, she said.

"They didn't say anything to me, so I don't know what they were trying to do ... but they left," she said. "They just left me there. Thankfully they didn't shoot at me. They had a gun pointed at me."

Unable to pull her husband's body out of the water, Hartley headed back across the lake to U.S. waters. She said the gunmen fired "a few more" times on her way back.

"Once I started to get going, I just went as fast as I could and didn't look back until I couldn't see them anymore," she said.

Rolando Flores, lead investigator for the Tamaulipas state police, described the area as "a conflict zone."

The state has made headlines recently as a hotbed for drug cartel violence, and there have been at least four cases of gunmen in Mexican waters robbing or threatening boaters on Falcon Lake since April, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

David Hartley worked for an oil company in Reynosa, Mexico, and the couple had lived on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande before moving back to the United States earlier this year, family friends said.

His aunt, Alice Harrod, told HLN's "Prime News" the family had concerns about their safety in the area, "and we were all thrilled to hear that they were moving back to Colorado," where they grew up.

"We're all very devastated. It's hard to even believe something like this could happen. We're hanging in there, but it's very, very difficult for the whole family," Harrod said.

According to Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, 60 Mexican personnel, three boats and a helicopter have taken part in the search.

Investigators resumed their work Thursday despite threats to their lives, and Cuellar suggested that the Mexican navy might need to be called in to help.

Despite the dangers on the Mexican side of the lake, Texas officials on Thursday said that the U.S. side of the body of water remains safe.

"It is just as safe now as any other time. However, there is a threat," said Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Texas.

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Sources: CBS News, CNN, MSNBC, Google Maps

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