David Hartley’s wife, Tiffany Hartley, says that she and David were jet skiing on the Mexican side of Falcon Lake two weeks ago, when they were attacked by people in three boats. She says David was shot in the head, and that she was unable to rescue him before fleeing for safety. Since the incident, she has appeared on national media, pleading for a stepped-up search effort. Neither David Hartley nor his jet ski have yet been found. Because the incident occurred on the Mexican side of the border-straddling lake, Mexican authorities have been leading the search and investigation.
Today, the head of State Police Commandant Rolando Armando Flores Villegas was reportedly found in a suitcase outside a police compound in Ciudad Miguel Aleman, Mexico. His wife had gone there to report that he had not returned home last night. He was last seen at a meeting yesterday, after a day of investigating.
While initial reports of the decapitation cited officials on the U.S. side, and a CNN report said Mexican authorities had no knowledge of the situation, the Monitor now reports:
Ruben Dario Rios Lopez, a spokesman for the Tamaulipas Attorney General’s Office, confirmed that Rolando Armando Flores Villegas, the state police commandant heading the Mexican investigation into the disappearance of David Michael Hartley, was killed today.
The Monitor adds that Rios gave no details of Flores’ death, but “assured that it had nothing to do with the Hartley probe.” Rios also told the Monitor that Mexican officials need Tiffany Young-Hartley to go to Miguel Aleman and file a complaint.
An earlier CNN report quoted Ruben Dario-Rios, a spokesman for the Tamaulipas Attorney General’s Office (TPM has been unable to confirm it is the same man), saying that “We have not heard any report about one of our investigators being killed. We have over 1,000 investigators working for the state.”
The news first appeared in a tweet by Texas State Representative Aaron Peña (D-Edinburg). The information was then confirmed to KRGV reporter Will Ripley by Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez. Ripley appeared on CNN shortly after.
“[Gonzalez] confirmed the information. One of the homicide investigators never came home last night,” Ripley said on air earlier today. “His head was delivered today in a suitcase, to the Mexican military. Incidentally, this is the same investigator who released documents to us on Sunday evening about the investigation.”
In a subsequent report on KRGV, Ripley writes that over the weekend, Flores “provided our crew with information about two Mexican brothers, alleged Zeta cartel members, suspected of involvement in the alleged murder of David Hartley.” As Ripley reports, on Saturday, Tamaulipas State Police Unit chief Juan Carlos Ballesteros “released similar information and documents to members of the Mexican media and CHANNEL 5 NEWS sources.”
Ballesteros said the brothers belonged to a gang of pirates that have terrorized Falcon Lake and a nearby Mexican town. The state announcement came one day after the Mexican government announced it opened a federal investigation into the reported shooting on Falcon Lake.
As the Monitor reports, other Tamaulipas state officials have denied that the brothers are suspects.
When reached by TPM, Representative Peña said that he had received the information of Flores’ death from a “trusted source” but would not say if the source was American or Mexican. Peña said he had not yet spoken with Sheriff Gonzalez before TPM reached him.
A call to the Zapata County Sheriff’s office was not immediately returned.
Late Update 10/13: Today, the Monitor is still reporting that Flores was decapitated. But it is no longer attributing the details to Mexican authorities. In fact, they now say Rios is providing no details of Flores’ death. “Only (the Ministry of National Defense) can inform about that,” Rios said.
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com