Will the Mystery on Falcon Lake ever be Solved?

On September 30, David Hartley, 30, disappeared on Falcon Lake while jet skiing. According to his wife Tiffany Hartley, David was shot in the head by cartel members patrolling the lake in boats “Mexican pirates” as the two took photos of Guerrero Viejo, a Mexican city flooded to build the reservoir.  To date, David’s body has never been found. Shortly thereafter, Rolando Flores Villegas a Mexican police investigator working on the case was murdered, and his head delivered in a suitcase to the Mexican Army.

After Flores’ death, Mexican authorities announced that they would “temporarily suspend the search for Hartley and analyze new strategies to look for him.” Today during a border security panel in Austin, Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar said the Mexican authorities have yet to resume the search. It was Cuellar who had put Mexican police official Rolando Flores Villegas in contact with Hartley and her family after David’s disappearance.  The area where Hartley went missing is too dangerous for police authorities to enter without a military escort, he said. “They need the federal government to come in and clean house,” he said. “But there doesn’t seem to be enough resources.” Cuellar said the Mexican military has done targeted raids on the Mexican side of Falcon Lake, but they should maintain permanent posts there.

In November, residents of Ciudad Mier a city east of Falcon Lake fled cartel violence leaving their town nearly abandoned. The federal government sent in military convoys to escort residents back to their city. The area is still dominated by the Zeta cartel, however. Why doesn’t the Mexican military set up permanent bases in the region around Falcon Lake, called La Frontera Chica?

Tiffany and David Hartley’s story has always been puzzling. Why would the Hartley’s think it was safe to jet ski on the Mexican side of the lake when  they had lived in Reynosa for three years? Hartley worked in Reynosa for an U.S. oil company. The city, just across from McAllen, has experienced some intense cartel battles in the past two years. Tiffany and David had had a couple of chilling experiences, themselves while living there, according to a recorded interview with Hartley uploaded to the McAllen Monitor’s website. In the interview, Hartley talks about being stopped at a cartel checkpoint in Reynosa. “They were holding guns and wearing t-shirts and jeans,” she told the Monitor.  “It was very eye opening.” She also said her husband David was robbed by the local police who punched him in the face.  Hartley also reported that the police and cartel members would hang out together at a gas station near the entrance of David’s work.

The Monitor also has an interview with the Mexican police official Rolando Flores Villegas, that was recorded the day before he was murdered. Flores said he and authorities visited fishing camps on the Mexican side of Falcon lake. He said they had questioned the fishermen in the area where David Hartley disappeared but no one had heard anything. The police authorities were under military escort. They had searched about  2  to 3 kilometers, he said. This was the second week in October.

Apparently, that’s the last time anyone searched for David Hartley’s body. With the horrific death of Flores, it’s no wonder the fishermen saw or heard nothing. In November, Tiffany Hartley left Texas for her family’s ranch in Colorado without her husband’s body. The answer to the mystery of David Hartley’s death is still out there somewhere on Falcon Lake. The final chapter, it seems, may never be written.

Melissa del Bosque is a staff writer and a 2015-16 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.

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Published at 10:37 pm CST