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Murder of Mexican investigator in Falcon Lake probe reveals drug cartels' reach

The killing of Mexican investigator Rolando Flores has fueled speculation that drug traffickers killed American David Hartley on Falcon Lake.

By Nacha CattanCorrespondent / October 12, 2010

In this Oct. 6, 2010, file photo Tiffany Hartley (l.) and family members, lay a wreath near the site where her husband, David Hartley, was shot last month on Falcon Lake in Zapata, Texas. U.S. and Mexican authorities said Tuesday, Mexican state police Commander, Rolando Flores, has been killed while investigating the death of David Hartley.

Eric Gay/AP/File

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Mexico City

A Mexican police commander investigating the death of American tourist David Hartley in Mexican waters was found murdered on Tuesday, authorities in the border state of Tamaulipas confirmed.

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While authorities have not linked the two deaths, the killing of Commander Rolando Flores has fueled speculation that drug traffickers killed Mr. Hartley on Sept. 30 on Falcon Lake near Zapata, Texas. His wife, Tiffany, has said the couple was ambushed by gunmen in boats when the two went jet-skiing into the Mexican side of the border-straddling lake.

It would not be the first time that an investigator showed up dead after taking on a heated case against drug cartels. Intimidation of security and government officials is widespread in Mexico, with hundreds of people having lost their lives and a recent spate of brazen mayoral assassinations revealing the extent that cartels will go to keep public officials in line.

A 'hard-working' investigator

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

Mr. Flores, in charge of the investigative police in the border city of Miguel Aleman, was killed while in Nueva Ciudad Guerrero, according to Tamaulipas state prosecutor spokesman Ruben Dario Rios. Nueva Ciudad Guerrero is the closest municipality to where Hartley was allegedly gunned down.

The spokesman says Flores’ death is not necessarily connected to Hartley’s disappearance and that Flores was working on many cases. He would not confirm Associated Press reports that Flores’ head was delivered to the Mexican Army in a suitcase.

Local Miguel Aleman prosecutor Juan Antonio Jara told the Monitor that this is the first murder in his office in more than 10 years, adding that Flores was a “hard-working” and honest investigator.

Sabotaging government

Recent slayings of investigators show just how deeply organized crime has infiltrated law enforcement and how far it will go to cover its tracks, says Pedro Isnardo de la Cruz, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City.

“This is about sabotaging government and institutional functions at all levels,” Mr. de la Cruz says. “They have access to information about what type of investigation is under way, which police commanders are involved and which consultants, even private ones, are advising the government.”

Last month, two officers investigating a gruesome massacre of 72 Central American migrants in Tamaulipas were found murdered. The lead investigator in the murder of a California educator in Durango was killed in an ambush in January. Last year, a federal investigator leading an investigation into the death of a journalist was killed in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. His replacement suffered the same fate a few months later.

Intimidation tactics usually work. As many as 98 percent of all crimes in Mexico go unpunished, according to groups that track impunity.

Neither Hartley’s body nor his jet ski have been recovered, raising some questions about the testimony from Tiffany Hartley.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

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