Falcon Lake Killing of Colorado Tourist - a Mystery Playing Out on the Texas Mexico Border

I've lived in San Antonio for most of my life - and my family has been in Texas for the past seven generations, with ties to various communities from the Killeen/Belton area (now Fort Hood) over to Hallettsville (nearer to Houston) and down to Corpus Christi. 

Lots of family stories about lots of Texas sites, along with the usual folklore.  Pecos Bill, the Donkey Lady, the Indian lovers who threw themselves off the cliff near Floresville, the ghosts of the school bus kids who push your car over the tracks near Mission Road.

Suddenly, we're all hearing about Falcon Lake

No one ever talked about Falcon Lake, much less went there to fish for bass.  I never, ever heard about Falcon Lake until I started doing research on the drug cartels for a writing project.  Falcon Lake is big, and it sets there on the Texas-Mexican border, a big bubble of the Rio Grande - 60 miles long.  Part of the lake is in Mexico, and part of the lake is Texan.

Which all goes to provide backstory to my following of this news story: the couple from Colorado, down on Falcon Lake having fun when some Mexican pirates shot the husband in the head - and now his body is missing and Governor Perry is getting lotsa press coverage, demanding that Mexico help find the victim's remains. 

Within the past hour, there's been a press conference where the Zavala County Sheriff is reporting that  blood evidence supports a belief that members of the Zeta drug cartel were the mysterious pirates that shot at the vacationing couple, presumably to enforce their borders in an ongoing cartel drug war. 


Falcon Lake? Really?  FoxNews is reporting that search teams continue to look for David Michael Hartley, 30, in the Mexican part of Falcon Lake, based upon the information provided by Tiffany Hartley, 29, who has told authorities that her husband was shot in the head by one or more men from two boats that accosted them as the couple were riding the lake on Jet Skis. 

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) has notified the public that David Hartley's encounter is the 5th report of Americans crossing paths with Mexican pirates on the waters of Falcon Lake.  From the DPS news release, these prior incidents are (quoting from the DPS release):
  1. April 30, 2010: Four heavily armed men boarded two boats near the Old Guerrero area demanding money. The bandits were given $200 in cash and tried to follow the U.S. boats as they sped back to U.S. waters. The bandits stopped once they reached the United States boundary.
  2. May 6, 2010: Two armed men approached a boat near Marker 14 on the north side of Salado Island on top of the ruins at Old Guerrero. The men demanded money, which the fishermen gave them.
  3. May 16, 2010: Five armed men boarded a boat on the United States side of the lake near Marker 7. Investigators have no further information on the incident.
  4. Aug 31, 2010: Falcon Lake pirates, using a small boat marked “Game Wardin” using duct-taped letters to possibly mimic Texas Parks and Wildlife vessels operating in Texas waters, attempted to stop a Texas fisherman. His knowledge of previous DPS safety warnings about Falcon Lake and the misspelling of the word “Warden” alerted the fisherman that something was wrong and he outran the Mexican vessel to safety.
Here's what I think.  I think that this couple did cross a line in the water that day, and two boats did chase them down, shooting guns in what must have been a terrifying experience for the poor woman who survived this encounter.  

Calling these shooters "pirates," however gives them a romantic label that isn't appropriate, though.  These aren't colleagues of Captain Jack Sparrow we're talking about here. 

I doubt that the couple looked like they were running drugs, poaching business from the drug professionals.  And, illegal drugs - along with guns, ammo, and human trafficking - is big business in my part of the world.  It's not legal, and it's not advertised on TV, but it's here. 

The big elephant in the room.  The 800 pound gorilla. 

When I follow this story, what I read is that the Zetas are claiming Falcon Lake as their own.  This isn't a big surprise here in Texas -- we stopped Christmas shopping in Nuevo Laredo several years back, so this is just another spot we're savvy to avoid. 

What I'm wondering is when the rest of the country is going to get up to speed here.  And, what's going to be the solution to this growing violence? 

It's nice to think that there's a big, bold border between Texas and Mexico - but that's only on maps.  Here in San Antonio, we know it's a murky co-mingling of cultures that starts somewhere south of town.  And, it's getting closer to our city limits every day. 


pcorn54 said...

Nice story but I think we're looking at something much more nefarious here and it ain't about Mexico!


Reba Kennedy said...

Whether or not this man's murder turns out to be another Ann Rule or Diane Fanning true crime novel is one thing.

The reality of the drug cartel's growing power and presence in South Texas is another.

Without spending much time on this, PCorn, two things:

1. The Zetas are current and powerful. Read this Reuters article and do some research on this growth of the Zetas from enforcer into independent distribution organization. I'd suggest the annual Congressional hearing transcripts as a good starting point, going back 20 years.

The Zetas are a well-organized, violent, established enterprise and trade route expansion into the United States makes good business sense for them.


2. It's not surprising that no one has come forward as a witness to anything that they may have seen or heard. That's pretty much standard operating procedure in any area where the cartels have a presence. Most folk do not provide information regarding cartel activity on either side of the border - and if it's the Zetas that are involved, it's guaranteed. The Zetas have a history of going after family members, putting heads on spikes, carrying long grudges, etc.

In other words, no one volunteering to be a witness to hearing gunshots or JetSkis tells me zip about the incident. Doesn't suggest that the widow isn't being truthful at all.

3. Curious by its absence in your post on your blog is the background of prior incidents actually reported by the Texas Department of Public Safety regarding Falcon Lake since April 2010.

Perhaps one reason that the authorities are giving the widow's version of events credibility is because it dovetails three known incidents on Falcon Lake within the prior 90 days.

And these are just the events that have made it to DPS -- without doubt, there are many other stories that the locals could provide that support the Zetas patroling Falcon Lake. Heck, the Mexican police won't go onto the lake after sunset.

For more on this aspect of the Falcon Lake story, read the CS Monitor coverage here: