MEXICO CITY – At least 15 dismembered bodies were found stuffed inside two vans near Lake Chapala, an area frequented by tourists just south of the city of Guadalajara in western Mexico, police said Wednesday.
Jalisco state Prosecutor Tomas Coronado said the count is preliminary, because 15 severed human heads were found, meaning that at least that many people, but possibly more, had been cut up and put in the vans.
"The bodies are dismembered," Coronado said in an interview transcript provided by his office. He said authorities received a phone call alerting them to the presence of the vehicles on a dirt access road just a few miles from Lake Chapala, which is popular with tourists and American retirees.
The two vehicles were found by the side of a highway early Wednesday; the vehicles were towed to government offices to unload the bodies.
The area has been the scene of bloody turf battles between the Jalisco New Generation gang, allied with the Sinaloa cartel, and the Zetas drug cartel.
Mexican drug cartels frequently dismember the bodies of their victims or leave them stuffed into vehicles. The gangs also frequently leave hand-written messages alongside their victims' bodies, and Coronado said that such messages were found in the vans.
"They are clearly messages between rival groups that are in conflict," Coronado said.
Coronado also said the killings may have been linked to the abduction of 12 people who later escaped in the same area on Tuesday. A woman who was allegedly watching the captives was detained. She told investigators that the kidnappings were "a repercussion of what happened in Tamaulipas."
That was an apparent reference to the slayings of 23 people whose bodies were found Friday in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, in northern Tamaulipas state. The bodies were found hanging from a bridge or decapitated and dumped near city hall Friday in Nuevo Laredo, where drug cartels are fighting an escalating turf war.
Messages were found in Nuevo Laredo threatening the Gulf cartel, which has joined Sinaloa to battle the Zetas, a gang of former Mexican special-forces soldiers. The killings thus could be part of a wide-ranging, tit-for-tat battle between Sinaloa and the Zetas, in which both sides have been known to massacre dozens of people accused of supporting the rival gang.