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Much speculation, scant evidence for Mexican cartel involvement in Ohio mass slaying

Authorities set up road blocks at the perimeter of a crime scene in Pike County, Ohio, on Friday, April 22, 2016.

Authorities set up road blocks at the perimeter of a crime scene in Pike County, Ohio, on Friday, April 22, 2016.  (ap)

There is widespread speculation that Mexican drug cartels could have be behind a brutal mass slaying in rural Ohio over the weekend, but so far little evidence has been unearthed to link the Pike County murders to Mexican narco groups.

Along with the eight bodies found shot, execution-style, inside four homes in Piketon, law enforcement also uncovered hundreds of pounds of marijuana at some of the locations.

The victims — all members of an extended family — were fatally shot in the head, including a young mother whose newborn baby was sleeping beside her Friday morning. That baby, another infant and a toddler were spared. 

Most of the victims were shot multiple times, including one who was shot nine times, according to autopsy results released Tuesday. Some also had bruising, which matched a report from a 911 caller who said two appeared to have been beaten up.

The Ohio Attorney General’s office told Fox News Latino that it is investigating every possible angle, but it has not seen any major crimes tied to Mexican cartels since 2012.

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"We have no idea. I mean you know we're running those leads out, there are many different theories," Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told CBS News.

Much of the speculation about Mexican cartels being involved in the slayings come from Pike County’s history as a marijuana growing center and a slew of recent arrests of drug dealers with purported ties to cartels in Mexico.  

"It wasn't just somebody sitting pots in the window," Pike County Prosecutor Rob Junk told The Columbus Dispatch.

While authorities have not released any details about a motive, the attorney general's office confirmed that one of the victims had received a threat via Facebook. 

Leonard Manley, father of victim Dana Rhoden, told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he first learned about the marijuana operations from news reports. Manley, 64, said he's sure his daughter couldn't have been involved in anything illegal.

"They are trying to drag my daughter through the mud, and I don't appreciate that," he said.

A Cincinnati-area businessman has offered a $25,000 reward for details leading to those responsible.

Extensive marijuana-growing operations are not uncommon in sparsely populated rural southern Ohio, an economically distressed corner of Appalachia. Two of the four homes that became crime scenes Friday are within walking distance of each other along a remote, winding road leading into wooded hills from a rural highway. The others are nearby.

Piketon – about 60 miles south of Columbus and 90 miles east of Cincinnati – is in Pike County, which is home to just 28,000 people and has an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, considerably higher than Ohio's rate of 5.1. 

A main employer is a shuttered Cold War-era uranium plant whose cleanup provides hundreds of local jobs.

Back in 2010, more than 22,000 marijuana plants were seized in Pike County. While authorities made no arrests, they said they found two abandoned camps where Mexican nationals apparently stayed. In 2012, another 1,200 plants were seized in Pike County in an operation connected to a Mexican drug cartel, the Attorney General's office said. Seizures continued in 2013 and 2014 in the county.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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