EDINBURG — While Mexican officials have put the search for McAllen man David Michael Hartley on hold indefinitely, a local man believes he has many of the answers to the mystery of the disappearance.
Hartley, 30, is widely presumed dead after what his wife, Tiffany Young-Hartley, has described as an attack by cartel "pirates" on the Mexican side of Falcon Reservoir, which spans that country’s border with the United States.
She has said three boats of gunmen opened fire on them, fatally shooting her husband in the head, as the couple rode separate personal watercraft during a sightseeing trip to a partially submerged church in the abandoned Mexican town of Old Guerrero.
STRATFOR, an Austin-based think tank that focuses on the drug war and other global security issues, reported Wednesday that the Sept. 30 incident may have been a case of mistaken identity by the Zetas drug trafficking organization.
On Saturday, prominent Edinburg private detective Raul G. Reyna Jr. told The Monitor that the theory put forward earlier in the week by a STRATFOR analyst — that the attack on the Hartleys may have been a matter of mistaken identity — is more complicated than what really happened.
Reyna, owner and lead investigator for GOTCHA! Investigations, an Edinburg-based agency that has gone into Mexico to seek out and bring numerous criminal suspects back to the United States, has been looking into the Hartley case on his own.
Reyna believes, after talking to his "network of intelligence sources in Mexico," that the lowest ranking members of the Zeta drug cartel were responsible for the shooting. The "Zetitas," or baby Zetas, shot at the couple to try to steal the personal watercraft they were riding, he said.
"The kid that shot (at the couple) did not know how to handle the weapon," he said. "Because of the recoil (and power of the weapon) one of the shots got away from him and he shot Hartley."
Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez said Saturday that he believes some of Reyna’s claims are possibly true, but added that Reyna needs to be careful about nosing around too much in this case "because he’s going to come up missing a head."
Gonzalez pointed out that Reyna’s state-issued private investigator’s license is expired, a fact confirmed by Reyna who said he has been awaiting its renewal since applying for it on Oct. 8.
"Yes, it was a baby Zeta," Gonzalez said. "Some of them are 15, 16 and 17 years old that operate that area."
The private investigator also claims the name of the shooter was Guadalupe Gomez, also known as "El Piojo," Gomez was killed in Monterrey on Friday, Reyna said.
Mexican investigators in Nuevo Laredo who are dealing with the case were unable to comment Saturday evening. They also could not verify if Guadalupe Gomez was dead or alive.
Gonzalez said he was also unsure if there was any validity behind the investigator’s claim of who the shooter was.
Gonzalez added that he does not believe that theft of the Hartleys’ personal watercraft was actually the motive in the shooting. However, he does believe the group of young men shot at the Hartleys as a scare tactic, which was used in several other incidents on the Mexican side of the lake earlier this year.
"After reviewing the other cases," he said, "the same (scare tactics) were used in the other cases."
Another claim Reyna makes, which coincides closely with the theory put forward by STRATFOR, is that the "Zetitas" were not ordered to kill Hartley by Zeta leaders.
"They did all this without the consent or knowledge of the main Zeta group," Reyna said.
Sheriff Gonzalez agreed. The sheriff’s investigators are continuing to work on the case regardless of whether Mexican officials are searching for the body, which he believes will not turn up.
"We have also scaled down," he said. "If we know there’s no body to be found, why should we risk more people searching? Why should we risk having people out there searching and getting beheaded when we can’t find a body? The next step (for U.S. officials) is to continue to develop as much info as we can to pass along to the Mexican officials."
As the investigation began, following the Sept. 30 incident, Tiffany Young-Hartley was asked to give a statement to Mexican officials. However, after many invitations from Mexican officials, Young-Hartley refused to cross the border. However, Gonzalez said Saturday that Young-Hartley went to the Mexican consulate’s office in McAllen again on Friday to file a second statement.
"The (district attorney) in Matamoros wanted her to go his office and (the district attorney) in Miguel Aleman wanted her to go to his office (to give a statement)," he said. "She already gave one. They wanted to get another. So she did it here (in the United States)."
Lindsay Machak covers law enforcement and general assignments for
The Monitor. You can reach her at (956) 683-4462.