Skeletal remains found on border lake where Colorado man, David Hartley, disappeared

10:23 PM, Dec 29, 2011   |    comments
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Professional fisherman Alton Jones posted on his Facebook page Wednesday night that he found a dead body on the Mexican side of Falcon Lake, which is on the Texas-Mexico border. He was on the lake fishing with friends when he made the discovery.

"With what I saw I couldn't believe it would be a drowning victim or something like that. We examined it and it didn't take long for us to realize, 'Oh my gosh, that's a person.' There was no flesh left visible, just bones," Jones said.

Jones took a photo of the body which he released to law enforcement and the family of David Hartley.

9NEWS received a copy of the photo Thursday night. It shows a human skeleton with clothing still on it and the feet tied together. The Hartley family has not decided if they want to see the photo yet and out of respect for them, 9NEWS has decided not to show it at this time.

"Whoever that person was, somebody was trying to dispose of that body. The body, if that was him, it wouldn't have naturally ended up where it did. Someone would have had to take it upstream," Jones said.

Jones and his friends found the skeletal remains about 15 miles from where Colorado native David Hartley was shot and killed 15 months ago by suspected cartel members.

Searchers never found Hartley's body.

"I don't know if this is David Hartley or not. It would be nice for that family to get some closure," Jones said.

Jones turned over the GPS coordinates to U.S. Border Patrol agents who said they would pass along the information to Mexican officials. Jones also says the water levels on Falcon Lake were down 23 feet, and the body was spotted in an area that was once submerged.

Three phone calls to the Border Patrol's Laredo office were not returned Thursday.

Zapata County, Texas Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez Junior says he did receive confirmation of the discovery, and was awaiting further details Thursday evening.

"We have checked with Border Patrol and they have told us that yes in fact there was a report given to them about a body or some skeletal remains," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez said the body was located 13 miles north of Zapata in the area across from San Ignacio, Texas.

"It's about 16 miles from where David Hartley was killed. I have already contacted the FBI to see if they can get some of their people in Mexico to go out there and see what they can locate," Gonzalez said.

The sheriff says because U.S. authorities are not allowed to conduct investigations in Mexico, they could only pass along details to their counterparts in Mexico.

"All we can do is, again, just wait and see if the Mexican authorities will go out there and actually look for this body," Gonzalez said.

The sheriff says it has proven difficult to get Mexican authorities to follow-up on reports of bodies.

"In the past we have had bodies that we have seen and that we have reported to Mexican authorities. And sometimes it's taken Mexican authorities up to a month, sometimes, and they still don't respond until finally the body just disappears. We're just hoping that they go out there and respond as soon as possible," Gonzalez said.

According to authorities, it is not unusual for human remains to be discovered on Falcon Lake. The 60-mile lake straddles the border between the United States and Mexico, and the Mexican side of the lake is known for drug smuggling activity, shootouts, and illegal immigration.

With water levels down recently, Gonzalez thinks more bodies may be discovered.

"We're going to start seeing more skeletal remains on both sides of the border," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez says he does not believe it is likely that the skeletal remains discovered are in fact those of David Hartley.

"There's that hope the family always has regarding David Hartley. The chance is always there. My information from the very beginning that came directly from the Zeta cartel was that there will be no body. There is no body. The body has been, you know, there is no body. The possibility is there, the probability is not very likely," Gonzalez said.

At her parent's farm in La Salle, Tiffany Hartley says she has been on the phone with her law enforcement contacts hoping for confirmation that the remains are indeed her late husband.

"I instantly, of course, am thinking of David and that this is going to be him. We've been praying for this for 15 months now and we're just hoping that this is going to be our end of the year miracle. It might not be him and we know that too," Tiffany Hartley said.

David Hartley's brutal murder at the hands of suspected Mexican cartel members on Sept. 30, 2010 put the spotlight on a border region plagued by drug violence.

David and Tiffany Hartley took their personal watercraft to Falcon Lake, on what she has described as a "quiet day" on the water. It was supposed to be one final day of fun on the water.

The couple, who had been married for eight years, had plans to move back to Colorado after living along the border for two years.

David Hartley worked for a U.S. oil and gas company which had facilities in Reynosa, Mexico. Drug violence prompted the couple to relocate just across the border to McAllen, Texas.

David and Tiffany Hartley had visited Falcon Lake before. Tiffany Hartley says her husband wanted to go back to photograph a partially submerged church on the Mexican side of the lake.

As they left the church in an area of Mexico known as Old Guerrero, Tiffany Hartley says they were approached by a group of armed men in boats, later identified as suspected Zeta cartel members.

She says the men opened fire, shooting David Hartley in the head, and his body was too heavy for her to lift out of the water.

Soon after, Tiffany Hartley says the men began chasing her and she had no choice but to leave David behind.

Warning signs are now posted near the Falcon Lake boat ramp. But there are fewer fishermen in the water.

This latest discovery has reignited Tiffany Hartley's hope of bringing her husband's remains back to his home state of Colorado for burial.

"If it's David than find out that it's him and if it's not then find out for the other family, so they can have closure too. I truly believe it's going to be him. And at the same time I know it might not," Tiffany Hartley said. "If it's not our miracle now, someday."

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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