The exhumation of 117 bodies – one more than the authorities had counted – in Tetelcingo, in the inland state of Morelos, since May 21 has excited a morbid fascination among Mexicans, and become a lightning rod for government criticism.
Under local legislation, officials are allowed to conduct their own burials, when the deceased person has no contacts, but those in Tetelcingo morgue used the provision to liberally and carelessly dump bodies into a single pit, opened up in 2014, even when family members requested to bury their own dead.
The practice might not have been discovered, if not for the family of Oliver Wenceslao Navarrete, who was kidnapped and murdered in 2013. The government refused to give back his corpse to the relatives, claiming they needed to conduct forensic tests, before interring it without the family’s consent.
Finally, his parents obtained a court order, allowing his body to be recovered in December 2014. To their shock, to get to Navarrete’s body, officials had to dig through a pit, moving dozens of other poorly marked bodies, as they watched.
“The victims were not only humiliated and violated by criminal organizations, but by their own state prosecutor’s office, which didn’t take care of them,” Javier Sicilia, a public activist, who campaigned for the exhumation and reburial told Vice earlier this week.
Relatives of the dead – many of them victims of Mexico’s drug wars, which have resulted in over 100,000 estimated deaths – huddled in specially erected tents, as masked workers conducted the mass exhumation at the sweltering and fetid site, over the past two weeks.
Unsurprisingly, irregularities were discovered, according to Morelos attorney general Javier Perez.
Apart from the extra corpse, 28 people were buried without a genetic registry, others with improper or falsified documents. Among the corpses, was a mother with 36-week old fetus, found in the streets in 2012, and a two-year-old boy found floating in a river in April 2013. No one has come forward to identify them to this day.
2012, and a two-year-old boy found floating in a river in April 2013. No one has come forward to identify them to this day.
One official has been charged, and another remains under investigation, as the dig carries on, to make sure there are no more unaccounted bodies in the mass grave.
“We will continue to look into the actions of other public servants and former officials,” Perez promised the media.
The remains of those exhumed will be given a proper burial and placed in wall crypt in a nearby cemetery, at the government’s expense
In August 1974, the corpse of a young woman said to be aged between 23 and 35 was found wrapped in a plastic sheet next to a remote field at Cockley Cley, near Swaffham in Norfolk.
A teenage farmworker discovered the headless body concealed in overgrowth at the side of the road. It is thought that the mystery woman may have been dead for around three weeks before she was found.
Since then, several appeals have been made to try to identify the body but the case has remained unsolved.