MEXICO CITY -- Chopped-up parts of at least 15 bodies stuffed into two vans were discovered Wednesday on the road to Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest inland body of fresh water and a popular retirement community for U.S. citizens.
The bodies found just south of Guadalajara, in Jalisco state, may be the latest victims in a bloody turf war between the vicious Zetas gang and an offshoot of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, a fight that has bloodied the area around Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city, for a year or so (link in Spanish).
"We are investigating ... dismembered persons ... to know exactly how many there were," Tomas Coronado Olmos, top prosecutor for Jalisco state, said in a news conference. He confirmed that there were at least 15 bodies because 15 heads were recovered.
"That is a preliminary number," he said.
The Chapala Lake region, home to thousands of U.S. retirees and mecca for seasonal tourists, has seen Mexico's drug war slowly encroach at the edges of the heretofore placid community. In 2007, The Times' Marla Dickerson reported that the area's perfect climate, laid-back outdoor-indoor lifestyle and affordability were attracting unprecedented numbers of new arrivals.
But more recently, the idyllic tranquillity has been shattered. Three Americans were slain around Chapala last year amid a spate of violence punctuated by several gang shoot-outs, executions and bombs, as the Houston Chronicle reported last month.
-- Tracy Wilkinson
Photo: Thousands of Americans flock to Mexico's Lake Chapala, seen here in a 2007 photograph. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times.