ACAPULCO, Mexico – Mexican police launched a manhunt Friday for the owner of an abandoned crematorium after 60 bodies, including children, were found rotting in the facility that closed a year ago in Acapulco.
Authorities made the grim discovery of bodies covered in white sheets, some piled on top of each other, late Thursday after neighbors called police to complain about the stench coming from the “Cremations of the Pacific” building.
The fading resort of Acapulco has been plagued by drug gang violence whose victims are regularly found around the city, but this time authorities indicated that they were investigating a macabre case of funerary fraud.
The bodies of men, women and children were found “perfectly embalmed” in the crematorium, owned by a man identified as Guillermo Estua Zadai, officials said.
“It has not been possible to locate the owner,” Guerrero State Chief Prosecutor Miguel Ángel Godinez told a news conference, adding that authorities had requested assistance from federal agencies and Interpol to find him.
“It could be a possible fraud by the owner of the building against the people who thought the remains of their relatives would be cremated,” he later told Radio Formula.
He said the crematorium stopped paying taxes three years ago.
The bodies were covered in white sheets that were brown from what appeared to be fluid from the decomposing corpses.
Lime was scattered on the bodies and around the crematorium in an apparent bid to mask the stench, but neighbors said they began to detect a nauseating smell two days ago.
Worried relatives who had used the crematorium’s services went to Acapulco’s morgue, asking authorities to check whether their loved ones were among the abandoned bodies.
David Jaimes, who had hired the crematorium nine months ago after his mother died, went to the city’s Medical Forensic Service to ask them to analyze the ashes that were handed to him.
“I saw the furnace turned on and my mother lying there, but I never saw them put her inside,” Jaimes told AFP.
“The gentleman who was there told us ‘get out if you want because this place is dangerous.’ We left but we never saw the body go in, so we have this doubt today,” he said.
Karina García Jacinto, who paid around $400-$470 in December 2013 to cremate her father’s body, went to the morgue with his death certificate.
“It’s a concern that we have, as family members, to see if our relatives are there,” she told AFP.
Prosecutors opened an investigation into crimes including the desecration of bodies and violating burial and exhumation regulations.
Lime to cover stench
The crematorium closed a year ago “due to bankruptcy or failure to pay debts to creditors,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement, accusing the facility of breaking health laws.
Forensic experts are examining the bodies to determine the cause and date of death.
Investigators have asked directors of local funeral homes to indicate whether they sent any corpses to the crematorium since 2013 in order to identify them.
Around 20 security forces were guarding the small, green-roofed crematorium early Friday.
Local residents, who asked to remain anonymous, said they never noticed any unusual activity in the building and never saw any suspicious people in the area.
“We called [the emergency number] 066 because the smell became unbearable,” said one neighbor. “Everything is calm here. I didn’t know the crematorium was closed but we hadn’t seen people go in and out.”
Acapulco is in Guerrero state, where authorities say 43 college students were abducted by corrupt police and handed over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, whose henchmen killed and incinerated the victims in September.