NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico—Mexican authorities on Thursday were investigating a ranch where a kidnapping suspect said hostages were killed before their bodies were shoved into barrels, doused with diesel fuel and burned.
Workers using heavy equipment were digging up the property, located about a half-hour’s drive southwest of Nuevo Laredo, in search of human remains and other evidence.
The discovery of the ranch, where authorities said bones and human hair were found along with shreds of duct tape, came just days after federal agents rescued 44 hostages held at two Nuevo Laredo safe houses. A kidnapping suspect arrested at one of the houses on Sunday told authorities about gruesome killings that took place at the ranch.
Together, the cases opened a window into Mexico’s flourishing kidnapping trade, which claims as many as 3,000 victims every year, second only to Colombia.
The three kidnap suspects arrested when the 44 hostages were rescued told federal authorities that municipal police in Nuevo Laredo were paid at least $300 for each victim they picked up and delivered, said a senior Mexican intelligence official.
Gulf cartel members had captured many of the hostages because they were members of the rival Juarez cartel, the Mexican intelligence official said.
Other hostages apparently were victims of more typical kidnappings for ransom, the Laredo police source said.
U.S. authorities suspect that many Nuevo Laredo kidnappings are carried out by the Zetas, a group of specially trained former soldiers who work as enforcers for the Gulf drug cartel.
“They target anyone with money. It can be a small-business owner or a wealthy person. It doesn’t matter to them,” said a U.S. federal investigator and expert on the Zetas.
“Kidnapping is big business in Mexico and it’s getting bigger,” said Trent Kimball, president of Texas Armoring Corp., which sells armored vehicles to executives in Mexico. “Usually the police are involved in the crimes and victims have nowhere to turn.”