By William Booth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
MEXICO CITY, Jan. 26 As the nation's drug war rages on, with its weekly tallies of headless torsos, it is getting harder to produce a shock wave in the Mexican media. But the gruesome recipes of "The Stewmaker" have gripped public attention here, as authorities describe how a "disposal expert" working for a Tijuana drug cartel boss allegedly got rid of hundreds of bodies by dissolving the corpses in vats of caustic liquid.
The sour-faced mug shot of Santiago Meza López, 45, made the front pages Saturday and again on Monday, as federal agents presented new details about "El Pozolero." A pozole is a traditional Mexican stew made of hominy, pork and chilies. It is important to keep stirring the soup while it is on the stove.
In a news conference in Tijuana on Friday, Mexican army and law enforcement officials said that Meza confessed to disposing of more than 300 corpses, though they have not provided any evidence to support such a high number.
"They paid me $600 a week," Meza told journalists at a news conference overseen by masked soldiers and federal agents. "I ask for forgiveness from the families of the dead." Meza told agents he boiled the latest victim 15 days earlier.
On Sunday, at a second news conference, this time in Mexico City, federal agents described Meza as an important cog in the cartel machinery -- the man who disposed of bodies killed by hit men working for Teodoro "El Teo" García Simental, who is vying for control of the Tijuana drug trafficking cartel. Officials say much of the violence that killed more than 5,700 people last year was the result of fighting among cartels for control of lucrative smuggling corridors into the United States.
On Monday, a group of men armed with heavy weapons attacked the municipal police station in La Mision, a Baja California coastal town between Tijuana and Ensenada, where Meza was arrested while attending a party at an RV resort by the beach. No one was hurt in the attack on the police station, which was hit by 200 rounds. Afterward, trucks stolen from California were found abandoned nearby.
Baja officials told El Universal newspaper that they did not know who fired at the police station or why but said they suspect the attack was in reprisal for the arrest of Meza and two companions. One of his companions was the personal chef for cartel boss García. The other man was the chef's assistant. García was also reportedly at the beach party but escaped, according to Mexican news accounts.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration identified García as the chief rival of alleged Arellano Félix cartel leader Fernando Sánchez Arellano, known as "El Ingeniero," the engineer. Fighting between the armies of El Teo and El Ingeniero is responsible for much of the daily slaughter around the border city of Tijuana, according to Mexican law enforcement officials.
At the Sunday news conference, federal agents described "the recipe" followed by the Stewmaker: "The procedure to dispose of the corpses was to fill a drum with 200 liters of water and then put two sacks of caustic soda, put it over a fire and when it started to boil, put in the bodies."
The human remains, according to the federal agents, cooked for eight hours, and afterward there was nothing left but teeth and nails. After the liquid cooled, Meza allegedly put the remains in a plastic tub, took it to an empty lot and burned it with gasoline, according to federal agents.
The attorney general of Baja California, Rommel Moreno, said Meza will be shown photos of missing persons to see if he recognizes any. According to authorities, Meza said that when he received the bodies, the victims were already dead. Meza, a former truck driver, told authorities he had been disposing of corpses for the past nine years.
This has been a violent month along the border. On Friday, a prominent Tijuana businessman was shot and killed outside his home by what police describe as drug-addicted robbers. Rafael Fimbres Hernández was a well-known member of the Tijuana family that founded the Calimax supermarket chain. In Ciudad Juarez, the most deadly city in Mexico, local reporters have tallied 104 murders in January, including nine on Sunday.