Analysis: I know I normally start off my posts with excerpts from news stories, but there are too many small pieces of this story in separate articles. I'll try my best to encapsulate everything here.
You probably already know the basic story, but in case you don't... David and Tiffany Hartley went for a ride on their jet skis last month on Falcon Lake, which straddles the Texas-Mexico border. There are some beautiful church ruins (#12 on the map) that are partially submerged on the Mexican side that they were trying to check out. While they were near that area, Tiffany says they were approached by men in three boats who started shooting. They began to flee towards the US side of the lake, but then David got shot and fell off his jet ski. Tiffany tried to pull him up onto her ski, but she says they started shooting at her. So, she had to leave him and beat feet to avoid getting shot herself.
Tiffany has provided a few different versions of the story, which has caused authorities on both sides of the border to be a little suspicious. David's body hasn't been found yet, and it will probably never be found. I've also read accounts that say David was shot from the front, which doesn't jive with him getting shot while heading away from the "pirates" towards the US side of the lake. The same account said the Hartleys had just returned from a luxury cruise and bought a house filled with new furniture shortly after attending a seminar for people having financial trouble.
The latest analysis by Stratfor says the shooting was a case of mistaken identity. David apparently had worked in Reynosa, and their car had Tamaulipas plates. This led Los Zetas to believe the Hartleys may be rival DTO Gulf cartel scouts. Stratfor also surmises that the killing was unauthorized, and the accidental work of young amateurs who have probably been killed by their cartel bosses already. The head Mexican investigator has already been killed, with his severed head delivered to Mexican authorities, and the search for David's body has been suspended indefinitely.
So what really happened? I have to tell you, this story doesn't pass the smell test for me. There's too much that doesn't make sense, and Tiffany has told too many different versions of what happened. I keep going back to the motive of the alleged shooters. Robbery (which is what pirates do)? No way...two jet skiers wouldn't exactly have a lot of cash on them, and I haven't read anywhere that the pirates took David's jet ski - or even tried to take Tiffany's. Retribution? I was told by a reporter friend of mine who got an off-the-record tip that the Hartleys may have been involved in some drug activity, but that hasn't been fleshed out enough. For fun? I still think it's too dangerous for cartels to start randomly shooting at innocent Americans just to do it because they know the response will likely be strong and swift.
I think the Stratfor explanation makes sense. I know that many DTOs are hard up for shooters, so sometimes they have to hire younger punks with itchy trigger fingers. I just didn't expect that Los Zetas - probably the strongest DTO next to the Sinaloa Federation - would be so hard up that they'd have to go that route. Then again, they did just execute 72 South American migrants who refused to work for them. The more-then-slightly cynical explanation that "the wife did it" also makes sense, especially if the Hartley's were hard up for money and she was looking for a life insurance payout. However, we know Los Zetas were definitely involved in the incident - whatever really happened - and it's unlikely Tiffany had entered into some sort of arrangement with them.
The Mexican authorities do not want to get back in this game for fear of losing more investigators, and they've already spent way more time looking for David than they would have looking for a Mexican citizen. I highly doubt David's body will ever be found - I agree with Stratfor that Los Zetas had to eliminate it - and we'll never have an account of events outside of Tiffany's side of the story. One can only hope that US citizens actually start heeding the advice given in State Department travel warnings and stay away from places like Falcon Lake known to be highly active drug smuggling areas.