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CNN: SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT
Murder in Mexico: What Happened in Falcon Lake
Aired April 10, 2011 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: Are you sure that your husband got shot?
TIFFANY HARTLEY, DAVID HARTLEY'S HUSBAND: Yes. In his head.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS CORRESPONDENT: A brutal killing on a glistening lake.
(On camera): You saw your husband get shot and thrown from the jet ski?
T. HARTLEY: Yes.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Were they caught in a crossfire?
ROBERT "SPEEDY" COLLETT, OWNER, BEACON LODGE: The war over there, the two cartels fighting each other for control.
GRIFFIN: A drug deal gone bad or was this cold-blooded murder?
FRED BURTON, DIRECTOR OF INTELLIGENCE, STATFOR: There has been a lot of suspicions based on some of her behaviors.
GRIFFIN: Tonight a CNN Special Report. MURDER IN MEXICO: WHAT HAPPENED IN FALCON LAKE.
It's late afternoon in McAllen, Texas. Air operations are about to begin.
CAPT. STACY HOLLAND, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: There's some areas of McAllen, west of McAllen along the southwest border that are completely out of control in my opinion.
GRIFFIN: Captain Stacy Holland and his team from the Texas Department of Public Safety are trying to stop drug smugglers from crossing from Mexico into the U.S.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right there. Right there. One guy has gotten out. One guy has gotten out. Radio that out.
GRIFFIN: They are also trying to stop the violence of a full-scale drug war from spilling north.
(On camera): Are there parts of this border that you would deem basically lawless or run by the cartels?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Smack in the middle of this 21st century version of the Wild West, two young Americans, David Hartley and Tiffany Young, just teenagers when they fell in love.
T. HARTLEY: We started dating in '98, the summer of '98. And dated for quite a while before we got engaged in 2001 and married in 2002.
GRIFFIN (on camera): What took so long?
T. HARTLEY: We were 18.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): They wound up here, in the Mexican border town of Reynoso, just south of McAllen. He was a district manager for an oil company.
T. HARTLEY: It was a blessing to us and our marriage. Yes. We're that's where we truly grew as a couple and had adventures.
GRIFFIN (on camera): When the Hartleys first arrived here this peaceful town was a perfect place for the young couple to live, but slowly it became more and more violent.
(Voice-over): There is a war in Reynoso. Two drug cartels battling for turf, the Zetas, a rogue band of former military, are trying to push out the Gulf cartel, which has smuggled drugs across the Rio Grande for decades.
Killings are constant. Tiffany and David Hartley learned firsthand, Mexican police were not to be trusted.
T. HARTLEY: For one instance, he was coming home from the bank after cashing our rent check. And police pulled him over, followed him from the bank, pulled him over, had him step out and punched him in the face and stole his money.
GRIFFIN: David, she says, saw someone get shot on the street.
(On camera): Did you sense it was getting more dangerous?
T. HARTLEY: You could. Yes, you could sense it. You hear more about it.
GRIFFIN: What do they look like? What -- describe how you can pick out a cartel member.
T. HARTLEY: Their trucks at that time had their name, the CDG or has a Z on it for Zetas. So they would actually mark their vehicles with their name and who they were.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): David convinced his company to allow him at least to live on the American side of the border in McAllen. And soon afterwards the company told David he was being offered another transfer, back home to Colorado.
To his mom, that was a blessing.
PAM HARTLEY, DAVID HARTLEY'S MOTHER: They were going to be home that next week, looking for a house to move into. I mean, we were excited about them coming home.
GRIFFIN: But there was some unfinished business. One last adventure David had long talked about but never got around to. He had heard of a church partially submerged in Falcon Lake on the Mexican side in an abandoned village called Old Guerrero. Perfect for a couple who loved their jet skis and loved adventure.
T. HARTLEY: I'm just like, OK, let's go see it.
GRIFFIN: Had they asked, local law enforcement would have warned them about pirates on the lake. Had they asked, Captain Stacy Holland would have told them not to go.
HOLLAND: We don't recommend, you know, going into Mexico on the side of the lake, but it's perfectly well within your rights. But we just want you to be aware that threat is out there and it's very real and you should take it seriously.
GRIFFIN: It was a Thursday and David Hartley called home.
P. HARTLEY: They were excited to go have one last big ride on their jet skis before they come back to Colorado. And Colorado doesn't have the water, what they have around there. So yes, one last time to have a good time.
GRIFFIN: It is a two-hour drive to Falcon Lake from McAllen. A trip documented by a traffic stop halfway there in a town called Rio Grande City.
(On camera): Something to the police looked suspicious.
T. HARTLEY: Right, right. We had --
GRIFFIN: Look like somebody might have you stealing some jet skis.
(Voice-over): The trailer had expired tags. Troopers let them go with just a warning, but this videotape would become part of the evidence for what was about to happen.
COLLETT: You come to any strange area on the United States/Mexican border and you go to sightseeing, you're a tourist, stop in and talk to the locals, you know? Talk -- find out what's going on in the area. If they would have stopped in here, and if I had known they were going on jet skis, that's a total no-no on Falcon.
GRIFFIN: Up next, jet skiing into the heart of a drug war.
GRIFFIN: Along the Texas/Mexican border, there's little doubt drugs and human smuggling are big business. Very big.
HOLLAND: They're operational plans are very good. And the one thing about these cartels is that they're ruthless and they're violent, but they're not stupid.
GRIFFIN: Captain Stacy Holland of the Texas Department of Public Safety says his proof is in these videos, captured night after night by the thermal imaging camera mounted underneath his helicopter.
Just the last year, there has been more violence and most disturbing of all to Holland, more coordination, lookouts, even reconnaissance in smuggling.
HOLLAND: One thing that you have to understand is how well coordinated this is and how -- what the level of scouting and planning and organization is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right curb in the road coming up.
GRIFFIN: These videos of chases had first made no sense.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You got a shot of that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I got it.
GRIFFIN: Drug runners caught in the U.S. and then racing back to Mexico.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Southbound, call the military. Coming up to the river.
GRIFFIN: There are stolen vehicles being hurled full speed into the Rio Grande.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Splash down.
GRIFFIN: At first, law enforcement believed these were desperate attempts to escape. Then they began to hear radio traffic, coordinates.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going to be splash down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Those are -- that's a recovery team.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Recovery team. Recovery team right there at Timothy Park.
GRIFFIN: The cartels even began organizing search and rescue teams and suddenly the videos made sense. Drug smugglers hurling their stolen vehicles back into the Rio Grande were doing it for one reason, to protect their dope at all costs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All units, we have a splashdown, we have a splashdown in the river.
HOLLAND: They don't mind losing the truck into the river. But at the end of the day, if they can recover, you know, 2,000 pounds of narcotics it's got an estimated street value between $600,000 and $800,000, and that's what they want to do, is protect that inventory.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going under. Yes. The suspect is just about on the back side.
GRIFFIN: Inside Mexico the army has visibly taken over much of the security in border towns. Local Mexican police who are not corrupted by the cartels are targets of them. Thousands killed. And Americans have been targets, too.
(On camera): You know, I'd almost think that we're flying over tribal Pakistan the way you describe this area. Are you surprised or are you hardened to the fact that most of America doesn't realize this is going on?
HOLLAND: You know, it does amaze me. And maybe it's because I'm exposed to it so much working on the southwestern border but we're in a war. We're in an engagement with an enemy that's like no other enemy we've ever faced before.
You have to combat these people with the same -- some of the same tactics that they employ on you. So, you know, if you'd have asked me 10 years ago would we be doing some of the missions and tactics that we're doing today, I would have said, absolutely not.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Since 2004, the State Department says 200 Americans have been killed in Mexico and nearly all caught up in the vicious fire fights between rival drug cartels. It is no different even along this peaceful 28-mile long lake, straddling the U.S./Mexican border two hours north of McAllen.
SIGIFREDO GONZALEZ, SHERIFF, ZAPATA COUNTY, TEXAS: We've had along the border shootings. We've had along the border murders, home invasions, burglaries, rapes. All types of crime where it's associated with what I call spillover violence.
GRIFFIN: Siggy Gonzalez has been the sheriff of Zapata County, Texas, for 16 years, ever since his predecessor was arrested for drug smuggling.
GONZALEZ: I remember when I first started as a deputy sheriff back in the 1970s where this lake was used for drug trafficking, human trafficking. It's been used for that forever.
GRIFFIN: And lately, even before the Hartleys' trip to Falcon Lake, Gonzalez says a new threat has emerged. Pirates.
COLLETT: Totally inaccurate. You know, the definition of piracy is a lot different than what I know it to be. You know, have one robbery on the lake, totally.
GRIFFIN: Robert "Speedy" Collett, who owns a fishing lodge here, admits he's been stopped by drug cartel members but he also bristles at news reports of piracy and danger. These reports have decimated his business on the lake which he insists is safe, as long as you know the rules.
COLLETT: It happened to me. I didn't run. They boarded. They found out I wasn't a threat and I was released. Never robbed. Never took a penny from me. They did not -- my wallet was in my glove box. I had 1100 bucks in my wallet. My clients were pretty wealthy people. They had plenty of money on them. Nothing ever happened to them.
GRIFFIN: In the air over Falcon Lake, Stacy Holland says the Texas Department of Public Safety was already advising boaters on Falcon Lake to be very careful.
HOLLAND: It's just a warning to let people know that this threat is out there and it's very real. That we've had documented cases of pirating. And so it's mainly for situational awareness. And, you know, we don't recommend, you know, they go going into Mexico on the side of the lake.
GRIFFIN: Tiffany Hartley says she had heard about troubles on Falcon Lake. But she and David had been there once before and things were fine. Never thought that somehow anything could happen.
T. HARTLEY: We hadn't heard anything for a while and we were just there in August. And enjoyed three, four hours that day on Falcon Lake.
GRIFFIN: After all, it was so sunny, so calm, so perfect for one last ride.
T. HARTLEY: I told him, please don't shoot. Please, don't.
GRIFFIN: In an instant, Tiffany Hartley claims she and David were caught in a war zone.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: Are you sure that your husband got shot?
T. HARTLEY: Yes. In his head.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: OK.
T. HARTLEY: He was thrown off the jet ski and I couldn't pick him up and get him on mine.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Don Lemon. Here are your headlines this hour.
The African Union says Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has agreed in principle to the terms of a deal that could end his country's civil war. It's not yet clear what those terms are. But it's believed they will include an immediate ceasefire in the nearly two-month long battle.
AU leaders met with Gadhafi in Tripoli today. Tomorrow the delegation will travel to Benghazi to meet with the rebels.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a pretty strong looking elephant trunk, nighttime tornado. Two of them. Dual funnels. Look at that.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Look at that, indeed. Wow. That is the voice of one very brave storm chaser. And this is the incredible nighttime video he shot. And you can see clearly two ferocious funnels at once.
In all, three tornadoes ripped through northern and west-central Iowa last night and more could be on their way in parts of Wisconsin right now.
The White House is looking ahead to the next big budget battle. Top presidential adviser David Pflouffe appeared on four Sunday shows this morning. He said President Obama this week will lay out his plans for long-term deficit reduction.
Friday night, as you know, Republicans and Democrats hammered out a budget deal that covers the rest of the fiscal year, narrowly averting a government shutdown.
Those are your headlines this morning. We now return you to the "CNN PRESENTS" special "MURDER IN MEXICO: WHAT HAPPENED AT FALCON LAKE."
GRIFFIN: David Hartley had always been interested in visiting the sunken church in Falcon Lake. On Thursday morning, September 30th, a week before he and his wife would move home to Colorado, David decided they would go.
(On camera): Did you know then what you must know now, that there had been several attacks on that lake? That fishermen don't cross into Mexico on that lake anymore?
T. HARTLEY: We did know that there were attacks. We didn't know where they were exactly.
GRIFFIN: You had no worries whatsoever when you took those jet skis?
T. HARTLEY: No idea.
GRIFFIN: And as tragic as this is, what I think I'm hearing from you is what the Hartleys did was incredibly stupid?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Fishing guide and resort owner Speedy Collett says business on the lake has taken a beaten since the Hartleys made what he called a stupid church to see a sunken church. He is sick of the media attention and insists the lake and the fishermen are completely safe as long as they follow the unwritten rules.
COLLETT: This is not a jet ski lake. There's never jet skis seen here. They come -- they she show up on a jet ski, they don't see, and then they try to approach them and stop them because, you know, it's a war over there. Two cartels fighting each other for control. And they don't stop. They take off running.
GRIFFIN: Collett agreed to take us to Old Guerrero, eight miles into Mexico into what he describes as a drug war to show us just how safe it really was. Before he even passed the channel marker dividing the U.S. and Mexican border, Speedy made us promise not to raise our camera, not to raise any suspicion, and told us there's no doubt how jet skiers would look following this same path, like drug smugglers.
(On camera): Only people with jet skis are involved with dope?
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Clearly nervous, Collett barely slowed down as we approached the church Tiffany and David Hartley visited on September 30th. He turned the boat and gave us 30 seconds to take there's pictures at the exact spot where Tiffany Hartley said they had stopped.
(On camera): So this is the last place that they came to, the Old Guerrero church. They took pictures on the front step, according to Tiffany Hartley. And then set out down this channel to head back. And it was about five minutes into their voyage when they were approached by the boats.
(Voice-over): In an instant the man who told us this lake was safe was again speeding away from Mexico 70 miles an hour. The same path the Hartleys were on when Tiffany says the attack began.
T. HARTLEY: There's a boat on our left and two on our right. On kind of towards the land, we're kind of in the middle of the lake. And then that's when he motioned that we needed to go.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Did you see something in his eyes that said, this could be serious?
T. HARTLEY: I could just tell by his body language. You know, I saw him and he was just kind of, we got to go. Like, this is serious. But he stayed behind and stayed between me and the boats.
GRIFFIN: You think protecting you?
T. HARTLEY: Mm-hmm.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): It was now a chase. Tiffany says her jet ski was going at least 65 miles an hour. They were racing for the other side, for the U.S., for safety.
(On camera): Were you -- I mean, were you scared? Were you frightened at that moment?
T. HARTLEY: Oh, oh, my gosh, yes.
GRIFFIN: You thought, these guys are coming after us? T. HARTLEY: Mm-hmm.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Three boats closing from two directions but not catching up. Tiffany thought they could outrun them until she heard the shots.
(On camera): You heard shots, boom, boom, boom?
T. HARTLEY: You could hear them, you could feel them. You could feel them fly by you, until I saw the two next to me, that's when it came really clear how close they were.
GRIFFIN: And you saw your husband get shot and thrown from the jet ski?
T. HARTLEY: Yes.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Tiffany says she circled back as the three boats encircled her. David was face down, she says, floating, when she jumped into the water in a failed attempt to save him. Turning him over, she realized there was nothing to save.
(On camera): Why did you turn around?
T. HARTLEY: It's my husband. He's my love. He's my life. He's everything to me. And once I saw him flying off, I didn't know where he was shot. But I knew he couldn't have been good. And there was no way I was going to not go and try to help him.
GRIFFIN: Can I ask you where he was shot?
T. HARTLEY: In the back of the head, but it came out in the front, forehead.
GRIFFIN: Did you know immediately?
T. HARTLEY: Yes. He wasn't -- he wasn't there. He was gone. You know, yelling for help and looking for anybody who could help me, but knowing there was not going to be anybody.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): But somebody was still there. She claims standing over her, a gunman in one of the boats.
(On camera): Did you think, this is it?
T. HARTLEY: Mm-hmm. I told him, please don't shoot. Please don't.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): In a moment of apparent confusion, Hartley says she saw her chance to flee.
T. HARTLEY: The gun would be on me and then he would take it off and then he would put it back on me. It's like he didn't know what to do with me. Do I shoot her, do I not? That's when they left to go meet the other boats.
GRIFFIN: Racing towards the U.S. she passed the boat slip where she and David launched from less than an hour earlier, the boats in pursuit. She spotted a man here watering his lawn, yelling, asking if he spoke English. That man would help a distraught Tiffany Hartley place this 911 call.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: Are you sure that your husband got shot?
T. HARTLEY: Yes. In his head.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: OK.
T. HARTLEY: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: Was he thrown off the jet ski? That he's in the water or something?
T. HARTLEY: Yes, he was thrown off the jet ski and I couldn't pick him up and get him on mine. He's -- he's just too big.
UNIDENTIFIED 911 DISPATCHER: What's your name?
T. HARTLEY: Tiffany Hartley.
GRIFFIN: When the story broke it was almost unbelievable. Americans being fired on, a jet ski chase, a narrow escape and a dead husband whose body has yet to be found?
(On camera): When you're describing these horrific events, you seem somewhat detached.
(Voice-over): The victim, at least in the eyes of some, was about to come under suspicion.
GRIFFIN: From almost the very beginning after the attack, Tiffany Hartley seemed to be everywhere telling her story.
T. HARTLEY: I think it would be difficult for anybody in my situation. And I know, you know, there's been stories out there before. And people question. But I know what I know. I know what I saw.
GRIFFIN: Not only interviews with local television stations but networks, on the "Today" show.
MEREDITH VIEIRA, "TODAY" SHOW HOST: How close did these people come to you? Can you describe them to me?
T. HARTLEY: Honestly, looking at the barrel of the gun is all I saw.
GRIFFIN: The "CBS Morning News."
T. HARTLEY: We never really had that feeling that something was going to happen that day.
GRIFFIN: But word began to leak out, even from Mexico, that her story was being doubted.
GONZALEZ: So she kept on coming this way --
GRIFFIN: Zapata County Sheriff Siggy Gonzalez was the first American law enforcement official to speak with her.
GONZALEZ: It seems that something made up. It seemed like a story out of the comic books.
T. HARTLEY: It's hard because I --
GRIFFIN: But Tiffany Hartley is insistent on telling her version of what happened. Here with CNN's Anderson Cooper.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN'S "ANDERSON 360": And I know you were meeting with Mexican investigators for much of today. Did you get the feeling that they believed you or that they didn't believe your story?
T. HARTLEY: No, I do believe that they believe my story. I mean, they -- we have people from the state and then also federal, so everyone has come together to get my statement. And that's why it's taken so long. Just so everybody has the statement. Everybody can't say that they don't have it.
GRIFFIN: And while Texas authorities mounted an intensive search for any evidence that could back up her story, Tiffany Hartley's behavior, detached to some, showing little emotion, ramped up gossip and suspicion that somehow she was not telling the truth.
BURTON: They think there has been a lot of suspicions based on some of her behaviors and interviews she did shortly after the murder of her husband, which raised doubt in people's mind.
GRIFFIN: Fred Burton's firm provides security information for companies worldwide. Including information on drug cartels operating along the U.S./Mexican border.
BURTON: Anybody that's an outsider that goes into that area is viewed as either working for another cartel or a possible informant for a government agency.
GONZALEZ: This is the boat ramp right here. This is the area where she -- where she came in to seek help.
GRIFFIN: Sheriff Siggy Gonzalez now trying to investigate a crime in another country, was fending off calls from reporters, asking if the Hartleys themselves were drug runners or if David Hartley was working with the cartel. Speculation began to swirl that Tiffany Hartley killed her husband for insurance money or even that Tiffany Hartley was seeing another man.
(On camera): People still have a hard time believing you. Does that hurt you?
T. HARTLEY: Some days. Other days they don't have room to judge. I mean, they don't know me. They don't know my husband. They weren't there that day. So really they have no room to judge me.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): With television and newspaper attention still at viral levels, authorities in Texas were trapped. They could dispatch all the boats and helicopters they wanted, but law enforcement in Mexico was still in charge.
What happened next in Mexico showed just how difficult getting any answers would be.
(On camera): One Mexican detective did try to find out what happened to David Hartley. But his head was severed from his body. And his decapitated head was delivered to the Mexican army here in a border town called Miguel Aleman. Since then, there's been little no news.
(Voice-over): His name, Rolando Villegas. His suspects, brothers who lived near the half submerged church in Mexico, Old Guerrero. It's unclear if he went looking for them but only a few days after he identified the brothers by name, the detective was dead. A clear warning for any law enforcement not to follow in his foot steps.
(On camera): One detective did try.
GONZALEZ: We understand that he did try, yes. And --
GRIFFIN: And he was executed.
GONZALEZ: I asked also if he was perhaps executed because of involvement with drug trafficking or because of the case, and I was told by the source that they thought he was killed because of his involvement in trying to assist in the investigation of the case.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): A case gone cold. But new evidence is about to emerge from Falcon Lake.
LEMON: I'm Don Lemon at the CNN world headquarters. Here are your headlines.
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is speaking out for the first time since the revolution that ousted him from power two months ago.
In an audio message aired by Al Arabiya TV, Mubarak -- well, he denied he amassed billions in wealth during three decades in power. His remarks come as a public prosecutor wants to question Mubarak and his sons about violence against protesters corruption allegations.
The Egyptian Attorney General's Office told CNN that the speech Mubarak gave today will not affect the investigation.
Tokyo's electric power company is hoping a new tool will help with the nuclear crisis at Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Engineers are using a remote controlled helicopter with a camera to get pictures of the damaged reactors. The camera can take both regular and infrared pictures. Those images are expected to be released tomorrow. The 75th Masters Golf Tournament is history and we have a new champion. He's not a household name. He is Carl Schwartzal of South Africa. Schwartzal finished with a 66 today with birdies on the final four holes for a two-stroke victory over Adam Scott and Jason Day. Tiger Woods closed with a 67 and was tied for fourth. Four strokes back.
Those are your headlines right now. We return you to the "CNN PRESENTS" special "MURDER IN MEXICO: WHAT HAPPENED AT FALCON LAKE." See you at 10 p.m. Eastern.
GRIFFIN: On Falcon Lake there has been no sign of David Hartley's body, his jet ski, anything that could prove his wife's story that her husband was shot to death by Mexican drug smugglers.
The beheading of the one Mexican detective willing to at least try to solve the crime has dealt the Hartleys another blow.
(On camera): You feel right now there's people in Mexico, maybe even police in Mexico, who won't say what happened to David.
P. HARTLEY: I do.
GRIFFIN: Because they're afraid.
P. HARTLEY: Yes. I said, if you have threats against your loved ones, if you don't know if they're going to come home, I mean, that's a fear that I can't imagine. I don't want to imagine. That's why it's like this has to stop.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Without any clearances from Mexico, the Hartleys have turned to intelligence sources north of the border who can try to explain why the couple was targeted.
Former intelligence official Fred Burton has been studying a turf war in Mexico between two drug cartels. A former band of military guards called the Zetas and the more traditional Gulf Coast cartel.
BURTON: What most people don't realize when you're looking at the border is that there are certain portions that are not controlled by the Mexican government. And the area of Falcon Lake was directly controlled by the Zetas. This was a very strong smuggling corridor for them.
GRIFFIN (on camera): So you believe this was mistaken identity?
BURTON: Clearly all evidence indicates that this was a case of mistaken identity base on the tactical intelligence I've seen surrounding the case.
GRIFFIN: The most likely scenario is David and Tiffany Hartley had wandered into a drug war and were mistaken as the enemy.
(Voice-over): Zapata County Sheriff Siggy Gonzalez now believes the Hartleys had not only wandered into a war but had arrived on the Mexican side of Falcon Lake at the exact moment a cartel was about to move a large amount of marijuana.
Up on a bluff, the spotters, his sources told him, caught the first glimpse of a possible glitch in the drug deal.
GONZALEZ: That area is an area that's notorious for crossing or storing of thousands of pounds of marijuana. We've known that for a long time. That's information that I have re-laid to federal officials, you know, local, state officials. We're all aware that area is used as an area that they hide tons of marijuana.
GRIFFIN (on camera): So based on your sources and your intelligence, when they began to encroach on what would be a drug deal, they were looked upon as potentially --
GONZALEZ: As threats. Yes, as threats. And this is why they were given the instructions to go ahead and shoot at them.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): The sheriff now tells CNN that eyewitnesses have come guard to him, witnesses he says who claim to know what happened here that day.
They describe a military-style attack. Three boats, several shooters and hundreds of rounds being fired at two jet skiers.
GONZALEZ: The shot that killed David Hartley was an unlucky shot.
GRIFFIN: The sheriff now believes the killers were instructed to kill Tiffany Hartley, too. What happens next, he says, is a scenario he has put together from three witnesses on the Mexican side of the lake. One source in Mexico and at least one witness who told CNN that he saw a high-speed chase on the U.S. side, a boat chasing a girl on a jet ski. It is clear that one of Sheriff Gonzalez's sources was involved in the attack itself.
GONZALEZ: So they were given instruction to go ahead and shoot her also but she was able to escape from them. And they also say, you know, she was able to get away from us and we kept shooting at her to hit her but she kept zigzagging all over the place and we were not able to hit her.
And she says she was zigzagging when she was coming across being chased by the boat into the United States. And of course there's a witness that corroborates that also.
GRIFFIN (on camera): The eyewitness who was standing here at the time is still too scared to show his face on camera, but is telling CNN now that he did witness not only Tiffany Hartley on her jet ski but the boat chasing her, right there, as they came into this inlet in American waters, chasing Tiffany Hartley almost up until the time she came ashore.
GONZALEZ: It's too many people involved for it to be a conspiracy, which is paying people off.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Sheriff Gonzalez says he believes Tiffany's story and his sources and witnesses confirm it. (On camera): You don't believe the Hartleys were involved in drugs?
GRIFFIN: You don't believe that there's an insurance scam going on?
GONZALEZ: Where's the body?
GRIFFIN: You don't believe that Tiffany Hartley herself may have executed her husband?
GONZALEZ: I don't think so, no.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): And now even more evidence Tiffany Hartley is telling the truth. A surveillance photo taken that very afternoon, one hour after the attack.
GONZALEZ: You notice there in the front of the boat, you see bundles of marijuana there.
GRIFFIN: It shows a small boat and a group of men. One with a green shirt, one shirt black, fitting the description given by Tiffany Hartley and what Gonzalez says is a bail of marijuana in the (INAUDIBLE). It is information Mexican authorities have had since the very first day.
(On camera): Sheriff, I mean, I've got to ask you. Is that possible that Mexico is going to find, catch and adjudicate the killers in what is a lawless part of Mexico?
GONZALEZ: I really cannot answer that. But I can tell you this, based on their past record, I think they have a -- somewhat of a zero solvency rate and a zero conviction rate.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): And there is one more piece of evidence. A small blood spot on the life jacket Tiffany Hartley wore the day she says her husband was shot. The blood is from her husband. Sheriff Gonzalez says a DNA test confirms it.
But even the DNA match remains just one more piece of an unsolved puzzle. There is still no body, no jet ski.
Is Tiffany Hartley even telling the truth? Or is there another secret yet to be told?
GRIFFIN: After all the searching, all the investigation, Texas authorities say they could not find the boat of David Hartley.
(On camera): Where is the body?
GONZALEZ: The body was disposed of. There is no body. This is the international boundary.
GRIFFIN: Yes. (Voice-over): In his office in Texas, County Sheriff Siggy Gonzalez says he knows for a fact that David Hartley will never be returned to the United States for burial.
(On camera): Do you know how?
GONZALEZ: Yes. Four different -- different sources with different agencies have come forward and they told us how they disposed of the body.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Those sources say the body of David Hartley was placed in a barrel and burned.
In Colorado where she now lives, Tiffany Hartley refuses to believe her husband body will never be returned.
T. HARTLEY: It's past my mind, but I'm not willing to accept it in my heart. I know my God and he's bigger than anyone and anything. And he wants justice just as much.
GRIFFIN: The cold reality, however, seems very different. On her Web site, bringdavidhome.com, there are plenty of people who still believe she is a suspect. She continues making statements perceived as odd. Like what she told me that God was involved in this traffic stop the day David was killed. To help her.
(On camera): Tiffany, you just said that from that moment I knew God's hand was in our lives that day.
T. HARTLEY: People probably think that, well, how?
GRIFFIN: I'm thinking that right now.
T. HARTLEY: Because I believe he had us being pulled over to prove, because he knew that I would be judged, that I would be questioned that day for what happened.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Even though DNA proved David's blood was on Tiffany's life jacket, questions persist. Where was the camera that they used to take picture of Old Guerrero? Why wasn't there far more blood evidence?
(On camera): The jet ski?
GONZALEZ: The jet ski was also destroyed. It's my understanding that the jet ski was taken apart. The parts that would float were burned and buried afterwards and the parts that would not float were just thrown in the lake. And of course, they sunk.
And see, this here is going back coming in again from Mexico.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Sheriff Siggy Gonzalez says he believes Hartley's story but he may never be able to prove it.
David Hartley's mother can barely control her emotions. P. HARTLEY: What happened to David and Tiffany was an act of terror. Plain and simple. It was a senseless violence but it was an act of terror and that is not going to end at the border. It's over here already.
GRIFFIN: And for Tiffany herself, it is even more troubling.
(On camera): Do you think your husband is a victim of -- in a way, politics?
T. HARTLEY: I would say a victim of terrorism, politics and the way of life of Mexico. And the politics, I think there's too many connections between U.S. and Mexico, too much money going back and forth.
GRIFFIN: Connections you mean in a criminal way?
T. HARTLEY: In a money way. I think it's all money.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): In the air over border country, Captain Stacy Holland says the financial stakes are so high for the drug cartels that money takes precedence over everything else.
HOLLAND: So what the state's faced with, and the nation really, is an aggressive narcotic smuggling ring or cartels that their interest lies in their inventory and so that's what they're going to protect. And they're going to do whatever means necessary to protect that inventory.
GRIFFIN: In the case of David Hartley, that includes the cartel inflicting its own investigation and its own brand of justice.
BURTON: That an individual --
GRIFFIN: Security expert Fred Burton has followed the case closely.
BURTON: It's my understanding that the individuals that were involved with the killing of Mr. Hartley were, in essence, picked up and killed by the Zetas themselves.
GRIFFIN (on camera): The killers were killed?
BURTON: Correct. The killers were killed by the organization because, remember, this is bad for business.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): If the killers are dead, Tiffany Hartley may never be able to prove what happened. She knows how many people still don't believe her story. That she and David were just sightseeing, that she tried to save him, that she outran boats with gunmen firing.
In interview she remains unemotional. That too in the eyes of many has made Tiffany Hartley a suspect.
T. HARTLEY: People don't see me at night when I go to bed. They don't see me in the mornings when I'm waking up.
GRIFFIN (on camera): What would they see?
T. HARTLEY: Every night I miss my husband. And I -- and I miss laying next to him and kissing him good night.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): And for Tiffany Hartley, those are the kinds of memories that will last, far beyond the questions and speculation that have followed her since that fateful day on Falcon Lake.
T. HARTLEY: I want my why to be answered. And I know I'm never going to know why. Until the day I can ask God.