BORDERLAND BEAT — SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas – It looked like a crab trap floating in the calm waters of Laguna Madre, just off South Padre Island. At least, that’s what the man who spotted it while boating with his two daughters would tell police.
But when he poked the floating mass with a pole, he discovered otherwise. He dialed 911 and told the South Padre Island Police Department what he’d found: “a headless body floating in the bay.”
Blood still was dripping from the neck when Cameron County Sheriff’s Deputy Ulises Martinez arrived, he later would report. It looked to him like the head “had been cut off with one swift motion with a fine, sharp cutting instrument.”
The grisly discovery came at a busy time on the island. It was March 16, 2015, the frenzied start of Texas Week, when thousands of spring-breaking college students descend on Padre to guzzle from beer bongs and get rowdy. Maybe one drank too much, fell in the water and collided with the wrong end of a propeller-driven barge?
That was an early theory, but Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio, with more than a half-century in law enforcement, sensed something more sinister.“We’re just across the border from Matamoros,” he said. Investigators couldn’t find the man’s head, and there were other suspicious cuts on the body. Mexican drug cartel payback often comes at the end of a fine, sharp cutting instrument, Lucio observed.
“It’s just kind of the way that they handle people,” he said. “They take revenge that way.”
Luckily, the body still had hands. Using a portable fingerprint reader from U.S. Homeland Security
Investigations, police quickly matched the prints to Jose Francisco Palacios Paz.
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