Mexican authorities in the southern state of Guerrero today found 60 unidentified corpses piled inside an abandoned crematorium in the coastal tourism city of Acapulco. Alerted by neighbors who complained of a rotting smell, police arrived at the fetid crematorium today and found the bodies wrapped in sheets and covered with quicklime.
Police said the bodies were in an advanced state of decomposition, but did not show signs of mutilation. One minor was identified among the pile.
Authorities have yet to determine the causes of death, or link the gruesome finding to any of the local drug cartels operating in the area, a hotbed for organized crime. Acapulco is the world’s third-most dangerous city, according to a 2014 report by the Citizen Council for Public Security and Penal Justice. President Enrique Peña Nieto recently announced a new security initiative aimed at strengthening law and order in southern Mexico, and the government has deployed the police's elite Gendarmerie unit to Acapulco to combat drug-war violence.
Last year, the Attorney General’s Office reported that authorities found 1,273 bodies in mass graves between 2006-2013. Only 142 were identified.
Mexico's not alone
Mexico isn't the only country facing the problem of what to do with unknown and unclaimed victims of violent deaths. In Honduras, one of the most violent countries in the hemisphere, the Central Department of Forensic Medicine in Tegucigalpa said it receives a dozen or so unidentified cadavers each month, most of which died of violent causes.
Even when authorities are able to identify the bodies, many times the corpses are never claimed by family members, requiring authorities to bury them in common graves in the increasingly crowded "Divine Paradise" municipal cemetery, according to forensic spokeswoman Issa Alvarado.
However, Alvarado says, just because a death is classified as "violent" doesn't mean the victim is a gangbanger or drug dealer. In fact, she notes, Honduras' homicide rate dropped last year.
"Forensics always classify a death in one of two ways: natural or violent. But most violent deaths are a result of transit accidents," Alvarado told Fusion in a phone interview from Tegucigalpa.
Plus, she says, most slain gang members are claimed by family members or spouses. "They usually come by the morgue around 3 a.m to claim the body, because they don't want to be seen during the day," Alvarado said. "We're open 24 hours."
Those who end up in the mass graves, she said, are usually abandoned old people, street alcoholics who die in hit-and-runs, or people who die with their families thinking they've migrated to the U.S.
"Here the mass graves are more of a symptom of poverty than violence," Alvarado said. "Very few of the corpses we get are victims of gang violence."
Mexico wishes it could make the same claim.