THE coastal Mexican region where the bodies of two men were found in a burnt-out van, likely to be identified as a pair of missing Australian surfers, has earned a reputation as the country’s murder capital.
Dean Lucas and Adam Coleman were travelling the picturesque coastline of northern Mexico in search of the kind of off-track surf beaches you wouldn’t find in a Lonely Planet guide.
Mr Lucas’s partner Josie Cox, who he had planned to propose to, said the men were a couple of “very keen and confident surfers” and “may have gone in search of waves in remote villages close by”.
It was on those remote roads they were driving overnight that it appears the pair ran into significant trouble.
The men were believed to be camping en route from Topolobampo to Guadalajara but, unusually, had not made contact with their girlfriends or family members for more than a week.
As Australian authorities communicated news of a “tragic event” to the families of Mr Lucas and Mr Coleman, reports emerged two bodies had been found in a torched vehicle appearing to have once matched the description of the blue and white camper they were driving.
Mexican authorities inspect a burnt-out van suspected to belong to a couple of Australian tourists missing for more than a week, in Sinaloa, Mexico. Picture: AP PhotoSource:AP
The WA friends were only about 25km from bustling modern cities and tourist attractions. Although most parts of Mexico are safe to visit when precautions are taken, away from the tourist cities and under cover of darkness are when many areas reveal how they’ve been touched by the country’s roaring underground drug trade and organised crime.
La Trobe University Institute of Latin American Studies senior fellow Dr Barry Carr says the two travelling surfers may be an extreme example of what can go wrong in the country.
“Parts of Mexico have a partly deserved reputation for being a dangerous place,” he tells news.com.au.
“If I was giving advice to friends of mine about driving, I would tell them two things: don’t drive at night and don’t, under any circumstances, get off the main highways. You can be in the wrong place at the wrong time, classically, and it looks like that unfortunately may be the case for these young men.”
Dr Carr says that the picture of the burnt-out vehicle, while not a signature of any particular criminal group, was an extreme example of fairly common gang behaviour in many parts of rural Mexico.
“There is the so-called war on drugs in Mexico that has been raging since 2006. Around 102,000 have been killed and 32,000 have been disappeared. Disappeared people is a very common phenomenon — disappeared foreigners is less so but very unfortunately it does happen,” he said.
“These guys were outsiders, there is nothing to suggest that they were involved in anything illegal. They could have been lost, they could have been carrying valuables, they simply could have been picked up, robbed by some local thugs or could have fallen victim to some sort of stand-over tactic.”
Adam Coleman (pictured) had been on his way to meet up with his girlfriend in Guadalajara. Picture: FacebookSource:AAP
Rural kidnapping, robberies and theft not necessarily connected with the drug trade is a risk travellers take when going off-road in Mexico.
The state of Sinaloa, where Mr Coleman and Mr Lucas had travelled, has long been a notorious area for crime and is on the radars of international government authorities such as Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with warnings often in place.
Home to one of Mexico’s most significant international drug trafficking and organised crime syndicate, the Sinaloa Cartel, the Mexican state has both benefited and lost out from the distribution of cocaine and other drugs the organisation specialises in.
“There’s no secret there’s white powder behind a lot of the wealth in that state,” Dr Carr says.
One of the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, rose to international infamy pulling off an incredible escape from a Mexican prison in July.
The municipality of Navolato, about 25km west of the city of Culiacan, has been the site of countless murders and mafia activity in recent years.
Reports from local media detail burnt-out cars discarded on the streets of the notorious town, and brutal deaths likely associated with the drug trade, Dr Carr says.
Adam Coleman. Picture: FacebookSource :AAP
Dean Lucas. Picture: FacebookSource :Supplied
Although nothing has been confirmed of the identity of the bodies found in the van in Navolato, nor the whereabouts of the two missing men, those close to the men are fearing the worst.
Mr Coleman’s Mexican girlfriend, Andrea Gomez, told the Associated Press she and Mr Lucas’s partner, Josie Cox, will travel to the Sinaloan capital of Culiacan to see if the two bodies are the men.
“Everything points to it being them because the van matches; it had a bicycle,” Ms Gomez said.
She said that Ms Cox was bringing Mr Lucas’s dental records for matching and she had “pieces of dreadlocks” that Mr Coleman had given her.
The Department of Foreign Affairs is providing consular assistance to the families and issued a statement on their behalf on Sunday, saying they were aware the van had been found and a “tragic event” had occurred.
“The families hold deep fears for the safety of their sons, but stress that they are still waiting for details to be confirmed,” a statement from the department said.
An online fundraising campaign to support the families of the two men has received more than $22,000 in a matter of hours.
Fault Lines travels to the troubled Mexican state of Michoacan to find out what happens when vigilante groups take on powerful drug cartels.
Missing surfers: Families of Australians Adam Coleman, Dean Lucas head to Mexico amid reports unidentified bodies found in van
Updated about 5 hours ago
The families of two West Australian surfers missing in Mexico hold grave fears for their safety, amid reports two bodies were found in a burnt-out van similar to the one the men were travelling in.
Dean Lucas and Adam Coleman were travelling in a van towards Guadalajara, but failed to arrive at their destination by November 21 as planned.
A media outlet in Mexico said two bodies had been found in a burnt-out Chevrolet van matching the description of the one the men were travelling, but local police have not confirmed or denied if they are the Australians.
Mexican authorities will run DNA tests on the two charred bodies and the girlfriends of the men are helping with DNA testing, an official told Reuters.
The official from Sinaloa’s local prosecutor’s office said the bodies were too charred to identify.
A photo of the burnt van shows a bicycle on the back and a spare tyre, similar to the one the men took on their road trip. Local reporters have told the ABC food tins and cooking utensils were also found in the van.
“Nothing is confirmed, it’s just a similar van,” Dean Lucas’s girlfriend Josie Cox told the ABC.
“[It’s] most likely theirs but I’m keeping positive it’s not.”
The torched van was found in the state of Sinaloa — one of the most dangerous and violent places in Mexico, home to powerful gangs and drug cartels.
The US State Department has advised people not to travel there outside of one major city, and says travelling on anything other than major toll roads is especially dangerous.
The families of the two men said they were aware the van had been found and that a “tragic event” had occurred, but still did not know exactly what had happened.
“The families and partners are aware the van in which they were travelling has been located by Mexican authorities and that a tragic event has occurred,” the families said in a statement released by DFAT on Sunday.
“The families hold deep fears for the safety of their sons but stress that they are still waiting for details to be confirmed.”
Family and friends have paid tribute to the men on social media.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said it “is providing consular assistance to families in Australia who are seeking to establish the welfare of other family members in Mexico.”
“Due to privacy reasons we will not be making further comment.”
From other news sites:
- Yahoo!7 News: Burnt van fears for missing WA surfers in Mexico
Everything points to it being them’: Girlfriend of one of two Australian surfers missing in Mexico gives police a DREADLOCK of his hair to help identify the charred bodies in their firebombed van
- Australian surfers Dean Lucas and Adam Coleman are missing in Mexico
- The two men, both 33, were last seen Friday, November 20, buying a map
- Their girlfriends hope to provide Mexican authorities with DNA samples
- Mr Lucas’ girlfriend, Josie Cox, arrived in Mexico with his dental records
- While Mr Coleman’s girlfriend, Andrea Gomez, has pieces of his dreadlocks
- Mexican authorities located the van the two Australian men were driving
- Local media outlets have reported the discovery of the burnt campervan
Mr Lucas’ girlfriend, Josie Cox, arrived in Mexico on Sunday before she revealed her boyfriend was planning to propose.
Mr Coleman’s girlfriend, Andrea Gomez, said Ms Cox brought Mr Lucas’ dental records with her.
Along with ‘pieces of dreadlocks’ given to Ms Gomez by her partner, the pair hoped authorities would be able to confirm whether or not the bodies found were those of their loved ones.
‘Everything points to it being them because the van matches, it had a bicycle. But nothing is confirmed yet,’ Ms Gomez said.
At first, Ms Gomez and Ms Cox had wanted to travel to the Sinaloa capital of Culiacan on Monday with the items for DNA testing, but now they would travel to Mexico City to make contact with the Australian Embassy.
Mr Lucas and Mr Coleman, from Golden Bay – an outer southern suburb of Perth, were reported missing after they organised ‘solid plans and reservations’ to be in Guadalajara, Mexico by November 21, but failed to arrive.
Mexican news outlets reported the discovery of a burnt caravan containing two bodies as the families of the two men were informed their vehicle had been found and a ‘tragic event [had] occurred’.
Family are currently travelling to Mexico and Ms Cox revealed on Sunday night Mr Lucas was going to ask her to marry him.
Mexican authorities are yet to identify the bodies who were found in a destroyed Chevy in Navolato, one of the most dangerous areas in Mexico, about 10.30pm.
Sinaloa, home of the powerful cartel led by fugitive drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman, stretches down Mexico’s Pacific coast and would be on the route of most road trips to Guadalajara from western Canada.
Ms Cox has taken to social media appealing for any information that may help find the Australian men who were last seen in the coastal town of Los Mochis, with a witness saying the pair were buying a map.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade released a statement on the missing surfers confirming their van has been located in Mexico.
Ms Cox said the men had ‘solid plans and reservations’ to be at Guadalajara by November 21, but never arrived. Pictured is her boyfriend Mr LucasMs Cox is pictured here with Mr Lucas during various travels the pair took together
‘Dean and Adam were travelling in a van, departing from Topolobampa on Friday 20 November to Guadalajara but did not arrive on their scheduled date,’ the statement said.
‘The families and partners are aware the van in which they were traveling has been located by Mexican authorities and that a tragic event has occurred.
‘The families hold deep fears for the safety of their sons but stress that they are still waiting for details to be confirmed.’
The local media publications have also translated Ms Cox’s plea for help in to Spanish in a bid to help try and find the pair.
‘The last confirmed siting [sic] was disembarking the ferry from Cabo to Topolobampa on Friday 20th November at 10pm. They were supposed to drive to Guadalajara after this, and never arrived,’ Ms Cox wrote on Facebook.
Mr Lucas has also booked flights to the U.K. from Los Angeles within three days but there is now doubt whether he will be catching the flight.
‘They are very keen and confident surfers from Australia and may have gone in search of waves in remote villages close by. We suspect they free camped somewhere on route from Topolobampo to Guadalajara overnight.,
‘Their family and I are devastated and would kindly urge that you share this as far as you can and on any relevant social media sites or pages to help us find our boys.’
Ms Cox’s recent update on the search also suggested there is devastating news.
‘We’d like to update everyone to announce we have had some distressing developments which we have not yet had confirmed.
‘We would appreciate any updates on information if you know anyone that has any, but ask that the Lucas and Coleman family have some privacy at this time,’ she wrote on Facebook.
Another friend of the pair also posted images of the men on social media while also suggesting their phones were stolen.
‘They have been driving through Mexico in this van and it’s been reported that Adam’s phone is now being used by someone else.
‘He is usually in regular contact with his mother and girlfriend so this is very out of character for him,’ she wrote.In two hours a fundraising page for the pair’s family members has raised over $4,000
A gofundme fundraising page has also been set up to raise money for family members to help them travel to Mexico and continue their search for the pair.
In nine hours 129 people have donated to the fundraising page raising over $16,000.
‘We are currently raising funds to help support both families in getting over to Mexico and bringing Dean and Adam back home to WA safely. any contributions is greatly appreciated,’ wrote the organiser of the page.
A social media campaign has also been launched to help find the pair with the public using #FindDeanandAdam to share images and news of the men.
Social media is reposting images of the Australians in hopes of finding any information about their disappearance
A close friend’s recent Facebook post reveals the family has received ‘distressing developments’ and their families are awaiting confirmation