117 cadavers, including fetus & 2 children, exhumed from Mexican mass grave used by authorities

Forensic medical personnel recover a corpse from a mass grave on the third day of work at the cemetry of Tetelcingo, Morelos, Mexico on May 25, 2016 © Juan Carlos Villamil
A heavily-pregnant woman and two children were among the bodies recovered during a fortnight-long excavation of a mass grave, dug up by a morgue in central Mexico, which used it to dispose of bodies it thought would not be claimed by any family members.

The exhumation of 117 bodies – one more than the authorities had counted - in Tetelcingo, in the inland state of Morelos, since May 21 has excited a morbid fascination among Mexicans, and become a lightning rod for government criticism.

Under local legislation, officials are allowed to conduct their own burials, when the deceased person has no contacts, but those in Tetelcingo morgue used the provision to liberally and carelessly dump bodies into a single pit, opened up in 2014, even when family members requested to bury their own dead.

The practice might not have been discovered, if not for the family of Oliver Wenceslao Navarrete, who was kidnapped and murdered in 2013. The government refused to give back his corpse to the relatives, claiming they needed to conduct forensic tests, before interring it without the family’s consent.

Forensic medical personnel work in teh exhumation of 116 bodies found in a mass grave at Tetelcingo community in Morelos State, Mexico on May 23, 2016.
© Alfredo Estrella

Finally, his parents obtained a court order, allowing his body to be recovered in December 2014. To their shock, to get to Navarrete’s body, officials had to dig through a pit, moving dozens of other poorly marked bodies, as they watched.

Navarrete’s family filmed the macabre dig, and the video was published on social media late last year, prompting immediate outrage.

“The victims were not only humiliated and violated by criminal organizations, but by their own state prosecutor's office, which didn't take care of them," Javier Sicilia, a public activist, who campaigned for the exhumation and reburial told Vice earlier this week.

Relatives of the dead – many of them victims of Mexico’s drug wars, which have resulted in over 100,000 estimated deaths - huddled in specially erected tents, as masked workers conducted the mass exhumation at the sweltering and fetid site, over the past two weeks.

Unsurprisingly, irregularities were discovered, according to Morelos attorney general Javier Perez.

Apart from the extra corpse, 28 people were buried without a genetic registry, others with improper or falsified documents. Among the corpses, was a mother with 36-week old fetus, found in the streets in 2012, and a two-year-old boy found floating in a river in April 2013. No one has come forward to identify them to this day.

One official has been charged, and another remains under investigation, as the dig carries on, to make sure there are no more unaccounted bodies in the mass grave.

“We will continue to look into the actions of other public servants and former officials," Perez promised the media.

The remains of those exhumed will be given a proper burial and placed in wall crypt in a nearby cemetery, at the government’s expense