Mexico Too Many Bodies

- Death froze his exhausted face. The attackers lashed or punctured nearly every part of his body. Then they cut off the dead man’s head, wrapped it in a plastic grocery bag and dumped it with his body between two tractor-trailers on a city street.

As with most murders in Ciudad Juarez, police found no witnesses, no weapons. Only the battered corpse on the steel coroner’s table carries clues to who he was and how he died.

“Every organ speaks,” says Dr. Maria Concepcion Molina, who gently removes packing tape from the head of her third decapitated victim in a week. The dead man’s slack mouth and eyes still seem to pray for relief.

Bodies stacked in the morgues of Mexico’s border cities tell the story of an escalating drug war. Drug violence claimed 6,290 people last year, double the previous year, and more than 1,000 in the first eight weeks of 2009.

Each bullet wound or broken bone details the viciousness with which the cartels battle a government crackdown and each other. Slain policemen lie next to hit men in the rows of zipped white bags.

Workers toil up to 12 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week, to examine the remains. When Tijuana coffin makers fell behind during the December holidays, the morgue there crammed 200 bodies into two refrigerators made to hold 80.

“There are times here when there are so many people, so many cadavers, that we can’t keep up,” says the Tijuana morgue director, Federico Ortiz.