Santiago Meza, known as “The Stew Maker,” admitted after his arrest on Thursday to disposing of hundreds of bodies in recent years for a faction of the Arellano Felix drug cartel based in the border city of Tijuana.
News of Meza’s arrest prompted dozens of families to come forward seeking news of missing loved ones. The state prosecutors’ office said it was looking into more than 450 missing persons’ cases from the past eight years.
“We have hope that some of the victims are our relatives. I’ll be at peace when I know where my son’s body is,” Fernando Oseguera, whose son disappeared in 2007, told a news conference.
Meza confessed to dissolving the bodies of murder victims in large barrels of caustic soda and dumping the remains in pits.
Most were believed to have been killed in drug gang feuds, but many other victims were unrelated to the drug trade and kidnapped for ransom and murdered, police said. Meza, 45, said the cartel paid him $600 a week for his gruesome task.
More than 5,700 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico last year, nearly double the number of 2007. Drug gangs are often involved in kidnappings that target anyone from wealthy businessmen to ordinary people.
Prosecutors said they would ask law enforcement officials in the United States for assistance in identifying the teeth and bones being uncovered in pits around the shack where Meza said he did away with the bodies in industrial drums.
The spiraling violence of Mexico’s drug war presents a huge challenge to President Felipe Calderon, who has deployed thousands of troops to crush the cartels.