Editor's note: Tune in to AC360° this month for our special Cold Cases series.
Drew Griffin and David Fitzpatrick
CNN Special Investigations Unit
La Salle, Colorado (CNN) — For 29-year-old Tiffany Hartley, all she can do now is wait: Wait for what she admits may never happen — the return of her husband’s body from a day of horror on a south Texas lake.
It was supposed to be the perfect end to a relaxing week. Hartley and her husband David, who had lived in the Mexican border town of Reynosa for two and a half years while he worked for a Canadian oil field supply company, were about to move back to their Colorado home. Drug violence in Reynosa had erupted and it was far too dangerous to continue living there.
David Hartley’s mother, Pam, told CNN her son picked up his cell phone and called her just before he and Tiffany got onto their jet skis for a day on Falcon Lake, which straddles the Texas-Mexican border.
“They were going for a fun day,” Pam Hartley said. “They were excited to have one last ride on their jet skis before coming back to Colorado. Just one last time to have a good time. Go out on a big lake. They love the water. They love the jet skis.”
Just hours after that cell phone call, there was another call. This one from Tiffany Hartley to the 911 operator in the border town of Zapata, Texas. David Hartley, she said, had been shot to death on the Mexican side of the lake.
“Are you sure that your husband got shot?” the 911 operator asked.
“Yes,” Tiffany Hartley replied. “In the head. He was thrown off the jet ski and I couldn’t pick him up and get him on mine.”
Hartley’s account of what happened has never changed. She and her husband were returning from touring a well known local landmark, a half sunken local church called Old Guerrero on the Mexican side of the border. They were about a mile from the church when three boats approached. The men in the boats had guns and began to fire. David Hartley, his wife said, was shot in the head.
“I’m in the water. I’m with him. I have him in my hand and my jet ski in my other hand,” she says. “And the boat came around to me. I could feel the boat coming around me. And I saw two guys and one had a gun pointed right at me. They were about 10 to 12 feet away from me.”
In the four months since the attack, many doubts have been raised by law enforcement sources suggesting Tiffany Hartley’s version of events does not ring true. She concedes even now she still may be in shock from the events of that day.
Rumors persist that somehow, in some way, the Hartleys themselves were involved.
Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo “Sigi” Gonzalez believes Hartley.
“Everything that she’s telling me has happened before,” Gonzalez told CNN.
Gonzalez says he has reports on four different occasions of fishermen being threatened by men he calls Mexican “pirates” while they were on Falcon Lake. In each one of those instances, he says, there were only threats—no actual gunfire. The lake, he says, has become a drug, ammunition and human trafficking corridor.
Even so, Tiffany Hartley says she is not concerned by those who doubt her. Instead, her mission now, she says, is to raise public awareness about the violence along the border. She has a website, bringdavidhome.com, devoted to both that idea and to retrieving her husband’s body. Something she acknowledges to herself may never happen.
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