Forensics experts positively identified the bodies of kidnaped U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique S. Camarena and a Mexican pilot here Thursday and determined that the two were not killed at the site where their bodies were discovered wrapped in plastic bags.
In Mexico City, U.S. Ambassador John Gavin, appearing somber and weary at a news conference, declared that the two men "were brutally beaten before they died" and said he had ordered U.S. flags at the embassy and consulates throughout Mexico to be flown at half-staff.
Gavin is expected to come here today to accompany Camarena's body to San Diego aboard a U.S. Air Force plane. U.S. officials said Camarena's body will be cremated and a service will be held for him in San Diego on Monday.
"We intend to pursue the perpetrators of these heinous crimes in conjunction with Mexican authorities," the ambassador declared. "We call on responsible authorities in the government of the Republic of Mexico to join us in intensifying the search for, and the apprehension of, these detestable criminal elements, so that they may be brought to the bar of justice."
'In a War'
He added, "We are in a war and we cannot accept that Enrique Camarena died in vain."
U.S. officials here said soil samples inside the plastic bags were different from samples taken from the ranch where they were found, about 70 miles southeast of here, indicating that the bodies had been buried elsewhere and then exhumed. A U.S. official, who asked not to be identified, said an autopsy showed that the pilot, Alfredo Zavala Avelar, had been buried alive.
Camarena's badly decomposed body was identified by dental charts provided by his Mexican dentist and by an FBI fingerprint specialist. A Drug Enforcement Administration forensics expert arrived from Washington, but by late Thursday had not completed an autopsy.
Camarena and Zavala, who occasionally flew for the DEA, were abducted within hours of each other on Feb. 7. No ransom was ever asked for their return, and they were never again heard from alive.
Forensics experts worked all morning and afternoon at the Jalisco state morgue, while DEA, Mexican police and federal attorney general officials stood by. The door to the morgue was guarded by police carrying submachine guns and wearing surgical masks. The block was closed off by unmarked police cars and armed plainclothes officers.
As he left the morgue, Ed Heath, the DEA chief in Mexico, said, "The bodies were buried and then dug up."
He declined to elaborate but added angrily: "The DEA will not rest until these people (the killers) are eliminated."
There have been conflicting reports on the circumstances surrounding discovery of the bodies. U.S. officials said they now believe that the bodies were found by a peasant Tuesday evening about 1,000 yards from a ranch house that was the scene of a bloody shoot-out last week.
"They were found near paths the farmers take from the field," said Richard Morefield, U.S. consul general here. "It's almost impossible that they were there for any significant period of time without their being found."
Mexican federal police went to the ranch after reportedly receiving an anonymous letter saying that the bodies could be found there. Their investigation resulted in a shoot-out that lasted from 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, according to varying press reports, and left six people dead--a federal police officer, ranch owner Manuel Bravo Cervantes, his wife and three sons.
Police arrested five other members of the extended family but later released them without charges.
A U.S. official who asked not to be identified said the Cervantes family had not been on the DEA's list of suspects in the Camarena kidnaping.
"They were not major drug traffickers," he said.
He added later, "It has now apparently come out that the people killed in the shooting had nothing to do with the kidnaping. The pieces don't seem to be fitting together."
According to Gavin, the family was thought to be involved in illegal weapons trafficking but not in the illicit drug trade.
U.S. officials declined to speculate on why the bodies were dumped at the ranch or if there was any Mexican police complicity in their appearance there. They said they were not aware of any new leads to the kidnapers as a result of the discovery of the bodies.
Mexican federal judicial police who are handling the investigation were not available for comment.
Gavin and other U.S. diplomats in the capital indicated deep skepticism over the reported details of the discovery of the bodies, and Gavin particularly appeared to express doubt over the timing of the discovery.
He noted that although the shoot-out at the ranch occurred Saturday, no intensive search began until Tuesday.
"Several strange things occurred after that," the ambassador said. "The night before last (Tuesday) at sundown, the search for bodies . . . was abandoned, at least abandoned until sunup the next day. The next bit of information that we have was that two bodies had been found."
He added, "That in itself was confusing, inasmuch as we knew that the search had been abandoned at sundown."
At first, Mexican police told U.S. officials that the discovery was made at 5 a.m. Wednesday, but they later reported the finding had been made at 6 p.m. the previous day.
One U.S. source in Mexico City speculated that the bodies had been placed there after the search was called off--that is, between sunset Tuesday and Wednesday morning, when U.S. officials were notified.
"They weren't even dumped there," the official said. "They were set there. They were planted."
In Washington, Secretary of State George P. Shultz said the United States has made it clear to Mexico that the government's response to the slayings so far has not been adequate.
"Our level of tolerance has been exceeded," Shultz said.
He was responding at a Senate subcommittee hearing to questions from Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), who had called for a "get-tough" policy with Mexico. DeConcini said U.S. actions must go far beyond "border harassment."
Shultz defended thorough searches of cars crossing the border, which he said were intended to determine "whether the kidnaped individual was in one of those vehicles."
He added, "It did have the attribute that it got everyone's attention and in that manner, it was helpful."
He rejected DeConcini's proposal to foreclose on Mexican loans or to impose other economic sanctions.
"We must point out forcefully to the Mexican authorities what the problem is, which we have been doing," Shultz said. "They are hurting themselves by this process, because they are vitally dependent on the flow of tourism. It is in their interest, as well as ours, to clean up this situation."
Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III issued a statement saying that Camarena's death "will not lessen the resolve of the government of the United States in its efforts to enforce the drug trafficking laws of this nation."
"We will follow these terrorists wherever they flee, and we will expand our efforts until they and all of their conspirators are brought to justice," he emphasized.
Contributing to this story was Times reporter Norman Kempster in Washington.