By: Gloria Galloway and David Agren
The Globe and Mail
The persistence of a Canadian family who travelled to Mexico to find a vanished loved one led to the discovery of his burned body in the trunk of his rental car in a remote part of the country that has been racked by intensifying violence.
Daniel Dion, 51, was last seen leaving a restaurant in Acapulco with three unidentified men at 3 a.m. on Oct. 23.
His family knew the next day that something was wrong. But, with limited interest being shown by the Mexican police, it was their own sleuthing that led them to a remote area of the violent state of Guerrero where they peered through a hole in the burnt-out vehicle to find the skeletal remains of Mr. Dion.
The businessman from Carleton Place, near Ottawa, had many powerful contacts in the Mexican government. He employed 2,000 Mexicans, many of them prisoners, to sew purses sold by his company Ecopurse.
Mr. Dion kept in constant contact with family back home when he was on one of his frequent trips south. But his three cellphones fell silent after he left the Acapulco restaurant.
Several family members, including his nephew Shanny Bolduc, flew to Acapulco last Tuesday to start a search. They learned from Mr. Dion’s friends that he had rented a late-model Volkswagen Jetta.
Another member of the family here in Canada contacted Canadian police who used credit card statements to determine that Mr. Dion had rented the car from Hertz Mexico.
“Once I got the information that Hertz was the car rental company, I immediately called them to know if my uncle had indeed rented 2010 white Jetta from them,” said Mr. Bolduc in the statement. “The person on the phone told me that, yes, a person with the name Daniel Dion had rented a 2010 white Jetta and that this automobile was equipped with a GPS tracking system.”
That GPS system had stopped working on Sunday, Oct. 24. The car company sent out a tracking company on Wednesday to find the missing car, which was located about 33 kilometres north of Chilpanchingo in the state of Guerrero.
Investigators from the tracking company “told me that when they arrived on the scene the car in question was completely burnt,” said Mr. Bolduc. “I asked, please, if there was a corpse in the car and he told me that they weren’t sure but that yes they thought something resembling human remains was in the car. I had troubles swallowing my saliva and keeping my tears as Daniel’s sister and his girlfriend were in front of me waiting for news.”
Mr. Bolduc said the manager of Hertz in Acapulco told him on Thursday morning that he had informed Mexican police of the location of the burned-out Jetta but he had not filed a report or taken police to the site.
“He told me that he would try and go Friday but most likely Monday as it was the Halloween weekend,” said Mr. Bolduc. “I left the office completely angry and confused at what I had just been told.”
Mr. Bolduc said he called the company that had found the car, as well as the local insurance company, to determine its precise location. On Friday, Mr. Dion’s family members travelled to the area which is called Zumpango Del Rio. They arrived on the scene escorted by four local police men armed with assault rifles.
“The police secured the perimeter around the burnt white Jetta and we proceeded to inspect,” said Mr. Bolduc. “Our concern was with the trunk as everything in the auto had melted, the dash, the windows. Through the holes where the turn signal lights were, we saw what seemed to be bones. The police lowered the back seat and we saw remains, and I mean remains of a skeleton.”
A burnt watch found in the vehicle resembled one worn by Mr. Dion.
On the night he disappeared, he is believed to have been carrying between $500 and $5,000. Mexican authorities are trying to determine the cause of death, but robbery would seem to be a likely motive.
“Considering what we know and have seen, the people that killed Daniel were professionals and went greatly out of their way to leave as little trace of the vehicle and his body as possible. This leads us to believe it was a contract execution,” said Mr. Bolduc.
Guerrero state officials confirmed Sunday that Mr. Dion had been kidnapped Oct. 23 in Acapulco after participating in a convention for small businesses that concluded the previous day.
Fernando Montreal Leyva, director of the state investigative police, told reporters on Sunday that no ransom demands had been made and the alleged abductors were unknown.
The magazine Proceso reported on its website that Mr. Dion was kidnapped from an Acapulco apartment and had been scheduled to meet with prison officials in the state capital Chilpancingo, but failed to appear.
Mr. Dion carried out business in other parts of Guerrero, one of Mexico's poorest and most violent states, where the army has long hunted down rebels, human rights abuses have been rife and the most impoverished regions register human development index scores on par with Sub-Saharan Africa.
The newspaper Reforma in Mexico City reports 737 murders due to organized crime activities so far this year – the third most of Mexico's 31 states.
“When an outside businessman comes in with a newer car, that draws attention,” said Security expert and Acapulco native Pedro Isnardo de la Cruz of the National Autonomous University of Mexico
Mr. Dion had a business office in Taxco, a colonial town in northern Guerrero famed for silver mining near Mexico City. The town made scandalous headlines earlier this year, when 55 bodies were found in an abandoned silver mine that was used by a cartel as a mass grave.
Mr. de la Cruz described the Taxco area as being rife with criminal activities, disputed by the cartels and patrolled by crooked police departments that local officials have failed to purge.
“There are constantly more families in that area dedicating themselves to extortion and kidnapping,” he said. “It’s a no man's land.”
Man killed in Mexico had criminal record
An Ottawa-area man whose remains were found the trunk of a burned-out car in Mexico had a criminal record in Canada, CBC News has learned.
The family of Daniel Dion, who ran a business that manufactured "eco" purses out of recycled materials as part of an inmate rehabilitation program in Mexico, are still awaiting DNA results to confirm the identity of the remains found in the rental car. But they are convinced the remains are Dion's after recognizing a blackened watch found in the car alongside charred human bones.
Dion, 51, of Carleton Place, Ont., was convicted in 1993 on one count of possession of a concealed weapon, one count of marijuana possession and one count of production of marijuana. Between 1982 and 1996, he faced at least 45 charges, including a number of drug- and gun-related counts. He was acquitted on most of the charges, a check of his criminal record has shown.
In 2009, Dion applied for bankruptcy protection in Canada.
Despite his checkered past, family and friends described Dion as a gifted entrepreneur and a warm person.
He was last seen leaving a restaurant in Acapulco at about 2 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 23, accompanied by three men, according to local reports.
Family believe Dion was executed
Dion, who is originally from Sherbrooke, Que., was recently quoted in the Mexican press talking about his influence in the judicial system. He told a newspaper that if a prisoner tried to rob him, he could arrange to transfer him to a tougher jail.
He was paying the more than 2,000 prisoners who worked for him well above the wage usually granted in the inmate rehabilitation program, his sister Johanne Dion said.
Speaking in French, Johanne Dion said it's likely that the wages her brother paid to inmates made it difficult for other businesses to compete.
His daughter, Catherine-Elizabeth Dion, believes her father might have known the people who killed him.
She said her mother told her that two days before her father disappeared, an article about his business was published in an Acapulco newspaper in which he criticized the lack of help he was getting to expand his business.
In a statement, Dion's family said they believe he was the victim of a contract execution.
Frustrated by slow pace of investigation
Members of Dion's family began arriving in Acapulco a week ago in an effort to find him after not having heard from him in four days.
They tracked down the car rental agency Dion had used and discovered that the white Volkswagen Jetta he had rented was equipped with a GPS device.
The global positioning system had gone dead the previous Sunday, so the rental agency had dispatched a tracking company, which found the charred remains of the car on a dirt road more than 100 kilometres north of Acapulco.
The trackers thought they saw human remains inside, but never contacted police, family members said.
It wasn't until Dion's family got the car's exact location from an insurance company that armed police officers escorted them to the scene. That was Saturday, almost a week after the car was found.
They'll remain in Mexico, awaiting the results of forensic testing to confirm what they say they already know. Then they plan to bring Dion home.
Dion's family also said Sunday they were frustrated by the slow pace of investigations by Mexican police and Canadian consular officials.
The Mexican Embassy in Ottawa released a statement late Monday saying Mexico's government supports Dion's family and will closely monitor the investigation into his disappearance.
"From the moment that information was received regarding Mr. Dion's disappearance, the Mexico-Canada Consular Rapid Response Mechanism was activated. In this framework, Mexican authorities have been working with Canadian authorities to follow developments in the case," the statement reads.