September 11, 2014 9:00 am

16X9: Missing in Mexico

WATCH ABOVE: 16×9’s “Disappeared”

16×9 originally aired “Disappeared” on October 26, 2013.

The last sighting of Canadian Diego Hernandez came at precisely 5:34 p.m. on the afternoon of May 8. We know the time because a surveillance camera from a government building across the street in the city of Puerto Vallarta captured the moment.

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A municipal police car is seen pulling up to a black 2003 Chevy Trailblazer. Hernandez, 22, was a passenger. The driver was an American named Craig Silva. The two men were on their way to meet an accountant in the Mexican resort city to discuss a possible investment in a martial arts business that Hernandez was starting.

At 5:45, the accountant called Silva to find out what was delaying him. The call went to voice mail. The accountant left a message, which was never received.

Hernandez and Silva vanished without a trace. Their vehicle was found, stripped clean, 100 kilometres away. Within hours, someone using Silva’s ATM card went on a shopping spree.

READ MORE: A Canadian disappears in Mexico: One year later

They bought booze and cigarettes, and tried to buy a wide-screen television in the state capital, Guadalajara. There are even clear photographs of someone using an ATM machine with the card.

Strangely, the authorities have never distributed the photos. When 16×9 asked why, a senior official told us: “We work a little different than in Canada or the U.S.”

Nevertheless, the disappearances had all the earmarks of an abduction, except for one thing: after nearly six months, there has been no ransom demand.

That worries both families. There are fears that the two men may have joined the ranks of Mexico’s “desaparecidos”—the disappeared, who number 27,000 since the country’s drug wars flared in 2006.

Melissa Canez, Hernandez’s mother who has lived in Puerto Vallarta for three years, believes her son may have been kidnapped by police, and handed over to criminals who wanted a piece of his martial arts business, and were rebuffed.

“I think (the police) were likely paid to pick them up,” she says. She has no hard evidence, except that the two men were seen being frisked by police, with their hands up on the Trailblazer, on the day they disappeared. Municipal police on duty that day in that part of Puerto Vallarta deny any knowledge of this.

Read more: Dealing with Mexican police

And that has sharpened the mystery: Who is holding them? Why were both men taken? Why no ransom note? Why no bodies?

When 16×9 contacted the Attorney General of Jalisco state Luis Najera, another dark scenario emerged. Najera said that Hernandez was possibly a fugitive from justice—a prime suspect in the killing of an American restaurant owner, Johnny Luhr, in Puerto Vallarta.

That murder happened on May 2, six days before the two men disappeared. Maybe, Najera said, Hernandez and Silva were in hiding from police.

We were later told that state police had arrested a Mexican man, who confessed that Hernandez had killed Luhr over of an unpaid debt. When we met Luhr’s girlfriend, she told us much the same story.

Melissa Canez, however, doesn’t buy any of it.

“I just think it’s ridiculous,” she told us. “Why do they come up with these things? Now that they’re missing all of a sudden, oh, we were watching them for this, and we were watching them for that. Well, really do you have the proof? If you did you would have arrested them (before they disappeared), no?”

She is convinced that police don’t want to find Hernandez or Silva—that they may be covering up some kind of conspiracy.

At the same time, Mexican authorities are concerned about the negative publicity surrounding the case. Early on in their investigation, they asked Melissa not to contact the media about her son, and not to circulate 10,000 missing posters that she had printed. They told her that might jeopardize their investigation.

It might also produce some unwelcome headlines in the Canadian media. Canada tourists and expats contribute heavily to the Mexican economy. There are more than 1.5 million Canadian visits each year to Mexican resort cities, and 50,000 Canadians have homes in the country.

It’s not widely known that at least 30 Canadians have been killed in Mexico since 2006. There are also at least two other Canadian men missing since last March. It’s sensitivity to this kind of news that prompted Attorney-General Najera to fly to Puerto Vallarta, with a full team of aides and bodyguards, to assure 16×9 that police were working “24 hours a day” to solve the Hernandez mystery.

Hernandez’s mother says that if the authorities seem uncomfortable when asked about Diego’s case, it’s much deserved. “Discomfort is the least they should be going through for what they’re putting us through, for not making the effort they promised they would make.”

Don’t miss an encore presentation of 16×9 this Saturday at 7pm.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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