Three missing women and a rescued tiger shine light on spate of disappearances in Mexico

San Luis Potosí's State Prosecutor acknowledges that ‘clearly something is going on’ after 318 people were reported missing in the last three years, almost half the total recorded number since 1964

Patricia Iraetha, Yatzell Morazán and Tania Chavarría, the three young women who disappeared on November 7 in San Luis Potosí.
Patricia Iraetha, Yatzell Morazán and Tania Chavarría, the three young women who disappeared on November 7 in San Luis Potosí.RR. SS.

It was a remote farm in the mountains of San Luis Potosí, in in the El Capulín community, in central Mexico, about 20 kilometers from where the women had last been seen. The agents entered the building last Friday night after an anonymous tip-off had alerted the State Prosecutor’s Office that the young women might have been taken there. Inside, the law enforcement officers found a couple of piles of charred objects, some unidentified skeletal remains and, what puzzled the uniformed men the most, a Bengal tigress. The animal was the only thing the agents were able to rescue. There was no trace of Tania Chavarría, Yatzell Morazán or Patricia Iraheta, the three women who disappeared together on November 7. The state prosecutor of San Luis Potosí, José Luis Ruiz, has stated that the authorities believe the three women are alive, but that they are also at risk: “One of the lines [of inquiry] that has been strengthened is that they are all right, they are alive. However, there are other lines that have also allowed us to establish that they are possibly at risk.”

Tania, Yatzell and Patricia went missing at 3.30am on November 7 after going to a club called La Gozadera, in Ciudad Fernández. The first two were 26 years old and Patricia, who was of Salvadoran origin, was 29. They disappeared having left their belongings and the motorcycle on which they had arrived at the club, according to local media reports. Last week, their families organized a protest, asking the authorities for results. The police reviewed the establishment’s security cameras, but it has not been revealed whether the footage show the three young women leaving voluntarily or by force.

Mexico, where 10 women are killed every day and seven more go missing, was still in shock after the deaths of Ariadna López, 27, and Lidia Gabriela Gómez, 23, in Mexico City when the three women disappeared in San Luis Potosí, and the incident was barely mentioned in the national media. The spotlight was shone on the case on November 14, when local law enforcement in the state reported the rescue of a tiger from a farm in the highlands. The state prosecutor subsequently confirmed that the raid conducted at the property was part of a wider search for the three young women. “One of the lines of investigation indicated to us that they probably were or had been in that place. We obtained information that allows us to move forward,” said Ruiz.

The Bengal tiger specimen rescued during the search of a farm in Río Verde, in San Luis Potosí.
The Bengal tiger specimen rescued during the search of a farm in Río Verde, in San Luis Potosí.Coordinación de Protección Civil SLP

The tiger was taken to a zoo in Mexquitic de Carmona and according to the authorities there were more animals at the property, the owner of which has yet to be identified. Ruiz stated that the remainder of the animals and other objects had been left at the farm “in order to contact the owner.”

The presence of the feline further complicates a case that carries all the hallmarks of the involvement of organized crime. Since 2020, there has been a spate of disappearances in San Luis Potosí. Over the past three years, 318 of the 773 people unaccounted for since 1964 have gone missing – almost 50% of all recorded cases in nearly six decades in the space of 36 months, according to the national registry of the Secretariat for Home Affairs. The majority of these cases have occurred in Río Verde and Ciudad Fernández, where Tania, Yatzell and Patricia disappeared. Furthermore, since July, families looking for loved ones and members of the State Commission for the Search for Disappeared Persons have suffered three separate attacks by armed men while conducting searches. The most recent one took place on November 10, when two state officials were kidnapped and beaten.

Ruiz has acknowledged that “clearly something is going on” in the central area of San Luis Potosí because in the past few weeks two other young women have also gone missing, in addition to Tania, Yatzell and Patricia. One of them, Marion Izarregui, was found dead on Sunday with signs of having suffered sexual abuse. She had disappeared the day before while going to the post office and was found inside an irrigation canal. She was 30 years old. Ruiz confirmed that a search was also underway for another young woman in Villa Juárez, but he fell short of linking the two cases. “We have no indication that they are linked to a trafficking event,” he said, while admitting that the state may be experiencing a security crisis. “There is neglect on the part of the municipal public security institutions.”

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