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Autopsies fail to ID burned bodies in Ariz. desert
Officials: Autopsies fail to identify 5 burned bodies found in Ariz. desert south of Phoenix
By The Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) ' Authorities are investigating whether five burned bodies found in the desert 35 miles south of Phoenix are a group of five men involved in illegal activity, a missing family or someone else altogether.

The bodies were so badly burned that autopsies were unable to determine who they were or even whether they were killed before the car they were in was torched, Pinal County sheriff's spokesman Tim Gaffney said in a news release Tuesday.

He said that investigators were looking into several possibilities based on tips, including a call from police in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe late Monday about a husband and wife and their three children who have been missing.

Tempe police spokesman Sgt. Jeff Glover did not immediately respond to requests for information about the case, and Gaffney did not provide further details.

Gaffney said another possibility stems from a call the sheriff's office got on Saturday, the same day that the bodies were found in a burning Ford SUV in Vekol Valley, a well-known smuggling corridor about 70 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border.

A man who asked to remain anonymous called investigators saying that his brother-in-law was involved in illegal activity and feared that he could be among the dead. The man said his brother-in-law told him the night before the bodies were found that he was "going to Vekol Valley to make money" with four of his acquaintances.

The man told investigators that when he tried to call his brother-in-law and the other men on their cellphones, the calls all went straight to voicemail.

The men were last seen driving a Ford SUV. The family in Tempe also has a Ford SUV.

The sheriff's office declined to answer any questions about the information in the news release or whether they thought one possibility was more likely than another.

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said Monday that the location of the smoldering SUV in a known smuggling corridor and the nature of the crime itself have him all but certain that a violent smuggling cartel was responsible.

Babeu said that the burned car likely is the same car that a Border Patrol agent saw four hours earlier Saturday when it was still dark.

The agent saw a white Ford Expedition stopped and became suspicious, but when he approached, the car fled and the agent lost it, Babeu said.

When the sun came up, the same agent saw car tracks in the area leading into the desert and shortly after, found a smoldering white Ford Expedition, Babeu said.

When the agent approached the car, he saw four burned bodies lying down in the cab of the vehicle, and one body in the back passenger seat; no one was in the driver's or front passenger's seat.

The bodies were burned so badly that the autopsies, conducted Monday, did not reveal their gender, race or ages.


Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/#!/AmandaLeeAP

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