This article is from the April 2003 The Mexico File newsletter.
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The Lesson Learned

by Daniel McIntosh 

Dan McIntosh has been a private investigator for 23 years and has conducted investigations in all but one of the Mexican States, Central America, and South America. In California he has worked on several serial murder cases including the "Freeway Killer," "Nightstalker," and the "Hillside Strangler" investigations. He has lived in Ensenada, Baja California, for the last 16 years with his wife and 9 year old son.

Over the years I have conducted hundreds of investigations in Mexico. From locating people, murders, kidnappings Ė you name it, Iíve done it. I am contacted by private individuals who want anything from having their spouses watched while on a ďfishing tripĒ with their friends to law firms that need information about a Mexican corporation or information regarding Mexican law.  

One of the first investigations I worked on in Mexico was in a very small ranch community in northern Guanajuato state. A law firm contacted me regarding making contact with the family of a Mexican national who died while working on a farm in North Carolina.  

Raul Santiago was operating a tractor and somehow fell off and was run over. My job was to contact the mother and father of Raul and have them sign some documents so that the law firm could represent them in a products liability lawsuit. 

The only information I had was the name of a store in San Felipe, Guanajuato, where the Santiago family would receive messages and some mail. 

I arrived in Leon, Guanajuato, late at night, then hired a taxi to San Felipe. The trip took about two hours. My taxi driverís name was Jesus Ė and I felt very comfortable as he drove this two-lane highway through the northern part of the state. 

When I arrived in San Felipe, the streets were deserted. I found a police officer sleeping in his car and asked him where the best hotel in town was. He pointed to a building across the Jardin. 

The building the hotel was in had to be at least 300 years old. I got my bags, paid Jesus, and reluctantly entered. Behind the hotel desk was someone with his head on the desk sleeping like a baby, snoring so loud I could feel the vibration through my body. ďSenor.Ē I yelled three times before he finally raised his head. This desk clerk, Iím sure, was as old as the hotel itself. I signed my name in a guest book, paid 50 pesos for the first night and the old man showed me my accommodations. The room was as small as my closet at home. There was a communal bathroom down the hall that Iím sure was enjoyed by all. I was so tired I changed for bed, and when I pulled back the blankets there appeared to be sheets on the bed that were used, Iím sure, by General Santa Anaís men when they stopped there on the way to the Alamo 150 years ago. I decided to sleep in my clothes that night. Hey, what do you want for 50 pesos? 

The next morning I awoke early and found the nearest cafť, had some really strong coffee, and set out to find the Santiago family.  

After making some inquiries, I learned that they lived in a very small ranch area about two hours out of town.

I hired another taxi. The driverís name was Moses. Iím batting two for two with taxi drivers. I told him the area I wanted to go and off we went. 

The smell of the high desert in the morning is intoxicating. Words cannot describe how fresh and beautiful it was. 

Mosesí cab needed a lot of suspension work done and Iím sure as soon as we got back in town, he was going to have it done, or maybe next year. Everything here seemed to move in slow motion. No one was in any hurry, except me. I wanted to finish my work and get out of there before I had to spend another night in ďThe best hotel in San Felipe.Ē 

After driving for about an hour on this rutted dirt road and asking almost every person we saw where the Santiago family lived, we finally arrived. 

The Santiago home was a very small two-room adobe with no electricity or running water. There was an outhouse. Their livestock consisting of one burro, two horses and some chickens in the field. The nearest neighbor was at least three miles away. 

When Moses and I approached in the cab, several children came running out to greet us. They were not wearing shoes and their clothes were dirty Ė but they were smiling from ear to ear. I donít think they ever met a gringo before because they seemed a little apprehensive. A very old lady came out of the front door and just stood there. Her face was very wrinkled and weathered. I asked her if she was the mother of Raul Santiago and she nodded. I tried to explain to her that a law firm in the United States wanted to represent her regarding her sonís death. Her puzzled look acknowledged that she didnít know what I was talking about. I tried to explain that because her son Raul was supporting their family and that he died, there could be some compensation coming to her and her husband. The confused look was still there.  

I asked for her husband. She told me her husband had left for San Felipe on their other burro three days ago and had not returned. I thought that maybe I could explain this matter to him and get their signatures on the document and get back home. 

Moses and I returned to San Felipe with Sra. Santiago and six of her ten children all piled in the back seat of Mosesí cab. On the drive to San Felipe, Sra. Santiago stated that her husband liked to drink and sometimes would sleep it off before he returned. We arrived back in town and looked everywhere for him. Finally we came upon a vacant lot with a large cactus in the middle. Next to the cactus was a burro and a person lying on the ground. One of the Santiago children went over and kicked him in the rear end. There was no movement. After several more kicks to the backside, Sr. Santiago lifted his head, gave a long stretch, and stood up.  

He was very hung over and could not stand up straight. He was leaning against his trusted burro. Sra. Santiago went over and talked to him for several minutes and I saw a puzzled look on his face as well. At this time I knew it was going to be a long day. Two of the Santiago children helped their father get on the burro, then they slapped the burroís backside and the animal took off with Sr. Santiago holding on for dear life. One of the kids said the burro knew the way back home. 

We followed in the cab and saw Sr. Santiago wearing his large sombrero and his poncho attempting not to fall off. He would lean to one side and almost fall over, then correct himself, then lean to the other side and just as soon as he started to fall, he would get straight again. This went on for several miles. It was late afternoon now and the sun was going down fast.

For the next three days I worked with the Santiago family, going to the notary office to get the documents executed properly. My work was finally done, I thought. 

I was contacted by the law firm to get some additional information needed from the family. I remained in San Felipe for a total of ten days. 

By the time I left, I got to know a lot of the residents and was invited to their homes for dinners and social gatherings. I got to play soccer on the town team twice, went with Moses and his wife to their cousinís wedding, and was invited to participate in a murder investigation by the local police. I really had a great time. 

I returned to San Felipe three years later and visited the Santiago family. Everything was the same, even though they received about $500,000 from the lawsuit. No running water. No electricity. Not even a new burro. The kids were still without shoes, but their smiles were ever present. 

I asked Mrs. Santiago why they didnít make any improvements to their home or lifestyle with the half million dollars she and her husband received. She looked at me once again with that puzzled look on her face and it wasnít until then that I really understood.  

The Santiagoís were happy the way they were and no amount of money would change that. She had her children close to her, the stars at night, and plenty of food on the table. She didnít need any more than that. 

Sometimes we get caught up with chasing the dollar all of our life and never really take a break. After being with the Santiagoís and staying in San Felipe during that trip, I really learned a lesson about life. Itís not having the biggest house or the nicest car and a large bank account that is important. Itís about being happy and content with your life. Why fix it if itís not broken?