Mr. Coleman and his friend Dean Lucas were driving through rural Sinaloa state when they went missing last month. Their burnt-out van was found with two bodies in it on a sideroad on November 21. The bodies inside were too badly burned to be identified.
The ABC has been told the area they were travelling through is under the control of cartel loyal to fugitive drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman.
An investigative reporter told that the zone was controlled by a gangster nicknamed El Montano, who is part of the Los Dámaso gang, and that gang members have been on the alert for strangers in their communities.
In another development, the mayor of the regional community where the van was found has extended his condolences to the Australians’ families, saying: “We want this case solved. We want those responsible caught and jailed.”
Girlfriend gives account of disappearance
Andrea Gomez had been dating Mr. Coleman since February when they met on a Mexican beach — each of them holidaying with their friends sharing cabins next door to each other.
“Two months later I learned he was travelling in El Salvador and so I put it to him to come and meet me in Mexico and so he did and things went from there,” she said.
“He tried to come back to Mexico every month or so.”
“We had been talking about this trip for ages. He was looking for positive ideas for the trip they were going to take after leaving Edmonton (in Canada). They wanted to travel south for a little more than a month,” she told.
“We were in regular contact through Canada and the US – wherever they could get good wi-fi. When they got to Mexico the contact was more and more difficult – they used coffee shops with internet when the could.”
“It was November 20 when they crossed (from Baja California by ferry) to Topolobampo (Sinaloa) that the last time I was able to communicate with Adam.”
“They were still in La Paz, Baja when he sent me a message at 11:30 in the morning to say they were taking the ferry and he hoped to get good wi-fi. ‘I’ll write to you tonight. Good night and kisses’.”
“He said he’d get to Topolobampo at 8:30pm. I wrote to him at 9pm then 9:30pm and didn’t get a response. It was strange because the next day they were going to meet me in Guadalajara and we still hadn’t arranged where exactly.”
“So on Saturday he hadn’t written to me and then I started to get worried bit by bit. I tried to find a friend to tell them I was feeling concerned. He tried to calm me down.”
“A few more days passed then we had to begin a search. I tried to remain calm Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, by Thursday I contacted Dean’s girlfriend and we decided we had to do something.”
“On Friday I couldn’t focus on my classes and I went to the authorities and spent eight hours getting them listed [as disappeared]. It was incredibly stressful. Only then did the authorities realise something may have happened.
She was asked if she had seen the images of the burnt-out van that belonged to Adam.”
“So I had hopes, but I realised I had to prepare myself not to hold out hope any longer. Now [I have seen the images] I don’t have many doubts now about what was found.”
“Originally I wanted to go to Sinaloa because they were there so that’s where we had to be, I thought.”
“But now there was some wrong information and it would be dangerous for me to go. I’ve dropped that plan.”
“[The reality is] I am the girlfriend. I’m not direct family so I cannot do anything [in Sinaloa].”
“I would like the authorities to be more humane. That this situation is something no-one thinks will happen to them. We want tranquillity and security that things will be resolved.”
“This [violence] is so common in Mexico, it happens every day. It doesn’t surprise me, but for the family of the boys it is so out of the normal to hear about these things and so sad that he will remain here and they’ll never find those responsible.”
“In my heart I will get justice for them. I will. The government will never get justice for them.”
“So I will resign myself to that to protect myself.”
Mayor says Australians may have been mistaken for foreign agents
Miguel Calderon Quevado, the mayor of Navolato where the men’s van was found, said he is “very sorry for what has occurred.”
“We share their [the family’s’] pain after what has happened,” he told the ABC.
“If there is anything we can do for their families to assist in this case, the community and me are available to them. We want this case solved. We want those responsible caught and jailed.”
But that may be difficult given the danger for any witnesses who come forward.
“It’s very dangerous for them. There’s definitely a risk, especially in the zone [where the van was found],” Mr Calderon Quevado confirmed.
The mayor said authorities initially thought the discovery of the van may have been related to problems generated by a local celebration but then heard about the missing Australians late last week.
“The highway on which the Australians were travelling in the north of this state is renowned for its dangers,” he said.
“Vehicles are stolen regularly. They even steal petrol. About five or so years ago, our council area was in the top 10 worst places for security in the country.”
“The drug cartel leaders lived right here. This zone [where the van was found] is a conflict zone, dangerous — it’s just simply not secure, sadly.”
“It’s not common for vehicles to be burnt. But it comes back to the insecurity of this area and the frequency which vehicles are robbed.”
“What I suspect is that once they saw this van, gang members (delincuentes) stopped and robbed them.”
“Then realising they couldn’t communicate with them, they probably imagined these young Australians were foreign drug investigators and then they took this extreme action.”
“It’s just a possibility. It will be up to the investigators to decide.”
The killing of foreigners isn’t common. It doesn’t happen frequently.
“Sadly in this case I suspect it was confusion. They harmed people who were no threat to them.”