As holidaymakers sunned themselves on the golden sand of Acapulco beach, a man carrying a 9mm pistol swam up to the shore, shot a beachwear seller three times in the chest, and calmly made his way back to the jet ski where his accomplice was waiting and disappeared around the rocky headland to the west.
The new, ‘James Bond-style’ assassination is the new face of crime on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, where cartel killers are murdering gang rivals in tourist areas – and escape from the beach on high powered jet skis to get away from police.
The latest such execution in broad daylight is the fourth to hit Acapulco this year – a beach resort popular as an affordable getaway with American and European tourists.
But Acapulco is in the midst of its worst crime wave for a decade where there were 1,600 murders last year and already 684 in 2016 – or 12 a day.
A large spate of murders in mid-February was blamed on Pope Francis’ five-day visit to Mexico, when the majority of the military and federal police forces that normally guard the city, were removed to ensure the pontiff’s safety.
More than 100 murders took place in Acapulco during those five days – and the town’s municipal police force was left in charge.
‘Ironically, there was a lot of blood while the pope was here talking about putting an end to it,’ said Fransisco Robles, a local crime reporter who spends his evenings following the police radios to the latest crime scenes.
‘There’s very rarely an open and close murder case in Acapulco, but this new technique of escaping by sea has the police stumped.’
The jet-ski murder, which occurred on January 29 in early afternoon, is the fourth of its kind to see killers escape from Acapulco Bay to another part of Guerrero state’s jagged Pacific coastline.
The killers who left the salesman dead on the beach in front of hundreds of onlookers have still not been caught, the case buried under the unceasing daily onslaught of crime.
Acapulco’s municipal police refused to comment on the case when approached by MailOnline.
After the attack Eduardo García, 46, bled out on the same golden sand he had walked for 25 years selling clothing.
The terrified tourists gathered around bloodied corpse and waited over an hour for the authorities to arrive. 70 minutes after the murder, a police boat traced the criminals’ escape route for any trace of the killers, but all in vain.
‘It was over so quickly, and I’m not just talking about the killing,’ Jaime Mendez, who manages the beach furniture rentals where the crime took place, told MailOnline.
‘Ten minutes after the body was taken away, things were back to normal. Murder has become a daily fact of life in Acapulco.’
‘There are a thousand reasons you can get killed in Acapulco,’ says Margarito Melio, 60, a beach salesman who worked alongside Eduardo and says he knows no reason why his friend would have become a target for the brutal local gangs.
‘He was a good family man,’ he told MailOnline. ‘His wife and kids arrived to see their father die long before the police, and they live at ten times the distance. It was heartbreaking.’
Hoping to make 150 pesos (£6) a day selling clothing to the dwindling tourists, the beach salesmen are forced to give 15 per cent of their earnings to the gangsters who control the beach. Not paying up means death.
‘Perhaps Eduardo wasn’t paying his dues, or perhaps he was selling drugs on the side, or maybe one of his brothers is a gangster and a rival cartel is making his family suffer,’ he told MailOnline.
‘Every one is possible, and every one is a reason to end up dead in this town.’
Arturo Martinez from Iguala, where 43 students went missing at the hands of local police in 2014, had unwittingly allowed his brother to bury him in sand on the same spot where Eduardo had been gunned down a month before.
‘It makes no difference to me,’ he told MailOnline, smiling with his family for the camera. ‘If you went around Acapulco terrified of every spot where a murder had happened you’d never leave your hotel room, or maybe you’d never even enter it.’
After nearly a month Eduardo’s jet-ski killers remain on the loose, his family forgotten who held their dead father in their arms forgotten, and the brutal daily average of four homicides has rumbled on unabated.
‘I never go further than 100 yards from my hotel, but now it seems even the beach isn’t safe from the violence,’ said Bryna Freidman from Toronto, 64, who says she has noticed a large drop in visitors to the Pacific resort over the 35 years she’s been an Acapulco regular.
‘The authorities simply aren’t doing enough.’
Away from shoreline with holidaymakers from across North America and Europe, the streets of Acapulco city, home to 900,000 residents, run daily with the blood of innocent people.
‘It may look like paradise, but this place is hell,’ says beach furniture rental manager Jaime, who came to Acapulco from Mexico City three years ago looking for a change of scene.
‘There are cartel lookouts on every corner, local taxi drivers get involved in kidnappings and it’s better not to discuss anything concerning organised crime because you never know who you’re talking to.’
’50 per cent of the murders here are cartel related,’ says Fransisco, ‘After that 30 per cent are to do with extortion. Every business in town has to give part of their earnings to the cartel, if you don’t pay up, or they think you’re paying less than you should, they kill you.’
‘After that, about 20 per cent of murder victims simply get killed in the crossfire, wrong place at the wrong time stuff,’ he told MailOnline.
‘The cartels are so well equipped that it’s very easy for a loose bullet to claim a second life after their target is dead.’
Despite a recent fall in tourism, millions of holidaymakers, including 424,000 Britons, still jet off to Acapulco’s idyllic shores every year. With hotels costing around £35 a night, and a two course meal with a glass of wine costing as little as £15, it was once the prime destination for Americans looking for a cheap break away.
But far from its beaches lined with holidaymakers on sunbeds, many of Acapulco’s poorer residents have been forced to make their homes on the other side of the hills, in sprawling slums that have become loosely known as the ‘Periphery’.
It’s here, in the Acapulco the tourists don’t see, that the majority of the violence occurs.
Jimena Gomez, 17, who lives in the Periphery slums, told MailOnline of the violence she witnesses on a daily basis.
‘I sleep right through the gunfire these days and have learned to look away when I see a murder happening in the street,’ she said standing outside her house that overlooks the Periphery.
‘If the killers see you looking then you’re likely to get a bullet for good measure.’
While the security presence along Acapulco’s beach is heavy, government forces in the Periphery are minimal.
The only Mexican military soldiers permitted in the slums are those who are posted outside local primary schools to prevent the kidnap of students and teachers, a business which saw a surge when the drug cartels got hold of public school salary lists.
The phenomenon of kidnapping teachers came to a head five years ago when local criminal cartels began abducting the highest earners, demanding many year’s worth of payment in exchange for their safe return.
One teacher who was kidnapped in 2015 alongside her daughter from the Carlos Carrillo Primary School in the Periphery fled Acapulco immediately following her £10,000 release, vowing never to return.
The soldiers who now guard the school say they regularly see expensive cars with blacked-out windows driving past their posts at the school’s entrance, which now more resembles a prison than a primary school, with razor wire, security cameras and 24-hour military security.
‘This area is so dangerous that we’ve got to be constantly on guard,’ said Corporal Jimenez, who takes visitors’ names and checks them for weapons at the entrance.
Since the death of the ‘Boss of Bosses’ Arturo Beltran-Leyva, and the subsequent break-up of his Beltran Leyva Cartel which once controlled the whole of south-west Mexico, Acapulco has been fought over by the CIDA (Independent Cartel of Acapulco) and the Devil’s Command (AKA Barredora) cartels.
Acapulco is a valuable territory for organised crime. Guerrero state is the country’s largest producer of raw opium and the majority of this, as well as the refined heroin into which it is made, arrives in southwest Mexico’s largest port city before it is sent northwards to be sold to other cartels, who move the narcotics into the US.
Coupled with the local drug and extortion rackets that the tourism industry lends itself to, Acapulco has become southwest Mexico’s most profitable cartel territory, and the brutality of the gang wars has come to reflect this.
‘In regions controlled by a single cartel you’ll generally see less brutality, but given the war for dominance in Acapulco the killers have to send a messages every time they murder,’ says Francisco.
‘I generally come across more decapitations, mutilations and torture victims than straight executions in my daily work.’
In the meantime tourism has suffered. Next week’s spring-breakers, who once represented a major annual source of income for the local economy, now prefer to head to Cancun where the violence is less obvious.
And for those die-hard Acapulco holidaymakers like Bryna, the toll that Acapulco’s cartel war has taken on the city no longer justifies the thousands of dollars she pays to come here for her holidays.
‘I still love it here,’ said Bryna, as she looked out over the same ocean that has soaked up so much blood over the years, ‘But only because of the memories I have of how it was before.’