TODAY   |  October 15, 2010

Lake shooting a case of mistaken identity?

Investigators are probing the possibility that David Hartley’s apparent murder may have been a case of mistaken identity in a turf war between rival drug cartels near the Texas-Mexico border. NBC’s Janet Shamlian reports.

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MATT LAUER, co-host: A possible explanation is emerging in the death of that American jet-skier who was allegedly murdered by Mexican pirates. Was it a case of mistaken identity ? NBC 's Janet Shamlian is in McAllen , Texas , with details on that. Janet , good morning to you.

JANET SHAMLIAN reporting: Matt , good morning. The latest theory on this is that Tiffany and David Hartley were perhaps mistaken for members of a rival drug cartel . David Hartley had Mexico plates on his vehicle when he offloaded those Jet Skis on to Falcon Lake . That as word comes from Mexico this morning that the search for David has now been suspended indefinitely. Hours before David Hartley went jet-skiing with his wife, Tiffany , on Falcon Lake , Texas State troopers pulled him over for an expired tag. But now investigators say David 's apparent murder may have been a case of mistaken identity in a turf war between rival drug cartels because the Hartleys also had Mexican plates on their car from when they lived in Reynosa for David 's job.

Mr. FRED BURTON (Vice President of Intelligence, Stratfor): The Hartleys had Mexican plates on their trailer from the point of departure and that might have drawn the attention of the Zeta lookouts, thinking that perhaps the Hartleys may have been lookouts or spies for the Gulf cartel , which is a rival cartel fighting over control over that geography.

SHAMLIAN: Fred Burton is with the private intelligence agency Stratfor . He says the beheading of an investigator on the case was a sign to the Mexican military to back off. The US sheriff on the case says no one really knows what happened. Sheriff SIGIFREDO GONZALEZ, Jr. ( Zapata County , Texas ): Unless we have somebody who may have been there to tell us exactly what happened, there's speculation. We cannot go around saying the cartels did that when we have no proof.

Ms. TIFFANY HARTLEY: I could see how the mistaken identity happened.

SHAMLIAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. HARTLEY: I mean, I can see how that happened.

SHAMLIAN: The development comes as Tiffany Hartley faces an unimaginable job.

Ms. HARTLEY: These are shells that we've collected every vacation we've gone.

SHAMLIAN: Packing away the memories of a marriage, something they'd been planning to do together for their move to Colorado .

Ms. HARTLEY: I miss him and I just want him back and I can't. Now I have to move forward and see how I'm going to live and what I'm going to do without him.

SHAMLIAN: As of today , she'll also have to do without David 's mom, Pam , who left South Texas for her Colorado home.

Ms. PAM HARTLEY: This is not over. I'll fight from Colorado . I will fight to make people see what's going on down here.

SHAMLIAN: An American family's private tragedy in the chaos of Mexico 's drug wars .

Ms. P. HARTLEY: Love you.

Ms. T. HARTLEY: I love you, too.

SHAMLIAN: Tiffany Hartley will herself be moving back to Colorado within the next few weeks. The family is aware of the suspended search, but, Matt , they still hope to bring David home. Back to you.

LAUER: All right, Janet Shamlian in Texas for us this morning. Janet , thanks so much. It's 18 after the hour. Once again, here's Meredith .