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Mexico To Probe US Reporter’s Death

December 17, 1998

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ An American journalist whose body was discovered in a ravine in the mountains of western Mexico where he had been hiking was strangled with a neckerchief, a coroner said Thursday.

President Ernesto Zedillo ordered federal and state authorities ``to spare no efforts″ in investigating the death of Philip True, a correspondent for the San Antonio Express-News.

True’s body was found Wednesday in a 330-foot ravine in the mountains on the border of Jalisco and Nayarit states, and officials at first believed he had accidentally fallen to his death.

However, Dr. Mario Rivas Souza, the chief medical examiner for Jalisco state, said Thursday that an autopsy showed True, 50, was killed days before his body was retrieved by the Mexican army.

``It is a homicide. It is not an accident,″ Rivas Souza said in an interview broadcast by the Televisa television network. He said True had been strangled to death with a neckerchief and his body had no broken bones, indicating it was dumped in the ravine after his death.

Authorities handling the case said True did not appear to have been robbed and they had no motive or suspects. The remote area where True’s body was found gets few foreign visitors.

In San Antonio, Express-News managing editor Carolina Garcia said authorities told an editor who traveled to Mexico to assist in the search that True had also been struck on the head with a blunt object.

The ravine, known as the Chapangana Canyon, lies near the Jalisco-Nayarit state border.

Early Thursday, Jalisco state authorities sent two teams of investigators to the area, 155 miles northwest of the state capital of Guadalajara, high in the Huichol range in the rugged Sierra Madre Occidental. Nayarit Attorney General Marco Antonio Carrillo Rincon flew to the site by helicopter to oversee the investigation.

True, based in Mexico City, had hiked into the area on Nov. 29, planning to write an article on the Huichol Indians, one of the more isolated groups in Mexico.

Authorities had been searching for him since Dec. 10, when he was due to return to Mexico City.

Born June 18, 1948, in San Fernando, Calif., True graduated from the University of California at Irvine, and had planned to be a teacher.

``But the school district wouldn’t hire him unless he cut his long hair,″ True’s sister, Bonnie Biggs, of Reno, Nev., told the Express-News. ``Philip said his hair had nothing to do with his teaching ability so he didn’t cut it.″

He moved to New York, where he worked on the docks and as a maritime union representative, before heading to Texas. He got his first reporting job in the fall of 1990 at the Brownsville Herald.

True joined the Express-News in 1992 as the newspaper’s first border correspondent in Laredo. He became Express-News correspondent in Mexico City in January 1996.

Among the high-profile stories he covered for the San Antonio paper were the Zapatista rebel conflict in the southern state of Chiapas and Pope John Paul II’s trip to Cuba.

Ms. Garcia, the Express-News managing editor, said True’s wife, Marta, was expecting their first child.

``It’s really just devastating that you’re not going to get to see your child born. And then to have died in such a violent way in an area that you loved,″ she said.

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