Burial in Mexico

My lawyer brother Stuart was acutely aware of the Mexican laws that he broke in getting our older brother Jay buried when Jay died in San Blas, Mexico. The broken laws included:

  1. Burying a 32nd Degree Mason in a Catholic cemetery.
  2. Violation of Mexican Treasury Regulations.
  3. Violation of Mexican Custom Regulations.
  4. Violation of Mexican Immigration Regulations.
  5. Violation of Mexican Tax Regulations.
  6. Violation of Mexican Health & Safety Regulations.
  7. Fleeing from Justice.

He described part of this saga in a February 26, 1968 letter to Jay’s wife and son who were living in France at the time. The story starts slow but with very little embellishment some of it could serve as an episode in a adventure-movie script. The letter follows, with a few personal parts meant for Jay’s wife and son excluded (insurance details, etc.) Thanks to my niece Patricia for sending me a copy of this letter.

[Start of Letter]

February 26, 1968

The purpose of this letter is to furnish you with some more detailed information concerning Jay’s death.

As you probably know, Jay suffered for Purpura Hemorrhagica.

As you may or may not know he was in constant pain, but he never did complain. I had discussed Jay’s condition with him on many occasions and had done everything I could to persuade him to live in a place where he could get proper medical attention if he needed it. My arguments did not do any good because he always said that he wanted to live wherever he pleased and was willing to take the chance. He liked it down in Mexico and preferred to spend his winters down there where it was warm, even though he knew it was a dangerous thing to do from the medical point of view. I had also discussed with him the fact that he might die down there and that due to certain requirements of Mexican law, it would be difficult and expensive to bring his body back to the United States. He told me that it was his wish that in the event that anything happened to him down in Mexico, he would like to be buried down there as simply and inexpensively as possible.

I came home late the night of February 14th and went straight to bed. When I awoke in the morning I saw somebody had pushed a note under my apartment door. It was signed by a San Diego City police officer and stated that I should contact the American Consul in Mazatlan, Mexico, regarding the death of my brother. I hurried down to the office and saw Admiral Wooding who is my boss, and who also gets to work very early every morning, the same as I do. I told him what had happened and then I had our long distance telephone operator attempt to get through to Mazatlan. Phone calls to Mexico usually take several hours, and in the meantime I checked with the airlines to find out what kind of flight I could get to go to Mazatlan. The only direct routing was by Aeronaves de Mexicana out of the Tijuana airport, with flights leaving three times a week at 2:00 p.m. to Mazatlan via La Paz. There was no space available on the flight that day, but the girl at the airlines office told me I could go to Tijuana airport and stand by, and she thought that I had a very good chance of getting on board the plane.

In the meantime, I was able to get my call through to Mr. Abraham Vigil, the American Consul in Mazatlan. He told me that my brother had died on Wednesday and that under Mexican law he would have to be buried immediately (within 24 hours) in a pauper’s grave unless I authorized the expenditure of $150.00 to have the body embalmed. I told him to have the body embalmed at my expense and I would get down to Mazatlan as soon as possible. I then went up town and obtained a Mexican tourist card and drew $1,200 from the bank. Mari Wendt, my secretary, met me at my apartment where we did some hurried packing and then she drove me to the Tijuana airport. I was able to get the only empty seat on the plane for La Paz which left at 2:00 p.m. there was a short layover in La Paz and I arrived at the Mazatlan airport at 7:00 p.m. I called the Consul from the airport and he told me there was nothing which could be done that evening, and he would see me at his office at 8:30 the next morning.

I stayed at the Eldorado Hotel through the courtesy of some Americans who were on the plane, which was fortunate, because there was a festival in Mazatlan and all the hotel rooms were occupied. The Americans told me it would cost between $2,500 and $3,000 to fly the body out from a location such as Tepic. This is due to a peculiarity of the Mexican law which states that a body must be buried in the closest cemetery, unless a payment of burial fee is made to any cemetery which the funeral procession passes. The Mexican authorities take the position that burial fees must be paid to every cemetery which lies along the route of the plane’s flight. There are hundreds of cemeteries on the airline route from Mazatlan to the American border. They also require the payment of other fees, such as special casings for the casket and an armed guard to accompany the body to the border. There are no planes out of Tepic. but the same burial rules apply to transportation from Tepic to the Mazatlan airport by train or motor vehicle. (I was aware of most of this and had even explained it to Jay on several occasions when we had discussed the matter.)

I was at Mr. Virgil’s office at 8:30 Friday morning. He was not able to go to Tepic with me, but told me that he had made arrangements for a Mr. Gene Wick, who is an assistant manager of the Raleigh Tobacco Company cigarette factory in Tepic to give me all the help possible. He also insisted that I change my cash to travelers checks and got me some pills to keep me from getting sick. He also told me that Jay had been in the Loma Hospital for seven days prior to his death; that he, Mr. Vigil, had visited Jay in the hospital and told the doctor to spare no expense on blood transfusions because Lieutenant Colonel Foutz was an American veteran. Based on what Mr. Vigil told me, I honestly believe that they did everything they could for him, but their medical facilities are not up to American standards. I filled out all of the required papers and the Senior Consular Assistant put me on an express bus for Tepic at 11:00 a.m. Friday morning. I arrived in Tepic at about 4:00 p.m. Friday afternoon and managed to locate Mr. Wick who made arrangements for me to stay at the La Palma Motel. Mr. Wick told me he would see me at the motel later that evening. I hadn’t eaten all day so I had a good dinner and Mr. Wick came to see me at 7:00 p.m. He is one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. We talked for several hours and he told me many things, among which the most important were as follows:

The body was at the Crespo Funeral Parlor. An employee of the Raleight Tobacco Company had gone to San Blas and had picked up the camper all of the personal belongings which could be found in the little house which Jay had rented. The rent on the house was paid. The camper and the personal belongings had been locked up at the cigarette company.

There were two serious complications. One arose out of the fact that some of Jay’s American buddies from San Blas had come over to the funeral parlor and told the funeral director to give him the very best of everything and that his brother would take care of it. Of course, this was not true. The only expenditure which I had authorized so far was the $150.00 for embalming. Gene told me this created a real problem because the funeral director had put him in a $900.00 casket, and that under Mexican law he could not be removed and placed in another casket because the first casket would then be second hand. He said we were in a bad spot because we had to obtain the cooperation of the funeral director in order to get the Mexican Death Certificate. Actually the whole thing amounted to a form of blackmail. Gene’s suggestion was that he should attempt to negotiate with the funeral director to bring the price down, pointing out the fact that the $900.00 casket had not been authorized.

The other complication arose out of the fact that only two decent cemeteries in Tepic were reserved exclusively for Roman Catholics and that there had never been a case of a Protestant being buried in such a cemetery in the entire history of Tepic. Gene and I agreed that I would swear that my brother was a good Roman Catholic and that we would proceed to give him a Catholic funeral.

I had prepared a long list of items which I felt should be taken care of and Gene who is an ex-Navy pilot from the U. S. Naval Air Station, Miramar, San Diego, California, helped me work on the check list in the way we handle things in the American Navy. He told me that there were no doctor bills or hospital bills to be paid because the money my brother had on him was enough to take care of the hospital bill and the doctor bill. I would guess that he must have had approximately $800.00 or $900.00, and I am assuming the the Sisters of Charity at the Loma Hospital took all of this. I never did talk to them. He had been in the hospital for a week and had received a large number of blood transfusions and this was probably a reasonable charge.

Fairly early Saturday morning, Gene sent a company car to the motel to pick me up and take me out to the cigarette factory. We went over the things which were in the camper and which had been picked up at the house in San Blas; and I am sure a number of things were missing, but there was nothing we could do about it. Actually, the number of worldly possessions which Jay had was fairly limited. We couldn’t find the policy for the Mexican Insurance on the camper, but we decided it would be necessary for me to take out a new policy in my name anyway, so that I would be protected while driving the camper back to the United States.

Our next move was to go to the funeral parlor. I saw the body; they had done a good job of embalming it. He was lying in one of the most ornate looking caskets I have ever seen in my life. It was gray steel, with bronze fittings and a large number of bronze crucifixes spot-welded around the sides. One enormous bronze crucifix, approximately four and one-half feet in length, was welded to the lid of the casket. It would have been impossible to obtain a ready-made casket like this in the United States. It would have probably cost several thousand dollars custom made in this country.

We spent the next two and one-half hours negotiating with Senor and Mrs. Crespo, the owners of the funeral parlor, for the purpose of accomplishing a reduction in the price of the casket. Gene did all the talking and it was all in Spanish. My only participation was by gesture. expression, and a few short discussions with Gene in English. There was considerable gesturing, crying, what almost amounted to tearing of hair, and everything except rolling on the floor. The negotiations were successful to a substantial degree because we were able to get the price of the casket reduced to $665.00 in American money (that is 8,322 pesos). In typical Latin manner, everybody became very friendly as soon as the negotiations were over.

We then proceeded to make arrangements for a Catholic funeral and to bury the body in the new Catholic cemetery. Since the funeral would pass the old cemetery, it was necessary to pay one extra burial fee. A plot was selected in the new cemetery on the outskirts of the city which will eventually contain approximately 5,000 to 6,000 graves, but has only about 200 graves at the present time. I paid the money for the grave site and perpetual care. Arrangements were made with a Catholic Priest for funeral rites, masses and candles, and the funeral was scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

We didn’t take any time out for lunch, but used the time between the final arrangements and the time of the funeral to order a grave marker and obtain Mexican liability insurance in my name to cover me while I drove the camper back to San Diego. No attempt was made to contact any of Jay’s friends in San Blas because time was short and my feeling was that they had already caused enough trouble. I wasn’t angry with them because they probably meant well, but I had a job to do and was carrying out Jay’s wishes.

There were no special funeral services prior to internment. Automobiles are not allowed inside the cemetery grounds and it was necessary to carry the casket from the cemetery entrance to the grave. It was raining and the procession stumbled through mud from the cemetery entrance to the grave. The pallbearers who were also the grave diggers were poor ragged Mexicans in bare feet. I felt sorry for them. The Priest had changed into his clerical garb in a little house at the entrance to the cemetery (under Mexican law, Priests are not allowed to appear on the streets in other than ordinary clothing).

I didn’t understand a word of what the Priest said because it was all in Latin and Spanish. However, I did cross myself every time everybody else did. We had a small amount of trouble with the grave because the casket was too big for the grave and two of the pallbearers had to get down in the grave and make it larger. The rain continued to come down which didn’t help. After the casket had been lowered to the bottom of the grave, I was told to throw one shovel of dirt on the top of it, and then was told I could remain until the grave had been filled or leave. I chose to leave. The funeral parlor had furnished some flowers, but the internment was quite different from what we would have had in America.

We had to make one more stop to take care of ordering and paying for the grave marker. The grave will be marked with a marble cross similar to crosses given American soldiers in military cemeteries, such as Arlington.

[Sketch of a cross with the following inscription on the cross arm – JF]

Junius Foutz
Lt. Colonel USA
1910 – 1968

It is difficult to get anything done in Mexico on Saturday afternoon, but a little judicious bribery enabled me to get a copy of the Mexican Death Certificate. Also, by bribery, I obtained permission from the Mexican authorities at Tepic to drive the camper to Mazatlan, with the understanding that I would obtain a final clearance from the Mexican Treasury authorities there. Then we went back to the cigarette factory where I was given the key to the camper and some quick instructions on how the gear shift worked. I drove back to the motel, ate some dinner and fell into bed, tired, wet, and dirty.

Early Sunday morning, I shaved, showered, and put on a pair of Jay’s pants and a sports shirt and checked out of the motel. I filled the camper with gas and headed for San Blas. I am not impressed by San Blase, although Jay liked it and I understand that Jack Carlquist [Dr. John “Jack” Carlquist, a distinguished Salt Lake City physician who was Jay’s life-long friend – JF] thought it was interesting. I arrived there early Sunday morning and went to the Palacio Municipal. Everything there was mass confusion. They have a large bull pen which is part of the City Jail and as near as I could tell, half the male population was in the bull pen. Half of the female population, consisting of wives, mothers, and sweethearts were outside the jail crying and weeping. Apparently social life in San Blas consists of most of the men getting roaring drunk on Saturday night and landing in jail. It does have four things to recommend it: cheap living, cheap beer, and good fishing, with a nice beach. I attempted to talk to the Inspector General of Police but he spoke no English. He insisted on giving a messenger 50 pesos to get an interpreter, but I got the impression that he could not do anything for me except make trouble, so I gave him 50 pesos and got out of there. I went to the telegraph office and sent two telegrams, and then went to the Post Office and asked for Jay’s mail. There were only two letters – one from Farmers Automobile Insurance and one from Authur [Jay’s son – JF]. I made no attempt to locate the house where Jay had lived or any of his friends, and got out of there as soon as possible.

The drive to Mazatlan was a little nerve racking because I wasn’t used to the car, the road, or Mexican traffic. When I arrived in Mazatlan on Sunday evening, I drove past several motels until I spotted one which had a Volkswagen camper in it. They had a vacancy and I took a room there. I contacted the owner of the Volkswagen camper and told him that I knew nothing about Volkswagens and asked for his help in learning what I should know about it and getting it greased and the oil changed. He went with me to a Mexican service station and oversaw the greasing, the change of oil, and a replacement of the oil breather. We had it checked thoroughly, including water in the battery and air in the tires. I ate a good dinner at the Eldorado Hotel and obtained some information I wanted from the Mexican bellhop at the hotel who spoke good English.

The information I wanted was the location of a bar where disreputable Americans hang out. I was referred to the La Bereta. At the La Bereta I located and bought some drinks for two Americans who were able to give me the advice I needed. My problem was that I had been given conditional permission to drive the camper to Mazatlan, with the understanding that I would report to the Mexican Treasury authorities there. I was quite sure it would be impossible for me to get an official release of the camper in any reasonable length of time even by resorting to bribery. I couldn’t get the advice I needed from the American Consul because he has to support the Mexican law and I planned to break it.

My two new disreputable friends told me that I was absolutely right and that the only thing for me to do was to sneak the car out of the country. It would take weeks or even months to get an official release, even with bribery. They told me that under no circumstances should I attempt to get back by way of Tijuana, but I should head straight north on Mexico 15 to Nogales. They spotted the check points and barricades on the map for me and told me to run them at night. There were three check points. I was told not to stop for anybody unless actually pursued and they fired warning shots at me. Traveling in Mexico at night is considered to be suicidal because the burros sleep on the road. The asphalt gets very warm during the day and stays warm part of the night and the burros like this. Although I bought several drinks for my friends, I had nothing because I needed a clear head.

Monday morning I finished filling out the papers at the America Consul’s office and sent a telegram to Government Employees Insurance Company to obtain American coverage on the camper to be effective upon my arrival in the United States. The story of making the run for the border would take several more pages of this letter and I shall tell you about it at another time [I have heard Stuart tell this story several times, and it is worth the telling. I only wished I could remember it well enough to add it to this blog – JF]. Suffice to say, I cleared U. S. Customs at Nogales at 9:00 p.m. Tuesday night, went into town, obtained a motel room and felt like getting down on my knees and kissing the dirt of American soil.

I am not sure, but I think I may be wanted in Mexico on the following charges.

  1. Burying a 32nd Degree Mason in a Catholic cemetery.
  2. Violation of Mexican Treasury Regulations.
  3. Violation of Mexican Custom Regulations.
  4. Violation of Mexican Immigration Regulations.
  5. Violation of Mexican Tax Regulations.
  6. Violation of Mexican Health & Safety Regulations.
  7. Fleeing from Justice.

This letter is somewhat disorganized, fragmented, confused, and probably inaccurate in part, but I have done my best to tell you the story.


[End of Letter]

Another story told over coffee and biscotti in our Morning Talks.