Semi-naked woman vanishes in blackout
"NINE … hundred … fifty … dollars, Mom. Nine … hundred … fifty … dollars."
Karen Newton's 22-year-old daughter slurred out the words as she slumped against a wall at the Mexican resort wearing only skimpy underwear, barely able to stand or even lift her head. Bruised and grazed, with a mysterious man accompanying her, she was unable to communicate what had happened - and remembered nothing the next day.
Her terrifying story of alleged drugging and abduction is one in a string of recent stories of spiked drinks, alleged kidnap, sexual assaults and rape at luxury Mexican resorts. Karen believes the incident is part of a "deeper, darker" problem in the country.
At 1.30am that morning, her daughter had appeared at their hotel room incoherent. She had no muscle control, couldn't speak and could barely walk.
Karen had put her in bed and fallen asleep beside her, before waking with a start at around 4.30am to find the young woman had vanished.
The frantic mum, who recounted her story to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, ran around BlueBay Grand Esmeralda resort, from pool to hallways, shouting her daughter's name.
Eventually, the Canadian found a security guard and told him in English that her daughter was missing. He made a call from the security desk for several minutes in Spanish - then asked Karen if she had understood.
They went back to the path, she said, and a golf cart came speeding up behind them, slowed so the guard could jump on and then took off.
A confused Karen headed back up four flights of stairs towards their room, where she saw her semi-naked daughter, stumbling, held up by two guards, with an angry-looking man chasing after them.
"He was irritated that they were taking her," Karen told the Journal Sentinel. "When I saw her, she only had on her skimpy little underwear, bare feet, a towel wrapped around [the top of] her, coming down the hallway and this guy looking, peering over the top of her like, 'Who's taking my girl?'"
Karen grabbed her daughter, who did not want to be identified, and led her towards the room, turning back to the men to question them. Only the first guard remained. "I don't speak English," he said.
That was when the 22-year-old woman began muttering about money. "I think she overheard a conversation of some sort, whether somebody had paid for her ... I can't even go there," said Karen.
The next morning, her daughter felt tired but not at all hungover, and remembered nothing. Karen asked the resort's managers to call police, but they refused. "I was thinking she needs to be checked ... but I knew it wasn't the safest to go off the resort ... and she didn't want to go," said Karen.
"It just blows my mind that they can get away with it. I love Mexico, but not anymore.
"There's more to this deeper, darker story than we know."
Another woman who stayed at the same resort in July told the Journal Sentinel she was certain she had been drugged after drinking a few sips of champagne with dinner. She went to the resort doctor, who told her to a local hospital, which she did, as well as reporting the incident to police in Canada.
Frederic Ceglarski, a spokesman for BlueBay Grand Esmeralda, said via email that the resort is looking into the cases.
Spiked alcohol served at resorts in Mexican hot spots is believed to have claimed the life of Wisconsin student Abbey Conner, who was found floating face-down in a pool at a five-star resort near Playa del Carmen in January 2017 after drinking shots with her brother, who blacked out but later regained consciousness.
Abbey's death was linked to a sinister bootlegged booze trade in Mexico that authorities say is much more widespread than tourists may realise. In August, Mexican authorities seized close to 38,000 litres of potentially dodgy alcohol and shut down two bars in the tourist hot spots of Playa del Carmen and Cancun.
One of those bars was at the hotel were Abbey was found unconscious.
On August 5, police and immigration authorities busted a human trafficking network in downtown Cancun after storming nightclubs and finding 20 women of several nationalities who were allegedly victims of forced prostitution.
The Riviera Maya Times reported that a young woman arrested in a hotel at Cancun's "Supermanzana 23" had claimed she was sexually exploited and provided information that led to the discovery of young women apparently held captive in Cancun's hotel zone.
In November, TripAdvisor said it would start adding special badges to resorts where sexual assaults had reportedly taken place, to warn potential visitors. Tourists had claimed their posts were being removed because the reviews website considered them "hearsay".
TripAdvisor publicly apologised to one woman for removing a post in which she claimed to have been assaulted at the Iberostar Paraiso near Playa del Carmen.
Kristie Love, 35, claimed in a post removed by the reviews site in 2010 that she had been raped by a security guard at the Iberostar Paraiso resort. Kristie, from Dallas, said she was followed by the guard, who overpowered her and raped her in the bushes. She also claimed the hotel staff refused to call police.
Jamie Valeri, 34, wrote on TripAdvisor in 2015 she was sexually assaulted and her husband suffered a broken hand at the same resort after they blacked out in the middle of the day, on their third drink. The Wisconsin couple's story was corroborated by the Journal Sentinel through receipts, email and phone records, medical reports and interviews.
Iberostar Hotels & Resorts said it has "zero tolerance for any type of illegal or inappropriate conduct" on its grounds, and that it investigated Jamie's case and others, but none of the women decided to go forward with their cases.
Josh Resmini tried to post a review of the Grand Velas Riviera Maya resort to TripAdvisor on October 16 in which he claimed he was drugged and sexually assaulted by a massage therapist. The hotel denied responsibility.
The Government's SmartTraveller website advises Australian travellers to "exercise a high degree of caution in Mexico because of high levels of violent crime and drug-related violence."
It warns that drink and food spiking incidents have occurred in bars and restaurants. "Do not leave your drinks unattended in bars or nightclubs and do not accept drinks from new acquaintances."
Tourists are advised to pay close attention to their personal security at all times, monitor the media and other sources about possible new security risks and avoid certain towns because of increasing organised crime and a volatile security situation.
"Since 2006, Mexico has experienced a dramatic increase in drug-related violence," the website states. "Violent crime related to the drug trade, including murder, kidnapping and carjacking, has become widespread."