El Mirage homicides: Arrests made after 6 bodies found in Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County

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EL MIRAGE, Calif. (KABC) — Five suspects have been arrested after six bodies were found in a remote desert area near the San Bernardino County community of El Mirage, authorities said Monday.

In a Monday press conference, investigators said the murders were connected to a dispute over marijuana.

“For all intents and purposes, it looks like illicit marijuana was the guiding force behind these murders,” said Sheriff Shannon Dicus.

The suspects were identified as five Inland Empire men in their 20s and 30s:

Toniel Baez-Duarte, 34, of Apple Valley; Mateo Baez-Duarte, 24, of Apple Valley; Jose Nicolas Hernandez-Sarabia, 33, of Adelanto; Jose Gregorio Hernandez-Sarabia, 34, of Adelanto; and Jose Manuel Burgos Parra, 26, of Adelanto.

Officials said all five suspects were being held without bail pending a review of potential charges by the district attorney’s office.

Investigators say they don’t believe there are additional suspects outstanding. Eight firearms were recovered and were being tested to see if they match the weapons used against the six victims.

Suspects arrested:

Last week, deputies found the bodies of six people at a remote dirt crossroads in the Mojave Desert.

Deputies were responding to a call from someone who said he had been shot but did not provide a location before he ended the call, officials said Monday. They were able to track the phone’s coordinates to a remote area off Highway 395 outside El Mirage around 8:15 p.m. Jan. 23 and found five of the bodies. The sixth was found the following morning, sheriff’s spokesperson Mara Rodriguez said.

All six male victims had been shot. The area, about 20 miles northwest of Victorville, is so remote that the Sheriff’s Department called in help from the California Highway Patrol’s Aviation Division to find the scene.

Two vehicles were found at the crime scene. Video from AIR7 HD showed a dark blue SUV with a passenger window blown out and another door open. The SUV was riddled with bullet holes.

What exactly happened? Who made the 911 call? Two days after deputies found the bodies of six people at a remote dirt crossroads in the Mojave Desert, many questions remain unanswered.

The aerial footage also showed numerous yellow evidence markers near the dirt crossroads. Evidence suggested a massive amount of gunfire, with shell casings found scattered across the area.

A mystery in the Mojave Desert

So what exactly happened? The answer to that question remains a mystery.

“When I hear of a multi-victim homicide out in a very remote, desolate area like this, the first thing I think of is organized crime,” Bill Bodner, a former Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge who is now retired, said in an interview with ABC7 Thursday.

Bodner has no inside information on this case, but has extensive experience with organized crime rings.

“I know from my experience, that part of the Inland Empire, there’s a lot of organized crime involvement in unlicensed cannabis cultivation,” said Bodner. “There’s also a lot of involvement in what are called methamphetamine conversion laboratories, taking liquid methamphetamine smuggled across the border, bringing it to a desolate area, and then converting it to crystal meth, where it can be sold.”

The bodies appeared to have been burned, but why?

“A lot of times, that’s done to try to disguise the identity of the victim, but also to destroy evidence,” said Bodner. “If there was some type of struggle, there could have been a transfer of DNA, a transfer of hair particles.”

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