CALEXICO, Calif. – The man lay face down in the desert, less than a mile north of the Mexican border. He had been crawling, dragging himself through the dirt, when he died.
A border patrol agent had been tracking a group of undocumented immigrants through the area when he stumbled upon the decomposing body. It had been lying there maybe a month, during which time temperatures had topped 108.
The dead man was short and thin, dressed in head-to-toe denim with a large white belt buckle, dark hiking shoes and Christmas socks. In his pocket, investigators found a few pesos, three phone cards and a receipt from the Don Juan Hotel, a cheap place to stay just across the border in Mexicali. The receipt listed a name – “Lucio Paulino” – but no one could be certain this was the dead man's real name.
The next day, authorities found another body. This time, a man was floating in the All-American Canal, a man-made river that runs through Southeast California like a moat along the border fence. A day later, they found a third body: A man slumped in the open desert, carrying a bus ticket from Mexico.
All three bodies were discovered during a single week in June 2000. Today, the details of these deaths are kept in a beige filing cabinet at the Imperial County Coroner’s Office labeled with a sticker: “John/Jane Doe.”