The Grave Hunter: Men’s Journal

Matthew Bremner: Journalist

Guadalupe Contreras knew death was in the field. It was a September morning in 2017, and the 60-year-old former mason had met a dozen or so people, dressed in boots and scruffy jeans, on the outskirts of Veracruz, Mexico at an area called Colinas de Santa Fe. In a sandy pasture, surrounded by green hills, Contreras and the others rummaged through heaps of shovels and surgical masks. Then, one by one, they took five-foot iron rods, fanned out, and began hammering them into the earth. Each time they pulled out a rod, they sniffed the end for decay. They were searching for bodies. They were searching for their loved ones.

They worked for hours in the torrid heat and found nothing. Around midday, Contreras bashed his rod into the ground again. This time, the tip had a familiar smell, reminiscent of cheap perfume and rotting meat. He had breathed it hundreds of…

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