Santiago Meza, or “El Pozolero,” dissolved more than 300 bodies in acid while working under the Cartel de los Arellano Félix and the Cartel de Sinaloa.

Working directly under Mexican drug lord Teodoro García Simental, also known as “El Teo,” Meza admitted to dissolving 300 cadavers — but some organizations claim that number actually exceeds 1,000.

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While “El Pozolero” was detained back in 2009, he received a 10-year sentence back in 2012 for his involvement in organized crime and for clandestine burials. However, fast forward to 2022, and Meza is just about to complete that sentence — and likely be released from prison this year.

As reported by VICE, “El Pozolero” got his start working in masonry and taking care of horses for the Arellano Félix Cartel in 1996.

Cartel heads Efrain Pérez and Jorge Aureliano Félix “El Macumba” showed Meza a drum filled with water and other substances and demonstrated how a leg of beef could be disintegrated in just two hours. Six months later, they started using the acid-filled drum to dissolve human flesh, with other men also stepping in to train and do the same.

The bodies were undressed, placed inside a drum filled with water and caustic soda, heated with a gas burner, and dissolved overnight. Later, Meza disposed of remnants like teeth, nails, and bone parts by burning them with gasoline and burying them.

And the “El Pozolero” title? It came from the traditional Mexican dish pozole, a meat stew, referencing the hot drum filled with human remains. 

One of the most notorious sites Meza worked in was coined the Chicken Coop, which through the countless murders, became a mass grave — around 250 kilos of bones and bone parts were extracted from it back in 2017. It was along the free highway to Tecate and was also used to raise chickens. “El Pozolero” worked there for a year and a half.

Although Meza said around 70 bodies were brought there to be dissolved, Unidos por los Desaparecidos de Baja California AC president Fernando Ocegueda says that a total of 16,500 liters of human matter have been extracted from bordering sites in Tijuana — presumably all dissolved in acid.

“El Pozolero” taught other people how to dissolve bodies, putting the used acid water in barrels and throwing them off canyons — even installing a drainage system later on.

He explained, “it was the devil to move them… they weighed a lot. After everything was cleaned up, we stored the barrels. We also washed the drain with hot water because the remains stuck to the pipes.”

Meza has said that he told the cartel he “didn’t want to do it anymore,” and has been adamant about asserting he never killed any of the victims. He also told authorities he never dissolved the bodies of women or children, and that he received $600 a month for his work. 

Meza’s wife Irma also once explained that he would often tell his family, “I prefer my job than for [my family] to die of hunger.”

Still, now that “El Pozolero” might be released since clandestine burial isn’t necessarily seen as a serious felony in Mexico, the families of the victims are deeply disappointed.

In a video on his organization’s Facebook page, Ocegueda said, “this is very sad news for many families.” Many are trying to convince the Congress of Baja California to reform the law in order to keep Meza in prison for longer, but they have not received a response

For the time being, “El Pozolero” will continue to serve his prison sentence until April of this year.