November 30, 2018 – Miami, Florida
The death of 20-year-old Abbey Conner at a Mexican Resort in early January 2017 is a story that keeps the spotlight shining on tainted, poisonous, adulterated alcohol that is suspected of being served to tourists at the all-inclusive resorts in Mexico. Travelling with their parents, John and Ginny McGowan, Abbey and her brother Austin Conner had arrived at Iberostar Paraiso del Mar located on the beach of Playa del Carmen, Mexico in the early afternoon.
It was a family holiday with a dual purpose, a respite from the cold of the Wisconsin winter as well as a celebration for Abbey who had just completed her first semester of Junior Year at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, along with brother Austin, who had one semester left before graduating University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Only hours after settling in at the all-inclusive Iberostar Paraiso del Mar tragedy struck this typical American Family who were visiting Mexico in search of sand, sea and sun. After tossing their luggage in their room, Abbey and Austin headed down to the pool with the swim up bar. There they toasted completing their college semesters with a couple of shots of tequila.
Abbey and Austin were joined by their parents for a walk on the beach, a visit to a souvenir hut on the property and to relax poolside. John and Ginny watched as Austin and Abbey enjoyed the warm waters of the pristine pool, both were exceptional swimmers having been raised on Pewaukee Lake in Wisconsin.
At about 5:30 – 5:45 PM, upon finishing her frozen strawberry drink, Ginny and John decided to head up to the room to shower and dress for dinner. Reminding Austin and Abbey that they were meeting at 7 PM in the lobby, they left the two to swim a bit longer.
The McGowans entered the lobby expecting to find the children waiting, they were not. After waiting for the children over a half an hour, Ms. McGowan asked the staff at the hotel desk to call up to the children’s room, as the cell signal was weak. The woman at the desk summoned a manager while asking Ginny if her husband was with her. She then told Ginny that she needed to get him and hurry, there had been an accident and both children were transported to the local hospital, Hospiten Riviera Maya.
At the hospital Mr. and Mrs. McGowan were informed that Austin was conscious and would recover. The news was different for Abbey. She was on a ventilator, in a coma and most likely brain dead. They learned that after they went up to the room to prepare for dinner, Austin and Abbey were invited to do a shot with a group of college aged guys playing at the pool. Not long after both Abbey and Austin were found floating unconscious in waist deep water.
Hotel workers at the pool along with Hotel Security agents stationed near the pool called for assistance and removed Abbey and Austin from the pool.
Hospital reports put Abbey’s blood alcohol level at 0.25 and Austin’s at 0.26. To achieve levels that high a person would have to consume seven shots of alcohol within an hour. According to Austin, both he and his sister had a few shots of tequila at the bar and one shot of what he thinks was Jägermeister with the group over the course of the 3 – 4 hours that they spent at the pool.
Abbey was transferred to Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Fla where on January 12, 2017 she was removed from life support and her organs were donated according to her expressed wishes.
Blood tests conducted on both Austin and Abbey revealed no drugs. The McGowans were left to wonder how in the course an hour, their two strong, healthy, children who were expert swimmers could wind up unconscious face down in a swimming pool where the water was waist deep.
In Mexico, police were hesitant to open an investigation claiming it was an accidental drowning. A lawyer hired by the McGowans doubted the police report, feeling that there wasn’t any investigation of consequence.
After being home for months and still not having answers, Abbey’s parents became aware of similar stories from tourists who had visited Iberostar’s nearby sister resorts in Playa del Carmen. Blog postings and online forums from other tourists claimed to have had only one or two drinks and suffered serve effects such as blacking out, intense vomiting, and feelings that were nothing like alcohol intoxication.
Stonewalled by the Mexican police, Ginny reached out to the FBI. Noting that it was beyond their jurisdiction, the local FBI office in Wisconsin advised filing a report with the US State Department. Even the US State Department was stonewalled by Mexican Authorities.
Throughout the year the Abbey Conner story was kept alive by investigative reporter, Raquel Rutledge, writing for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Ms. Rutledge was the first to extensively tell the Abbey Conner Story. After the original Abbey Conner Story was published, she was contacted by others who were guests at not only the Iberostar Paraiso del Mar but many other Mexican resorts, all with horrifying alcohol stories.
Ms. Rutledge featured the Abbey Conner Story and continued to do follow up leads of suspicious alcohol being served in Mexico. The reporting of Ms. Rutledge raised public awareness which put pressure on both the US State Department and the Mexican Government to respond to the death of Abbey Conner along with the dozens upon dozens of stories of suspected adulterated alcohol being served at Mexican Resorts to tourists from around the world.
The Mexican Government began a series of raids targeting reports of tainted and fake alcohol at Resorts on Friday August 11, 2017. The raids were announced after completion on Monday August 14, 2017 by the Authorities in Mexico. The result of the raids, according to the press conference called by Mexican Officials was the confiscation of 10,000 gallons of illicit alcohol from 31 establishments including resorts and nightclubs in Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
The Mexican enforcement agencies shut down the bar at the Iberostar Paraiso Maya hotel a bar that was linked in the death of Abbey Conner. The Mexican raids that claimed to have confiscated 10,000 gallons of tainted alcohol seemed to confirm what tourist had been claiming for years. The US State Department finally responded by issuing warnings concerning alcohol consumption at the resorts in Mexico.
Although these raids were publicized by the Mexican Authorities at a well-attended and much publicized press conference, as of this writing, no conclusions, test results or confirmation of illicit alcohol has been released by the Government of Mexico. Neither has the US State Department forced the issue and demanded results from its Mexican counterpart.
In early December of 2017, that they were opening an investigation into the response or lack thereof, by the U.S. State Department into hundreds of complaints by United States Citizens of tainted alcohol in Mexico. Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican Representing Wisconsin received a letter from Inspector General Steve Linick stating that his office would begin a review of the State Department policies regarding tainted alcohol and other reported improprieties described by U.S. visitors to Mexican resorts. To date there has not been any public findings released concerning this investigation.
On December 8, 2017 Mexico’s Secretary of Tourism, Enriaue de la Madrid Cordero, made the rounds on American Media assuring American tourists that it was safe to stay at Mexican Resorts and drink the alcohol. The Minister contended that stories of adulterated alcohol were exaggerated. In responding to a question about the Abbey Conner case, Mr. Enriaue de la Madrid Cordero responded with,” I know the case, I studied it, and unfortunately, we found out that that is not related to tainted alcohol, it is excessive alcohol”. The Mexican Government holds firm in the public comments that these incidents with alcohol are either accidental or caused by the person themselves by recklessly binge drinking.
On December 17, 2017, The United States State Department announced that they would begin tracking reports of tainted alcohol in Mexico. Along with this announcement a warning was issued to tourists that fake alcohol may be present in Mexico. As of the date of this writing there have been no reports issued by the United States State Department regarding any investigations into tainted alcohol in Mexico.
Now, on November 30, 2018 almost 2 years after the mysterious death of Abbey Conner in broad daylight at an occupied pool with a bartender and security guards nearby, there aren’t any answers in sight. Was there fake alcohol? Was there adulterated alcohol? Was there poisonous alcohol? We still don’ know and neither does the family of Abbey Conner, but they are still seeking answers.
The family of Abbey Conner has filed a 24-page wrongful death suit in Florida, naming Iberostar and its website operator, Visit Us as well as Club Member Services. None of the Companies named would comment on the suit.
Charges contained in the suit go to the heart of the question, is there tainted alcohol, adulterated alcohol, or fake alcohol knowingly being purchased by resort operators and served to the guests at these Mexican Resorts.
Although it is a civil lawsuit filed in the US, the companies named will have to offer responses and or a defense due to their United States presence. Due to the dogged perseverance of John and Ginny McGowan, the memory of Abbey Conner may see justice. John and Ginny may just lift the veil of secrecy that shields the profits of the Mexican resorts.
Whenever fake alcohol, adulterated alcohol or poisonous alcohol is consumed, the consequences are not always immediate death. Consuming tainted alcohol, fake alcohol, adulterated alcohol as well as poisonous alcohol can and does lead to long term health consequences. Fake alcohol containing methanol is responsible for blindness, organ failure and nerve damage in countries around the world.
Raquel Rutledge remains is at the forefront to keep the Abbey Conner story in the National spotlight with her extensive coverage of the Civil Lawsuit filed by Ginny and John McGowan against Iberostar and its website operator, Visit Us as well as Club Member Services.
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