Ruthless drug cartels may have murdered an Australian woman who mysteriously disappeared in Mexico the same day as her toddler daughter was found abandoned outside a church.
Tahnee Shanks, 32, travelled with her estranged husband Jorge Astudillo and their daughter Adelynn from their home in Merida to the tourist hotspot of Cancun on May 1.
The family checked out of their hotel the next day and their white 4WD was spotted on toll road cameras just before 12pm heading back to Merida before making an abrupt U-turn.
Adelynn was found wandering barefoot outside Parroquia San Miguel Arcangel Church in Cancun about 9pm that day.
Tahnee Shanks and her estranged partner Jorge Aguirre Astudillo remain missing in Mexico. Their daughter Adelynn was later found wandering the streets of Cancun alone
Carlos Santos, a fellow tourist there with his family, found her and said a man pointed her out and promised to look for her parents, but never returned.
Ms Shanks’ car was found later than night burnt out in the town of Puerto Morelos 40km south of Cancun and she has not been heard from since.
Meanwhile, Mr Santos contacted police and shared photos of Adelynn to social media, which soon went viral leading to Ms Shanks’ mother Leanne and brother Ben back in Australia recognising her days later.
Adelynn is safely in settling into life in Queensland after being granted an emergency Australian passport.
Ms Shanks’ family is still holding out hope she is alive and trying to piece together what happened to her – with the crucial eight-hour window on the afternoon and evening of May 2 still unexplained.
Investigators are understood to be working on two theories as to why she disappeared.
Little Adelynn (pictured) is settling well into a new life in Queensland after her grandmother and uncle Dan made the frantic dash to Mexico to collect her
The first is that there was a domestic violence incident and Mr Estudillo is on the run or in hiding.
And secondly that Mr Astudillo was involved in criminal activity linked to Mexico’s notorious drug cartels and the disappearance is payback.
‘He (Mr Astudillo) was threatened before and he even had hired a bodyguard because… he was afraid for his life,’ Quintana Roo state attorney-general Oscar Montes de Oca Rosales told 60 Minutes.
‘It could be retaliation for the criminal groups that he was involved with.
‘According to the law, we consider them as alive and that’s the way that we look for them until something is shown to be different.’
Mr de Oca said from what investigators have found, Astudillo ‘could be’ a cartel member himself.
He was previously accused of fraud and selling fake holiday packages, though Ms Shanks has been cleared of any criminal links.
The pair’s white ute was captured on leaving a Cancun hotel on the morning of May 2. They travelled 20 kilometres towards Merida when the ute suddenly did a U-turn and headed back towards Cancun, before taking a detour off the highway
The family were heading back home to Merida after spending the night in Cancun when Tahnee and her former partner vanished
Months earlier, Ms Shanks sent a friend a bizarre text asking them to keep Mr Astudillo’s name.
‘I know this is gunna sound weird but keep (his) name. Jorge Luis Aguirre Astudillo! Just in case anything happens to me they can go after him,’ it read.
‘Not that anything will! But I just want to keep that as a backup.’
She also told her friend to ‘make sure you tell he’s a criminal’.
Adelynn’s godmother Nikita Weller claimed her good friend Ms Shanks confided in her about her fears about her husband.
The couple recently separated after Ms Shanks found out he had an affair and booked a flight to return to Queensland with Adelynn.
‘She found out he was into some shady stuff. She didn’t say what. But it scared her enough to want to come home,’ Ms Weller said.
‘She just said he was into shady stuff and she was scared and that was it.
‘I told her: ‘I think you need to come home. I think this is it, it’s time you’ve got to come home somehow’.’
Friends said Ms Shanks was organising a trip to visit Australia with Adelynn but was secretly planning to stay.
Mystery remains what happened to Tahnee Shanks and Jorge Aguirre Astudillo on May 2
Her brother Ben Shanks offered a $70,000 reward, or one million Mexican pesos, through a loan on his house for information that leads to her safe return.
‘There’s an eight-hour period from them going through that toll and Adelynn being dropped off in Cancun at that church,’ he said.
‘Then her phone stopped pinging pretty soon after that. It might have been a couple of hours I understand.
‘We need closure… I just can’t leave it like this because all I can think of is that something worse than being murdered has happened, like she is being trafficked.’
Mr Shanks said the couple must have used a different route to return to Cancun as they were not filmed on the same toll road camera on the way back.
He said authorities told him the reward would be unwise as he would be swamped with false information, but he has not received one lead despite the reward being shared by thousands of people on social media.
Ms Shanks’ mother and brother rushed to Mexico within days after a family friend alerted them about the photos of Adelynn online.
Adelynn was reunited with her uncle Dan and grandmother Leanne (pictured together) in Mexico before they brought her back to Australia
Leanne only met her granddaughter once before but Dan had never met his niece due to Covid.
‘(Tahnee’s) never been away from that child,’ Ms Shanks’ mother said.
‘But look, it’s just about… we’ve got to do everything we can to try and find her, we are distraught, her brothers and sister love her… we’ve just got to bring her home to Ade.’
Ms Shanks was planning to fly back to Queensland on June 16, her family said.
According to her Facebook profile, Ms Shanks’ plans were delayed by border closures.
She wrote in May 2021: ‘I can’t come back to Australia till mid 2022!!! My baby girl will be 2 1/2 years old and hasn’t even met her grandad, uncles, great gran, cousins.’
Tahnee’s mum Leanne Shanks (pictured) holds onto the slim hope her daughter is still alive
TAHNEE SHANKS’ MOVEMENTS
2021: Tahnee Shanks learns her partner Jorge Astudillo had an affair. She sends strange messages to her friends asking them to keep his name in case anything happens to her and telling them he’s a criminal.
MAY 1, 2022: Ms Shanks, Astudillo and their two-year-old daughter Adelynn travel from their home in Merida and arrive at a Cancun Hotel.
MAY 2: The three check out of their hotel and their white 4WD is seen on CCTV traveling back to Merida about 11.30am.
11:45am: Their car makes a U-turn 20km from their hotel but then takes a detour on a different road.
12pm: Ms Shanks phone pings as it travels near a supermarket, the last known contact.
9pm: Two-year-old Adelynn is found alone wandering barefoot near Parroquia San Miguel Arcangel Church in Cancun.
Hours later Ms Shanks and Mr Astudillo’s car is found burned at Puerto Morelos 40km south of Cancun.
MAY 6: Photos of Adelynn from the night she was found at the church have gone viral. Ms Shank’s mother Leanne and brother Ben recognise her and immediately travel to Mexico.
MAY 7: She is released to the family’s care and granted an emergency Australian passport.
MAY 10: The three arrive back in Australia.
MAY 20: Ben Shanks offers a $70,000 ( one million peso) reward through a loan on his house for information leading to Ms Shank’s safe return.
MAY 29: Interview with state attorney-general Oscar Montes de Oca Rosales is broadcast in which he alleges Astudillo has cartel links.