Former beauty queen Maria Susana Flores Gamez has been found dead following a shootout on a country road in a mountainous area of the drug-riddled Mexican state of Sinaloa.

Gamez is thought to have been a member of a gang and may have been involved in a gunfight with the military.

Forensic examinations showed gunshot residue on her body, suggesting that he fired a weapon.

Sinaloa state prosecutor Marco Antonio Higuera Gomez said: "She was in the criminal group that clashed with army service members."

The 20-year-old was voted the 2012 Woman of Sinaloa in a February beauty pagent. She also competed in the prestigious state beauty contest, Our Beauty Sinaloa, but did not win.

According to Higuera, her body was found lying near an assault rifle.

"She was with the gang of criminals, but we cannot say whether she participated in the shootout. That's what we're going to have to investigate," he said.

Javier Valdes, author of Miss Narco, which looked at the ties between drugs and beauty pageants, said Gamez's story was a familiar one.

"There is a relationship, sometimes pleasant and sometimes tragic, between organised crime and the beauty queens, the pageants, the beauty industry itself.

"It is a question of privilege, power, money, but also a question of need. For a lot of these young women, it is easy to get involved with organised crime in a country that doesn't offer many opportunities for young people.

Narco boyfriends

He said that the relationship between drug traffickers and beauty queens works both ways - with women seeking out 'narco' boyfriends as well as the other way round. However, the story rarely ends well for the women involved, Valdes said.

"They are disposable objects, the lowest link in the chain of criminal organisations, the young men recruited as gunmen and the pretty young women who are tossed away in two or three years, or are turned into police [informers] or killed."

Gamez had been travelling in a vehicle convoy that was involved in a lengthy car chase that erupted into the gun battle near the city of Guamuchil - home to Mexico's most powerful drug cartel.

Two other members of the drug gang were killed and four were arrested, Higuera said.

The fight began after gunmen opened fire on a Mexican army patrol. The gang were cornered at a safe house in the town of Mocorito, but they escaped and the battle continued along a nearby road, where the cars were eventually stopped.

Gamez's body has now been turned over to relatives for burial. Higuera said: "This is a sad situation."