Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ciudad Juarez:The Serial Killer's Playground

Silent Screams

The first to die, officially, was Alma Chavira Farel, a young woman found beaten, raped and strangled to death in the Campestre Virreyes district of Ciudad Juarez on January 23, 1993. She may not even have been the citys first female murder victim in 1993, since local disappearances exceed known homicides each year. But Chavira remains the first acknowledged victim of a predator the media would later dub the Juarez Ripper or El Depredador Psicópata. While no mutilations were recorded in Chaviras case, many subsequent victims suffered similar slashing wounds to their breasts.

Police acknowledge 16 more murders of women in Ciudad Juarez by years end, with the last recorded on December 15. That case was solved, along with three others. In the dozen cases still unsolved today, five of the victims remain unidentified. Of the 12, at least four were raped. Cause of death in those cases included four strangulations, four stabbings (with one set afire afterward), one beating and one gunshot. Decomposition ruled out a determination in the last two homicides.

In 1994 police acknowledged eight unsolved murders of women in Ciudad Juarez; possible culprits were named in three other cases, but none were arrested. Three of the dead are unidentified today; the others ranged in age from 11 to 35. This time, at least four were raped. Of those whose cause of death is listed, six were strangled, two stabbed, one beaten to death, and one burned alive.

Criminologist Oscar Maynez Grijalva
Criminologist Oscar Maynez Grijalva

Before that year of brutality ended, state criminologist Oscar Maynez Grijalva warned Ciudad Juarez police that some of their unsolved murders might be the work of a serial killer. In later interviews, Maynez said his warning was ignored.

1995 was worse yet, with at least 19 women slain by mid-September. Eight of the victims remain unidentified, with one case solved and probable suspects named (but not convicted) in two others. At least four of the victims were raped. Where cause of death could be determined, six were strangled, one stabbed and one shot. Three of the four victims found in September alone presented police with an obvious pattern: each had her right breast severed, with the left nipple bitten off.

It appeared that at least one serial killer was stalking the women of Ciudad Juarez, linked by a similar modus operandi to three of the most recent crimes. But authorities did not seem overly concerned.

In October, detectives claimed they had solved the case. They had detained a suspect who was charged with one of the citys brutal sex murders. Best of all, he was a foreigner.

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