Ciudad Juarez:The Serial Killer's Playground
Suspect Abdel Latif Sharif was born in Egypt in 1947. Decades later, he would claim to have been sexually abused as a child, allegedly sodomized by his father and other male relatives. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1970, settling first in New York City, where he soon established a reputation for alcohol-fueled promiscuity. Acquaintances, questioned long after the fact, recalled his obsessive interest in young girls.
Fired from his job for suspected embezzlement in 1978, Sharif moved to New Hope, Pennsylvania. John Pascoe, a former friend later recalled a deer-hunting expedition with Sharif, where the Egyptian reportedly wounded a buck and then tortured the dying animal. Pascoe also claimed that when girls were in Sharifs company they often disappeared. But none of the alleged victims was ever found. Pascoe says he ended the friendship in 1980, after finding various possessions of an unnamed missing girl in Sharifs home and a mud-caked shovel on the porch.
By 1981, Sharif had settled in Palm Beach, Florida. Reportedly a chemist and an engineer, Sharif was hired by Cercoa Inc. His talents were sufficiently impressive that the company created a department specifically for him. On May 2 he took a 23-year-old woman home, beat and raped her repeatedly, then suddenly turned solicitous and said, Oh, Ive hurt you. Do you think you need to go to a hospital? Cercoa bankrolled Sharifs defense in that case, and again in August, when he attacked a second woman in West Palm Beach. Sharif received probation for the first rape and served only 45 days for the second. Cercoa fired Sharif the next year because of his mounting legal bills.
Resettled in Gainesville, Florida, Sharif was married briefly. The divorce was the result of beating his bride unconscious. He advertised for a live-in housekeeper on March 17, 1983, then beat and repeatedly raped a 23-year-old woman who answered the ad, telling her, I will bury you out back in the woods. Ive done it before, and Ill do it again. Held without bond pending trial in that case, Sharif escaped from the Alachua County jail in January 1984 but was soon recaptured. On January 31, 1984 Sharif received a 12-year sentence for rape. Gordon Gorland, the prosecutor, promised reporters that on the day Sharif was released he would be met at the prison gates and escorted to the plane and be deported to Egypt.
But when Sharif was paroled in October 1989, he was not deported. He moved at once to Midland, Texas, and a job with Benchmark Research and Technology. The U.S. Department of Energy singled him out for praise, and Sharif was photographed shaking hands with former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm.
Sharif was arrested again 1991, this time for drunk-driving. The arrest alerted a former acquaintance from Florida, now living in Texas, who reported Sharif to the Border Patrol as a fugitive from deportation proceedings. A lengthy series of hearings ensued. The matter was still pending two years later when Sharif held a woman captive in his home and raped her repeatedly.
His deportation defense lawyer offered the government a deal: if the latest charges were dismissed, Sharif would voluntarily leave the U.S. In May 1994 Sharif moved to Ciudad Juarez, working at one of Benchmarks maquiladora factories, and resided in the exclusive Rincones de San Marcos district. In October 1995 a young maquilladora accused Sharif of raping her at his home. She also said that Sharif threatened to kill her and dump her corpse in Lote Bravo, a desert region south of town where several other victims had been found. Those charges were later withdrawn. But detectives had learned by then that Sharif had dated 17-year-old Elizabeth Castro Garcia, who was found raped and murdered in August.
Sharif was charged with that murder and finally convicted at trial in March 1999. He received a 30-year sentence. Although police called Sharif a serial killer, the conviction did not solve the grisly mystery of Ciudad Juarez. The murders continued--even escalated--after his arrest. One month after Sharif was in custody, police acknowledged that 520 people had vanished in the past 11 months and that an important percentage of them are female adolescents.
Another solution was needed--and authorities offered it in the form of a bizarre conspiracy theory.