Ciudad Juarez:The Serial Killer's Playground
Between Sharifs arrest and the first week of April 1996 at least 14 more female victims were slain in Ciudad Juarez. Their ages ranged from 10 to 30. Where cause of death was known, 10 had been stabbed, one shot and one strangled. At least four suffered unspecified mutilations after death, and one victim--Adrianna Torres, 15, fit the pattern of three other slayings, with her right breast severed and her left nipple bitten off.
The continuing slaughter belied official reports that the citys homicide wave had ended with Abdel Sharifs arrest. Residents were frightened. The local police was embarrassed. They needed an explanation for the murders; but one that would not exonerate their prime suspect. They got their wish on April 8, 1996; when 18-year-old Rosario Garcia Leals raped and mutilated body was discovered.
Among those questioned in the latest case was Hector Olivares Villalba, a member of a local street gang called Los Rebeldes (The Rebels). In custody, Olivares claimed he had participated in Garcias murder on December 7, 1995. Half a dozen Rebels were involved, he claimed, including gang leader Sergio Armendariz Diaz (also known as El Diablo). Armed with Olivares confession (later recanted as the product of police torture), officers raided several nightclubs and detained 300. They winnowed out nine more Rebels, including Armendariz, Juan Contreras Jurado (El Grande), Carlos Hernandez Molina, Carlos Barrientos Vidales, Romel Cerniceros Garcia, Fernando Guermes Aguirre, Luis Adrade, Jose Juarez Rosales, and Erika Fierro.
The nine, with Olivares, were accused of plotting with Sharif to free him from prison by murdering local women and thus make it seem as if the original Ripper was still at large. Police claimed that some of the Rebels had visited Sharif in jail and were paid for their copycat crimes. Juan Contreras told police Armendariz had sent him to collect a packet from Sharif in prison. The envelope contained $4,000 in cash. Later, Contreras alleged, he had joined Armendariz and other Rebels in the rape-murder of a young woman known as Lucy.
Contreras also later recanted his statement, and the charges were dropped against suspects Ceniceros, Fierro, Guermes, Hernandez and Olivares. The remainder are incarcerated pending trial (a slow process in Mexican courts), and El Diablo earned a separate six-year prison sentence for leading the February 1998 gang-rape of a 19-year-old fellow inmate.
The other Rebels all claim they were tortured by police. Some display burn scars which they say are the product of crude torture with cigars and cigarettes. Authorities, meanwhile, stand by their charges, claiming that Sharif and the Rebels together committed 17 murders. Chihuahuas medical examiner goes further, telling reporters that dental casts from Armendariz identically match bite marks found on the breasts of at least three victims.
But a Mexican court ruled in 1999 that there was insufficient evidence to charge Abdel Sharif as a conspirator in any of the slayings attributed to the Rebels. Even before the ruling, police concluded that their conspiracy theory was deficient.
Just as the murders had not stopped with Sharifs arrest, neither did they end with the round-up of Los Rebeldes. In fact, the rate of killings continued to climb.