Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ciudad Juarez:The Serial Killer's Playground

"The Disappeared"

Theories flourished in Ciudad Juarez as the death toll continued to climb through 1999 and 2000. Press reports from the summer of 1999 typically offered body counts between 180 and 190, sometimes coupled with a reminder that at least 95 women were still missing. Chihuahua authorities claimed that FBI agents had endorsed their conviction of Abdel Sharif, while El Paso G-men indignantly denied it.

Candice Skrapec
Candice Skrapec

And there were other investigators. Candice Skrapec, a Canadian-born instructor at California State University in Fresno and a world-renowned expert on serial killers spent the summer of 1999 advising Mexican authorities. She had followed the case for more than a decade and had already reached some conclusions. In July 1987 Skrapec told the Toronto Star that Railway Killer Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, lately posted to the FBIs Ten Most Wanted list on suspicion of multiple murders in the U.S., was also a suspect in the slaughter around Ciudad Juarez. A month later, Skrapec told the Star that she believed at least three serial killers are involved in the unsolved murders of 182 women in Juarez since 1993. Resendez-Ramirez was still on the list, along with Sharif, Los Rebeldes and Los Choferes. Having thus identified no less than 11 suspects, Skrapec went on to say that there may be even more murders that could be tied to the three suspected serial killers, and that they were operating in 1992. Finally, Skrapec claimed that of the 182 total deaths, 40 to 75 had been sexually violated.

Rafael Resendez-Ramirez
Rafael Resendez-Ramirez

Rafael Resendez-Ramirez was later cleared of involvement in the Chihuahua slayings, which continued nonstop after he was arrested. A new mystery surfaced in December 1999, with discovery of a mass grave outside Ciudad Juarez, initially thought to contain as many as 100 decomposing corpses. In fact, it yielded only nine, including three U.S. citizens. The fact that U.S. citizens were among the dead prompted an entirely new line of inquiry. Still a mystery, the Dallas Morning News declared, is what happened to nearly 200 people, including 22 U.S. citizens who, in many cases, vanished after being detained by men with Mexican police uniforms or credentials.

Gonzalez Rascon, Attorney General for the State of Chihuahua
Gonzalez Rascon, Attorney General for the State of Chihuahua

Those vanished persons, collectively dubbed Los Desaparecidos (the disappeared), were still missing a year after the mass graves discovery, despite joint investigations by Mexican and U.S. authorities. Some were thought to be casualties of the drug wars that periodically rock Ciudad Juarez, but apparent police involvement in the kidnappings rekindled suspicion. An El Paso-based organization, the Association of Relatives and Friends of Disappeared Persons, kept pressure on Chihuahua authorities to recover the missing, so far without result.

Even then, no one spoke for the murdered and missing maquilladoras. Another year would pass before any protests were organized on their behalf.

By that time, some sources would claim that the body count had doubled.

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