Ciudad Juarez:The Serial Killer's Playground
The advent of a new millennium did nothing to relieve the Ciudad Juarezs ordeal. On Tuesday and Wednesday, November 6-7, 2001, skeletal remains of eight more women were found in a vacant lot 300 yards from the Association of Maquiladoras headquarters, a group representing most of the citys U.S.-owned export assembly plants. Police announced creation of a special task force to investigate the murders, with a $21,500 reward offered for capture of the killer(s), but the new display of energy consoled no one.
The latest victims were still unidentified on November 10, when Chihuahua officials announced the arrest of two 28-year-old bus drivers, Javier Garcia Uribe and Gustavo Gonzalez Meza, on charges of killing the eight women found three days earlier. Fernando Medina, a spokesman for the prosecutors office, claimed both men belong to a gang whose members are serving time for at least 20 of the rape-murders, and that they had identified the victims found on November 6-7 by name. Police named the dead as 19-year-old Maria Acosta, 20-year-old Claudia Gonzales, 15-year-old Esmerelda Herrera, 20-year-old Guadalupe Luna, 20-year-old Barbara Martinez, 19-year-old Veronica Martinez (no relation to Barbara), 17-year-old Laura Ramos, and 17-year-old Mayra Reyes.
The suspects, meanwhile, declared that any statements they had made were products of torture. Their lawyers received death threats, and one of them--Mario Escobedo Jr.--was killed by police in a high-speed chase on February 5, 2002, after officers allegedly mistook him for a fugitive. (In June 2002 a judge declared the shooting to be self-defense.) Eleven weeks later, on April 22, police grudgingly confessed that DNA tests had failed to confirm any of their early victim identifications. Waffling again on November 5, 2002, prosecutors declared that new DNA tests had apparently confirmed the identity of Veronica Martinez, while yielding no results on the other seven. (Gonzalez died on February 8, 2003, allegedly from complications arising after surgery in jail.)
The Garcia-Gonzalez arrests--bringing the total of suspects in custody to 51 by some reports--had no apparent effect on the murder activity. Ten days after Garcia and Gonzalez were jailed, another young woman was found stripped and beaten to death in Ciudad Juarez. Six days after the accidental death of attorney Escobedo, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights dispatched Marta Altolaguirre to investigate reports that would-be protesters around the city were harassed and threatened by police. The new publicity moved Mexican President Vincente Fox to order a new investigation by federal crime specialists. Local prosecutors, resentful of that move, protested to the Dallas Morning News that 27 of the 76 cases were solved, while the other killings involving women have been isolated incidents.
Global publicity only shortened tempers in Ciudad Juarez. On March 9, 2002, Texas state legislators joined in a binational protest march through El Paso. Jorge Campos Murillo, a federal deputy attorney general in Mexico City, stirred reporters when he claimed that some of the slayings were committed by juniors--sons of wealthy Mexican families whose money and connections had spared them from prosecution. (Shortly after making those remarks, Campos was transferred to another job and refused all interviews.) The FBI resumed its investigation in October 2002. Their profiling efforts have been fruitless so far.
Ciudad Juarezs civic leaders remain keenly focused on business. After a large wooden cross was erected near the border, as a memorial to the murdered and missing women, Major Jesus Delgado received an angry letter from the Association of Business Owners and Professionals of Juarez Avenue, complaining that the display was a horrible image for tourism.
The same day that letter was written, on September 23, 2002, police found two more womens corpses in Ciudad Juarez. One victim was strangled and partially disrobed; police claimed the other had died of a drug overdose. But special investigator David Rodriguez was skeptical of that determination. Another young woman, apparently beaten to death, was found on October 8.
The year ended badly for image-conscious merchants in Ciudad Juarez. Mexicos first lady, Sahagun de Fox, publicly called for an end to the murders on November 25 as more than a thousand black-garbed women marched through Mexico City, protesting the sluggish investigation.
Detectives, meanwhile, had no shortage of suspects. In fact, they had too many--and some of them were policemen.