Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Ciudad Juarez:The Serial Killer's Playground

Body Count

Map: Ciudad Juarez in Mexico
Map: Ciudad Juarez in Mexico
 
Joe Lopez Jimenez wasnt looking for trouble when he and a friend went for a stroll in the desert northeast of Ciudad Juarez on Monday, February 17, 2003. The two teenagers took their dogs along, searching the wasteland for bottles and cans, or any other cast-off articles that could be redeemed for pocket money. The last thing they expected to discover was a human body.

Much less three.

The boys ran home to tell their parents, who then alerted the municipal police. The officers were skeptical at first and responded slowly. But when detectives reached the scene off Mimbre Street at 2:00 p.m., any notion of a hoax evaporated. They saw the remains of three barely concealed women.

The police wasted little time carting the bodies from the scene. They had the third corpse in an ambulance and ready to depart by 2:30, when a neighborhood bystander called their attention to a fourth corpse, a little away from the others. Most local reporters had already left to file their stories, but Miguel Perea, a photographer for Norte newspaper, remained to document the discovery of the fourth corpse.

Searchers find bodies
Searchers find bodies

These were not the first corpses found in the desert near the rundown suburb. Two other victims had been found a short distance away in October 2002; one of them later identified as 16-year-old Gloria Rivas. More recently, residents of nearby Lomas de Poleo had reported finding three more corpses in January 2003. But police and Attorney General Jesus Solis refused to confirm or deny the account.

Gloria Rivas, victim
Gloria Rivas, victim

The story took an even stranger turn on Wednesday, February 19, when authorities identified three of the victims. They were 17-year-old Juana Sandoval Reyna, missing since September 23, 2002; 16-year-old Esmeralda Juarez Alarcon, last seen January 8, 2003; and 18-year-old Violeta Alvídrez Barrios, who vanished February 4, 2003. Each girl was last seen alive in downtown Ciudad Juarez. When reporters asked about the fourth victim, police spokesmen abruptly ended the briefing, and refused to acknowledge that there was another body.

Juana Sandoval Reyna & Esmaralda Juarez Alarcon, victims
Juana Sandoval Reyna & Esmaralda Juarez Alarcon, victims

That stubborn attitude was old news to the residents of Ciudad Juarez, where a mounting toll of brutal homicides had stunned the city--and attracted global attention--during the past decade. Body counts are a touchy subject in Ciudad Juarez, a bustling city across the border from El Paso. No two sources agree on the death toll of young women. The El Paso Times claims that there are nearly 340 victims since 1993. Some of the cases have been solved, although unnamed experts speculate that 90 or more may be serial murder victims. But no one seriously claims that one person is responsible for all of the murders.

In fact, police have jailed more than a dozen suspects --the first in 1995. Each new arrest is hailed as a solution to the grisly murder spree, but the body count still increases. Many residents and some discouraged investigators now believe that the police themselves may be behind some of the murders. At the very least, many think the police are involved in an ongoing cover-up.

A decade after the start of the official roster of the dead, only one thing is certain: All females are in danger on the streets of Ciudad Juarez.

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