Friday, July 27, 2012

Ciudad Juarez:The Serial Killer's Playground

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 Alv�drez 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.

Dead Line

Ciudad Juarez & El Paso skyline
Ciudad Juarez & El Paso skyline
Most Americans outside west Texas know Ciudad Juarez--if they know it at all--from fictional portrayals in dramas such as the recent NBC-TV miniseries Kingpin. These tales are replete with sex, drug-dealing, gunplay and intriguesall of which exist in Ciudad Juarez. As is always true with television, these depictions are only glimpses into the citys history.No one is sure how many people live in Ciudad Juarez. A Rand McNally atlas published in 1999 claims an impossibly precise 789,522 residents, while media estimates from 2000 onward range as high as 2 million. Many are street people, living hand-to-mouth and day-to-day, while others are simply in transit, passing through the city en route to the border and the promised land of the U.S.
The exodus is driven by need. Wealth rarely trickles down from top-rank politicians, manufacturers and narco-traffickers to everyone else. British author Simon Whitechapel, in his book Crossing to Kill (2000), describes Ciudad Juarez as a kind of contact sore, a purulent wound ground out on the border by the rubbing together of American plutocracy and Mexican poverty, of American desire and Mexican desperation.
Young women in Ciudad Juarez
Young women in Ciudad Juarez
Those who stay behind often work in maquiladoras--sweat-shop factories producing goods for sale abroad--at wages averaging five U.S. dollars per day. Thousands of those workers are young women from outlying towns and villages, collectively described by adding an l to the name of their workplace: maquilladoras. They come hoping for the best, but often find the worst. Squalid work conditions and sexual harassment can become mere annoyances in a city where life is cheap.Machismo is an element of the problem. It exalts men over women to the detriment of both. Spanish-language dictionaries define it as behavior of the man who believes himself superior to women, and it manifests itself in forms ranging from casual insults to, according to some, ritualistic murder. Corruption plays its part, too. The legal system thoroughly corrupted by drug money. Police earn so little that bribery (mordida) is an accepted practice. Any crime can be overlooked for a price.
Still, there is clearly something else at work in Ciudad Juarez. Otherwise, every border town from Tijuana to Matamoros would share in the rising toll of raped and murdered women.

Silent Screams

The first to die, officially, was Alma Chavira Farel, a young woman found beaten, raped and strangled to death in the Campestre Virreyes district of Ciudad Juarez on January 23, 1993. She may not even have been the citys first female murder victim in 1993, since local disappearances exceed known homicides each year. But Chavira remains the first acknowledged victim of a predator the media would later dub the Juarez Ripper or El Depredador Psic�pata. While no mutilations were recorded in Chaviras case, many subsequent victims suffered similar slashing wounds to their breasts.
Police acknowledge 16 more murders of women in Ciudad Juarez by years end, with the last recorded on December 15. That case was solved, along with three others. In the dozen cases still unsolved today, five of the victims remain unidentified. Of the 12, at least four were raped. Cause of death in those cases included four strangulations, four stabbings (with one set afire afterward), one beating and one gunshot. Decomposition ruled out a determination in the last two homicides.
In 1994 police acknowledged eight unsolved murders of women in Ciudad Juarez; possible culprits were named in three other cases, but none were arrested. Three of the dead are unidentified today; the others ranged in age from 11 to 35. This time, at least four were raped. Of those whose cause of death is listed, six were strangled, two stabbed, one beaten to death, and one burned alive.
Criminologist Oscar Maynez Grijalva
Criminologist Oscar Maynez Grijalva
Before that year of brutality ended, state criminologist Oscar Maynez Grijalva warned Ciudad Juarez police that some of their unsolved murders might be the work of a serial killer. In later interviews, Maynez said his warning was ignored.1995 was worse yet, with at least 19 women slain by mid-September. Eight of the victims remain unidentified, with one case solved and probable suspects named (but not convicted) in two others. At least four of the victims were raped. Where cause of death could be determined, six were strangled, one stabbed and one shot. Three of the four victims found in September alone presented police with an obvious pattern: each had her right breast severed, with the left nipple bitten off.
It appeared that at least one serial killer was stalking the women of Ciudad Juarez, linked by a similar modus operandi to three of the most recent crimes. But authorities did not seem overly concerned.
In October, detectives claimed they had solved the case. They had detained a suspect who was charged with one of the citys brutal sex murders. Best of all, he was a foreigner.


Abdel Latif Sharif
Abdel Latif Sharif
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.

Los Rebeldes

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.

Kill Zone

The arrest of Los Rebeldes changed nothing in Juarez. The brutal murders continued and community groups accused police of negligence or worse. At least 16 female victims were slain between late April and November 1996. Eight � remain unidentified. Five were stabbed, three shot, and one was found in a drum of acid. In several cases advanced decomposition made determinations about cause of death or sexual assault impossible.
The following year there were 17 unsolved murders of females. Again they ranged in age from 10 to 30 years, and seven of the dead were never identified. While rape was confirmed in only four cases, the position and nudity of several other corpses suggested sexual assault. In the cases where the cause of death could be determined, five � were stabbed, three were strangled, three shot, and two � beaten.
Statistically, 1998 was the citys worst year yet. There were 23 on the books by December. Six remained unidentified. The killings reflected the usual pattern of stabbings, stranglings, bullets and burning. Rocio Barrazza Gallegos was killed on September 21 in the parking lot of the citys police academy. She was strangled inside a patrol car by a cop assigned to the murdered women case. Authorities described the death of 20-year-old Rosalina Veloz Vasquez, found dead on January 25, as similar to 20 other murders in the city.
And indeed, by 1998 the long-running investigation had become a numbers game. In May, media reports referred to more than 100 women raped and killed in Ciudad Juarez. A month later, reports from the same source (Associated Press) raised the number to 117. In October 1998 another AP report placed the official body count at 95, while a woman's advocacy group, Women for Juarez, placed the total at somewhere between 130 and 150.
Mexicos Human Rights Commission issued a report in 1998 castigating the police. But politicians suppressed it to avoid any adverse impact on upcoming state elections. Still clinging to suspect Abdel Sharif, Attorney General Arturo Chavez told Reuters on June 10, 1998 that police think another serial killer may be at work due to similarities in three crimes this year. At years end, on December 9, the Associated Press reported: At least 17 bodies show enough in common--the way shoelaces were tied together, where they were buried, how they were mutilated--that investigators say at least one serial killer is at work. And 76 other cases bear enough similarities that investigators say one or more copycats may be at work.
In fact, all that anyone really knew was that the murders were continuing.

Los Choferes

The first quarter of 1999 brought with it the usual catalog of carnage: at least eight more female victims. Abdel Sharifs trial for the murder of Elizabeth Castro began on March 3, but if authorities thought it would solve the case, they were sadly mistaken.
In the predawn hours of March 18 a 14-year-old girl staggered up to the door of a strangers home on the citys outskirts. Bloody and sobbing, she told her story of rape and near-murder. She said she had been assaulted and nearly choked to death by the hands of a maquiladora bus driver named Jesus Guardado Marquez. His nicknames were El Dracula and El Tolteca. A background check on Guardado revealed one prior conviction for sexual assault. By the time police went looking for him, he had vanished from Ciudad Juarez with his pregnant wife.
Authorities in Durango arrested Guardado a few days later. Guardado later claimed that he was beaten by police on arrival in Ciudad Juarez; the officers countered with claims that Guardado confessed to multiple murders and named four accomplices. The other men in custody were: Victor Moreno Rivera (El Narco), Augustin Toribio Castillo (El Kiani), Bernardo Hernando Fernandez (El Samber) and Jose Gaspar Cerballos Chavez (El Gaspy). All were maquiladora bus drivers, collectively dubbed Los Choferes (The Chauffeurs). Police claimed that Moreno was the ringleader of the rape-murder team, collaborating with Abdel Sharif in another copycat scheme intended to spring Sharif from prison.
Charged with a total of 20 murders, all the Los Choferes denied any role in the crimes. They said that there confinement was brutal, that they had been beaten, choked and shocked with electricity. It was the torture, they said, that accounted for their incriminating statements. The statements could not be trusted because they were given under duress. Sharif, for his part, denied any contact with Los Choferes and maintained his � innocence.
While police were convinced of their latest conspiracy theory, the facts contradicted the theory. The media reported in May 1999 that nearly 200 women had been murdered since 1993--a substantial jump over October 1998s body count of at least 117. Retired FBI profiler Robert Ressler had already come and gone from Ciudad Juarez, leaving more questions than answers in his wake. A team of active-duty G-men also tried their luck at profiling the Juarez Ripper, with no success. Steve Salter, the Mexican official who enlisted the FBIs help, told the Dallas Morning News, These homicides are up to a point where we have to do whatever is possible to resolve it.
With another desert summer approaching, police and civilians alike feared that the situation would only get worse.

"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.


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.
Gustavo Gonzalez Meza & Javier (aka Victor J.) Garcia Uribe
Gustavo Gonzalez Meza & Javier (aka Victor J.) Garcia Uribe
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.
(From top left)Claudia Gonzalez & Guadalupe Luna & Mayra Reyes Solis & Laura Ramos Monarrez, victims
(From top left)Claudia Gonzalez & Guadalupe Luna & Mayra Reyes Solis & Laura Ramos Monarrez, victims
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.
Vincente Fox, President of Mexico
Vincente Fox, President of Mexico
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.
Mourner-protest, women march in black
Mourner-protest, women march in black
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.


By January 2003 published estimates of the body count ranged from nearly 100 to 340. No one tried to tabulate the missing anymore. The number of suspects was anyones guess. Some additional suspects were speculated about in press reports, including:
Angel Resendez-Ramirez - Awaiting execution in Texas, he remains a candidate for some of the Chihuahua murders. Both Candice Skrapec and profiler Robert Ressler have named him.
Pedro Padilla Flores - A former resident of Ciudad Juarez, convicted in 1986 for the rape-murders of two women and a 13-year-old girl. He confessed to other slayings but was not charged. Padilla escaped from custody in 1991 and remains at large.
Armando Martinez (AKA Alejandro Maynez) - Arrested in 1992 for the murder of a woman in Chihuahua City, he was accidentally released and subsequently vanished (along with his police file). Murder defendant Ana Benavides, accused of killing and dismembering a Ciudad Juarez couple and their child in 1998, claims Martinez committed the triple-murder and framed her for his crime.
Carlos Cardenas Cruz and Jorge Garcia Paz Former Mexican federal agents turned fugitives, they are sought for questioning in the 1998 disappearance of 29-year-old Silvia Arce and 24-year-old Griselda Mares, who was allegedly killed by police in a mistaken dispute concerning stolen guns.
Pedro Valles - He was assigned to investigate the Ciudad Juarez murders when he killed his girlfriend at the state police academy in 1998. He remains a fugitive.
Dagoberto Ramirez - Another Ciudad Juarez policeman, fired in 1999 after he was accused of murdering his lover. Ramirez was released after he claimed that the woman had committed suicide. Police officials did not reinstate him.
Julio Rodriquez Valenzuela - The former police chief of suburban El Sauzal, accused in April 1999 of attempting to rape a 16-year-old girl near the site of two previous murders. Chihuahua authorities report that he fled to El Paso or New Mexico, and he remains at large.
Sergio Hernandez Pereda - A Chihuahua state policeman until 1997, he fled the next year shortly after his wife was murdered. He remains a fugitive.
Melchor Baca A former federal policeman who has been on the lam for eight years. He fled after killing a male friend of his wife at the courthouse where they both worked.
Also rushing to fill the vacuum are the conspiracy theories. Among them:
Satanic cults - Reviving memories of the drug-cult murders committed by followers of Adolfo Constanzo at Matamoros in the 1980s, some Chihuahua residents profess to see an occult hand at work.
Organ harvesters - An urban myth echoed in a few movies and novels, it has grisly resonance in Ciudad Juarez. Rumors claim that vital organs were removed from some of the victims.
The Police - At least ten women in Ciudad Juarez have accused police officers of kidnapping and sexual assault in the past five years. No charges have been filed. But investigators do say they suspect an unnamed policeman in the 1995 murders of 29-year-old Elizabeth Gomez and 27-year-old Laura Inere.
Drug cartels - Authorities suspect that some of Chihuahuas murdered and missing women were addicts or small-time smugglers, executed because they knew too much. An FBI report last November blamed unnamed narco-traffickers for the February 2001 torture slaying of 17-year-old Lilia Garcia, found 100 yards from the spot where eight other victims were discovered in November 2002.
Wealthy sadists - Some lawmen still blame the murders on a cabal of rich and powerful men whose wealth makes them untouchable by the police.
As for Abdel Sharif, problems with evidence in the case of Elizabeth Garcia won him a judicial review in February 2003. The murder conviction was upheld, but Sharifs 30-year sentence was cut to 20. Both sides vowed to appeal the ruling, and prosecutors claimed that Sharif might be charged with additional murders.
Despite all the suspects, all the conspiracies, all the reassuring words from public officials, it is clear that the case is nowhere near resolution. The only thing that will come from this state of affairs is more bodies in the desert.
Boy holds candle for murdered women
Boy holds candle for murdered women

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