On October 30, 1999, Colombian announced that Luis Alfredo Gavarito confessed to raping, torturing and killing 140 children in a five-year killing spree. “Luis Alfredo Garavito has admitted the murder of about 140 children of which we have so far found 114 skeleton,” chief prosecutor Alfonso Gomez told a news conference.
Drawing a battered notebook from his pocket, Garavito showed the interrogating judge and psychologist his tally of the killings he claimed during a four-hour confession. Across the pages were 140 lines, each symbolizing one murdered youngster.
The mutilated corpses of the mostly male victims aged between eight and 16 years old have been discovered near more than 60 towns in at least 11 of Colombia’s 32 provinces. “The bodies were beheaded and bore signs of having been tied up and mutilated,” Gomez said.
The nationwide murder investigation was triggered after 36 decomposing corpses were found near the city of Pereira in 1997. At the time investigators said the children may have been murdered in a black magic ritual. Authorities also considered social cleansing, organ trafficking and pedophilic mayhem as reasons behind the butchery. After an 18-month investigation, Garavito was arrested in the eastern plains city of Villavicencio in Aprilon charges of attempting to rape a child.
Born in Colombia’s western coffee-growing region, Gavarito was the oldest of seven children. He was repeatedly beaten by his father and raped by two male neighbors. Garavito was also a heavy alcoholic, and was treated for depression and suicidal tendencies. He said he committed most of the murders after heavy drinking.
Garavito had just five years of schooling and left home at 16, working first as a store clerk, then as a street vendor who sold religious icons and prayer cards. Prosecutors said Garavito found most of his victims on the streets, gaining their confidence by giving them soft drinks and money.
Garavito apparently committed his first murder in 1992. Authorities were unaware of the alleged serial killer until 25 bodies were found in the western city of Pereira. The victims — mostly boys between eight and 16 — were found with their throats slit. Some showed signs of torture and rape.
The victims were mostly poor. Many of them were children of street vendors or homeless kids. Garavito — who was known as “Goofy”, “El Loco” and “The Priest” — passed himself off as “a street vendor, monk, indigent, disabled person or a representative of fictitious foundations for the elderly and children’s education, in that way gaining entrance to schools as a speaker,” Gomez said.
Garavito moved around the country frequently after the killings began in 1994, and also spent time in Ecuador, where investigations are trying to determine whether he might be linked to child slayings there too.
The most killings took place in the western state of Risaralda, and its capital, Pereira. Forty-one bodies have been found in Pereira and another 27 have turned up in neighboring Valle de Cauca.
Previously authorities charged one Pedro Pablo Ramirez with 29 of the slayings. It is unclear whether Ramirez and Garavito are the same person, or if Ramirez was released or is still in custody.
On December 31, 1998, Colombian police arrested Ramirez in connection with the murder of 29 children. The childrens’ bodies – many missing body parts and showing signs of torture – were found in two separate mass graves. The first grave, found on 12 November, was discovered when a boy walking through an overgrown lot saw a skull in the bushes. Authorities who dug up the lot, found several incomplete skeletons and 13 skulls. The second discovery was made less than a week later in a river-bed below a city highway. Investigators have linked Ramirez — who had previously been in prison for sex crimes — to at least three killings in Pereira and possibly three others in the nearby town of Armenia.