Anne Marie Mackler, FNS Editor
Suly Ponce Prieto, special investigator of the murders of women for the state of Chihuahua, has continued to deny allegations that recent murders of women are connected or that they are a continuation of crime spree she claims to have ended in March of 1999. “There have been 21 murders since I have taken this position, and 17 of them have been solved.”
She claims that there is no serial killer at work, that none of these crimes are related, and the fact that some of the recent victims’ bodies have appeared in close proximity to each other, or in close proximity to bodies found between 1993 and 1999 is pure coincidence. “Obviously the murderers want the crimes committed or the bodies left in obscure places, that they have used similar locations does not indicate that the crimes are connected.”
Ponce is certain that these crimes are not related because of the different causes of death, there have been two strangulations, and one stabbing. Two of the three bodies found in the desert since January 19 have been identified. However, investigations are still in progress on the other victim which include the creation of a sculpted rendering of the victim’s face based on the skeletal remains and other evidence.
On January 19, the remains of a woman believed to have been dead for up to four months were found in an area in the desert in Adolfo Lopez Mateos, on the outskirts of Cd. Juárez reachable only by foot or horse. Initial autopsy reports indicated that the woman was between the ages of 25 and 30, was strangled and raped, and beaten before she was murdered.
According to police, this area is known to be used by drug addicts, and there was a container of industrial glue near the remains. Women’s clothing was also found in the area.
Early reports said that attorney general’s office was questioning over 100 suspects. Characteristics of this victim were compared to women who have been reported missing and a study was being performed, according to Ponce.
By the end of January it was reported that this victim may have died accidentally due to the rough terrain and she may have been between 40 and 45 years old. “It is difficult when looking at bones to determine the exact age of the victim, time of death and cause of death,” said Ponce.
On January 25, Jorge Lozoya, 32, killed his girlfriend María Elena Saucedo Meraz, 36, while he was “handling” a gun he said he was taking to sell so that he would be able to marry Saucedo Meraz. He injured his own neck in the incident. He was freed with an approximate $3,000 fine on February 2.
On January 28, the burned remains of a woman were found in an irrigation ditch near Valle de Juárez in Loma Blanco near where Sagrario Gonzalez, another murder victim, was found in 1998. The cause of death was reported by the attorney general’s office to be a knife wound across the victim’s neck. The body had been dead for approximately three weeks and was severely burned when discovered by a local resident.
The body was later identified as María Isabel Nava, 18, by her family who identified clothing and scars on the victim. She had disappeared on January 4 when she had been out looking for work. She was last seen at city offices in Cd. Juárez. However, the family could not take possession of her remains right away because the special prosecutor wanted to perform a more thorough identification including a DNA test that would take up to three weeks. However, the remains were finally given to the family and they were able to proceed with services.
Judy Caraveo, human and civil rights activist in Cd. Juárez, spoke at the well-attended services for Nava that included both religious and community representatives. Caraveo expressed her dismay that Chihuahua Governor Patricio Martínez had recently insisted that constitutional drinking laws be modified in Cd. Juárez to protect the U.S. teens that come across the border to drink and take advantage of Mexico’s lower legal drinking age. However, the governor, according to Caraveo, has done nothing to modify laws that might better protect women in Cd. Juárez. In the last 7 years there have been over 200 murders of women, many of them sexually motivated and many of them unsolved or uninvestigated.
Caraveo was also quoted in El Norte questioning the state’s investigation of Nava’s disappearance which was reported on January 5. She was found on the 28th, but the state said she was dead for 12-15 days which leaves approximately a week that she was alive and her whereabouts were unknown. “How is it possible that the parents had seen her with her boyfriend? How is it possible that you did not initiate an investigation? If you had done so, maybe she would be alive.”
On January 29, Fernando Sáenz reported to the municipal police that his daughter Cecilia Sáenz Parras, 20, was missing. She was found dead the following morning with a crushed skull, apparently run over by a vehicle, and with knife wounds. Her cousin, César Solís Sáenz was arrested for the crime. He had been released from prison weeks before after serving time for rape and attempted murder.
On February 15, the naked body of another woman was found in an area difficult to reach by vehicle. By February 17 she was identified as Inés Silva Merchant, 23, who had disappeared on January 26, and was last seen on her way to work at the hotel La Cuesta. She had been beaten and strangled but it was unknown whether she had been raped due to the decomposition of the body. The autopsy indicated that she had been dead for approximately two weeks. She was the single mother of a two and four year old.
Murderers In Court
In early January, Dora Emma Narváez López, 62, pled self defense in the brutal murder of María Santos Rangel Flores, 42, whose body was found dismembered and buried in Lopez’ brother’s yard in late December. Lopez admits that there was a scuffle between the two women, and that Flores died when she fell and hit her head, not because Lopez had struck her. Lopez claims that she bled Flores’ body in her tub and cut it up into 11 pieces to make it easier to bring to her brother, who thought he was burying the corpse of a dog.
On February 3, Edgar Omar Sánchez Moreno, 20, was tried as an adult and sentenced to five years in prison for the double homicide of Brenda Lizeth Nájera Flores and her sister Susana Flores Flores. Both girls were found dead in Moreno’s apartment in December of 1996.
Sánchez Moreno claimed that the older sister Brenda had threatened to murder him with a .22 pistol after a lovers dispute, and he admitted to pulling a knife on her, but after that he has no recollection of what happened.
However, initial reports indicated that the two teens were found tied up and shot to death at close range after what was apparently days of abuse. Both had been raped, and bite marks were evident on their bodies.
Casa Amiga Crisis Center Celebrates First Year
The Casa Amiga Crisis Center in Cd. Juárez, which counsels and cares for women and children who are victims of abuse, domestic or otherwise, marked the completion of its first year of service this past February. The center has assisted nearly 200 clients, over 50 of the cases involved incestual attacks on children and nearly 100 cases were domestic abuse.
The center is the only one of its kind on the border, and one of four in all of México. In comparison, according to Our Bodies Ourselves http://www.feminist.com/viol3.htm#endi, “in the U.S. there are more than 1,000 hot lines, shelters, and programs for battered women. Many states have formed coalitions to bring people together who work on these issues. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Coalition Against Sexual Assault both have memberships of over 500 agencies and focus on public awareness and social change.”
The last census indicated that México had approximately 81 million people while the U.S. has some 240 million. México has one third the population, however, 1/250 of the number of centers to provide support and assistance to woman and children suffering abuse and in crisis.
The center has received city support as well as major support from the International Trauma Resource Center (ITRC), a private non-profit organization that is dedicated to empowering groups suffering from trauma by providing educational and counseling skills to community organizations serving those populations. Brian Barger, award winning U.S. journalist, is an active board member of ITRC and has played a large role in the center’s development.
Just recently it was announced tha the Cd. Juárez city council approved an additional six months of support for the Center in the amount of approximately U.S. $3,000 a month. In order to receive the support the Center must provide a monthly report to the City Treasurer.
Sources: El Norte de la Ciudad Juárez, El Diario, Our Bodies Ourselves, ITRC Report