For more than 15 years, the family of Hester van Nierop has struggled across oceans and continents for justice. An architecture school graduate, van Nierop was traveling through Mexico when she decided to make a stop in Ciudad Juarez back in 1998. The Mexican border city was the last place the young woman would visit on earth.
One morning in September 1998, van Nierop’s body was discovered under a bed in Room 121 of the Hotel Plaza in downtown Juarez, where she had been seen the previous evening with a man initially identified as “Roberto Flores.” Showing signs of torture and sexual abuse, the 28-year-old woman had been strangled to death.
According to the Chihuahua state prosecutor’s office, van Nierop’s alleged killer entered a room with her but emerged alone about one hour later, telling the hotel reception desk he would be back within the hour. The man never returned and hotel staff found van Nierop’s body several hours later.
Years passed and no movement on the murder case was reported until Friday, January 24, when Mexican authorities announced they had van Nierop’s probable killer in custody. He was Ramiro Adame Lopez, 51, a Mexican national who had been serving a prison term in the U.S. state of Mississippi on drug charges stemming from a 2011 arrest by the Border Patrol and Terrell County, Texas, deputies.
Last Friday, U.S. Immigration Custom and Enforcement officials turned Adame over to Mexican federal law enforcement authorities at the Stanton Street Bridge between El Paso, Texas, and neighboring Ciudad Juarez.
“I feel very happy. You can’t imagine how it is that after 15 years they find a suspect,” Arsene van Nierop, Hester’s mother, told CNN en Espanol.
Although Adame was prone to using aliases, a tattoo of a naked woman surrounded by flowers aided in his identification and detention for the van Nierop crime, according to Chihuahua prosecutor Ernesto Jauregui.
In a previous interview with CNN’s Carmen Aristegui, Arsene van Nierop recalled how she at first thought Mexican police would act as diligently as Dutch investigators might in pursuing her daughter’s killer or killers. But when van Nierop and husband Roeland returned to Juarez in 2004, the couple was soon disappointed to learn that the police had made no real advances in the murder case, she said.
“We were surprised how the Mexican police were working,” van Nierop added.
As it turned out, a Chihuahua state judge had issued a warrant for Adame the same year. Another decade would pass, however, before the suspect was apprehended.
Meantime, the van Nierop family raised holy cain in Europe about Hester’s brutal slaying. The killing became a major story in the Dutch press, drawing the attention of Dutch and European politicians and helping cast attention on the overall issue of femicides in Mexico and Latin America. The van Nierop murder played an important role in getting the European Parliament to adopt a 2007 resolution, fiercely opposed by the administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, that condemned the murder of women in Mexico and Central America.
A family’s tragic odyssey was transformed into activism after Arsene and her husband met with Juarez activists like the late Esther Chavez Cano, founder of Casa Amiga. In memory of their daughter, the van Nierop family established the Hester Foundation to help fund anti-gender violence projects in Juarez.
Hester’s case was picked up by the Chihuahua city-based Women’s Human Rights Center (CEDEHM), which helped present a 2011 petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that requested consideration of the murder as an emblematic instance of violence against women in the state of Chihuahua.
Additionally, Arsene van Nierop petitioned the Chihuahua state government last November to include Hester’s name on a monument to femicide victims in Ciudad Juarez. In the long years that followed Hester’s murder, Arsene learned Spanish.
Lucha Castro, CEDEHM coordinator and lead attorney, said neither her organization nor the van Nierop family was initially notified by authorities of murder suspect Ramiro Adame’s detention and extradition to Mexico.
Arraigned before a Chihuahua state judge January 25, Adame declined to render a statement. The suspect faces another court date next week. Under Mexican law, Adame faces a maximum sentence of 50 years.
Hester van Nierop’s accused killer is no stranger to law enforcement on both sides of the border.
Press accounts reveal that Adame has a U.S. arrest record dating back to at least 1989, when he was arrested in Nebraska for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance. In 2000, he was busted in El Paso for falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen.
According to the Chihuahua state prosecutor’s office, Adame also received a six-year sentence in Mexico at some undisclosed point for drug law violations.
Vowing to carry forward with the work of Hester Foundation, Arsene van Nierop urged justice in many other pending Juarez murder cases.
“I hope (law enforcement) did this work not only for my daughter, but for the daughters of others as well,” she said.
Sources: Proceso, January 25, 2014. Article by Patricia Mayorga. El Paso Times, January 25, 2014. Article by Diana Washington Valdez and Lorena Figueroa. El Diario de Juarez, January 25, 2014. CNN en Espanol, January 24, 2014. Lapolaka.com, January 24 and 25, 2014.