Anne Marie Mackler, FNS Editor
At the recent conclusion of their visit to Cd. Juárez, the FBI claimed that “the number of unsolved crimes against women murdered in Cd. Juárez is relatively low in comparison to cities in the United States of similar population.” There are many people from this US México border region, however, who didn’t find any consolation in this statistical analysis. Watching the grieving families and hundreds of other concerned citizens and politicians march in protest of the crimes against women in Cd. Juárez on March 7 gave no indication that the numbers were low. Only that any murder is too many murders. There have been approximately eleven murders of women in 1999 alone, three in the past month in which two of the bodies were burned in an attempt to hide the evidence. Additionally, two of these murders were children, a 13 year old girl and a female body suspected to be between 10 and 14 years old. Quantitatively, this may be similar to other cities, but are U.S. cities losing girls and women in the way that Cd. Juarez has unfortunately exprienced?
The five US Federal Bureau of Investigation agents from the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime in Quantico, Virginia, visited Cd. Juárez in March to assist the Mexican authorities by providing investigation training to Mexican police. They reviewed existing evidence in 78 cases of murdered women. The agents did not come to “investigate” but to assist as requested by the governor and attorney general of Chihuaha. They held no press conferences and remained anonymous, however they produced a written report for the media. In addition to qualifying the number of murders suggested of the 78 cases they looked at they concluded that there is more than one killer involved. In fact, they suggest that the only real serial murders were committed by Latif Sharif Sharif, who has been recently charged and sentenced.
Although he appealed and lost, Abdel Latif Sharif Sharif, has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for the murder of Elizabeth Castro Garcia in 1995. Sharif was convicted on circumstantial evidence only. He remains one of the few assassins convicted in any of the cases of crimes against women.
The cases they looked at included those from the beginning of this crime spree in 1993. They also opened cases that had been closed by previous authorities. Suly Ponce Prieto, director of the Special Task Force for the Investigation of Crimes Against Women (FEDCM), explained that the previous authorities had performed their duties with negligence and the FBI was assisting her staff to organize and update files. “It is now possible to do this right, to make any more mistakes would be unjust to the families of the victims and the society in general.” This was a result hoped for by Vicky Caraveo Vallina, a lawyer who is the director of Mujeres Por Juárez, who said, “Maybe they (the FBI) will prove what we’ve been saying all along, the authorities are doing an unsatisfactory job.”
El Diario reported that the FBI also explained that in a city with so many new residents arriving to find employment, including young women, and bars staying open so late, there are circumstances bound to happen. Young women who are not familiar with the city may just be getting off work, while men are just getting out of the bars after a night of partying, and this situation presents potential danger.
The FBI claims that the crimes that have happened in similar fashion could be called multiple homicides, however, there is not enough evidence to support the prospect of a serial criminal. Instead, these are individual cases. “It is very premature and would be irresponsible to declare that there is a serial murder loose in Cd. Juárez,” said the FBI report. According to Attorney General Arturo Rascón González, the FBI agents “reached the same conclusion his office has after countless events and murders.”
This announcement was reported to have brought some relief in that the community can now rest assured that a psychopath is not stalking young women. However, if it is not one psychopath, does that not lend itself to the question that there are many? Or that some other negative social phenomenon is at work here, one in which women’s rights and their roles, their value, is being discounted as the bodies pile up?
The FBI agents and González also agreed on how difficult these types of investigations are. “If we knew exactly what the sickness was,” said González, “we could find the medicine.” González explained that there are hundreds of cases, some with so little information that they don’t even know who was murdered. The FBI said in their report that “homicide investigation is a complex issue and cannot be solved overnight and requires the public’s assistance.” Both the FBI and FEDCM have urged the public to cooperate and provide any information, no matter how small, to the authorities. The FBI is expected to return in late April to report on further study.
Local Authorities Make Headway In The Midst of Internal Turmoil
Criminologists, hired last month by the State Attorney General to assist with the investigation of the murders victimizing women, resigned on February 24 after complaining that their efforts were blocked by state authorities. “There were too many obstacles put in the way of our doing our work.” They suspect their work had been blocked because in some cases evidence points to police officers. “We know that the truth is being hidden,” they said, according to Notimex.
The president of the National College of Criminology, Oscar Defassioux Trechuelo, and Doctor Eduardo Muriel, said “Since the minute we arrived in the office of Ponce, obstacles have been placed before us, and no one has let us do our work.” In order for the criminologists to be able to do investigations they needed easy access to files, however they were made to request files one by one and when they were able to look through them, they found them inconclusive in regards to the statements and lab work they contained.
However, according to Ponce, these criminologists had been in Cd. Juárez since January 23, with all expenses paid by the State and had made no effort whatsoever to open investigations as they publicly promised they would do.
The internal upset continued when on March 8 Najúm Nájera Castro, assistant state attorney general of the North Zone of Cd. Juárez, resigned from his office. “Due to personal problems I feel I am unable to fulfill my assigned duties” the former attorney said explaining that there was no way that he could remain in office.
According to El Diario, González and Nájera disagreed on the handling of certain matters including crimes against women. El Diario said that Nájera’s assistant was not authorized to enter a recent murder scene, thus preventing the former assistant attorney general from carrying out his duties.
Before his official resignation Nájera hinted that he knew of evidence that links at least 11 of the murders victimizing women in Cd. Juárez to a foreigner, whom he believed to be a serial killer. Nájera said he based this on investigations performed by experts hired by state authorities which included Robert Ressler, a renowned US expert.
Ponce disagrees with this assertion, however, stating that it is purely based on Nájera’s opinion. Ponce claimed she has never seen the reports that Nájera refers to because the files were taken from the office during the transition of power last October.
However, even in the midst of these internal difficulties, Ponce’s office has made progress in regard to investigations of the murders of women. The anonymous hotline that had been established by the former administration was cancelled recently because it was not found to be useful. Also, Ponce announced this month that DNA testing, as hoped, has provided some important leads for her task force. As promised, permanent surveillances have been put in place by the FEDCM in areas where murders have occurred. In fact, night vision videos are being used as prevention is the focus of the authorities. “We are working with more efficiency and are taking into account things that were never before considered,” said González.
According to El Diario, Ponce announced her intentions to create a witness protection plan which would allow witnesses complete anonymity. This will not require their testifying, and their declarations would not be in case files. Although ambitious and well-intended, according to Alberto Medrano Villareal, president of the Bar and the College of Lawyers, this plan is not plausible because you can not offer a protection to witnesses that legal authorities can’t even have.
Interestingly, while Governor Patricio Martinez called for support of the FBI and the work that they are doing, he agreed with resigned Nahúm Nájera and former FBI agent Ressler. “The hypothesis that one or all of the assassins live in the United States is a line of investigation that should not be discarded.” He also said that the security issues in Cd. Juárez are crucial, and if the border region is to grow economically then security has to be prioritized. He was again promoting his zero tolerance plan and noted that since his inauguration and the reduced drinking hours, crime has decreased. FNS will publish these statistics when available.
However, there are those who feel differently about the role of the FBI and the authorities. Eustacio Gutierrez Corona, promoter of the Independent Commission of Human Rights (CIDH), said “The fact that the help of the FBI was sought out or accepted in order to clarify the assasinations of young women just highlights the lack of capability of the authorities.” The community is not as concerned about the assasins profile or the penalties, according to Gutierrez, they want those responsible to be found. “What we need instead of restructuring the laws is to restructure the justice department and make it more efficient.”
Hundreds March Against Violence
In commemoration of International Women’s Day, on March 7, hundreds of border residents, the majority from Cd. Juárez, marched down 16 de Septiembre, showing their solidarity in the fight against the continued crimes against women, and in protest of the government’s lack of attention to the crimes.
The event, organized by several participating NGOs, was attended by nearly 1,000 participants including many victims’ family members and NGO leaders. Cd. Juárez Mayor Gustavo Elizondo Aguilar and Federal Congressperson Carlos Camacho both participated with their wives. Many marchers shouted chants questioning the whereabouts of Governor Martinez and Special Prosecutor Zuly Ponce.
Signs were carried with messages that questioned the inactivity of the police, as well as displaying photographs and names of murder victims or missing women. The chanting crowd demanded “Life, yes; Death, no,” as well as “No More!”
Although the mayor displayed great sympathy for the families and support for the efforts, he did ask that the authorities not be blamed. “The entire responsibility does not fall on us.” However, the crowd seemed to think differently. “They’re not doing anything,” said Victoria Caraveo
Activities took place around the country including Cd. México where 183 crosses representing the number of murdered women in Cd. Juárez were placed en El Zócalo, a large plaza, near the Capital.
Additionally, a letter signed by hundreds of Chihuanenses was sent to the Governor explaining the degree of violence against women in the entire State, particularly Cd. Juárez, and demanding improved security and investigations from the authorities.
A painting campaign is a recent activity initiated by Voces Sin Echo which hopes to draw the public’s awareness to the crimes and not let them go forgotten. The group paints black crosses inside pink squares all over the city. The group hopes to create reminders for the public that they are as strong as the ones experienced by the victims’ families.
Additionally, the group is painting crosses in the industrial parks as a way to warn the female workers to be careful and to remember “the work, not the workers, is all that matters to the factory owners,” according to Guilermina González, director of Voces Sin Echo. “Workers need to be conscious of the risk they take the minute they leave their homes to go to work and earn dirt wages.”
In related news, Graciela Ortiz González, secretary of state social development, announced the creation of the Chihuahuan Institute of Women which was to be in place by the end of March. The institute will work towards creating programs to teach women how to improve the quality of their lives with focus on education, health, employment insurance, employment rights and the role of the woman in the family.
This Month Sees Four More Victims
Unfortunately, too many young women became victims to murders this month. The headlines are so consistently full of women murdered it is no wonder that the desensitization of the community has come to be a major concern.
On March 3, off the Casas Grandes Highway, a 30-year-old woman was found burned in a brick oven under a pile of tires sprayed with chemicals. Forensic investigations indicate that she was stabbed to death up to 24 hours before her burned corpse was found, however they are not able to determine if she was raped. They have been unable to identify the body because of its condition, although dental work and some items of clothing may help the investigation.
On March 13, Gladys Lizeth Ramos Escárega, 24, was shot to death and left in a car parked at the Infonavit Airport. On March 19, federal police agent Dagoberto Ramírez Ramírez, 25, was detained as a suspect in this murder and claimed that Ramos committed suicide in front of him. The two were apparently involved in an extra marital affair and were last seen leaving a party together.
On March 21, another woman’s burned body was found. Believed to be between 10 and 14 years old, this victim was discovered on the southwest part of Cd. Juárez and had been dead for several weeks. The girl was apparently beaten and strangled before her body was burned and then dumped in a drainage pipe. This body was also covered with tires and gas.
According to Zuly Ponce, although the crimes involving burned corpses don’t appear to be related, it is obvious that criminals are trying to destroy evidence. “They know that we have DNA testing now and can get samples from any evidence we find, including pubic and body hair.”
On March 13, a 14-year-old female employee of the Motorés Eléctricos maquila was found barely alive on a ranch near the Pemex plant in the southwest part of Cd. Juárez. The assassin fortunately did not complete his crime, leaving the young girl for dead.
Nancy, as she is known, had been severely beaten, raped and strangled, however when she lost consciousness her alleged perpetrator, Jesús Manuel Guardado Márquez, 26, a maquila bus driver, assumed she was dead and abandoned her. Nancy’s family, fearing for her life, moved her to another hospital by the end of the weekend and did not disclose her location.
Guardado, or “El Dracula” as he is known, was quickly attached to similar murders that have occurred according to the Attorney General. Guardado has a prior conviction for rape and robbery and is wanted on an additional robbery charge. Also, it is not clear if he is currently licensed to drive a bus.
According to El Paso Times, Motorés Eléctricos is owned by A.O. Smith, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As a service to its employees, the maquila contracts with a bus company that provides the transportation. “Obviously we are disappointed,” said Ed O’Connor, spokesperson for the company.
The State Department of Transportation, according to director Juan Jose Gonzalez Espinosa, regulates the transportation companies and bus driver licenses. To get a license you have to pass a physical exam and not have a criminal record. Guardado may have slipped through the system because the business, contracted by Motorés Eléctricos, that hired him either didn’t know he was unlicensed or hired him anyway.
As of closing, Guardado has been caught and Nancy is home from the hospital in stable condition.
How fortunate that this young woman survived. Hopefully her survival and “Dracula’s” capture, may provide the long-awaited break through in solving some of the nearly 200 murders of women in Cd. Juárez since 1993.
Sources: AP, Notimex, El Diario, El Norte, El Paso Times, Las Cruces Sun News