Who’s Telling the Truth? The Murders of Women In Cd. Juárez

Anne Marie Mackler, FNS Staff Editor


Reading last month’s many headlines associated to the violent crimes against women in Cd. Juárez was like watching a marathon ping pong match. The stories went back and forth with victims, suspects, maquila spokespersons, families, spouses, and authorities all telling, and sometimes retelling, the different versions of the accounts of several sexual assaults and/or murders of young women in Cd. Juárez. Stories changed from day to day as accusations and denials bounced off the pages, did back flips and then jumped back on. And at the end of this month-long match of stories the current score is that five alleged rapists and murderers remain jailed; one convicted murderer lost his appeal, has been relocated to Chihuahua and is on a hunger strike; a riot broke out at the prison and the director stepped down; a victim miscarried at three months; at least four victims survived the assaults and may see their aggressors convicted and punished; and finally the FBI refuted claims the special investigator attributed to them.

Key Suspect: Manuel Guardado Márquez, “El Tolteca”

The saga began on March 13 when a young woman known only as Nancy, 14, was found left for dead in the Pemex fields on the outskirts of Cd. Juárez after being raped and strangled. She identified her assailant as the bus driver who was supposed to have taken her to her bus stop but instead pulled off into the desert and attacked her. She was on her way home from her night shift position with Motores Eléctricos, a maquila in Cd. Juárez owned by the parent company A.O. Smith in Wisconsin, US. The bus driver was identified as Manuel Guardado Márquez. http://nmsu.edu/~frontera/apr99/feat3.html

Manuel Guardado Márquez, 26, worked for Cd. Juárez Concessions and Permissions Union, a transportation company, where he had started out as a hired hand. However on March 12, José Gaspar Ceballos, another driver, was unable to get to work due to a family problem and asked Guardado to drive his maquila route that transported workers from Motores Eléctricos. Guardado should not have been allowed to drive a bus because he did not have proper licensing, however, it is unclear if his background had ever been checked or if his superiors knew that he had been given this route.

José Sifuentes González, one of the transportation company managers, said that at work Guardado seemed like a nice person, although unkept and definitely a drug user outside of work. It was allegedly not known that Guardado had been convicted of rape in 1994 and was sentenced to two and half years. However, according to Pedro Bassio Preza, chief of Government Social Security Office, Guardado was released because of the judge’s dismissal of past criminal records. Guardado has been wanted for robbery since 1997. It had also been rumored that Guardado had been relieved of driving duties elsewhere for smoking marijuana.

In response to circumstances surrounding Guardado’s assault of one of the bus passengers, Francisco González Nuñez, Sifuentes’ partner, said “Now that the boy has drowned, we are going to cover the well. ” The company will now regulate their drivers more carefully.

Alerted By His Sister-In-Law, Durango Police Find “El Tolteca”

Police forces from the region, including Texas and New Mexico, collaborated in an effort to find the suspect. Fortuitously for the authorities in Cd. Juárez, Guardado drew attention to himself in Gómez Palacios, Durango, his place of residence to which he had fled, when he beat up his pregnant wife María del Carmen Flores de la Rosa. Flores’ sister called the police, and upon arrival, the local officers recognized Guardado by his appearance and his tattoos as the man wanted in a Chihuahua bulletin. They arrested him in what was later reported as a violent struggle. Guardado was taken to Juárez.

His wife, assisted by the Red Cross, was also brought to the border. It was reported that Flores miscarried as a result of Guardado’s blows. In her statements to the police, she reflected on her marriage and what she had incorrectly understood or known about her husband’s criminal record. “My life was normal the first four years, I knew that a woman had accused my husband of rape but he was acquitted because they couldn’t prove it and he asked me to forgive him. I believed him.” She said that she did not know he had violated a woman when the police flew her to Juárez. But when she looked in Nancy’s eyes, she knew the young girl had been beaten like she had.

She has allegedly said that Guardado had changed over the last few years, doing cocaine and marijuana and growing violent with her. She reported that in drunken rages Guardado had told her he’d killed women, and he threatened to kill her family and to burn down the house while she and their three children were in it if she ever repeated what he had said, so it wasn’t until under the protection of the authorities in Cd. Juárez that she revealed what she knew.

Four Other Suspects, All Bus Drivers, Confess

Once in custody, according to the Special Task Force to Investigate Crimes Against Women (FEDCM), Guardado confessed to raping Nancy, however, he said he had not tried to kill her when he strangled her, but had only wanted “to put her to sleep.” Guardado proceeded, according to FEDCM, to confess to additional crimes saying that he was responsible for the murder of up to 20 women, although that number changed as the reports kept flooding the newspapers. He also lead the FEDCM on searches to areas where he said he knew other bodies were. So far no additional victims’ bodies have been reported as found.

Guardado was reported in El Diario to have two brothers working within the police system. One brother is a custodian in the prison, and another is a special agent of public security and citizen protection. El Diario questioned why this information had been kept so quiet.

Guardado also confessed that he had worked in collaboration with other bus drivers. He named several bus drivers and the Special Task Force investigated a number of them. Supposedly, the bus drivers worked under the leadership of Abdel Latif Sharif Sharif, a convicted murderer who on March 2 was sentenced to 30 years for the rape and murder of Elizabeth Castro, who’s body was found in August of 1995. It has been said that he was found guilty on purely circumstantial evidence, however, according to El Norte, he does have criminal record including rape, driving under the influence, obstruction of justice, assault and resisting arrest. His record goes back through the early eighties in both Florida and Texas. In 1994 he was deported to Egypt, however that is when he arrived in Cd. Juárez.

The other drivers, Agustín Toribio Castillo “El Kiani,” José Gaspar Ceballos Chávez “El Gaspy,” Victor Moreno Rivera “El Narco,” and Bernardo Hernández Fernandez “El Samber” were all arrested after Guardado accused them of involvement in the murders.

These bus drivers, according to FEDCM, also confessed and corroborated Guardado’s story. They admitted to a number of murders and rapes of young women in Cd. Juárez in recent months and could also name locations of as of yet undiscovered corpses. These suspects also alleged that it was under the direction of Sharif Sharif that they committed these crimes. Sharif was said to have hired them to commit at least two murders a month, and if the assassins brought him the undergarments of the victims, Sharif would pay 12 hundred dollars per murder.

Same Four Suspects Recant and Cry “Police Brutality”

Interestingly enough, no sooner had the stories of these confessions, and photographs of the suspects been published, when the same suspects, appearing in court declared that all of their statements to the police were forced and accused the police of beating them into signing confessions. One suspect, Hernández, who claims he is illiterate, said the police still forced him to sign his name to the confession.

Nevertheless, upon seeing their photographs in the papers, two more young women came forward pointing fingers at the suspects with similar accusations. One woman, Vanessa, 17, had gone to the police on June 5, 1998 to report a rape, but the police did not believe her and insisted on subjecting her to a physical examination by a male officer. She refused because of her embarrassment and fear. However, when she came forward this time after seeing the newspaper photographs of El Samber and El Kiani, two of the three men that allegedly raped her, she went to the Special Investigations office. Along with her story she provided medical statements from an area hospital that she had visited after the incident on June 5. Although the documents are not from the police authorities, they will be recognized in court, according to Zuly Ponce. Vanessa’s only remaining fear is that her “third offender is still free.”

Susana, another victim who accuses Guardado of attacking her, gained the courage to speak up when she saw that Nancy had also survived an attack, just as she had on February 18. She also did not report her crime to the police because she was afraid.

The FEDCM strongly denied the suspects’ statements that they were beaten by police officers in order to attain confessions or that anything inappropriate had happened. In fact, they assured the public that they had video tapes of the confessions and said there were a number of people present who can verify that the confessions were legitimately achieved. It was admitted however, that Guardado had put up a fight upon his arrest, and some of the injuries he showed in the court may have been attributed to the scuffle.

The Alleged Mastermind “El Egipcio” Sharif Sharif

Additionally, Sharif Sharif outright denies any association with the bus drivers. Sharif says that there are political motives behind the crimes. “I believe that the real assassin has a lot of money and protection from the inside, first the PAN, now the PRI, but the real danger is that the criminal gets away with it and the crimes continue.” He believes he is a scapegoat and is currently on a hunger strike drinking only water and coffee and demanding a conference with Governor Patricio Martínez so he can show the governor what Sharif’s own research has proved regarding the murders.

Sharif was accused of similarly masterminding murders of women in 1996 when he was first arrested as a suspect in several murders of women. He allegedly worked with a gang called Los Rebeldes and had hired them to murder women while he was in prison to convince the authorities and the public that he was not guilty of serial killings as originally accused; how could he be, if the murders were continuing? It was similarly alleged that recent murders were masterminded by Sharif as a way to sway opinion of him while he was completing his appeals trial, which he lost.

Members of the gang Los Rebeldes still remain in prison after three years, as yet untried, and Sharif maintains his denial of having any association with this group.

Upon the confessions of the most recent suspects often referred to as the “choferes,” the question was immediately posed as to how Sharif could have possibly paid thousands of dollars to these criminals from his prison cell. There appeared to be no record of four of the five suspects ever having visited Sharif at the prison. “El Narco,” however, was said to have visited a relative during the last couple of years, and is on the books as a visitor in the prison.

Zuly Ponce says that the criminals may have used false names when they visited Sharif and that Sharif could have talked to them via his cellular phone. Regarding his source of funding, Ponce says that he has funds from up to 20 patents that he received while working as a chemist in Cd. Juárez maquilas. However Sharif says that he does not own the patents and that the companies that employed him own the rights. He says he doesn’t even have enough money to pay his attorney.

The cellular phones that Sharif owned are some of the many items in his cell that came under great media and authority scrutiny. How was it that a convicted murderer and rapist was in possession of two fax machines, a refrigerator, a VCR, a television, a microwave, a heating and cooling system, and an extensive collection of information on the murders of women in his prison cell? Although this arsenal outraged many there are those who say this is not, in fact, surprising. Many prisoners may be in ownership of such luxuries and for some this is just further proof that the penal system in this border metropolis struggles with corruption.

Prisoners Respond To The Escalating Tension

Tensions at the Center for Social Rehabilitation (CERESO) continued to rise as a result of the problems with Sharif, his possessions, and the groups of suspects — “Los Rebeldes” and the bus drivers — who were both demanding justice and complaining of abuse. On April 8, although accounts vary as to which happened first, Abelardo González Rentería, the prison director stepped down and the prisoners staged a riot. While there were some prisoners chanting for the return of “Professor González,” according to El DiarioEl Paso Timesreported that the prisoners did not like González. “The disturbance at the prison was caused by the politics inside. A lot of them didn’t like the warden,” or that prisoners could get special privileges, according to Gerardo Márquez, a Juárez police operator.

What is clear is that González requested his temporary removal from his position while his “special” treatment of Sharif Sharif was investigated. Juárez Mayor Gustavo Elizondo Aguilar granted the request concerned that the director was to blame for the corruption that lead to Sharif’s possession of so many luxuries and his alleged ability to direct a crime spree from his cell. Governor Martínez expressed the same concerns.

Andrés Mendoza Molina has been named as the new director of the Cd. Juárez prison. He was formerly director of a prison in Cd. Chihuahua during Francisco Barrio’s governorship of Chihuahua. Both Sharif and Guardado have been taken out of the Cd. Juárez facility and moved to the prison in Cd. Chihuahua.

Praise And Condemnation: Who Are The Heroes?

In the mean time, the police authorities were being praised by community members and officials alike, including Governor Martínez, for solving the murders of women in Cd. Juárez. This is interesting in light of the fact that only a possible six to twelve murders may have been solved with the arrest of these suspects, when more than 180 murders have occurred in the last six years, and the majority of them remain unsolved.

On the other hand not all of the community was prepared to congratulate the authorities. An editorial cartoon published earlier in the month portrayed a slovenly police officer napping in a hammock with his hand, palm up, sticking out and a bird falling from the sky right “into the palm of his hand.” The question inferred: And if the sister of Guardado’s wife had not called the police?

Formal complaints against the State Attorney General and the State Police (PJE) were filed on April 17 by the five suspects with the State Commission of Human Rights (CEDE). The agency could not reveal the details of the complaints because of confidentiality rules. However, the statements made at a press conference earlier this month regarding police brutality and obstruction of justice will be included in the report. The CEDE recently made a statement that there investigations are so far inconclusive as to whether the suspects had been improperly treated.

Esther Chávez Cano, a leading NGO spokesperson, has not yet found “tranquility” in the recent turn of events. Chávez says there remains many unanswered questions “We don’t want suspects just pulled out of their sleeves, the authorities have not yet cleaned up their images. It is necessary to deeply analyze the investigations.” She points out that “Los Rebeldes” have been in prison without conclusions. “There are many doubts,” she said.

Cano and other NGOs have questioned the authorities taking credit for “capturing” Guardado. “It was pure luck that they found him at all.” There is no reason, according to the NGOs, to have renewed confidence in the government.

Lest We Forget All The Victims And Their Families

Family members of the suspects are also unhappy with the police work and have staged continued protests denouncing the actions of the authorities. They claim that the rights of the suspects have been violated and that the suspects could not possibly be guilty of the crimes they have been accused of, in fact some family members presented alibis. Cristina Córdova Rodríguez, wife of Gaspar Ceballos Chávez “El Gaspy” says that her husband had only worked as a bus driver for the last month and didn’t even know any of the suspects. “The only thing we are sure of is that they beat him for something he did not do.” Many of the suspects’ relatives reported that the suspects were taken violently from their homes.

But while family members of these suspects were protesting, family members of many of the victims were forced to re-live the crimes that took their loved ones from them. Details of past crimes were republished, as were photographs of many of the victims. Although this angle may have been a means of presenting comparisons and contrasts to the public, and to raise possible connections, it forced many families to see their deceased loved ones’ photos in the paper once again.

Many family members expressed hopes that the cases would be solved giving them the desperately needed closure on the travesties that wrecked havoc of their lives. Others fear that missing women who have not yet been found may never be, or may be the next body that turns up.

Another striking occurrence in the continued media reporting of this story was El Diarios publication of excerpts of suspects’ confessions. Alleged accounts from both members of “Los Rebeldes” and the bus drivers were published in El Diario three days running. These crime stories were so detailed and abhorrent it was hard to believe anyone could have made them up. On the other hand, they were so detailed it is hard to believe that anyone but experienced story tellers could have produced such consistent narratives. Is the public served, the families, by having access to such lurid accounting?

The Maquiladoras React

In the meantime, the maquilas in the region came under fire for hiring underage workers (which Nancy and other victims were) for not following federal employment guidelines for workers ages 14-16 and for hiring drivers or contracting transportation companies that hire drivers that may be drug users or have criminal records. Chauffeurs licenses are not supposed to be available to such applicants, and no one without a license should be operating public busses.

It was originally reported that Motores Eléctricos would be filing suit against Nancy for taking the employment position under false pretenses: she had presented the identification of a 17-year- old acquaintance upon being hired. It was also reported that the company said they could provide no compensation to her because of the incorrect identification.

The NGOs and the community were aghast at this, especially considering the impoverished circumstances of Nancy’s family and so many other maquila workers. The El Paso Times reported that the although the company was not suing her, according to Chuck Wright, spokesperson for A.O. Smith in Milwaukee, and wanted to help the girl, it did acknowledge that a claim had been filed. Motores Eléctricos, through the Chihuahua state labor inspector’s office, had ordered Nancy to appear at the labor tribunal office in Juárez on a legal matter involved her using someone else’s birth certificate. Wright did say, however, that there is no legal action being sought, and no charges will be pressed. This was still being negotiated as of April 28 according to El Diario.

María Dolores Leoni, spokesperson for the Academy of Human Rights said that it is alarming to see the way violence against women has increased. The businesses do not take into consideration the danger that hundreds of young women face in order to be employed. Thousands of women contribute to the economic development of this city but are not protected by their employers. It is sad that the woman are seen only as cheap reliable and skilled labor. It is time the industries take care of their own.

Victims Will Receive Compensation

However, Motores Eléctricos has definitely offered to pay Nancy’s medical expenses and wages during her recovery period. Victoria Caraveo, from Mujeres por Juárez, said that the organization will help Nancy with legal difficulties should she request their assistance.

Assistance was also offered to Nancy by the city of Cd. Juárez and the state of Chihuahua in the form of scholarships, however no details have been approved. The same was offered to Flores, Guardado’s wife, whose testimony about her husband proved helpful to the authorities, and now both she and her sister will be rewarded for doing so.

Nancy, Guardado’s wife and her sister will be receiving the $5,000 reward offered by Governor Martínez earlier this year for evidence leading to the arrest of the criminal responsible for crimes against woman.

Employees Receive Protection

Maquilas have taken some positive and productive measures to prove their dedication to protecting their employees, many of whom are female. Motores Fasco has provided their 240 female employees with cans of pepper spray. Controles de Presíon has provided employees with whistles.

Additionally, the Association of Maquilas (AMAC) sponsored a visit by the Bay Area Model Mugging (BAMM) out of the California. This group discussed their self defense training program and will be designing programs as advised for the different maquilas in the area.

According to Roberto Urreo, the president of AMAC, the Maquiladora Association, “The criticism that we are not doing anything for our workers is false. We are actively working with the authorities to see what we can contribute in an efficient manner.” He said that they are looking for expedient ways to improve the transportation problems.

Likewise, the government demanded that the hiring practices of businesses be reviewed. Some 40 cases of underage people working illegally were reported to be discovered although the governor’s office, according to El Paso Times, declined to identify the businesses involved.

Night shifts are going to be inspected by the Federal Employment and Social Security Department to make sure that underage workers are not on these shifts. New work permits will be suspended until businesses can guarantee their employees have proper security. Personnel and human resource directors are being advised to check all identifications very carefully. Also, drug tests are being required for bus drivers.

Even The Top Authorities Can’t Agree

And, finally, as the month wore on, and the public may still have been struggling with who to believe, the ultimate quandary arose. Some of the highest security authorities from both the U.S. and México can not agree on who said what.

In late April, Zuly Ponce, director of the Special Office to Investigate Crimes Against Women, announced that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation had completed their promised second visit to assist in the investigation of the murders of women. According to Ponce, the agents concluded that Sharif Sharif definitely carries the traits of psychopath and is likely to be a serial killer. Ponce said that the FBI agents concluded that Sharif is a very organized delinquent, that he is manipulative, that he has a dangerous level of intelligence and that he is a key player in every sense of the word.

Within a day, the FBI flatly denied Ponce’s statements. According to Alvaro Cruz, FBI spokesperson in El Paso, “We emphatically deny that the FBI supports any of Ponce’s statements. We categorically deny that agents of the special prosecutor’s office were authorized to publish any such statements. We officially detach ourselves from any of these comments.”

And The Good News

During the month of April, desert searches were performed by NGO’s and Ponce’s office, but to date, April was the first month in 1999 in which no new victims of murder were reported. We can only speculate what this means, but let us hope for the best and that no more women will have to be added to list of 186 who have been murdered in Cd. Juárez.

Sources: El DiarioEl NorteEl Paso Times

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