Sunday, March 25, 2007

Luchadora: Juana Barraza Samperio, Mataviejitas

Luchadora: Juana Barraza Samperio, Mataviejitas

Mataviejitas ("old lady killer") is the name given by the press in Mexico to Juana Barraza Samperio, a serial killer operating within the metropolitan area of Mexico City until January 25th, 2006.

The first murder attributed to Mataviejitas has been dated variously to the late 1990s and to a specific killing on November 17th, 2003. The authorities and the press have given various estimates as to the total number of the killer's victims, with estimated totals ranging from 24 to 49 deaths.

All the murderer's victims were adult women aged 60 or over, most of whom lived alone. Murder was by bludgeoning or strangulation, and the killer invariably robbed the victims. In a number of cases, police said, evidence of sexual abuse was also found.

Bernardo Bátiz, the chief prosecutor in Mexico City, described Mataviejitas as having "a brilliant mind, [being] quite clever and careful", and probably struck after a period spent gaining the trust of an intended victim. Officers investigating the killer's modus operandi suspected that Mataviejitas posed as a government official offering the chance to sign up to welfare programs.

The search for Mataviejitas was complicated by conflicting evidence. At one point the police hypothesized that two killers might be involved, and attention was also drawn to the odd coincidence that at least three of the killer's victims owned a print of an 18th century painting, Boy in Red Waistcoat, by the French artist Jean-Baptiste Greuze

The authorities were heavily criticized by the media for dismissing evidence that a serial killer was at work in Mexico City as merely "media sensationalism" as late as the summer of 2005. Soon after setting an investigation in motion, the police incurred further criticism by launching what one journalist described as a "ham-fisted" and unproductive swoop on Mexico City's transvestite prostitutes.

By November 2005, the Mexican authorities were reporting witness statements to the effect that the killer wore women's clothing to gain access to the victim's apartments. In one case a large woman in a red blouse was seen leaving the home of a murdered woman. Two months later, police began checking the fingerprints of bodies in the city's morgues in the apparent belief that Mataviejitas might have committed suicide.

A major breakthrough in the case occurred on 25 January 2006, when a suspect was arrested fleeing from the home of the serial killer's latest victim, Ana María de los Reyes Alfaro, who lived in the Venustiano Carranza borough of Mexico City. Alfaro, 82, had been strangled with a stethoscope.

To the surprise of many Mexicans, who had supposed the killer to be male, the suspect detained was Juana Barraza, 48, a female wrestler known professionally as The Silent Lady. Barraza closely resembled a model of the killer's features, which showed Mataviejitas with close-cropped hair dyed blonde and a facial mole, and was carrying a stethoscope, pension forms and a card identifying her as a social worker when she was detained.

Mexico City prosecutors said fingerprint evidence linked Barraza to at least 10 murders. The wrestler is said to have confessed to murdering Alfaro and three other women, but denied involvement in all other killings. She told reporters she had visited Alfaro's home in search of laundry work. "You'll know why I did it when you read my statement to police," she added.

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