- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2001

JUAREZ, Mexico Two recent developments have made law enforcement officials hopeful that a decade-long murder spree that has terrorized this border city may soon be ending.

Worldwide publicity harmful to the tourist industry apparently has forced Mexican authorities to deal with corruption within the police, a move that has resulted in the firing of high-level cops in this burgeoning city just south of El Paso.

Many who were asked to undergo polygraph tests refused and were fired, a law enforcement source claimed. Some failed the tests and were charged.

One source told The Washington Times as many as 500 "dirty" cops had been replaced. El Paso police Detective Jesus Terrones, who is that department's liaison with the Juarez police, says he believes only 10 or 15 were so affected in Juarez, and "no more than 100 statewide."

The other development seems to be a serious attempt to recruit more informants sometimes offering them an equivalent of the U.S. Witness Protection Program.

Nearly 200 young women have been murdered in and around Juarez in the past eight years, and nearly that many men, women and children have vanished, including 22 American citizens. Most of the female victims were employees of the several large maquiladoras foreign-owned assembly plants.

The official explanation at least until the numbers mounted to dizzying heights and human rights agencies in several nations began questioning the police role was that the numbers were inflated.

A former El Paso law enforcement officer told The Washington Times that authorities are now dealing with two informants: They are hopeful one can come up with information about several of the women's murders; the other helped pinpoint the location of a mass burial ground a few miles outside the city reportedly used by onetime cartel chieftain Amado Carillo Fuentes' drug operatives.

In late 1999, Mexican officials asked the FBI to help dig at another site a burial ground said to have been the final resting place for as many as 100 narcotics "players" and informants. After several days of digging with heavy equipment, only eight bodies were uncovered. The FBI was involved in the forensic investigation.

Some see the hope for better relations with the United States as the motivating force behind recent changes.

Mexico's new president, Vicente Fox, "knows he cannot hope for improved relations, cannot expect American tourists to come here with confidence unless something is done to clean up this mess, our mess," said Raul Ordenez, who runs a small restaurant within blocks of the U.S.-Mexico bridge.

Mexican leaders called in well-known serial-murder profilers Robert Ressler and Dr. Candice Skrapek to determine whether the women's murders had been the work of one or more killers. Both determined that several murderers were probably involved.

Mr. Ressler, longtime supervisory profiler at the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico, Va., until he began his own criminology consulting firm in Spotsylvania, Va., said it was clear that he had been hired by Mexico because of the effects of adverse publicity.

A group called the Association of Relatives and Friends of Disappeared Persons operated in near obscurity until late 1999, when Mexican authorities, explaining that they had an important informant a former cop asked the FBI for help on four ranches near here.

Since then, the group's founder and director, Jaime Hervella, 71, has been very visible, confronting leading Mexican politicians and police officers and demanding that a "serious investigation" be made into the disappearances.

"All these years they have lied to us," Mr. Hervella said last week. "First they denied, then they maligned the reputations of those missing or killed. Maybe now there is hope."

Mr. Hervella's group had continually asked for police reports on the missing people, but the group had never received a reply. Last week, he said, that changed.

"Look at this," he grinned, shoving several documents to this reporter. "This is the first time they have acknowledged one of our requests for information and here it is. Just one case. But it's a start.

"I think the new group is sincere," he said, "that they are going to investigate the disappeared people and that they are waiting for their numbers to gain strength enough to do the job."

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