- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico Two arrests in the mass murder of eight young Mexican women are being met with skepticism and anger in this sprawling industrial city just across the border from El Paso, Texas.

Hardly anyone takes at face value the prosecution's case against two bus drivers charged with raping and strangling the women, whose bodies were found in November five in a single shallow grave and three more buried nearby. Most local people assume the killings will continue.

"Nobody believes they are guilty," said Celia de la Rosa whose daughter Guadalupe was missing for 16 months before her body was tentatively identified as one of the eight. "Sooner or later they will find more bodies."

The bodies were found Nov. 6 in a mass grave in one of the many waste areas that dot this city of assembly-for-export factories, strip malls and shanty towns. The discovery brought to 76 the number of killings that fit the profile of a serial murderer out of a total of 266 women murdered since 1993.

All 76 have been lanky, dark-skinned young women or even girls. They all worked in the factories except for Guadalupe, 19, who was a student.

But this time the victims were not found spread out over time in ones or twos in Juarez's desert hinterland, but within 24 hours all in the same place relatively close to the center of town.

"It was a tremendous shock, something that stays in your chest like a painful sigh," said Alfredo Limas, the head of the gender studies department at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez.

Under immense pressure, the police acted quickly, and within four days they had confessions from two bus drivers nicknamed El Cerillo (the match), and La Foca (the seal). The case was apparently resolved, and soon the prosecution was distributing a video selling its success to the public with dramatic images of the corpses.

But this only fueled suspicions that the objective was to secure scapegoats, rather than fully investigate the serial killings in a city also known for gangland murders among drug traffickers.

Oscar Maynez, a former chief forensics investigator who resigned over the way the case was being handled, said it is "an absurdly structured case with no physical evidence whatsoever."

He said painstaking searches of the suspected murder vehicle revealed nothing that might link the defendants to the victims. The police now say the van contained female hairs that are being tested.

With public opinion so skeptical about the latest arrests, dark theories are circulating as to who is really behind the murders, with many assuming that the Juarez drug cartel, one of the most powerful in Mexico, must be linked in some way.

"Obviously, this is partly about sexual hatred, but there has to be something else involved too," said Mr. Limas, who believes there is evidence indicating it could be linked to narco-satanic ritual.

Prosecutor Jose Manuel Ortega denied the claim and complained that media sensationalism and "vile lies" have cast a scandalous shadow over the police investigation. For Mr. Ortega, aside from the confessions, the core of the prosecution's case lies in the history.

"It all goes back to the Egyptian," he said. Abel Latif Sharif, an engineer of Egyptian origin working in Juarez, was arrested in 1995, two years after the bodies began to turn up.

When the murders continued, police arrested members of a youth gang called Los Rebeldes on the theory that Mr. Sharif was paying them to continue the killings and strengthen his alibi, Mr. Ortega said.

Three years and many bodies later, the same logic led to the arrest of a bus driver known as El Tolteca and his group of four colleagues, who were dubbed Los Toltecas.

For eight months after that, it seemed like the nightmare was over, and even when, little by little, raped and strangled women began reappearing in the desert, nobody took much notice. That was until November's mass grave put the issue back on the front pages.

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