- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

EL PASO, Texas Hundreds of young women have been murdered in the past decade in and around the Mexican city of Cuidad Juarez, just across the border from here.

Many observers on both sides of the Rio Grande citing generations of less-than-professional law enforcement said little has been done to solve most of these murder cases. Critics say that law-enforcement personnel covered up or stifled the investigations, and that authorities have made little effort to identify the victims.

Chihuahua Deputy Attorney General Elfego Bencomo Lopez recently gave the victims' families a glimmer of hope when he told reporters that his investigative staff would welcome any and all help from outside Mexico.

"What most interests us," he told a Dallas Morning News reporter in early December, "for example, in the case of the FBI, is scientific analysis that will give us more evidence."

About three years ago, FBI profilers were sent to Cuidad Juarez to study the problem. They reported that serial killers were responsible for many of the deaths, but told authorities that further analysis would be needed. They were not invited back.

Robert K. Ressler, a former FBI profiler who is now a criminologist heading a forensics and analysis firm in Spotsylvania, Va., was hired by the Mexican government in 1998 to review the cases and recommend how the investigations should proceed.

He concluded that several serial murderers were involved, some possibly operating out of El Paso. Local investigators said there was "absolutely no evidence" to corroborate that.

But while local FBI authorities politely answer questions about cooperation with Mexican authorities, they probably haven't forgotten a serious breach of confidentiality that occurred about 14 months ago.

A secret FBI report was leaked, endangering the lives of those who supplied the bureau with information about the death of 17-year-old Lilia Alejandra Garcia Andrade. Miss Garcia was abducted on Valentine's Day as she left her job at an assembly plant in Cuidad Juarez. Her body was found several days later.

The informants came to the El Paso FBI office, the officials said, after first reporting to Mexican authorities, who ignored their information.

The FBI report was sent to Suly Ponce, then in charge of the investigation for the Mexican Special Prosecutors' Office. It is believed someone in that office leaked the information to a Mexico City newspaper.

After the story broke, people posing as FBI agents scurried around the Juarez neighborhood trying to find the witnesses. The terrified witnesses reportedly left the area.

"One of the disadvantages in trying to investigate matters in Juarez is the existence of public corruption," said Headrick Crawford Jr., an FBI special agent-in-charge in El Paso.

The report said that Miss Garcia was abducted by hit men working for a well-known drug dealer named "Raul," and that she was held in captivity for several days and raped, tortured and mutilated. The report gave the address of the dealer's business, a description of the car in which she was last seen and information on how the victim and dealer had once talked of her working for him.

Mrs. Ponce rejected the FBI report as "groundless" but later found herself caught up in a bizarre situation concerning the killing.

Originally, police figured some circus roustabouts might have killed Miss Garcia. Her body was discovered across the street from the Juarez Plaza Mall, where a circus was performing.

The circus owners said that Mrs. Ponce offered them money to accuse fellow workers in the girl's death. Mrs. Ponce denied the accusations and closed the investigation.

After several bodies were found in the vicinity in November 2001, concerned relatives traveled to the site to look for clues.

Members of the group, called the Coalition Against Women and Families on the Border, were appalled when they found, almost without much effort, women's underwear, shoes, tufts of hair and other possible evidence.

Several Juarez cops, including some said to have been involved in these investigations, were fired last year. Others were transferred to other states.

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