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The startling true story of Mexico’s “Old Lady Killer”

“It must be a man.”

That what police thought when a serial killer stalked Mexico City’s older women in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

The sheer strength needed to manually strangle people – even the elderly – decided it. Le Mataviejitas, or the “Old Lady Killer” was most definitely a man.

Even when witnesses reported seeing a woman leave the scene of some of the murders, the law was unconvinced. Police instead focused on transvestites. Mexico City’s transvestite prostitutes were detained and questioned, suffering through a brutal, humiliating investigation.

Who knows how long this would have gone on if not for a tenant with incredible timing. In January 2006, a man arrived at his rental home, nearly bumping into the killer. Discovering his landlord, 82-year-old Ana María de los Reyes Alfaro, dead on the floor, he immediately called police, giving a detailed description of the attacker.

Police rushed to the scene and were finally able to nab the real Old Lady Killer, who – to everyone’s astonishment – was a woman.

Granted, Juana Barraza, 48, was not your average woman. The single mother of four could bench press over 200 pounds repeatedly, completing multiple sets of ten. That’s a tremendous show of strength for any gender.

Barraza wasn’t leading a double life, but a triple one. At night she entertained audiences as The Silent Lady, a professional wrestler in the sport of luche libra – Mexican masked wrestling. Wearing a butterfly mask and hot-pink spandex, she was a stunning sight in more ways than one.

The Silent Lady

Like many serial killers, Barraza had endured a horrific childhood. When she was just 12 years old, her alcoholic mother traded her to a drinking buddy for the princely sum of three beers. Barraza was reportedly abused repeatedly by the man, who treated her as his own personal sex slave. By the time she began murdering older women, her own mother was already dead. Many believe the killings were her way of dealing with lingering resentment toward the parent who’d betrayed her.

While fingerprint evidence connects Barraza to “only” 11 of the murders, she is believed responsible for killing between 24 to 49 elderly women.

“I only killed one little old lady. Not the others,” Barraza told the Mexican court during her first appearance in February, 2008. “It isn’t right to pin the others on me.” Asked to reveal her motive, she said, “I got angry.”

If only the police had believed witnesses’ reports earlier in the investigation! How many lives could have been saved?

***

Cat CavendishIn honour of Women in Horror month, I’ll be introducing you to a writer each week in February. Catherine Cavendish, a horror writer from North Wales, crafts her spooky fiction from the perfect setting – a haunted house.

Cavendish’s The Pendle Curse, which is a riveting witch tale partly inspired by true events, blew my mind so much that I gave it five stars (and I’m pretty picky).

Her latest book, The Devil’s Serenade, will be released this April.

What makes her writing awesome: She managed to take a tired subject – witches – and make it fresh and scary again.

Why she’s awesome IRL: She loves wandering around Neolithic stone circles (don’t we all?) and visiting other haunted houses.

You can find out more about Cavendish on her website or read the creepy post she did on London’s Haunted Underground right here on this blog.

Who’s your favourite female author? Bonus points if they write horror! 

1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.

40 Comments

  1. Great headline. That was “startling”! As for women horror authors, I’m a lifetime fan of Shirley Jackson, ever since I first read her when I was in middle school. I used to really love Anne Rice, though she’s jumped a few sharks in her day. Makes me realize I need to look for someone new in this category.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Samantha! Welcome back to the blog.

      Kudos for naming two female horror authors – sadly, that’s more than most people can do. But yes, you definitely need an upgrade. 🙂 Those two have been out of the genre for a while.

      Reply
  2. That was one tough broad. She could’ve bench pressed me easy.

    Reply
    • Yikes! This is pretty scary thank you!

      I’ve never really been into horror stories but one which was scary enough was PD James: the Children of Men; also Margaret Attwood: The Handmaid’s Tale.

      Reply
      • JH

        @ Susan: Not into horror stories, Susan? *gasp!* What do you call this blog? 😉

        Haven’t heard of the PD James one, but The Handmaid’s Tale was definitely disturbing. I’d say it qualifies.

        Reply
    • JH

      @ Alex: And thrown you through the wall, most likely. I’ve heard she had a pretty mean chokehold as well.

      I’m guessing no one’s messing with her in prison.

      Reply
  3. The psychological damage that happens to children come out in their messed up adult years. You’re my favorite female horror writer, Holli. Keep writing! Enjoy your fabulous writing retreats this summer!

    Mary at Play off the Page

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, thanks so much, Mary! I’m very happy to hear that.

      And I agree…child abuse has ramifications for years, if not generations, to come.

      Reply
  4. I wonder if her victims were random? She said she “gets angry” so was it spontaneous or did she stalk those poor women?

    Definitely going to check out those books! Too many authors to pick a favorite, but two female authors/titles that popped into my head – THE NIGHT SISTER by Jennifer McMahon was creepy gothic and BONES AND ALL by Camille DeAngelis – dark and weird.

    Reply
    • JH

      Ooh, those sound great, Madeline! I’ll add them to my TBR list. I love gothic novels.

      I believe her victims were random – victims of opportunity, as they say. She strangled the last with a stethoscope her victim had lying around. She would get into the women’s houses by posing as a City worker who wanted to sign them up for benefits.

      Reply
  5. The evil sown in the lives of children return a bitter harvest doesn’t it? Sad to think of how terrified those older ladies were when it happened. How many lives could have been saved if only the Police looked at the facts alone. 🙁

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Roland. There are many times when someone could have intervened, making a huge positive difference in many lives.

      Reply
  6. Even after witnesses said they say a woman leaving the crime scene, they were still stupid enough to think it was a man? They never looked into the murder possibly being a woman. *shakes head*

    I like that your introducing us to Women in Horror for the month. And I could never think witches is a tired subject. 😉 I love witches!

    Reply
    • JH

      Well, like vampires and zombies, they’ve been written about A LOT. But someone will always find a new approach. 🙂

      The myth of female weakness has been greatly exaggerated.

      Reply
  7. Talk about thinking women are to frail to commit such crimes? The police need a slap in the head. What happened to this woman when she was young is horrible but there are so many (unfortunately) that have suffered equally horrible tales and did not become serial killers. These nuts have no soul and have the presence of mind to no what they are doing is not right. Aside from the women being old, what other traits did they have? Did this B*&th single certain ones out or was it just random? This book about witches sounds really good.

    Reply
    • JH

      The book about witches is great, Birgit. I would not steer you wrong!

      As far as I know, the women were targeted for their age. I haven’t heard about any other commonalities between them.

      Reply
  8. After what she went through, it doesn’t surprise me who her victims were. A lot of serial killers kill others who are surrogates to who they really want to kill and sometimes do eventually kill.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s true…or that’s their excuse, in any case. I don’t necessarily buy that Ted Bundy killed all those women because he hated his ex-girlfriend.

      Reply
  9. I can’t imagine people murdering or even harming sweet old ladies. This happens all too often and it’s just disturbing to me. Murder never makes sense, I guess…

    Reply
    • JH

      You get to a certain age and think you’re safe from this kind of thing, but no – you’re never too old to be a victim of rape or murder, sadly.

      Reply
  10. Who’s my favourite horror author? Hmmm…Let me see.
    Wait…J.H. Moncrieff, of course!
    As for the Old Lady Killer, I wonder if the victims’ ages had something to do with the police not investigating these crimes properly, too. Were these victims not deemed as important because they were elderly women nearing the end of their life span?
    With Mexican authorities, nothing would surprise me. Especially considering the number of Canadians who mysteriously fall off of balconies on resorts, and the police position is always, ‘oh, it was an accident’.

    Reply
    • JH

      Aw, thanks Lisa! Very kind of you to say.

      That’s a good point. From everything I was able to find in my research, it does appear this was a serious investigation and the police were driven to find the killer.

      Unfortunately, they just couldn’t fathom the murder might have been a woman.

      Reply
  11. I know we shouldn’t assume, especially when you’re given a description of a woman like in this case, but did the descriptions include “she was huge” or anything that would have given them a reason to accept it could be a woman.

    Most serial killers are guys. And most women aren’t big enough to strangle someone in the way she was. I don’t mean to excuse their mistake but I can see how they made it. I wouldn’t have believed it was a woman without someone specifically mentioning she was as large as a guy.

    Reply
    • JH

      She wasn’t described as large, to my knowledge – just as a woman. The police decided the witness accounts were wrong, and that a woman couldn’t possibly be strong enough.

      Female serial killers are much more common than we’ve been led to believe. Nurses who kill their patients; women who murder their children and husband after husband for material gain…somehow they’re able to escape notice while everyone calls Aileen Wuornos the only female serial killer.

      Reply
  12. Hell has no wrath as a woman scorned?

    Reply
    • JH

      So true!

      Reply
  13. Female serial killers have been rare in the past. I think they will become more prevelant now. The world is a horrific place with all the terrorism – and women are complicit in that too.

    Reply
    • JH

      As I mentioned in my response to Ranting Monkey, they’re no where near as rare as people think. They just don’t get mentioned very often, but there have always been female serial killers.

      Reply
  14. Fascinating post about Juana Barraza, J.H. – and thank you so much for the mention!

    Reply
    • JH

      You’re very welcome, Cat! Well deserved. Good luck with your new release.

      Reply
  15. Love, love, love these posts! Fact is always more bizarre and interesting than fiction.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Hunter! I’m glad you enjoy them.

      Reply
  16. I love these true life horror stories! Keep them coming.
    Speaking of serial killers, I just started watching Dexter. I know. Very, very late to the party.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks, Dianne! I only watched Dexter a few times…I’ve been meaning to revisit it.

      Reply
    • JH

      I aim to please. 😉

      Reply
  17. Wow! A luche libra! Cool getup too. You know, whats it like less then 1% of serial killers are female? I’d heard that but unsure – that and they tend to be more violent. I find serial killers weirdly interesting. I hadn’t heard of this one!

    Reply
    • JH

      I’d be really surprised if it’s as low as 1 percent, but not as much as if people CLAIM it’s that low. There are a lot of female serial killers that for some reason aren’t counted as such.

      Reply
  18. Very interesting case! Sometimes the seemingly odd answer really is the right answer. Thanks for the great blog. Will definitely check out your books and keep coming back. Kudos from rural Alaska.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Kelli! The words of encouragement are so needed and appreciated right now.

      Reply

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