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