Transcript: 87. La Mataviejitas (Juana Barraza) | Mexico

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Arena México in Mexico City plays host to one of the country's most loved spectacles: Lucha Libre. This is Mexican masked wrestling – a popular form of entertainment. It is staged wrestling with cartoonish costumes and larger than life characters, or Luchadors. They put up a show that is part comedy, part drama, part action, part extravaganza. 

Fighting matches in the 1990s were much the same as they are today. Before the night kicked off, dancers took the floor, to make sure the crowd's attention was on the ring in the centre of the arena. Then the Luchadors emerged from the dressing rooms, making their way to the ring with great fanfare, using over-the-top acrobatics and shadow fighting moves. The announcer blared out their names, and the beer-fuelled crowd roared in approval.

La Dama del Silencio entered: she was wearing her trademark pink and silver-striped bodysuit with knee-high silver boots. A world-championship belt was flung over her shoulder like a beauty queen's sash, and a butterfly mask covered her face. In her fighting career, she had fought legendary fighters like La Parka, Latin Lover, Charly Manson and Sacred Mask Jr. Her stature was tall and robust, a masculine build that was in stark contrast to the pink and silver costume. 

Despite extravagant fighting rituals and comedic choreography, La Dama del Silencio took her role very seriously. Behind the butterfly mask, was a single mother of four who did what she could to provide for her family. And Lucha Libre paid well.

She won most of her matches and had many fans. Sadly she was forced to retire due to an injury. Desperate for money, she took odd jobs, domestic work and so on, while still promoting Lucha Libre matches.  

But she lacked excitement in her life – the adrenalin of overpowering one's opponent in the ring, hearing them beg for mercy… There was nothing quite like it. Not after a lifetime of falling victim to abuse.

La Dama del Silencio would soon find a new pastime, a far more sinister one than wrestling… She became Mexico City's most notorious serial killer: La Matavietjas. This is her story…

>> Intro Music

Juana Dayanara Barraza Samperio was born on the 27th of December 1957 in Epazoyucan, Hidalgo – north of Mexico City. Her mother, Justa Samperio, an alcoholic sex worker, was very young when she had Juana. Her father, Trinidad Barraza, was a drunk philanderer who according to one interview, had fathered over 30 children throughout the years. He met Justa when she was only 13. Trinidad was 18 years-old and seeing as Justa didn't have much of a home, he offered to take her in. Trinidad did odd jobs and eventually became a police officer. 

The couple lived together for four years, and in this time had two children, first baby Ángela and two years later Juana. Justa left Trinidad when Juana was only a couple of months old for a married man, Refugio Samperio. She left two-year-old Angela in the care of family and took baby Juana with her.

It was a very unusual situation. Refugio had been involved with Justa's mother but had turned his attention to his stepdaughter instead. He raised Justa's baby Juana as if she were his own child, and she took his last name: Samperio. Juana's biological father, Trinidad, did not feature in her life at all, she barely knew him. 

Justa became an alcoholic who had little empathy with her daughter or her two younger children, fathered by Refugio. Juana hardly ever spoke to her mother while she was a toddler. They lived in poverty and Juana was not allowed to go and play outside. Refugio also prevented her from receiving an education. He felt it was a waste of time for girls to go to school only to become housewives. Because of this, Juana never received formal schooling and could not read or write anything else but her name.

If Juana's early years were bad, things got a lot worse when she turned 13. Her mother, who always had strange men around the house, sold her to 40-year-old José Lugo in exchange for three beers. 

Lugo used Juana for sex, and in the four years that followed, he raped her repeatedly. She fell pregnant by him: once when she was 13 and again at 16 – but she lost both babies. At 18, Juana fell pregnant a third time and had her first child, a son, José Enrique. She would eventually have four children – all of them by different fathers.

A couple of months after José was born, Juana was rescued. Sources vary about who saved her: it was either her stepfather Refugio or his brothers who showed up at Lugo's house and refused to leave without her. 

Shortly after, her mother died of liver cirrhosis. Juana felt nothing, seeing as she never had any form of attachment to Justa. On the contrary, she harboured a strong resentment towards her mother for the years of abuse in José Lugo's home. If Justa hadn't sold her, she would have been spared tremendous trauma. With Justa no longer alive, Juana took her son and moved to Mexico City.

In Mexico City, she had two serious relationships, one after the other, but both men were violent drunks who beat her. Juana left both men and tried to make it on her own for a while, then she met Miguel Ángel Barrios García, and for the first time, the future looked promising. They married when Juana was 23 years old and had a daughter named Erika Erandi Barrios Barraza. However, the happiness didn't last, and the couple separated four years later. 

Juana looked after her two children as well as she could. She worked in a chocolate factory for a while, then decided to become a street vendor instead. She went on to sell clothes, but that didn't work out. She later recalled why:

"I worked with my boss, we used to sew pants and sell them at the Soledad cinema. One day we delivered the merchandise, and because of a mistake I made, he slapped me."

Juana moved on and took some domestic cleaning jobs and managed to keep her young family fed. 

When she was 30, her stepfather Refugio died. This was devastating, as Juana felt he was the only one she could ever count on.

Fortunately, in the same year, she found love again. She met Félix Juárez Ramírez, and they ended up living together for more than 10 years. They had two children together: José Marvin and Emma Ivonne Juárez Barraza. 

For a while life was good for Juana, Félix and her four children, but like so many things in Juana's life, this wasn't meant to last. She left Félix when she was 42, and stayed in Mexico City. She was a single, illiterate mother with four kids between the ages of six and twenty-one. Juana decided she was done with men and was dead-set on giving her children the home she never had: a calm and stable environment. She dressed conservatively and never stood out in a crowd. In fact, señora Juana Barraza became the polar opposite of what her mother was. Her shy nature caused her to keep to herself, and she focussed all her love and energy on her kids.

But tragedy was looming… Juana's eldest son, José Enrique, who was of great help to her, died after a physical altercation while he was being mugged. He was beaten to death with a baseball bat. He was only 24 years old. Juana would often reflect on this saying his death was the saddest moment of her life. 

Her second child, Erika, married young and left home. She lived near her mother, and by all accounts, they had a stable relationship. In the 1990s, Juana still had her two youngest children, José and Emma, with her.

In 1998, murders of elderly people in Mexico City were on the rise. The public feared that there was a serial killer on the loose, but police said the crimes were unrelated. Juana lived in the neighbourhood where the serial killer struck, but she was not overly concerned, as she had other worries to deal with. 

Working as a vendor and taking the odd cleaning job did not give her a lot of money, and she was struggling to get by. Juana found herself in a desperate situation and decided to resort to committing petty crimes. She started with shoplifting, then robbing stores when they were closed and eventually moved on to robbing homes. Then she sold the stolen goods on the street.

Juana also had a friend, Araceli Tapia Martínez who acted as her accomplice. In 1996, they came up with a plan to target elderly women who lived alone. They dressed as nurses to gain their trust so they could access their homes. Once inside, one of them would keep the unassuming victim company, while the other one took items around the house. The victims only realised what had happened when they were long gone.

This hustle worked well for a while. However, Araceli had her own agenda. She was friends with a corrupt police officer, Moisés Flores Domínguez and together they hatched a plan to double-cross Juana. After a robbery Juana had committed by herself, Flores waited for her outside the home, knowing she'd be there. He told her to give him 12,000 pesos, or else he would arrest her. 

Juana needed to get money to pay off Flores. She couldn't risk robbing homes any longer, as he kept a vigilant eye on her. It would take forever to pay him off, seeing as she did not have much money at all. As a single mother, her main concern was providing for her kids. She took a job, selling chocolates and popcorn at Mexico Arena. Although the pay wasn't great, it was regular. The environment was also pleasant: there was a lot of fun and entertainment.

Mexico Arena hosted the city's Lucha Libre matches. Juana Barraza was captivated by the spectacle of it and loved watching every match as it unfolded. As luck would have it, a Lucha Libre promoter spotted her, selling popcorn one day and suggested she tried out wrestling herself. Standing over 5ft9 with a sturdy, muscular build, she was the ideal candidate.

Juana couldn't believe it. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. She decided to put her heart and soul into it and took up weight training twice a week. The single mother of four had tremendous upper body strength. At her best, she was able to lift 220 pounds.

She chose the ring name 'La Dama del Silencio', which meant: The Lady of Silence. She said that she preferred to keep to herself and felt that the ring name, described her best. Her costume was pink and silver, and she wore a mask in the shape of a butterfly. The girly touches were in stark contrast to her Amazonian stature.

But still, waters ran deep when it came to La Dama del Silencio. She was ruthless in the ring and won most of her matches. Lucha Libre roughly translates to 'freestyle fighting' – anything goes. Fighters are either técnicos or rudos. Técnicos play it safe by following the few rules there are, while rudos make it their mission to break the rules by using dirty tricks. The heroes and the villains if you will. In a television interview, La Dama del Silencio that she was rudos to the core – proudly declaring herself as an outlaw of sorts.

As a Luchador, Juana earned between 300-500 pesos per fight. For the first time ever, she was making a good living. And that by doing something she loved. In the past, she preferred to be unseen, to melt away into the background. But not anymore. After a lifetime of abuse, poverty and setbacks, Juana finally had power in her own hands, revelling in the fact that she was feared. She was no longer a victim, but someone to be reckoned with. Once she donned the butterfly mask, she finally felt like she was somebody special. 

La Dama del Silencio adored the Catholic saint La Santa Muerte, used her as a lucky charm. She also kept cinnamon sticks in a mesh bag with her, inviting abundance and good fortune to come her way. 

However, just as Juana Barraza became one of the most popular Luchadoras in town, she suffered an injury to her spine, and the doctor said if she didn't quit fighting, she could end up paralysed. This was devastating news as she was not ready to retire. She also realised that the money would stop. 

It was a setback, but she decided to stay as involved with Lucha Libre as she could. She arranged events for smaller town fiestas and when she was not working as a promoter, she was always seen ringside.

Tickets to Lucha Libre events were reasonably priced, and even low-income workers could afford attending matches. The people of Mexico City needed an escape from crime and violence on the streets, and the high-octane energy at Mexico Arena was just what the doctor ordered.

In 2002, news reports of brutal killings of elderly women riddled the front pages of newspapers. In Alamos Colony, a woman was attacked, robbed and left for dead, but she survived. She was able to identify her assailant: it was 26-year-old Alejandro Ovando Salvatierra, an ex-convict who had just been released from prison after serving time for robbery. Police caught him, and he was sent back to prison.

Another story was that of Roberto Gustavo Gómez Sánchez, who posed as a healthcare professional to gain access to people's homes. He often assaulted the elderly ladies during the robberies and in some cases killed them. His girlfriend, Alejandra Aquino Sánchez, sold the stolen goods on the black market. Both of them were caught when they tried to cash a cheque of one of their victims.

Towards the end of 2002, Guillermo Ibarra Buenrostro had a heated argument with his elderly mother. He picked her up in a wrestling move called 'La Quebradora' and dropped her to the ground. The fall was too much for her aged frame to recover from, and she passed away in hospital four days later. What Ibarra didn't realise, was that his niece had witnessed the fight and told police what had happened. He was caught three years later and convicted for the murder.

In the same year, a 79-year-old woman was attacked in her home in Mexico City's historic centre. Someone knocked on her door, claiming to be the milkman. It was not, it was José Cuauhtémoc Sánchez, a thief who demanded the woman handed over her jewellery. She screamed, and neighbours alerted police. The assailant grabbed the elderly woman's gold earrings from her ears and tried to make his escape, but was apprehended, holding a cable in his hand.

In November 2002, there yet another retired lady fell victim to murder. But this case wasn't quite the same as the others. María de la Luz González Anaya was found strangled inside her home. Nothing of value was taken from her home, and forensic evidence showed that the killer suffocated her using only his hands. There was no sign of forced entry and police had no idea who was responsible. 

Over the next couple of years, the murders increased. Some were committed months apart, then only weeks. Other deaths occurred within days of each other. The residents of Mexico City were on edge: who was the monster targeting their abuelas?

In March of 2003, a spate of murders plagued the city. The homes were ransacked, and the killer had somehow accessed the safes at multiple murder scenes. Documents were strewn on the floor, but it didn't look like anything of great value was taken.

On the 20th of February 2004, 75-year-old Alicia González Castillo unknowingly let her killer into her home. Alicia let her dog outside, so he wouldn't bother her visitor. If only she knew who her guest really was. Alicia was strangled, and her body was left on the bed in her bedroom. When Alicia was reported missing, police arrived at her home to conduct a welfare check. Her dog ran to his owner and licked her body, yelping in distress. If only dogs could talk to tell police what he had seen… Who was Alicia's visitor on that fateful day?

The victims were all over the age of 70 years old. It could not be ignored any longer – they had to be connected. Between March 2003 and March 2004, nine women had died. The murders went as far back as 1998. Still, seeing as they have made arrests – like Roberto Goméz who posed as a healthcare professional and Guillermo Buenrostro who killed his mother – police did not want to admit to the public that they were probably dealing with a serial killer.

Then the police caught a break. In March 2004, Araceli Vázquez García, a 40-year-old woman, was arrested and convicted of the murder of 81-year-old Gloria Enedina Rizo Ramírez. She posed as a social worker and met her victim in a park. She walked her home, and once they were inside, Araceli Vázquez robbed her and killed her. A fingerprint found at the murder scene of 75-year-old María Margarita Aceves Quezada, matched a print taken from Vázquez.

Both her victims had been relieved of jewellery and cash before they were strangled. Vázquez admitted to the robberies but maintained that she never killed anyone. The judge did not buy it, and she was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

After her arrest, the attacks continued. One after the other. The victims were all elderly women over the age of 70 who lived alone. Police piecing together witness statements theorised that the assailant posed as a social worker or government employee who

was there to do a health check. This was something that the Mexican government had implemented during that time. Once inside, the victims were asked for official papers, which meant they unlocked their safes. As soon as the door opened, they were strangled, using whatever was there: a telephone cord or electric cord, a curtain cord, sometimes a stethoscope that was part of the killer's costume… When the victim had perished, their bodies were left lying down on a chair or bed, facing up. The killer then ransacked the house, only taking small trinkets and only in some cases jewellery was missing. The items seemed to be trophies rather than something of monetary value.

Although the crime scenes bore many similarities, the killer changed things up a bit. Like in the case of 84-year-old María Virginia Xelhuatzi Tizapán. On the 3rd of July 2004, she was found strangled, slumped over at the dining room table. Sardonically, one of her porcelain dolls had been placed on another dining room chair, facing its owner's body.

A couple of weeks later, at the end of August, 84-year-old María de los Ángeles Cortés Reynoso was strangled with a belt. She was handled with so much force, her dentures fell out of her mouth, onto the floor. An effigy of the Virgin Mary was placed on a table facing the body. Votive candles were lit in the room, making it look like a funeral rather than a murder scene.

Police caught chocolate selling street vendor, Mario Tablas on the 12th of September 2004. He was charged with the murders of three elderly women, all over the age of 70. The media called him 'The Nurse' because he dressed up as a female nurse and wore a blonde wig. Police had been looking for him since a murder that took place in 1998. In Tablas's hotel room, police found a notebook with the names and addresses of prospective victims. On the cover was a drawing of a faceless nurse with the phrase written below: 

"God gave me the authority to exterminate." 

Even with the likes of Vázquez and Tablas behind bars, the murders didn't stop. 

Police tried to find similarities between the cases. All attacks took place in the daytime. The victims were lower-middle-class retirees who lived alone, often near public parks or gardens. The killer used the same kind of knot in cables when strangling the victims, the most basic one, denoting the perpetrator wasted no time. He was also not very sophisticated. Police were able to lift fingerprints but could not find a match in existing police records.

A strange coincidence was that three of the victims owned a print of the 18th-century painting by artist Jean-Baptiste Greuze: Boy in a Red Waistcoat. Many of the victims were also Spanish ex-pats. Could the attacks have been driven by xenophobia?

Police were acutely aware of public pressure. In 2005 the media dubbed killer El Mataviejitas – The Little Old Lady Killer. Police released a profile of him, hoping the people of Mexico City could help catch him:

He was a person between 40 and 50 years old who was 1.75m tall. He did not have a permanent job. If he managed to find a job, it was not well-paid. He travelled on public transportation and did not live in Mexico City. 

Chief Prosecutor of Mexico City, Bernardo Bátiz, said that the killer had "a brilliant mind" and that he was "quite clever and careful". The killer was a psychopath who felt no remorse. Bátiz believed the killer gained the trust of his victims by posing as a government official who offered to assist them in signing up to newly reformed welfare programs.

The death of 82-year-old Carmen Camila González Miguel on the 28th of September 2005, caused police to step up their game. She was the mother of prominent criminologist, Luis Rafael Moreno González. Carmen was a well-to-do widow who lived alone in a large home. She was not the typical victim and police feared the killer had decided to move into Mexico City's wealthier neighbourhoods.

Two days later, as if to taunt police, there was another murder. 85-year-old Guadalupe Oliver Contreras was seen walking home with a muscular woman wearing a pink blouse. Most witnesses saith they thought it was a man dressed as a woman.

Police set up a task force to hunt down the serial killer, named Parques y Jardines (Parks and Gardens). They handed out pamphlets and talked to elderly residents, warning them to be wary of strangers. Plainclothes officers also patrolled the streets, looking for any sign of El Mataviejitas

Other witnesses came forward and said that, at various instances, they saw a person near a murder scene just before or just after it took place. Statements noted that the person was a masculine female who wore a wig. 

Police considered the fact that their perpetrator could be a transgender person. A composite sketch was released to the media, but the person was depicted as a male. The man had short dyed blonde hair with a mole, with a stethoscope around his neck. They also released a sketch with a slight tweak, making the suspect female. 

By November 2005, police confirmed that their suspect was a man who disguised himself in female clothing. He dressed like a woman to put elderly people at ease, so they would let him into their homes. Police urged elderly people to take care and NOT to let strangers into their homes. 

Head of inquiry, Renato Sales denied that police had placed elderly people in shopping malls as bait to trap the killer. One woman came forward, María de la Luz and said agents paid her between 100-200 pesos to serve as bait, risking her own life.

Police were criticised for refusing to admit that they were dealing with a serial killer. As late as 2005, police saw the links between the murders as something that was sensationalised in the media, nothing else. 

However, some steps they took showed that they did consider their suspect to be a serial killer. Mexican police imported French detectives who had worked on the Monster of Montmartre case, exploring similarities between the Monster and El Mataviejitas. At this point in the investigation, the profile of the killer was as follows:

"A man with homosexual preferences, a victim of childhood physical abuse, lived surrounded by women, he could have had a grandmother or lived with an elderly person, has resentment to that feminine figure and possesses great intelligence."

The Monster of Montmartre, Thierry Paulin, killed and robbed between 18 and 21 elderly women in Paris from 1984 to 1987. He was raised by his grandmother but moved in with his mother when he was 10. She later persuaded his father agreed to take him in. His unstable upbringing was seen as a motive for the killings. Paulin was also bisexual. Mexico City believed their killer most likely had a similar background.

Police arrested close to 40 transgender sex workers. But none of their fingerprints matched prints found at various scenes. The press hit back, accusing police of being on a QUOTE 'ham-fisted, unproductive swoop of the city's transvestite prostitutes'. END QUOTE. These were the terms used at the time, it is a direct quote, showing ignorance of the transgender community on the side of police as well as the media.

There was public outcry about this 'class-action', citing transphobia as the driving force of the witch hunt. About 30 of the city's transgender population staged a sit-in at the front entrance to CDHDF in protest of the abuse they suffered under questioning. 

On the 18th of October, yet another murder took place. If all the previous cases were connected, this one would have been the 31st killing in two and a half years. 92-year-old María de los Ángeles Repper Hernández was severely beaten before being strangled to death with her own scarf. The killer left the front door wide open. He was becoming reckless, sloppy – or was arrogance getting the better of him.

Over the festive season, there was an unsettling pause on the killings. Police had to consider that their suspect had roots elsewhere and had returned home for the Christmas period. Or perhaps the killed had died. Police checked fingerprints of all the bodies in the city's morgues. December through January brought a tentative sense of relief, but then the killer struck again…

On the 25th of January 2006, the lodger of Ana María de los Reyes Alfaro, came home to find his 82-year-old landlady strangled with a stethoscope. He saw a woman fleeing the scene and ran after her. Fortunately, he saw police officers patrolling the neighbourhood and told them what had happened. 

Police managed to capture the woman as she was about to go into the subway station. It was 48-year-old Juana Barraza. She had pension forms and a card identifying her as a social worker on her person. The lodger identified her as the woman he saw leaving the home of Ana María de los Reyes Alfaro.

Barraza did not seem worried about being under arrest. Her only concern was her daughter, who was at school, and she asked officers if she could arrange for a friend to pick her up. 

Officers agreed but were puzzled about her nonchalant attitude. Did she not realise the extent of the situation? After taking her fingerprints, police were able to match it to prints found at her final crime scene in Venustiano Carranza. It also matched up with prints found at least ten other murder scenes. 

During the police search of Juana Barraza's house, they found a trophy room of sorts. There were newspaper clippings with headlines about murders. They also found items, taken from her victims' homes as well as an altar honouring two saints: Jésus Malverde (who was revered by drug traffickers) and Santa Muerte (the patron saint of criminals).

At her home police also found a white coat from the Mexican Social Security Institute, a pair of white shoes and a stethoscope. The perfect disguise.

People of Mexico City were stunned that the serial killer who had been terrorising their elderly citizens was a woman. El Mataviejitas was, in fact, La Mataviejitas.

Sources vary, but it is said that during her first interrogations, she confessed to the murder of Ana María de los Reyes Alfaro as well as the murders of three other women, but no more. She told police that she went to Ana María's home to look for laundry work. According to Juana Barazza, Ana María offered her 22 pesos for 12 items, and Barraza said it wasn't enough. Ana María made a snide remark: 

"That's how cats always are, they want to earn too much." 

This was when La Mataviejitas took the stethoscope that was a part of her disguise and proceeded to strangle the elderly lady.

Juana Barazza was confronted with a list of murders and denied any involvement. She said she never acted as a social worker. On the day of Ana María's death, she offered to do domestic work or laundry to gain access. When asked about the social worker’s coat at her home, she could not explain it. Barraza carried on, claiming that she never had any official documents on her when she was arrested, and that police had planted it on her. 

It is significant to remember that she could not read or write. She would not have been able to forge an official government identification card herself. And how would she have known which documents to have on her? She could have had an accomplice who did all of that. 

Barraza told police that, in mid-2005, she became involved with José Francisco Torres Herrera, known as El Frijol (or 'The Bean'). He drove her to her victims' homes, and they would share the spoils. Could he have helped her forge the ID card? As soon as the news came out that El Mataviejitas was, in fact, La Mataviejitas and that she had been captured, El Frijol had fled. Police caught up with him a couple of days later and arrested him.

To the end, Juana Barraza claimed that all of the Little Old Lady murders were committed by multiple people over the years. She couldn't understand why police were only going after her and warned them that it would not stop. But it did. 

One theory was that she was aware of the serial killer and his method and copied it to get her own in, taking revenge on her mother. She chose her victims because she associated them with her mother and wanted to help society by getting rid of them. She hung out in public places, and after concluding that a woman was probably alone, she followed her home, offering to help carry groceries or assist her with chores.

In total, La Dama del Silencio, Juana Barraza was suspected of murdering between 42 and 48 people. She showed no remorse and simply killed for the thrill of it, to punish her mother. She confirmed this by saying she hated older women:

"When I saw them, I felt a lot of courage and more when they showed superiority or believed that they could humiliate me for their money."

Her psychological report stated that her mother's treatment of her and the fact that she sold her into a life of abuse was unforgivable. And all of that for the meagre price of three beers.

Police used fingerprint evidence to determine that Juana Barraza committed her first murder in November 2002 when she broke into the home of María de la Luz González Anaya. When María made an insulting remark aimed at Barraza, she snapped. The argument turned physical, and she strangled the elderly lady with her bare hands. The Lady of Silence needed no words to express her deep-seated anger.

She didn't kill again for three months. But then she was relentless, sometimes killing as many as 4 victims in as many weeks.

Juana Barraza's trial kicked off in the spring of 2008. She was accused of 30 murders. She said she only admitted to committing one murder, the one for which she was caught red-handed. She claimed she never admitted to killing three people. She said she killed because of her resentment towards her own mother. Her defence team tried to declare her insane, but a psychological evaluation concluded that she was of sound mind and knew what she had done. And with that, the possibility of an insanity plea went out the window.

In Mexican court, there is no jury, only a sole judge. A criminal case is presented by the prosecution and defence.

Barraza’s case was very much ‘trial by media’. When she was arrested, police had a press conference and made her stand next to a plasticine bust of the suspect, made while they were still investigating the murders. It was made based on information supplied by 15 separate witnesses. Police even made sure to dress both her and the bust in red sweaters. Photos of Barraza re-enacting the murder of Ana María was released to the press, and before she stood trial, she was already guilty in the eyes of the public.


On the 31st of March 2008, she was found guilty of 16 murders and aggravated burglary, including 11 additional counts of murder. The most damning evidence was fingerprints found at the murder scenes. In court, Barraza said:

"I killed one little old lady. Not the others."

When she was asked about her motive, she simply said:

"I got angry."

She was handed a 759-year prison sentence – the longest punishment ever given in Mexican history. Typically the maximum penalty is 50 years, so it is unlikely that she will ever walk free. Unless she makes it to 98. 

When the verdict was read, she said: 

"May God forgive me and not forget me."

Barraza's case was unusual. One of Mexico City's only serial killers in history and her story gripped the imagination of the country. Songs were written about her. Her story was made into television shows. In a country where violent crime is commonplace, with cartel wars and Narcosatanism, it is a strange situation, that a serial killer like Juana Barraza was seen as the most evil killer in the country. 

Is it because abuelas are sacred? The grandmother is seen as pure and good and wholesome – she does not deserve to die. Chief prosecutor Bátiz said that the victims were all part of… 

"…a helpless, very vulnerable sector of society, which before was respected, even among delinquents."

The people felt betrayed by the fact that that a once revered Luchadora, someone who offered them ESCAPE from violence, comic relief even, turned out to be as cruel and violent as the worst of the worst? 

When she was arrested, Barraza’s two youngest children went to live with their older sister. She is serving her time in Santa Marta jail, a facility adjacent to a male prison. Prisoners are encouraged to socialise, and Juana Barraza became romantically involved with a male prisoner. They married in 2015 at a mass wedding arranged by the Penitentiary System. They divorced after only one year of marriage. 

These days she sells quesadillas to fellow inmates on Mondays to make some extra money.

Incidentally, Juana Barraza is in the same prison as Sara Aldrete, Adolfo Constanzo’s co-leader of Mexico’s most notorious Narcosatanist cult. If you want to know more about her story, Evidence Locker explored her background in episode 20 – The Black Magic Murders of Matamoros. The rumour goes that Sara Aldrete has taught Juana Barraza to read and write and encouraged her to finish high school. 

One can only but wonder what else Mexico's most feared women talk about during leisure time in prison. Do they ever remember their victims and the pain they’ve caused? Probably not.

If you’d like to read more about this case, have a look at the resources used for this episode in the show notes. 

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