MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — On January 25, 2006, shock reverberated throughout Mexico after authorities finally apprehended Juana Barraza, the “Little Old Lady Killer.”
The surprise arose not from the fact that the murderer of at least 24 elderly women over the previous three years had gotten caught, but that the suspect turned out to be female — even though numerous witnesses had, in fact, described a “masculine-looking woman” at or around many of the crime scenes.
Given the savagery of the crimes and the physical power of the perpetrator, police theorized that the murderer could be a man done up in women’s clothing. As a result, they focused on investigating cross-dressers and ran particularly roughshod over Mexico City’s transvestite and transgender sex workers. Alas, it was all for nada.
Juana Barraza, 48, had not only brutalized victims as the fiend dubbed “El Mataviejitas” (“The Little Old Lady Killer”), but she had previously thrilled lucha libre fans as a masked professional wrestler known as “La Dama del Silencio” (“The Silent Lady”).
In fairness to the misdirected investigators, though, neither practice is typical for a single mother of four.
Born impoverished in rural Hidalgo, Juana Barraza suffered all manner of monstrous abuse at the hands of her terminally alcoholic mother. When Barraza turned 12, her mother sold her for three beers into the “care” of a pervert who raped her relentlessly for years — ultimately impregnating Barraza four times.
Barraza sought escape through an obsession with lucha libre, Mexico’s vastly popular professional wrestling tradition in which costumed técnicos (heroes) and rudos (villains) stage sideline dramas that culminate with grand, colorful battles inside the ring.
While raising her four children, Barazza never missed a lucha libre event. She went from fan to participant by organizing wrestling shows at small town fiestas and at last climbing into the ring herself. She said she named her character La Dama del Silencio because “I am quiet and keep to myself.”
In between bouts, Barraza made money by cleaning houses and peddling wares on the street. By all accounts, she was a caring and attentive parent whose children loved her. Barraza’s hatred toward her own mother, though, raged through the years, unabated.
After Barraza’s arrest, police psychologists concluded that she unleashed that mom-fury on older women, beginning on November 25, 2002, with the barehanded fatal beating and strangulation of 64-year-old Maria de la Luz Gonzalez.Some bit of business had led Barraza to be inside the elderly woman’s apartment. Apparently, de la Luz Gonzalez uttered an insult that triggered Barraza’s killer instinct, leading to the first of the murders directly attributed to La Dama del Silencio.
Over the previous few years, violent crime had exploded in Mexico City, with talk of a “Little Old Lady Killer” on the loose. When the death of Maria de la Luz Gonzalez made the news, such chatter intensified.
As Barraza laid low for three months, some observers think reports about the Mataviejitas actually inspired her to strike again. Over the next year, Barraza easily entered the homes of females over age 60 by posing as a social worker dropping by to do a wellness check.
Once inside, Barraza would bludgeon her targets and strangle them with the nearest handy object — telephone cords, stockings — or the stethoscope she used as part of her access ruse. Before leaving, Barazza stole cash and whatever other items she could carry.
As bodies piled up, the public and the press demanded that police stop El Mataviejitas (with the masculine “El” indicating everyone’s presumption of a male killer).
Multiple witnesses described a large, intimidating woman they’d never seen before entering or exiting the victims’ dwellings. Police artists came up with composite images and a sculpture of the mystery figure. The model very much resembled Juana Barraza, complete with a social worker ID and a stethoscope.
Only after three years of murdering at will did Barraza misstep. After using her signature medical instrument to kill 84-year-old Ana María de los Reyes Alfaro, she didn’t leave the area fast enough.
On January 25, 2006, a neighbor of de los Reyes Alfaro saw Barraza walk out of the building. Upon discovering de los Reyes Alfaro’s body, the neighbor frantically alerted police and officers picked up Barraza nearby.
While under arrest, Barraza admitted that she’d killed de los Reyes Alfaro, but denied any and all other murders.
Searchers, meanwhile, raided Barazza’s home and discovered her “trophy room,” where she had arranged newspaper clippings about the murders and objects stolen from the victims into a shrine to Jesus Malverde and Santa Muerte, two folk deities often worshipped by Mexican outlaws.
Leading up to her trial, investigators traced Barrazza’s fingerprints to more victims, ultimately connecting her to as many as 40 killings.
In 2008, Barraza stood trial for 30 murders. The court found her guilty of 16. She got 759 years in jail and will be eligible for parole in 2058. At that point, the Little Old Lady Killer herself will be 100.
For more on Juana Barraza, watch the “Payback” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Deadly Women on ID GO now!
Main photos: Juana Barazza/YouTube video [screenshot]