La Mataviejitas (“The Old Lady Killer”) was a Mexican professional wrestler, and sadly the nickname did not indicate a particular prowess with women.
No, Juana Barraza was female herself – a very prolific murderer — and the number of her victims is estimated to be anywhere from 24 to 49.
Barraza was born in 1957 on New Years Eve in the rural area of Hidalgo. Her mother was an alcoholic and was reported to have exchanged her to a man for three beers. She suffered repeated rapes and ultimately became pregnant with the first of what would be four children.
Indulging her fascination with the masked wrestling style known as lucha libre, she found her way into the sport and eventually began to fight professionally in its epic mock battles as “The Silent Lady”.
In the late 1990s and the ensuing years, a string of murders in the vicinity of Mexico City had police baffled. All of the victims were women in their sixties or older, and the majority lived alone. They had been either bludgeoned or strangled, some suffered abuse, and there was evidence of them being robbed as well.
Bernardo Bátiz, the chief prosecutor in Mexico City, profiled the killer as having “a brilliant mind, [being] quite clever and careful.” It was thought that whoever it was might have taken the time to gain the trust of intended victims. One theory was that the person might be posing as a government official providing them the opportunity to sign up to welfare programs.
Police believed for a time that they were looking for two individuals. They followed every lead, no matter how bizarre. Investigators wondered if there was a clue in the fact that at least three of the murdered women owned a print of the same painting.
As late as 2005, authorities were being criticized for not accepting that a serial killer was responsible for the deaths and dismissing evidence of that fact as “media sensationalism”.
But in the fall of that year, witness reports mentioned that killer wore female clothing as a ploy to gain access to the victim’s homes. A large woman in a red blouse had been seen leaving the apartment of one of the murder victims. Further outrage against the authorities was stoked when they launched a massive yet unproductive roundup of Mexico City’s transvestite population. Two months later, a hunch led police to check the fingerprints of bodies in the city’s morgues to see if their killer might have committed suicide.
Then, in January, there was a major development. A suspect was arrested while fleeing from the home of the latest victim, who had been strangled with a stethoscope.
Shockingly, the individual arrested turned out not be be male at all. It was Juana Barraza. With her close-cropped hair dyed blonde and a mole on her face, she bore a close resemblance to a model of the killer’s features based upon witness accounts. She was carrying a stethoscope, pension forms and a card identifying her as a social worker when she was detained.
Using fingerprint evidence, Mexico City prosecutors were able to link Barraza to least 10 of the 40 murders attributed to the mysterious killer. She reportedly confessed to the final murder and three others but denied being involved with any of the other killings.
“The Old Lady Killer” went on trial in the spring of 2008, with the prosecution alleging that she had been responsible for as many as 40 deaths. She again admitted only to the last killing, citing as the motive lingering resentment regarding her own mother’s horrible treatment of her.
In March, she was found guilty on 16 charges of murder and aggravated burglary, including 11 separate counts of murder. She was sentenced to 759 years in prison.
Sentences imposed in Mexican courts are generally served concurrently, but the maximum sentence under Mexican law is 60 years. She will most likely serve the full sentence.