The body of an 18-year-old woman found in an abandoned lot near the Children’s Museum in San José on Saturday could be the eighth murder attributed to a serial killer targeting impoverished women in Costa Rica’s capital, investigators say.
According to Marco Monge, a spokesman for the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), the woman was found naked and an autopsy showed the cause of death to be asphyxiation. She has been identified as Franciny Bermúdez Romero.
OIJ Deputy Director Luis Ángel Ávila told reporters from Repretel TV on Monday that Bermúdez’s murder is believed to be connected to a possible serial killer suspected in the murders of seven other women, mostly south of the capital in the districts of Hatillo and San Sebastián.
Ávila previously told The Tico Times that each of the victims was poor, from broken families or homeless, making it difficult for investigators to narrow down leads toward a suspect. Many of the women, he said, were prostitutes and had drugs in their system upon post-mortem examination. Some of the bodies also showed evidence of sexual assault, he said.
“These are people who have invariably been away from their homes for quite some time,” Ávila told The Tico Times. “The families don’t know where they are so it’s been hard to find a continuous pattern like who they were hanging out with.”
Police arrested a suspect on Aug. 12 in relation to the murders, but that man has since been released from custody, although they say he remains under investigation for a separate rape case. The arrest that day was upstaged by national (and international) news coverage of the public meltdown in Panama by the then-coach of Costa Rica’s men’s national football team, Paulo Wanchope.
Then things went quiet. Last Saturday was the first time in a month that a body believed to be connected to the suspected killer has appeared. The first reported murder tied to the case happened in April, and three of the eight victims remain unidentified.
Alejandra Mora Mora, president of the National Institute for Women, said in a statement that the clear targeting of women should be of greater concern to people in the capital. She called the murders a “crisis of gender violence.”
She said the general population seemed unconcerned about the deaths because the victims were prostitutes or drug addicts, and viewed as “dispensable bodies.”
“We must not have an indifferent reaction towards these deaths,” Mora said. “Silence justifies a perception of social cleansing, or in this case, of gender cleansing if people remain focused on the double standard that condemns prostitution, saying these are bad women and that their physical disappearances could clean up a society.”
Ávila said that local law enforcement has not seen a case similar to this one in the past 15 to 20 years. He admitted this could be Costa Rica’s most prominent serial killer suspect since “El Psicópata” (“The Psychopath”), who is suspected of killing at least 19 people from 1986 to 1996. No one was ever charged with the murders.