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Costa Rica police struggle to track down suspected serial killer

October 8, 2015

Eight bodies that have appeared in six months are being attributed to a serial killer in San José, yet authorities say they have few leads on a suspect.

Hugo Monge, the homicide unit chief for the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ), told The Tico Times Wednesday that the killer, who has targeted impoverished women primarily in the districts of Hatillo and San Sebastián south of the capital, may have a previous relationship with each of his victims.

“We believe the killer is someone who knows the areas very well and may want to be taking vengeance against these women,” he said. “He’s always able to gain the victims’ trust because he’s familiar with the area and the women might know him. It doesn’t seem like he’s a stranger.”

Monge said DNA analysis from police labs have shown the same person’s DNA on three separate victims. Some of the bodies had decomposed so much by the time they were found that an autopsy was impossible, police said. According to autopsy evidence from the bodies that had been found before decomposition, however, the serial killer sexually assaulted the women and then strangled them to death, using only his hands as a murder weapon.

An initial suspect arrested in August has since been cleared of the murders by DNA testing, Monge said. He added that three other possible suspects were also dismissed because of lack of DNA evidence, though police do have one more suspect in line whose lab results are pending.

“We still have one potential suspect who was arrested with a modus operandi who was known to be especially violent towards his victims,” Monge said. “But his fate will ultimately be up to lab testing.”

Authorities also have two videos taken from public security cameras that show a man who is believed to be the killer walking away from the crime scenes right after the murders. Monge said police are working with experts in a lab to analyze the videos and possibly identify a subject.

Five or six officers from OIJ are working on the case every day, Monge said. He said investigators are also working with mental health professionals to create a sophisticated profile that can assist in the search for a suspect.

Police say the last body discovered was that of 18-year-old Franciny Bermúdez Romero, found on Sept. 7 near the Children’s Museum in Barrio Mexico, just north of downtown San José and far from the scenes of the other crimes. OIJ Deputy Director Luis Ángel Ávila previously told The Tico Times that investigators believe each of the victims regularly consumed drugs and made a living from prostitution. The investigation has been difficult, police say, because the women had spent considerable amounts of time on the streets and away from their families.

“There’s a high risk for these women because they’re poor, socially vulnerable and they consume drugs,” Monge said. “One way or another, we believe the killer makes initial contact with them through selling drugs or looking for prostitutes.”

This is widely believed to be Costa Rica’s second most deadly serial killer case behind the infamous El Psicópata (The Psychopath), who, from 1986 to 1996, killed 19 people around San José using an M3 submachine gun. No suspect in the case was ever charged with the murders.

“Statistically, on the global level, it’s very hard to find serial killers,” Monge said. “They’re always found by some error on the part of the subject.”

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