Saturday, August 19, 2006


Everybody's heard of serial killers. They commit at worst a dozen murders or two over a decade or so. Well, have you heard of the feminicidios in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico? The place is more like a warzone than the hunting ground of a stealthy psychotic murderer. A small army of young women has been found dead there over a period of 13 years.

Says Amnesty International, "... since 1993 more than 370 young women and girls have been murdered in the cities of Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua -- at least a third suffering sexual violence -- without the authorities taking proper measures to investigate and address the problem".

The story of how Mexican authorities have tried and failed to solve the crimes is long and convoluted. Many believe that police corruption and involvement with organised crime is the reason for this failure. But the question remains: who's killing all of these women, and why? It can't be a single maniac -- it would be a full-time job for him. And with so many murders, the likelihood of one intended victim surviving and leading the police to the man should be close to 100%.

I can't help but think of this in archaeological terms. What are 370 shallow graves containing mutilated young women? They are, of course, the material record of a cultural custom. Not individual insanity -- cultural insanity. A considerable number of people in Ciudad Juárez clearly cultivate a custom that entails the kidnapping, torture and murder of poor young female factory workers from the countryside. A rationally chosen demographic: the only people likely to miss the women have very little influence in society. And of the people involved with the custom, only a few are likely to commit the actual atrocities. The rest protect them.

So, who are the bearers of this insane subculture? Well, according to the media, there are rumours of coke-fuelled revels among the local mob when big business deals have been closed and delivered. What better time to initiate new members with the special sacrament that ties them securely into the group?

I'm a cultural darwinist. Cultures are experiments. Sometimes the random mutations we love to make up turn up traits that aren't adaptive in the long term. In Ciudad Juárez, this process has produced a particularly ugly cultural mutant.

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Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Martin, I am really surprised that someone who has been so frequent a contributor to the Skeptic's Circle would suggest a theory such as this. Because, while you dress it in anthropological terms, it is in fact a classic 'conspiracy theory,' and one which has the same fatal weaknesses as all such theories do.
In the first place, the idea that "It can't be a single maniac -- it would be a full-time job for him." is simply nonsense. There have been serial killers that have had a hundred victims. In this case, we have 370 victims over 13 years. Less than thirty a year. Two or three a month. A single person could manage this.
Or, perhaps a small group -- imagine if this were an activity of a group of a half dozen policemen -- which would make the difficulty of catching them harder -- and would eliminate the idea of a victim escaping and 'running to the cops' since she wouldn't know which cops were involved.
Or perhaps a family might be involved.
But think about the problems of your idea. A conspiracy is always vulnerable to three forces, and the larger the number of people, the more likely one of them will apply and blow the conspiracy. In broad terms, they are 'conscience,' 'stupidity' and 'selfishness.'
I am not using 'conscience' in the religious sense. It can be simply "this is something I will not do" because it violates a sense of self, even an aesthetic sense, or because it is simply viewed as wrong. (Look at John Dean in Watergate, or the Nazi general who had followed Hitler's orders, but drew the line at burning Paris. Ironically, "ordinary" people are more likely to do barbaric acts in public -- lynching, genocide -- because the society OPENLY encourages them to, than to do them in semi-private or private.)

Or stupidity, somebody has to boast to the wrong people, or gets drunk at the wrong time and it gets known.

Or selfishness, someone sees more advantage to himself in going against the conspiracy than going along with it, or fights with the leader and splits the conspirators.

People are individuals, first, and members of a society second.

Finally, you forget that for this to work you would have to have an isolated society, where the people involved would be under the watchful eyes of the leaders -- no matter how 'societal' a custom is there would have to be leaders -- and where they would be, if willing to 'reveal the conspiracy' would not have anyone they trusted to reveal it to. But Ciudad Juarez is anything but isolated. Not only are there constant tourists coming and going, but residents leave constantly, many for the United States. Can you imagine a CJer sneaking over the border, being caught, and realizing that he could trade knowledge of the 'conspiracy' for amnesty, or another resident, visiting a brother -- perfectly legally -- who happens to be a writer or a newsman or tv person and who realizes he could sell this story for enough money to establish himself totally out of reach of the conspiracy.

As for your cocaine orgy idea, it sounds like a bad mafia novcel crossed with REEFER MADNESS. Cocaine users, even crack/base users don't act like this, though they can get weird. And cocaine trafficers may be murderers but first of all they are businessmen. Their murders are done with a reason, and not for some wild notion such as this. they are smart enough to know the risk to their buisness they would be causing if the secret got out, and they know that one thing coke does lead to is a lack of discretion.

Sorry, nice idea, but it doesn't add up. Maybe it is one person -- I'd bet on that, but wouldn't give more than 60-40 odds, maybe it is a small family, police, or other tight-knit group of people maybe a dozen or so. But it isn't a sub-cultural thing, no way.

20 August, 2006 09:07  
Blogger Martin said...

Wow, that's some comment!

You may very well be right. Here are a few thoughts.

For a single maniac or a small club of maniacs to be able to murder women at an industrial scale like this for years and years, I do believe that they would need a go-ahead from the local powers-that-be, i.e. the police and the mob. The police can have no interest in a grossly heightened murder rate. But the mob could afford that sort of thing easily, particularly since nobody cares much about the individual victims in question. It might even make their regular business easier if it ties up police resources.

Although personally an innocent when it comes to drugs, I am aware that cocaine does not turn people into murderous psychotics. It seems more likely to make them willing to dance all night to cheesy disco and, in rare cases, record The Wall. So, for "coke-fuelled", substitute "fun" or "energetic".

I guess the reason I try to come up with a "social" or "conspiracy" explanation is that I am unable to understand why anyone would want to murder a single young Mexican woman, let alone 370 of them. Myself, I'd be infinitely more interested in inviting them home for a night of vigorous consensual exercise followed by a hearty breakfast.

20 August, 2006 12:36  
Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

The trouble with your argument that the murderer has to have 'permission' from the police or the mob falls to pieces if you eliminate one assumption, which you and, I would guess, other writers, have made -- I've seen mentions of this, but haven't gotten into it until now.

The assumption is that, because the women are buried in CJ that they COME FROM CJ. Now I know nothing about how far forensics have gone towards identifying these corpses, but I would guess -- pending confirmation, that the killer might 'harvest' his victims from anywhere in Mexico, kill them there -- or en route, I picture him having something like a sealed van where he might do the actual killing -- and then buries them in CJ.

(Your question on motive, in fact, makes me think it is more likely that it is one man, but it could be a small group that are linked together.)

If THAT is so, then the murder rate for CJ would not jump as high. Lets imagine -- unlikely but it is illustrious -- that he has, say, a route of 14 different cities that he goes to in order, and visits each every six months or so. The murder rate in each of these cities would jump only slightly. Since the women are from an 'underclass' possibly factory workers, possibly prostitutes, the corruption in the police force -- which leads to incompetence, the main argument against corruption (and against drug laws, but that's another fight) -- means they aren't going to work very hard to solve the disappearence of these women (and all they may know is that they disappeared, not that they were killed). That is, even if they know about them, which the odds are they do not, since women like this may not have friends who realize what has happened to them. ("Oh, Maria didn't show up for work, but I just figured she'd managed to find a coyote to transport her to the Estados Unita.")

Of course you don't understand why someone would be doing this. Nor do I, completely, because we are both sane -- in this respect at least. I would guess that you, like me, would not just invite the woman home for a night of consensual pleasure, but that the pleasure would be entirely consensual, with no aspects of bd-sm-ds. But let me discuss motive in a separate post.
Let me finish this with the question of mob involvement. Again, highly unlikely. The upper echelon of the mob are, as I said, businessmen. (They are also human beings, and probably, for the most part, reasonably sane.) For the first reason, they are not likely to encourage an activity that would threaten their business -- if they were involved and it came out, they would have the police coming down like CRAZY on them. For the second reason, they would be as horrified as any other person at hearing about this. (There are mob groups in America that might be murderous, might be involved in all sorts of various activities, but who would draw a line at, say, child prostitution or drugs because the leader hates them as much as the average person. (And remember that child abusers are treated badly in prison because even in a criminal society they are viewed as 'beyond the pale.'))

As for lower-level mob people, there is one thing people forget about 'criminals.' You don't have to pass an intelligence test to enter the field. Most professional criminals are pretty stupid, at least the lower levels of them. They chose crime as a 'job' because they couldn't find a better one, or weren't smart enough to realize that the rewards of crime
r={profit/effort(chance of getting caught)}-cost of getting caught
is usually pretty small.
There are exceptions, but a very small percentage of them.
Whoever is doing this is probably pretty smart, though crazy. If he is a criminal by profession, he probably keeps this apart from his 'day job.'

20 August, 2006 15:55  
Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Let's now look at motive. While it is true that once a series of murders starts, it becomes easier as it goes along, because it is the 'first step that's the steepest.' Still, to do this steadily requires a pretty strong -- if insane -- motive. Slightly less so for a particular type of group, either a cult -- unlikely in this case but possible -- or a 'fraternity' -- that is, a group with some other bond, social, status, even a true 'fraternity' in the college sense. A group like this just barely might be doing this out of a less personal motive, an extended Leopold-Loeb situation ("We did it because we could."). If so, the group is probably made up of younger sons of the rich, not going into the family business, supercilious, and bored.

But if it is one person -- again, much more likely -- the motive is certainly not something we could appreciate emotionally, but it probably is something we could understand intellectually. I would guess that, as I said, you are as blind, emotionally, to the whole sm-bd-ds worlds as I am (which has disappointed a few lovers of mine who were into it and found I was totally hopeless at even playing games like this. It was such a blank to me I couldn't even 'play the part.')

I may have a bit of an advantage here since I was close friends for some years with a science fiction writer who, because of his own personal life -- He described himself in a personal conversation as 'being 50 years old and having never, since puberty, been able to get an erection unless he was being physically or verbally abused' -- had made a study of the subject. (Even though I discover through Wikipedia that he is now dead -- it has been over 25 years since we were in contact -- and even though he wrote the first (very bad) attempt to write sf with a theme of masochism, I won't name him.)

He, and I, would argue that 'sadism' is in fact a form of displaced masochism, that each come from the idea of gult over one's own sexuality. That the masochist is saying "I am being sexually aroused, but sexual arousal is a bad thing, therefore I must be punished for it." (Frequently, in my experience, a person who tends this way will also 'arrange' for life to punish him (or her) in other ways, will alienate himself from friends, will create failures for himself.)

The sadist, on the other hand, is equally horrified at the evil of his own sexual arousal and sex drive, but projects the 'evil' on the person who arouses him. "She is arousing me, which makes HER evil and means she must be punished."

It is not quite that simple, of course. I would argue, for example, that all sm comes from a religious base, directly or indirectly. My friend, who was religious, would not have agreed, but it seems obvious that if a pubescent male is taught not just that masturbation is sinful, but that sexual thoughts and desires are as well -- and if he doesn't masturbate, the inevitable 'nocturnal emissions' are almost always accompanied by such -- then it is a struggle for him to overcome this conditioning, even if he has left his religious upbringing.

When sm is taken to the extreme, as is almost certain in this case given the sexual mutilations, tyhere are likely to be other specific familial or experiential factors involved. The obvious one is a suppressed incestual factor, coupled with a further guilt if the person at the same time dislikes his mother -- or subconsciously blames her for his sexual problems.

Other possibilites are that the person is fixating on a group of people that in some way remind him either of a first sexual arousal, or, another possibility, of a woman who caused a divorce in his family.

Or there might have been a failed initial attempt at sex -- frequently with a prostitute -- that has created a focus on a particular type of woman. (It is not inconceivable that the murder is not a Mexican but an American who attempted to lose his virginity with a Mexican woman, failed, and therefore the 'common factors' are just "Mexican" and "female.")

All of these speculations need, of course, to be checked against the evidence. I am sure there is some sort of common thread in the women. Again, the link might be religious "God has told me to rid the world of women of this particular type," familial, or related to specific experiences. And as I just said, the link might be simply 'Mexican females" in which case it would be much harder.

I am unaware of how much work has been done in identifying the individual victims, but that is where the solution will probably lie.

I would also argue that the person either is, or plays a member of a profession that the women would find trustworthy or unsuspicious, a priest, a doctor, a policeman, even a postman. Something that would bring him in contact with this many women. (A 'rich tourist' MIGHT qualify.) This is more likely if the killings have continued after 'the story broke.'

So ends my attempt at Armchair detection. And that is all it is. I am merely playing Baroness Orczy's "Old Man in the Corner" though without the knotted strings.

(And, in case any law enforcement officer is suspicious, I have never been in Mexico -- in fact I've only spent one week outside the Eastern US time zone and haven't left the boundaries of NYC in ten years -- and I have never driven any form of automobile, something which would be a necessary factor in such a pursuit. Besides, my arthritis would keep me from doing all that digging.)

20 August, 2006 17:35  
Blogger Martin said...

Food for thought!

It certainly seems silly to try to find different perps for five or ten of the murders each. That would mean there was a psycho killer convention going on in Juarez with people flying in all the time to take part.

I'm pretty sure a statistical study of a detailed database over the murders would turn up some interesting patterns. Assume as few causes as possible, as Razor Man said.

As for s/m, I'm definitely tops. But hurting women is a total turn off.

20 August, 2006 18:54  

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