|“||When I saw them I felt much anger, and more when they acted uppity or believed that because of their money, they could humiliate me.||”|
Barraza was born Juana Dayanara Barraza Samperio in rural Hidalgo, Mexico, in 1957. Her parents were Trinidad Barraza, a police officer; and Justa Samperio, an alcoholic prostitute. Three months after Barraza's birth, Justa abandoned her husband to begin an adulterous relationship with Refugio Samperio, a married man who was also Justa's stepfather and would become Barraza's own father figure. As a child, Barraza never learned to read and had a rocky relationship with her mother, to whom she barely spoke in her infancy. At the age of twelve, Barraza's mother pimped her for the first time to a man named José Lugo, in return for three beers. Lugo would abuse Barraza for four years, impregnating her twice when she was thirteen and sixteen years old; both pregnancies resulted in miscarriages. Barraza finally left for Mexico City after her mother died of cirrhosis. There, she underwent several failed marriages, from which she had four children. Her firstborn died in a gang shooting when he was 24 years old.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Barraza held a variety of jobs and toured central Mexico as a masked wrestler named La Dama del Silencio ("The Lady of Silence"), an alias she chose in reference to her own shy, silent personality. In 1995, short of cash after the birth of her fourth child, she began to steal items from shops and later evolved to burglarizing homes. In 1996, she hatched a plan with a friend, Araceli Tapia Martínez, to steal from the elderly. The two dressed in white clothes and pretended to be nurses in order to gain access to the homes of elderly people living alone, robbing them once they were inside. However, Tapia was also in a relationship with a corrupt Federal Police officer, Moisés Flores Domínguez, and they concocted a parallel plan to extortionate Barraza. Flores met Barraza after a burglary that she had committed alone and he demanded 12,000 pesos in return for not arresting her. In 2000, Barraza retired from wrestling, where she earned 300 to 500 pesos per fight, and her situation became desperate.
Murders, Arrest, and Incarceration
Brutal murders of elderly people in Mexico City began to increase in 1998, fueling press speculation about the existence of a serial killer dubbed El Mataviejitas (use of "El" indicating a presumed male perpetrator). However, Mexico City police denied any connection between the crimes, and a number of people were imprisoned for some of the murders. Barraza's first victim was María de la Luz González Anaya, who was killed on November 25, 2002. Once in her apartment, González made comments that Barraza considered derogatory; Barraza was infuriated by this and beat González before fatally strangling her with her bare hands. Barraza did not kill again for three months and she might have been inspired to do it again by existing stories about the Mataviejitas, rather than inspiring them herself.
The crimes increased sharply afterward. By November 5, 2003, police had enough evidence and witness testimonies to believe that a serial killer was involved and that it was a tall person with rough factions who was posing as a city council nurse or social worker to gain the victims' trust. However, the police was reluctant to make this public because the Mataviejitas had become a weapon in the fight between Mexico's federal government (controlled by PAN) and the capital's city council (controlled by PRD), more so after Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador became the PRD candidate for the 2006 Mexican presidential election. PAN attacked López Obrador, claiming that violent crime had increased during his term, and his recently implemented public healthcare plan for residents over 70 years of age was blamed for the killings because (in their opinion) the murderer was a nurse. PRD, in turn, denied that the Mataviejitas existed and accused PAN-related media of sensationalism. In December, the police released a wanted poster with two eyewitness sketches of the Mataviejitas, one more feminine and another more masculine-looking, but the sketches were labeled as persons of interest only and there was no mention of their clothing. It wasn't until the following year that police finally admitted to the existence of a serial killer.
In mid-2005, Barraza began a relationship with taxi driver José Francisco Torres Herrera, alias El Frijol ("The Bean"), who became her accomplice. The attacks increased in range and frequency, and the times when the murders occurred changed from daytime to nighttime. The killing of 82-year-old Carmen Camila González Miguel on September 28, 2005, an upper-class woman and the mother of prominent Mexican criminologist Luis Rafael Moreno González, spurred the police into launching a special operation under the name Operación Parques y Jardines ("Operation Parks and Gardens"). Officer patrols in the areas where the killer was active increased, pamphlets advising the elderly to be wary of strangers were distributed, along with new sketches, and the police even paid elderly women to act as bait in park areas. In a move that was heavily criticized, police also announced that they were looking for a homosexual man, "transvestite or transgendered", and arrested 49 transvestite prostitutes who were all released when their prints didn't match those collected from the crime scenes. The police also requested collaboration from the French police under the belief that the killer was similar to homosexual serial killer Thierry Paulin, a.k.a. "The Monster of Montmartre".
The lack of murders after October made investigators consider that the killer had committed suicide. However, on January 25, 2006, Barraza was seen by a tenant as she left the murder scene of landlady Ana María de los Reyes Alfaro, and she was arrested by a passing police patrol. Though Barraza was illiterate, a search of her home found a trophy room with newspaper clippings of the murders, along with objects taken from the victims and an altar to Jesús Malverde and Santa Muerte, two folk saints commonly venerated by Mexican criminals. Barraza was also made to pose next to a bust and eyewitness sketches of the Mataviejitas; this was criticized as misleading the public into thinking that police had been in the right trail to finding Barraza. In reality, Barraza had been previously at a police station and was even interviewed on a TV program about wrestling just one week before her arrest, all without arising suspicion. In 2008, Barraza was tried for thirty murders and was found guilty of sixteen of them, and also of twelve robberies. The convictions were mostly for murders she could be tied to through fingerprint evidence. Barraza was sentenced to 759 years in prison, but she will be paroled regardless in 2058, at the age of 100.
Barraza approached her victims on the street or knocked on their door, pretending to be a city council nurse or social worker. Initially, she would disguise herself by simply dressing in white clothes, but later, she acquired a genuine nurse's uniform. Depending on her victims' wealth, she would gain their trust and accede to their homes by offering massages or help in obtaining medicines and subsidies. If her victims were distracted, she strangled them directly; if not, she would beat them first, using moves learned in her wrestling career. Though she carried a bag with medical tools as part of her disguise, Barraza usually strangled her victims manually or with a ligature taken from the victim's own home, which she would leave at the crime scene. She would also rob the victims after killing them, mostly for her own gain, but she would also keep some of their items as trophies.
Mexico City police used two profiles of the killer, which contradicted each other at times. A physical one based on eyewitness accounts described the killer as "a man, dressed as a woman, or a robust woman, dressed in white, height between 1,70 and 1,75 meters [5'6"-5'7"], robust complexion, light brown, oval face, wide cheeks, blonde hair, delineated eyebrows, [and] approximately 45 years old". A psychological one, developed by the Mexican Department of Justice after examining cases of serial killers that targeted elderly women in France and Spain, instead called for the arrest of "a man with homosexual preferences, victim of childhood physical abuse, lived surrounded by women, he could have had a grandmother or lived with an elderly person, has resentment to that feminine figure, and possesses great intelligence".
- Per Spanish naming customs, Mexican people have two last names. The first surname is the first of the father, and the second surname the first of the mother. Hispanics may also have more than one first name and choose to use all or only one. Most people use only the first first name and first last name in daily life, e.g. Juana Barraza.
- Press treatment of the Mataviejitas changed dramatically after Barraza was arrested. Whereas the unidentified, presumed male killer was said to be "very intelligent" and compared to American serial killer Ted Bundy, Barraza was instead defined as "pathological" and compared to Aileen Wuornos.
On Criminal Minds
While Barraza was never directly mentioned or referenced on the show, she appears to have been an inspiration for the following unsubs:
- Season One
- Pablo Vargas ("Machismo") - Both were Mexican serial killers with rocky relationships with their mothers, targeted lone old women, gained access to their homes by posing as a nurse or social worker, used objects taken from the house to kill their victims, took trophies, and were captured while fleeing the home of their last victim. Also in both cases, local law enforcement was criticized by the media for refusing to admit that a serial killer was involved at first, and later for centering their suspicions on a transvestite prostitute despite having little reason to do so. However, unlike Barraza, who was only believed to be a transvestite male before her capture, Vargas really was one.
- Season Two