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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Suspected serial killer accused of luring women on Facebook with fake job offers

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State and federal authorities in Mexico said Thursday they have arrested a suspected serial killer accused of luring young women on Facebook with false job offers.

Authorities said they have surveillance camera footage from two states showing the man meeting with the victims in public places, and in one case driving a victim away on a motorbike.

Prosecutors released several of the images on Wednesday.

The suspect “is a serial killer of women, and there are at least seven cases of women’s killings where this person could be involved,” said Assistant Public Safety Secretary Ricardo Mejia.

On Thursday, authorities said they rescued two girls, ages 13 and 14, who had been lured away from home with offers of employment in the western state of Jalisco. They were found with a suspected abductor at a Mexico City bus station.

Drug cartels in Mexico have also been known to offer employment on social media sites.

The arrest comes about five weeks after the body of 18-year-old law student Debanhi Escobar was found in a motel water tank, triggering a public outcry in Mexico. Escobar’s sexual assault and death is now being investigated as femicide, and she quickly became a symbol for an angry women’s rights movement in a country where around 10 women are murdered every day.

In 2021 alone, Mexico registered 3,751 murders of women, most of which are still unpunished.

In April, hundreds of women marched through downtown Mexico City and its suburbs to protest Escobar’s death.

Marchers chanted “Justice, justice!” and carried a banner reading “24,000 are missing” about disappeared women. Overall in Mexico, the number of missing people of all genders has risen to over 100,000.

Mejia said the most recent case involved the killing a 31-year-old woman in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz after she went for a job interview last month.

“Viridiana Moreno Vásquez  left her house in (the town of) Cardel, Veracruz, and went to the Bienvenido hotel to attend a supposed job interview she had obtained with someone on Facebook,” said Mejía. “After that she disappeared.”

Her name was made public  by relatives who mounted protests after her disappearance. Her unrecognizable body was found days later, and was identified by an ID card found near the scene and by DNA testing.

Veracruz state prosecutors said Moreno was lured by a Facebook messenger post under an accounte registered to “Mary Madison” offering a $90 per week job as a receptionist.

“Duties include answering phones and making appointments,” according to a copy of the message distributed by prosecutors.

Prosecutors in the central state of Morelos said Thursday the same suspect had killed a 22-year-old student looking for work in April. Local activists said the student was lured into meeting the suspect at a cafeteria in late March by a Facebook listing for a job or articles for sale.

He then took her to a barber shop, where she was apparently killed.

Three days later, prosecutors said, her body was found: “The victim had been beaten, sexually abused and strangled.”

Protests also occurred after her disappearance. One chilling aspect was that both women disappeared after making contact with the suspect in public places with a lot of people around and had accompanied him willingly, apparently convinced by the job offers.

It was not clear if the victims’ bodies had been dismembered, but prosecutors in both states mentioned finding their remains in “several places” or in various plastic bags.

The Morelos prosecutors said the man had a long string of aliases and had been sought on rape charges in 2012. They listed Juan Carlos Gasperin and Greek Román Villalobos as the two most common aliases.

The man was arrested along with a female companion in the northern state of Queretaro. It was unclear if he had a lawyer.

Authorities said he may also have been involved in cases in the states of Queretaro and Puebla.

Activists posted evidence that a suspect using the same tactics may have been operating for a decade.

A 2013 article in the Veracruz newspaper El Buen Tono said that Greek Román Villalobos, then 28, had been arrested in 2012 “after he contacted young women to offer them jobs and when they showed up for the interview, he locked them in an office and raped them.”

The article listed some of the same aliases released by prosecutors Thursday.

Veracruz state prosecutors refused to comment Thursday on what the outcome of that 2012 case had been, or why he had been released.

“It is a sign of boldfaced impunity,” said Maria de la Luz Estrada of the activist group National Feminicide Observatory.

Estrada worked on the case of a suspect who raped a dozen women near a subway station in Mexico City; authorities were slow to bring charges against the man, and women found the legal process was stacked against them. The rapist was eventually arrested, but became ever more violent before he was caught.

“What we found was that each time he became more agressive” in the rapes, she said.

The vast majority of murder and rape cases in Mexico go unsolved.

The desperation of women needing work in small, provincial Mexican towns and Mexico’s largely under-the-table economy provides a fertile field for fake job offers.

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