Juana Barraza’s alcoholic mother sold her to an older man when she was 12. Her price? Three beers.
It was a tragic case of history repeating itself as the Mexican girl’s mum, Justa Samperio, had herself been sold into the sex trade as a child, and gave birth to Juana when she was just 13.
Juana was the youngest of two children the traumatised alcoholic had with Trinidad Barraza, a trucker five years her senior whom she met at a nightclub.
Despite her best efforts to give her daughters the stable family she had never had, Trinidad’s philandering was too much for Justa to handle and she walked out, taking their children with her.
Years later, after his arrest, he told local media that he had “lost count” of how many kids he had fathered after his 32nd child was born.
After pre-teen Juana was “sold” to the much older man, he tied her to a bed and repeatedly raped her, and she fell pregnant at the age of 13. She lost that baby, and would again fall pregnant to him at 16, but suffered another miscarriage.
She suffered at his hands for five years, her mother lying to the rest of the family and claiming that she had gone off to start a new life with him of her own free will. Eventually she was found and rescued by her uncles.
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By the time Juana turned 20, her mum had died from cirrhosis of the liver. Free of her influence and eager to put her horrific childhood of rapes and beatings behind her, she decided to move to Mexico City and start a new life.
But starting afresh was much harder than she anticipated. Due to her neglectful childhood and hellish adolescence, Juana was almost completely illiterate – she seethed with anger at how her mother had treated her, and decades later that ire would find an outlet in the most abhorrent of ways.
Juana made a living by organising and participating in Mexican wrestling tournaments, even taking to the ring in a bright pink costume and mask as La Dama del Silencio, or The Quiet Lady.
After her arrest she would tell cops that the name was inspired “because I’m quiet and keep myself to myself.”
But she simply didn’t earn enough from working as a luchado to support her family, and after the birth of her fourth child in 1995, Juana was forced to turn to crime to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. She married twice, both relationships failed.
To survive, Juana began shoplifting, before advancing to burglary. She would pawn the stolen jewellery and other valuables. In 1996, she and her friend Araceli Tapia Martinez came up with a new plan; they’d both dress as nurses and rob elderly people who lived alone.
There would be no more breaking and entering, the old dears would let them in no questions asked.
Criminologists would later argue that Juana’s violent crimes against these vulnerable older women weren’t just about stealing items to sell, but were her way of dealing with the trauma caused to her by her mother.
It is estimated that Juana killed around fifty old women between 60 and 85 years old, around the same age as her mother would have been if she was alive . She would batter her victims, using moves she had learnt and honed in the wrestling ring. Some of her victims would be found beaten to a bloody pulp.
Her ‘finishing move’ would be strangulation with her bare hands, a stethoscope, pair of tights, curtain cord, or telephone cables.
From 1998 onwards, the older population of Mexico City were terrified of El Mataviejitas, but police never once suspected that ‘The Old Lady Killer’ could be a woman.
Even when a string of witnesses reported seeing a muscular figure in a dress near the many crime scenes, police didn’t think this might be a woman serial killer at large – they assumed it must be a transvestite. In 2003 they brought in 49 of Mexico City’s transgender prostitutes for questioning, sparking outrage in the LGBTQ community.
The killings continued, with police growing increasingly desperate to nail the fearsome granny-slayer. They even paid old women to act as decoys, and would watch them sitting in the park hoping the killer might strike.
But Juana’s eventual capture was a lot less dramatic. On 25 January 2006, she was arrested fleeing the home of her final victim, Ana María de los Reyes Alfaro, 82, after the old woman’s lodger raised the alarm.
Juana was carrying a stethoscope, pension forms, and a card identifying her as a social worker, all props needed to gain the trust of the elderly.
She later admitted to murdering Alfaro and three others, but denied ten other killings prosecutors said she was a fingerprint match for, and forty more believed to be the work of El Mataviejitas.
On 31 March 2008, she was found guilty on 16 charges of murder and aggravated burglary, including 11 separate counts of murder.
At her trial she explained her motive very simply, saying: “I got angry. I killed old ladies because my mother mistreated me, bit me, cursed at me and sold me to an old man.”
Juana was sentenced to 759 years in prison, but due to Mexican laws will likely serve just the maximum term of 60.
While inside she was courted by a male prisoner, who after three years of writing to her got her to agree to marry him.
However, she called off their marriage after a year, claiming that meeting him had taken away all the attraction and excitement from the relationship.