In parts IV and V we covered two of history’s least grandmotherly grannies Nannie Doss and Leonarda Cianciulli. As ruthless as these women were they would have been no match for today’s killer, whose crimes earned her the nickname La Mataviejitas, The Old Lady Killer.
Juana Barraza was born in Hidalgo, Mexico in 1957. Like almost all of the women in this series she began her life a victim of those around her. Her parents were Trinidad Barraza, a policeman, and Justa Samperio, a prostitute. Justa left her partner shortly after giving birth to Juana, and the two shared a cold and unloving relationship as she grew.
When she was just 12 years old, Juana’s mother sold her to a man, Jose Lugo, allegedly for the paltry sum of three beers. For four years she lived with his abuse and was impregnated by him on two occasions, however both ended in miscarriages. After Justa died of cirrhosis, Juana fled to Mexico City.
It was here that Juana, now free of her mother and her abuser, began to take hold of her own life. She held a number of jobs throughout the 80’s and set about making a lifelong dream of hers into a reality. Juana was obsessed with the sport of lucha libre, Mexican masked wrestling, and idolized the fighters, called luchadors.
She became a regular at local matches, often sitting in the front row of the arenas. She eventually made her way into the wrestling world, organizing events and even getting in the ring herself. Juana cut an imposing figure and could bench up to 200 lbs at the height of her wrestling career. She toured central Mexico as a luchador who went by La Dama de Silencio, The Lady of Silence. The name was reflective of Juana’s shy, reserved nature outside of the ring.
By the 90’s Juana had fallen on hard times. She had four children from a number of failed relationships, and supporting them all as a single mother was costly. In 1995, after the birth of her fourth child, she took to stealing from shops and burglarizing homes to help make ends meet.
She and a friend, Araceli Tapia Martinez, combined efforts in a scheme to rob the elderly. The pair would gain entry into people’s homes dressed in all white, claiming to be nurses or social workers. Once inside they would make their way through the house and relieve the occupant of their valuables.
This would become Juana’s modus operandi, except that she rarely stopped at just robbing her victims during these unprompted house calls. In the early 2000’s there was a sharp uptick in murders involving elderly women in Mexico City. When the press picked up the story rumors spread of a new serial killer dubbed El Mataviejitas. Note the use of the masculine “el,” as no one believed these brutal crimes could possibly be the work of a woman.
Juana’s first victim was María de la Luz González, who apparently made some derogatory remarks toward the woman intruding in her apartment. Juana didn’t take kindly to whatever was said and answered by beating González before strangling her to death with her bare hands.
Bodies began to pile up and in 2003 police confirmed the long standing rumor that a serial killer was likely responsible. Despite eyewitness accounts of a woman leaving the scene of these crimes, police held stubbornly to the original assertion that a man was behind the killings. Many of the city’s transgender and transvestite population were rounded up and questioned but none of their prints matched the ones lifted from the crime scenes.
By 2006, the El Mataviejitas murders had subsided leading investigators to suspect the serial killer had committed suicide. Fingerprints of all recent arrivals to the city’s morgues were taken and checked against the crime scene prints but once again no matches were found.
The ultimate break in the case occurred January 25, 2006, when a tenant spotted Juana leaving the scene of the murder of landlady Ana Maria de los Reyes Alfaro. Officers patrolling the area responded to the call and arrested Juana.
Once in custody, investigators posed Juana next to composite sketches and a bust made of her based on eyewitness testimony. Authorities were eager to give the appearance they had been on her trail for some time when almost every step of the case seemed to indicate the opposite. Juana had even showed her face inside of a police station and in a TV interview about wrestling just weeks prior to her arrest.
A search of her home revealed a trophy room full of newspaper clippings of her murders and a number of objects taken from her victim’s homes. In addition to the mementos police found altars to Jesús Malverde and Santa Muerte, folk saints revered by individuals in the Mexican crime world.
Juana was tried in spring 2008, the prosecution sought charges in connection with 40 murders. She confessed only to Alfaro, her most recent victim. By the end of her trial on 31 March, she was found guilty of 16 counts of murder and aggravated burglary and sentenced to 759 years in prison. Maximum sentence under Mexican law is 60 years, so Juana will be up for parole in 2058 should she live to see 100.