In the United States, and many other affluent countries, law enforcement enjoys a plethora of tools at their disposal to help catch serial killers. Yet they often struggle to capture them despite having plentiful information on them, access to technology, authority over the populace and the co-operation of inter-state and inter-departments. More often than not the areas of their hunts are the manicured lawns in urban centres or large well mapped parks.
In South Americas Colombia, serial killers are not common knowledge nor is information about them all that plentiful. Law enforcement agencies, known for being corrupt and ineffective, barely have any authority over its populace mostly due to the instability and violence of a long running civil war that wrecks havoc and displaces many of Colombia's 41 million people. The available technology in much of Colombia is nearly non-existent: finger printing is hard to do never mind a centralized computer system. Much of Colombia is still dense jungles teeming with fighting para military, guerillas and government forces. Add to all this, is the lack of resources, manpower and co-operation between the law enforcement agencies - it's truly a wonder any one in Colombia gets charged with a crime.
Due to the decades long civil war many of Colombia's children are homeless, orphans or poor and they are everywhere – barely seen, never heard. So when the children in Colombia started disappearing from the streets as early as 1992 - no one took much notice, they were not missed and no reports ever filed.Credit: DiscoveryChannel
When the graves of one, two and three children started popping up all over Colombia with similar details, no one in law enforcement linked the crimes and not many eyebrows raised among the populace. When the mass graves started appearing in 1997, things changed quickly.
This is not the story of a serial killer and his horrific crimes, this is the story of how Colombia's law agencies hunted and captured one of the most prolific serial killers known to humanity, despite having all the odds against them.
Profiling the Unknown Suspect
Bringing many criminal sciences together
The mass grave of 27 bodies found in Pereira November 1997 sparked a nation wide hunt for the man (or woman) responsible for the deaths. The people of Colombia were starting to yell for justice for those found in the grave. Heat was building up, politics was starting to get involved because it was big news, international news.
But the detectives found themselves at a loss as to where to begin. The bodies found were skeletal remains so finger printing could not be done, dental records proved fruitless as none were found. That left them only the one option of facial reconstruction. The authorities understood that they needed help or at the very least guidance from outside sources and did start making requests to various organizations around the world for assistance.
Frank Bender, a forensic artist and Mario Artunduiag, a forensic constructionist started to work on overcoming barriers and hurdles they faced to complete the task of reconstructing a growing child's face. Unlike adult skeletons there were no standards or guides for working with children's bones. Using measurements from various children in the area they were able to formulate a method with the help of other techniques used around the world - Russia's technology for reading bones and USA methods of statistics and filing. They were successful and the 4 recreated faces identified successfully.
Credit: DiscoveryIn January of 1999 in Palmira another mass grave containing 25 bodies was located along with thirteen pieces of evidence. The thirteen pieces of evidence were substantial and to some people evidence speaks its own language.
A forensic investigator named Carlos Hernam Herrera analyzed the evidence found in Palmira. The items found at the crime scene – shoes, glasses, underwear, wallet and bottles – all provided the clues needed to start a profile of the killer.
The shoes showed uneven wear and unusual fraying which indicated his shoes were too large for him and he walked with a limp. His height range was estimated at 1.63m to 1.67m.
The glasses prescription was specific to an illness that strikes between the ages of 40 – 45
years and 55-60 years of age. The frame of the glasses was bent in the way a glass wearer adjusts them to fit better. In this case, to accommodate uneven ears. Though the glasses yielded two good clues Carlos could'nt figure out why they're burnt and investigators returned to the scene to discover that there was a high possibly the killer had somehow burnt himself.
- The money in his wallet indicated that he travelled, quite extensively and even into Ecuador at times.Credit: Telegraphuk
The bottles found in Palmira were also found at many of the other crime scenes – both mass graves and individual graves. This proved a connection between crime scenes other than the signature left.
The underwear would likely provide DNA so it can be compared with at another time when the killers been caught
Using the new information and applying the process of elimination, Colombian authorities now pulled case files and all legal paperwork from 1992 till 1997 on everyone who had charges relating to aggression with children. This gave them a rather large number of names of men and women. Removing all women left them with less than half that. To further reduce the number of suspects they added factors – adding a minimum age of 42, height and ll known crime locations of the killer and a final list of 25 male suspects was the result.
Finally, they had something to work with and men to track.
The Hunt Is On
The Troubles Begin
While many officers were involved in the tracking and hunting of the still unnamed killer, two stand out that of Prosecutor Fernando Aya and Detective Duran Aldemar. Fernando was actively pursuing 13 murder cases and two mass grave cases, Duran was actively out in the streets often with a team of undercover agents all portraying themselves as homeless men. He was also the one who was running from town to city to village back to a town going over files that were not in the system and trying to generate new information or leads. Since 1996 Duran has tried to find the man responsible for the deaths of three boys in Genova.
Fernando was ordering men back to the crime scenes they knew were those of the serial killer they sought to find answers to questions such as why no one complained about the smell or how did the killer move bodies and children without being seen. Duran meanwhile had headed to Bogota to research some murders that took place there. It was in Bogota that he came across the file of a murdered child.
The file described the disappearance and death of a 12-year-old boy named Renald Delgado in 1996. The crime scene details and the positioning of the body (hands tied and almost headless) were strikingly similar to the cases he was tracking. The file had information that would start to widen the crack in this serial killers anonymity.
Credit: GoogleMapsIn Tunja, 250 km north of Bogota, a prostitute and a store owner both claimed the boy last with a strange man before disappearing. The strange man was located and questioned but released on insufficient evidence. The mans name was Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos and his name was on the list of 25 suspects. The file even contained a recent address in Trujilo and stated Luis's place of birth as Genova, both having cases that linked to this investigation.
Duran headed for the address in Trujilo and met a woman named Ester, Luis's sister. After Duran explained why he was there and how he got the address Ester handed over a bag and box that belonged to her brother. It contained photos of Luis, cards, notepads with details, receipts and more. Interestingly, the receipt was for a money wire. Duran followed up on this and discovered yet more boxes and bags belonging to Luis. This one contained razors, lube, nylon rope, newspaper clippings, bus tickets and lotto tickets.
While Duran inched closer to finding Luis, Fernando was taking on more cases. One was the mother of a boy who had gone missing in mid April of 1999 while selling lotto tickets to pay for school. They still did not know how he was gaining access to his victim but he was getting sloppy and taking kids that would be missed.
Most of Colombia was looking for him by now.
On April 22, 1999 a call came through to police from an auto body shop who claimed that a boy has shown up stating he was kidnapped and just escaped. The police arrived quickly with Fernando among them. The boy, Ivon, claimed that when his kidnapper tried to attack him earlier a homeless man had saved him by interrupting them and it was then that he escaped.
Immediately police were searching the area but yielded no sign of Luis. On the way back to the police station to regroup the boy called out and pointed at a man walking down the street, saying “that's him, that's him”. The man he identified himself as Bonofacio Moreno Liscado, a man who was not on the list of 25 suspects. Despite the calm manner of the man police were taking no chances and arrested him.
Fernando arrived at the station after hearing of the arrest and visited the suspect. Struck by how similar Liscado was to the description of Garavito - the man they sought. He was 42 years of age, wore glasses, was 1.67m tall, limped and had burns on his body. But it was also noted he used two different signatures on the paperwork he signed. Fernando was positive this was Garavito but he needed to prove it beyond a doubt. They needed his DNA without making 'Liscado' aware that they were taking it.
An elaborate plan worthy of Hollywood was hatched. They set up eye exams for all inmates to take so that Liscado would not get suspicious and lie on his. While he was getting the eye exam they searched his cell and located hair samples, they also searched his cell for anything else and found phone numbers. The DNA linked Liscado to the crime, the eye exam proved he had the eye condition and the phone numbers all lead to friends of Garavito.
Duran was sure there were more boxes of evidence out there and using a rouse with an undercover agent they got Liscado to talk and he gave up one last box of paperwork. Had much the same as the other boxes it but for one piece of crumpled paper and marked with tallies. Despite the evidence against Liscado, the District Attorney wanted more evidence to ensure a open and shut case.Credit: El Heraldo
For the first time, the Colombian police used a Dutch based software program called the Link Program. Basically it associates events, probabilities and co-incidences between things that do not have a clear connection ... it shows patterns that are hard to see in large amounts of information. Once they pumped the machine full of everything they had – the results solidified all the existing evidence and showed that Garavito had been in each site a body was found.
Now the District Attorney was happy.
Since his arrest in April the authorities have allowed him to believe they believed he was Liscado. For the first time since his arrest the detectives confronted Liscado with everything they had. For many hours, upwards of 8 or 9 hours he did not break, did not admit to anything and denied everything they said, he did not even break so much as a sweat. They wanted a confession and knew that Garavito was not going to break for any old detective.
Duran was the only other person who knew Garavito and the cases involving him so well that Liscado could not talk his way out of what he was being told, he couldn't keep denying it as Duran kept hammering him with details of the crimes, the people he had met and the children he had murdered. After 18 hours Liscado broke and admitted to being Garavito and not Liscado. He confessed to the how's, why's, where's and even gave more information about objects used for the assaults. He defended himself saying he was possessed at the time of the murders.
Garavito knew he was well and truly caught and started to co-operate with the investigators sharing information, maps to victims locations and ultimately confessed to the murder of 140 boys.
The Legal Legwork
Keeping him behind bars
Colombian courts were not ready for a case like Garavito. Whom admitted to killing children in at least 54 cities and villages in and around Pereira. He is believed to have killed anywhere from 300 to 400 children.
Colombian law is based on the adversarial system (like North America), but when a criminal confesses to his crimes and the evidence is in line with what he is saying, court proceedings can continue without the suspects presence. And no one involved in this investigation wanted a big trial and more sensationalism than what was needed.
Credit: El HeraldoCharged and plead guilty to 140 murders his sentence would have been nearly 2000 or more years. Unfortunately Colombia does not have the death penalty nor endorse life sentences. In 1999 he was sentenced to the longest time allowed, 30 years. Later the law changed, in part due to the outrage expressed at Garavitos sentence. He can now serve a maximum of sixty years.
Regardless his crimes or the horrific-ness of them, eight years was shaved off his sentence for his co-operation and he is eligible for early release with good behaviour. The prosecutor general in Colombia has said that Garavito can be charged for further crimes that were not a part of this arrest once evidence is located. Once his sentence is done here, he will likely be extradited to Ecuador to answer for crimes there.
It needs noting that Garavitos case is still technically open and cases are still pending against him. The authorities do not want to release him any more than anyone wants him released and they are clearly forming a game plan to stay a step ahead of him this time.