National/World News : Friday, April 02, 1999

Bus driver is key in unsolved deaths of Mexico women

by Ricardo Sandoval
Knight Ridder Newspapers

MEXICO CITY - A bus driver who admitted in court yesterday to raping and beating a 14-year-old girl has provided authorities with what they term their first big break in investigating a series of unsolved murders near the Texas-Mexico border.

Jesus Manuel Guardado, who claimed responsibility before a judge yesterday for assaulting the girl last year in Ciudad Juarez, is standing behind his statement to police that he killed four women in the industrial city across from El Paso, Texas. Police were investigating whether he had killed several more.

Guardado also named eight other bus drivers he alleged were involved in other killings.

Since 1993, about 130 women - mostly young and slender with long, dark hair - have been murdered in and around Ciudad Juarez, a gritty city where young Mexican women are thronging to work at foreign-owned assembly plants known as maquiladoras.

Yesterday, the teenager stood before a judge in Ciudad Juarez and identified Guardado as her assailant.

Mexican police, with the help of FBI agents and criminal "profiler" Robert Ressler, have closed many of the Juarez murder cases as individual crimes of passion and domestic violence. As many as 76 murders, however, remained unsolved.

"This could be the break we've been working hard to find," said Alonso Rodela, one of a team of Mexican investigators who for years have been sifting mounds of evidence in the string of murders.

Guardado was arrested Tuesday in Durango, a desert city south of Ciudad Juarez, in connection with last June's attack on the teenager.

Criminologists involved with the investigation warned it may be premature to attribute the killings only to bus drivers.

"It's difficult to imagine how eight or nine individuals could keep this secret for so long," said Jose Antonio Parra, a Spanish criminologist who spent several years investigating the Juarez murders.

Several previous suspects were accused in multiple killings in Juarez in recent years, only to see most of the charges dismissed for lack of evidence.

Nevertheless, Guardado at least in part fits a profile Ressler developed for Mexican police: one or more men who work at or around maquiladoras and know when the women might be alone on their way to and from their jobs.

Many victims lived in shantytowns in the desert that have sprung up as the maquiladoras flourished.

Copyright 1999 The Seattle Times Company