Sunday, July 5, 1998

Expert profiles Juárez killers

Ex-FBI man thinks one lives in El Paso

By Jodi Bizar
Special to the Express-News

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico -- The deaths of scores of women, whose bodies were dumped in the desert outside this border city, are the work of deviants operating independently or in a gang, an expert on violent behavior says.

And the chief culprit still is at large, likely living in El Paso and will kill again, Robert Ressler says.

"We're definitely looking at a man with a history of deviant behavior," said Ressler, who headed the FBI's Violent Criminal Apprehension Program before retiring.

After reviewing police files and touring the areas where the bodies of 76 mostly young women were dumped, Ressler said he is convinced someone in El Paso is responsible for more than half those deaths, is stalking young women in Juárez and is killing them.

"This isn't someone who started doing this overnight," said Ressler, who came here at the request of Mexican authorities.

Attorney General Arturo Chavez Chavez said his office brought Ressler here because he is an expert on serial killings, and "we have no one with that kind of experience" in Mexico.

"It is a good thing we brought him in," Chavez said. "We have all the faith in the world in Ressler's investigation and that it will continue to advance this case."

Since 1993 the bodies of the women, most aged 12 to 21, have been found in remote desert areas surrounding Juárez. They had been sexually assaulted, strangled and stabbed.

Dozens of Mexican detectives have been conducting what Ressler characterized as a thorough investigation -- "better than many U.S. police departments would have done."

Their first arrest was an Egyptian man in 1996 who still is in jail, and in May they arrested a gang of 10 teen-agers in connection with several of the deaths.

But the killings continued. The bodies of five women have been found since the gang members were arrested.

Ressler, who investigated such well-known killers as Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson and David Berkowitz, arrived in this city of about 2 million two weeks ago.

He is the director of the private Forensic Behavioral Services, based in Virginia, and is an expert on violent criminal offenders, particularly serial and sexual killers. He retired from the FBI after 20 years, including 16 at the agency's Behavioral Science Unit.

After reviewing evidence of the killings here, inspecting crime scenes and meeting with dozens of law enforcement officials, Ressler concluded two serial killers and a gang of killers committed the murders, but not as a joint effort.

The gang and one alleged serial killer are in jail, and the remaining killer will be captured within six months, Ressler predicted.

"Actually, I think, sooner than that," he said.

"My leading theory is that there's a person living in El Paso who is going over to Mexico to take advantage of these less-sophisticated women," he continued.

Chavez agreed with him and said it was something Mexican officials had also thought was a strong possibility.

Ressler spent a week in Juárez and plans to return this month with other experts.

Most of the women killed were from small towns in the interior of Mexico and came to Juárez to work at the many maquiladora factories that dot the border here.

Ressler said the chief killer must have a history of this kind of behavior, and Texas law enforcement agencies have been asked to search their records for similar patterns.

Because so many killers were at work in Juárez, the situation is confusing and hard to solve, he said.

"There's a conglomeration of situations here," Ressler said. "There's a number of signatures. There's not one person responsible for all."

About three years ago the Egyptian, 52-year-old Sharif Sharif, was arrested in connection with about 20 sexual assaults and murders.

Sharif, a chemist living here, was said to have drugged his victims, assaulted them and murdered them before dumping the bodies on the outskirts of the city. He was said to have had a gang of sociopaths working with him.

But Sharif has yet to be prosecuted, and from jail he loudly proclaims his innocence, even going so far as to accuse Mexican authorities of blaming him simply because he is foreign-born.

Asked why it was taking so long to prosecute Sharif, Ressler said: "Well, Mexican justice might not be quick enough, but I think they have a good case against him."

Sharif's arrest produced skepticism because the killings continued after he was jailed. Ressler said that is because other serial killers apparently went to work on essentially the same type of victims.

At least 26 deaths may never be explained because the bodies were too decomposed to identify, Ressler said.

Some of the unsolved murders may be unrelated to serial killings, he said, noting at least one incident where a man allegedly killed his niece and then dumped the body in the desert to make it look like she was one of the victims of these serial killings.

"There may be some copycat work going on here," Ressler said.


© 1998 San Antonio Express-News