Filiberto is an ex-serviceman, a former catechist and a former zumba instructor. He was arrested in 2014 for his alleged role in the femicide of 32-year-old Elionahe Chávez Rivera and four teenage girls, all from the municipality of Tamuin, San Luis Potosí.
Filiberto’s arrest was the result of a thorough investigation … but not by the authorities. No, the investigation was carried out by Elionahe’s family.
The Criminal Investigations Unit always had excuses ready for why no progress was being made, often citing the “lack of resources” for a search.
The family conducted its own research and even hired a private investigator who compiled the series of phone calls and text messages that tracked how the suspect stalked his victim.
The family also obtained surveillance video footage that showed Filiberto loitering near Elionahe’s workplace and only after all that did San Luis Potosí authorities pursue him.
After he was arrested, Filiberto confessed to murdering Elionahe and four other women. He later retracted his confession, claiming he had been tortured. But in his initial statement he described where the victims’ bodies were and they were indeed found there.
To be true, the bodies were not found by the state District Attorney’s Office either. Instead, the families of the murdered women had to locate them.
"The authorities suggested they 'go see if Filiberto is telling the truth' and they found the location and confirmed that there were bodies buried there,” said attorney David Peña, who works for the Action Group for Human Rights, that assists victims’ families.
When families actively participate in the investigation, Peña affirmed, cases move forward despite the limited resources at their disposal.
Disturbingly, when the authorities step in, the investigation slows down.
For example, when the San Luis Potosí District Attorney’s Office went to search for the bodies in Tamuín, they only collected a few bones, leaving the remainder because “there was too much mud,” according to agent in charge Antonio Ortega Hernández.
The authorities only return to the burial site two years later but by then they nothing was left.
Complaining over and over about a lack of facilities, the authorities have even lost the little evidence they did collect.
"The San Luis Potosí District Attorney’s Office lacks sufficient evidence storage facilities,” asserts Peña, “but after finding Elionahe’s body, they handed her clothes over to the family without performing any tests. That evidence was essential for determining where the victim was before the murder. There might have been fluids from the attacker, specific soil samples, paint ... but since the district attorney’s office failed to secure and preserve the evidence, it was all lost."
From another of Filiberto’s victims, a minor, authorities recovered only six bones. Then they incinerated five of them, without consulting the prosecutor, keeping only one for “analysis.” They eventually lost that bone too.
In the case of another of Filiberto’s victims, her body was found covered with a mat. The authorities did not perform any tests and the mat eventually rotten such that is became unusable as evidence.
In November 2017, Sinaloa authorities recovered a female body from a clandestine grave excavated in a field behind the Culiacán Women’s Hospital.
Photographic evidence indicates the body was processed by employees of a private funeral home, not by official medical staff or forensic anthropologists.
The explanation? The Sinaloa state capital does not have the staff or equipment to collect all the bodies dumped as a result of organized gang violence.
"Body removal is not even done by specialists or by Homicide Department personnel, even if they are present,” declares María Isabel Cruz, the mother of Yosimar García Cruz’ mother, a missing Sinaloa police officer. María founded the Sabuesos Guerreras (Warrior Bloodhounds), a group of victims’ family members who search for their missing loved ones in that Pacific coast state.
“Instead, funeral homes workers handle the bodies. They are the ones who collect and transport the bodies."
Juan Carlos Saavedra, whose brother José Antonio is another missing Sinaloa police officer, told us: “When the people from the funeral homes arrive, they might literally sever a foot or a hand with their shovels and that’s not proper.”
Because funeral home employees are not properly trained, explains Juan Carlos, a paramedic by trade, autopsy results can be misleading since the bodies have injuries unrelated to the murders. The unscientific process can also contaminate evidence, if it is even collected at all.
In March 2018, the Sabuesos Guerreras recovered a clump of hair still tied with a lace bow, as well as a human vertebra, from the same field behind the Women’s Hospital where Elionahe and the other victims were found.
To this day, neither the hair nor the vertebra has been identified though it is possible that they belong to victims previously discovered. Either way, victims’ families know it is evidence now abandoned by the authorities since it never reached the laboratory and is not in any case file.
Nevertheless, the working hypothesis expressed by the authorities is that “this is a place where garbage is thrown out. Maybe a stylist threw out some hair clippings.” That is according to Marco Antonio Hernández Avilés, head of the Sinaloa detective’s unit.
Of course, that version has never been confirmed with any expert analysis.
Between 2010 and 2014, at least 5,272 “human remains” — not bodies, but bones and fragments — have been recovered from 372 clandestine gravesites across Mexico, according to a report by the Ibero-American University published in 2017.
Still, it’s impossible to know how many bodies they comprise, because no forensics examinations have been carried out.
And the fragments are piling up. Sabuesos Guerreras recovered 5,217 bone fragments just on June 11 of this year.
For 5 years now, Mónica Orozco has been looking for her son Ulises, missing since he was seen being assaulted by private security staffers at a concert in the state of Hidalgo. The incident is documented in a video.
When Mónica asked the Hidalgo Criminal Investigations Unit to search the mines near the concert site to see if her son’s body might have been disposed there, a detective told her that “if my son’s body was there, I’d just let the dogs have it.”
“I will never forget that for the rest of my life," Mónica says.
Ever since, Mónica has been distributing posters with her son’s photo and visits forensics departments around the country searching for Ulises.
On Feb. 15, 2018, Mónica and two other mothers of missing children — one from the State of Mexico, another from Mexico City — were granted access to the Morelos state Forensics Service offices after the recent scandal there. Since 2010, staffers from the forensics office created a mass grave in the municipality of Tetelcingo, where they disposed of hundreds of unidentified bodies for more than three years, tossing them out “like trash” because they did not have the facilities to manage the sheer numbers of corpses.
Mónica and the other two mothers were received by staff in the tiny office that serves as the “Human Identification” department. The desks are decorated with ceramic skulls and on top of a cabinet was a coffee mug with a Nazi symbol. A robe with blood stains hung from the door.
Surrounded by these grim signs, the department manager told them that three years after the scandal, the system for processing human remains in Morelos has been modernized, but the available information only dates back to 2015. The sons of the three women went missing between 2010 and 2014.