A killer was terrorising Mexico’s capital city…

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From 2000, dozens of elderly women were murdered in their homes.

They were either strangled or beaten to death. Their properties were often ransacked, small items taken from the homes.

The killer was quickly dubbed ‘La Mataviejitas’ meaning ‘The Old Lady Killer.’

The police were at a loss as to who was committing these atrocities. But in October 2005, they finally caught a break.

During one murderous mission, the intended victim’s son interrupted the attacker.

The assailant escaped but the victim’s son was able to give the police a description…

He said the killer was stocky, with dyed red hair and a facial mole.

He believed the attacker was a man dressed up as a woman.

The police made composite sketches and a plasticine model of the suspect and started questioning local transvestites.

Their investigations led them nowhere.

Then, on 25 January 2006, 82-year-old Ana Maria de los Reyes allowed someone into her home.

It was an action that would cost her her life.

The octogenarian was strangled with a stethoscope that happened to be lying on her living room table.

The killer fled, just as Ana’s tenant arrived home.

But crucially, he’d seen the murderer’s face…

Finding his landlady’s body, he alerted the police who were able to detain the killer a few blocks away.

Identified as 48-year-old single mother Juana Barraza, the killer was led away by police but told reporters: ‘Yes I did it. Just because I’m going to pay for it, that doesn’t mean they’re going to hang all the crimes on me.’

Juana Barraza, next to a bust the police used to help in the search for a serial murder suspect. (Photo: PA Photos)

Her fingerprints were also found at the scene and partially matched those from five other slayings.

Juana was detained while shock and surprise flooded the city.

Most had assumed the killer would be male.

But who was Barraza and why was she killing innocent elderly women?

Juana Barraza was born in 1957 in a poverty-stricken village in the state of Hidalgo, north of Mexico City.

Not much is known about her childhood but it’s understood she never learned to read or write much beyond her name.

Her early childhood was spent with an alcoholic mother who gave Juana away at the age of just 12.

Some say her callous mother gave her up in exchange for three beers.

Juana’s new guardian reportedly raped her repeatedly.

Did Juana harbour a deep-seated resentment towards her mother for allowing the abuse to happen?

It’s thought that as a result of the sexual abuse Juana became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy.

She went on to have four children in total, by three different fathers, and despite her own hazardous relationships, her life with her children was remarkably stable.

Through a mixture of street vending, domestic work and theft, Juana was able to support her family.

But tragedy struck.

When her eldest was a young man he was attacked by muggers with a baseball bat.

He died from his injuries.

Juana’s second eldest was a girl who married young and moved out of home, but she stayed close to her mother’s rented flat.

By 2005, her younger two children were still at home.

Later, someone said of Juana that she was ‘proud to say she has kept things going on her own. She is proud of being both a father and mother to her children.’

Neighbours described Juana as always pleasant in passing and that her children were friendly.

Juana also had a passion for lucha libre – Mexican masked wrestling.

She competed in fights under the name ‘The Silent Lady.’

She watched wrestling matches and sometimes sold popcorn at the events too.

The battles were usually identified by two groups – technicos – the good guys who fought by the rules, and – rudos – villains who broke them.

Juana described herself as the latter.

It’s not known exactly when her killing spree started but the elderly women were usually strangled with items such as women’s tights, a curtain cord or telephone cable.

Some were bludgeoned to death with household objects and she’d sometimes steal symbolic ‘trophies’ such as ornaments or religious items including crucifixes, rings and bibles.

She’d also an alter in her home to the skeletal, scythe-wielding Santa Muerte (Saint Death), a folk saint and death cult figure popular with thieves and drug smugglers.

Prior to unmasking Juana’s identity, investigators had believed the killer got into the victims’ homes by posing as a nurse or government worker, or offering to help the women with chores.

And when Juana was finally arrested, police said she’d a list of names and addresses of elderly women affiliated with a government assistance programme, as well as forged identification and a blood pressure monitor.

In March 2008, Juana Barraza stood trial for murder.

Juana Barraza after her arrest (Photo: PA Photos)

When asked what her motive was, she said she was angry at having been given away by her mother to a man who raped her.

Although her victims were strangers to her, she chose them because they were of a similar age to her mother.

‘I felt rage, anger,’ she said.

Barraza, then 50, was sentenced to 759 years in prison for 11 counts of murder and aggravated burglary charges.

Her children, younger children, then 11 and 13, were being cared for by their older sister.

Barraza will spend the rest of her life in prison.