La Dama del Silencio wasn’t a great wrestler. If anything, she could normally be found hitting the ropes at amateur events, somewhere toward the bottom of the card or selling popcorn as she was frequently injured. Nor was her name, translating to “The Quiet Lady,” one that struck fear into the hearts of those who paid to see her grapple. Her ring gear — a butterfly mask, striped pink leggings, frizzy orange hair — didn’t help much either. Not to mention, once she took off that butterfly Lucha mask, the woman born Juana Dayanara Barraza Samperio looked as though could be your mother.
At the same time, however, her ring name hinted at how she lived under the radar for so long. In fact, on January 25, 2006, after being arrested on suspicion of killing between 42 and 48 elderly women — making her Mexico’s first recorded female solo serial killer — she’d tell police that she chose the name, “because I’m quiet and keep myself to myself.” (She quietly snuck into her victims’ lives, too, posing as a visiting nurse just there to selflessly help with their care, before brutally strangling many of them with a stethoscope cord.)
Barraza was born on December 27, 1957, in Epazoyucan, Hidalgo, a rural area situated to the north of Mexico City. Barraza’s mother, Justa Samperio, was an alcoholic and sex worker. She was also just 13 when she gave birth to Barraza. She left Barraza’s father, truck driver Trinidad Barraza, three months after the baby’s birth, tired of his philandering — reports state he fathered as many as 32 children, though he concedes himself he “lost count.”
It’s alleged Samperio, who fell pregnant shortly upon meeting Trinidad, gave care of her daughter away to an elderly man named José Lugo in exchange for three beers. Barraza was 12 at the time. A year later, Barraza would become pregnant by him. She’d miscarry, only to fall pregnant again at 16. She’d miscarry once more. Finally, after her mother succumbed to cirrhosis in 1980, Barraza felt liberated enough to escape the horror of her existence and fled to Mexico City. Not even 20, she’d never learned to read or write. It’s said the resentment she felt toward her mother for allowing her childhood to be so wretched, so fearful and so abusive never dimmed.
A handful of marriages followed. Many were abusive. Still, they resulted in four children (though some reports place the number at seven). Her eldest expired at age 24, never recovering from injuries sustained either (depending on conflicting reports) from being attacked with a baseball bat or being shot during a skirmish between rival gangs. At trial, Barraza stated that this was when her rage began to spiral out-of-control. Her second child, a girl, married young and left home early, though at the time of her mother’s arrest, she was living close to Barraza’s first-floor rental on the eastern edge of Mexico City. It’s here where Barraza lived with her two other children — a boy (13) and a girl (11). Their elder sister stepped in when their mother was taken away.
Like most, her life of crime started small. In 1995, after the birth of child number four, she began to steal from shops (the money from her wrestling gigs wasn’t nearly enough to make ends meet). Next, she moved on to home burglary, pawning the jewelry and other valuables she lifted in the process. Then, in 1996, she and her friend Araceli Tapia Martinez came up with a new criminal enterprise: They’d both dress as nurses and rob elderly people who lived alone. In time, however, Martinez would betray Barraza.
It’s believed that the first murder took place in Mexico City on November 25, 2002. The victim was 64-year-old María de la Luz González Anaya. She’d been beaten and strangled to death, her body left sprawled on her couch. The following year, beginning with 84-year-old Guillermina León Oropeza on March 2nd, and ending with Alicia Cota Ducoin on November 28th, Barraza is believed to have taken seven more lives. The year after that, the annual body count hit 14, including 70-year-old María Dolores Martínez Benavides, who was strangled with a stethoscope so violently that her neck snapped. In 2005, the year before Barraza’s capture, the death toll reached 18. Her oldest victim was her second to last, 92-year-old María de los Ángeles Repper Hernández. She’d been strangled with her own scarf, her face beaten to a pulp.
Almost immediately, a theory developed that the killer may be playing the role of a government official, lulling their victims into a false sense of security by offering them a chance to sign up for some kind of social welfare program. “We’re dealing with a brilliant mind!” Bernardo Bátiz, then chief prosecutor in Mexico City, was quoted as saying at the time. Other theories were less plausible — e.g., at one point it was believed that because three of the victims owned a print of a painting by the 18th-century French artist Jean-Baptiste Greuze (“Boy In A Red Waistcoat”) the murders were somehow all connected through art. Similarly, after a perceived break in the case in October 2005, it was suggested that maybe the killer had ended their life. Fingerprints from the crime scenes were subsequently cross-referenced with any corpses in Mexico City mortuaries that had recently fallen victim to suicide.
Nobody, however, believed that the killer could be a woman. With only 15 percent of serial killers thought to be female, nobody ever does. In fact, as late as 1998, famed FBI profiler Roy Hazelwood would claim “there are no female serial killers,” despite the first serial killer on record probably being a woman — Locusta, an infamous Gaul-born poisoner who was beloved by Nero. And yet, while Barraza was on the loose (now dubbed El Mataviejitas, or “The Old Lady Killer”), multiple witness statements confidently claimed that they’d seen someone in women’s clothing fleeing from several of the crime scenes, a prominent sighting being one of a “broad-shouldered woman” in a red dress.
There was also historical precedent in the country for such a cold-hearted female killer. Las Poquianchis is the name given to two sisters — Delfina and María de Jesús González — from Guanajuato, who between the early 1950s and mid-1960s, operated a prostitution ring they called Rancho El Ángel. They sourced talent by kidnapping young women after they’d responded to ads placed by the sisters requesting employment as housemaids. Instead, they’d force the women to ingest huge amounts of cocaine and heroin, before pimping them out and killing them when their looks failed or if they resisted in any way. Police found the bodies of 80 women, 11 men and several fetuses when they raided the sisters’ property. When asked how the bodies had gotten there, one of the sisters reportedly claimed, “The food didn’t sit well with them.”
Still, Mexican authorities focused their investigation on Mexico City’s transgender community, because of reports that the suspect was wearing women’s clothing. Forty-nine people were brought in for questioning, but to no avail. (The LGBTQ+ community was outraged.) In December 2003, the police, more or less clutching at straws, released two eyewitness sketches of the alleged Mataviejitas. One was slightly more feminine than the other. Then, as if to corroborate just how confused they were about what line of inquiry to focus on, they released two, often contradictory, profiles of who they believed the killer to be.
One was a physical profile. “The killer is a man, dressed as a woman,” they claimed. “Or a robust woman, dressed in white, height between 1.7 and 1.75 meters [basically around 5-foot-6], robust complexion, light brown, oval face, wide cheeks, blonde hair, delineated eyebrows and approximately 45-years-old.” The psychological profile drew upon cases of serial killers who had targeted elderly women in Spain and France, specifically Thierry Paulin, or the “Beast Of Montmartre,” who between 1984 and 1987 had slain as many as 25 elderly woman. Nevertheless, the resulting profile was pretty cliched stuff. “The killer is a man with homosexual preferences, and a victim of childhood physical abuse,” it read. “He could have had a grandmother or lived with an elderly person, and has resentment to that feminine figure and possesses great intelligence.”
The case finally turned in late 2005 with the murder of 82-year-old Carmen Camila González Miguel, the mother of noted Mexican criminologist Luis Rafael Moreno González. It inspired the police to launch a new operation — Operación Parques y Jardines (translation: Operation Parks and Gardens). Patrols in areas where the killer had struck previously were ramped up, and thousands of flyers warning of stranger danger were distributed. Police even paid elderly women to act as bait in park areas.
They apprehended Barraza a few months later. She was spotted by the live-in tenant of a woman named Ana María de los Reyes Alfaro, as she fled the scene of what would prove to be her final killing. Inside the flat, 84-year-old landlady Reyes Alfaro lay strangled to death. Barraza was picked up by a passing police patrol; on her person was a stethoscope, pension forms and social worker identification card. The police obtained a search warrant for her address and — despite her illiteracy — found a room in which newspaper clippings of her crimes were methodically stored, as well as objects that had belonged to the victims. (Barraza’s home also featured an altar, with figurines of the “folk saint” Jesús Malverde — often referred to as the “angel of the poor,” and within Mexican culture, a Robin Hood-type figure — and Santa Muerte, who within Mexican folk Catholicism, is the personification of death itself.)
“I only killed one little old lady. Not the others,” Barraza vowed when she first appeared in court. “It isn’t right to pin the others on me.”
She was asked to provide a motive for her crimes. “I got angry,” she replied. (She later added, “I killed old ladies because my mother mistreated me, bit me, cursed at me and sold me to an old man.”)
On March 31, 2008, Barraza was found guilty on 16 charges of murder and aggravated burglary, including 11 separate counts of murder. She was sentenced to 759 years in prison. She showed little emotion as she heard the verdict. “May God forgive you and not forget me,” she said upon hearing the judges words. She won’t be eligible for parole until 2058, at which time she’ll be 100 years old.
These days, Barraza spends her days selling tacos to other inmates at Mexico City’s Santa Martha Acatitla prison. Her specialty is said to be cochinita pibil, a slow-roasted, spicy pork dish that’s Yucatan in origin. Her name still carries currency within Mexican pop culture; case in point, the cumbia singer Amandititita, who as a former guest on the El Rey network’s excellent wrestling show Lucha Underground, knows a bit about Lucha Libre herself, wrote a hit song about her. “La Mataviejitas wants to get rid of your grandmother,” goes the vocal, over a fusion of rock, reggae and rap. “No one can stop this shameless person, she is a professional wrestler, she used to call herself La Dama del Silencio. No one suspected or could have imagined such a thing. This killer could be your neighbor…” (It’s catchier than it sounds.)
She also got married to 74-year-old Miguel Ángel, another prisoner at Santa Martha Acatitla who is serving a life sentence for murder. He’d courted Barraza for years, via mail, though the two never met until their wedding day. They saw each other just three times, for a total of about two hours in all. Maybe that’s why the marriage only lasted a year. “Once we saw each other, the love vanished,” Barraza reportedly told a deputy.
In terms of her wrestling career, one of her last appearances before her arrest was on a Mexican TV show. On it, she talked about her life as a wrestler. And while she was definitely “The Quiet Lady,” she also promised viewers that, no matter the name, her character was definitely “bad to the core.”
Maybe then, “The Old Lady Killer” was hiding in plain sight all along.