La Dama Del Silencio
As far as most killers are concerned, they typically save donning a mask for when they commit crimes, not for their day job. Nothing about the pink butterfly mask of Mexican professional wrestler La Dama del Silencio hinted at the sinister secret of the heinous acts committed by the real-life, criminal alter ego that made her Mexico’s most prolific serial killer. Translated to English as “The Lady of Silence,” in Mexican pop culture, La Dama del Silencio is better known as la Mataviejitas: “The Old Lady Killer.”
From the late nineties to the mid-aughts, the death toll had been mounting in central Mexico. Despite already being a high crime-rate area, the elderly were typically seen as off-limits. This is what made la Mataviejitas’ crimes especially shocking: her targets were all women sixty and older. The killer’s modus operandi was to approach elderly women (typically those who lived alone) and gain entry to their homes under the pretext of being a social worker offering to sign-up the victim for welfare programs. La Mataviejitas would then beat or strangle them to death, afterward stealing items of religious significance as trophies.
It was not until 2006 that la Mataviejitas’ reign of terror finally came to an end. The culmination of a two-year manhunt came after an elderly woman was strangled to death with a stethoscope in a borough of Mexico City. Following her murder, a breakthrough occurred: an eyewitness reported a suspect fleeing the scene who was described as a sturdily-built, middle-aged woman. Initially, the police were certain the killer was a crossdresser—after all, criminologists had determined the killer to be a man.
Subsequent to the suspect’s apprehension, Mexico was in for a shock when it was discovered that el Mataviejitas (as the press referred to the killer prior to capture) was actually 48-year-old, Juana Barraza.
As her arrest became public, bits and pieces of her story slowly began to emerge. She came from an abusive household and, later, her son was murdered in an attempted mugging. This incident led her already dark life down an even darker path. Despite only being charged for post-millennium crimes, speculation has since linked her to a series of murders that began in the late nineties when she was in her early forties, which would place the start of these killings in the same timeframe as the aftermath of her son’s murder. Police criminologists now believe that “Barraza was so damaged by her experiences, she ended up targeting old ladies because she identified them with her mother.”
The onion continued to unravel. The police investigation led to the discovery that she had a shrine in her home devoted to Santa Muerte, the “Saint of Death.” Another discovery from that search quickly became a lasting piece of Mexico’s cultural zeitgeist: the discovery of a picture of Barraza dressed as a luchadora. In it, Barraza poses with short, bleached blonde hair and is outfitted in pink spandex with golden accents, completed by a butterfly motif on her waistline and in the form of a lucha libre mask, which is ubiquitous throughout the tradition of Mexican professional wrestling. Over her shoulder, she proudly sports a championship belt.
Her career in the colorful world of lucha libre was largely confined to the bottom-tier, in the independent outskirts of lucha libre. When police asked about how she chose the ring name of “La Dama del Silencio,” she responded that she chose the moniker “because I am quiet and keep myself to myself.”
A former criminal justice professor presented the theory that “in Barraza’s day-to-day life, presenting herself in public as a wrestler is what provided her with a plausible cover for traveling, being awake at odd hours, and having access to all kinds of people. They’re intertwined, in my opinion.”
On the condition of anonymity, Ripleys.com spoke to several veterans of lucha libre that are based out of central Mexico—la Mataviejitas’ former predatorial hunting territory—to see if they had ever crossed her path. It turns out, they had. They had dealt with her not in the capacity as a professional wrestler, but for events, she promoted in the year prior to her arrest.
“She didn’t look like a killer.”
The luchadores tell Ripley’s that, while they admittedly didn’t know her well, “she didn’t look like a killer.” She was clean, polite, and conducted herself respectably. “She had a good reputation and was a friend of many.”
Unsurprisingly, these days it is difficult to find a luchador who will admit to having known her: “No one wants to say they worked with her because of her crimes. At the time, no one knew of her crimes, and no one said anything after she got caught. We were shocked that we were so close to a murderer. Everyone was scared of the Ministerio Público (Police Department), so no one said anything.”
When all was said and done, Barraza confessed to the murder of four victims but has since maintained that she is being used as a scapegoat for the rest. She was ultimately convicted of killing eleven women. However, it is believed that she has committed as many as 24 to 49 murders. To date, that number is unsurpassed by any known serial killer in Mexico. She is currently serving a 759-year prison sentence for her crimes.
By Kris Levin, contributor for Ripleys.com
Kris Levin is a professional wrestling referee and everybody’s favorite nephew. He can be seen internationally on IMPACT Wrestling as their most junior official, #KidRef Riley, and on social media at @RefKrisLevin.