Case File #0138
The Psychopath
El Psicópata
"It appeared he had fallen victim to another serial killer..."
In 1986 nine members of the Zamora family visited La Cruz de Alajuelita in San José, Costa Rica for the beginning of the Holy Week in what should have been an event of special significance. Instead, seven of the women and girls never returned back down the mountain, their bodies found a short time later. All were summarily shot to death, whilst some of the girls had been raped in what was a vicious crime that horrified the nation. The Alajuelita Massacre was the first crime attributed to a killer who became known as "El Psicópata", the Pyschopath who is suspected of murdering nineteen people over a ten year period. The still unidentified serial killer conducted a reign of terror in Costa Rica where he would ambush couples, and sometimes lone women, indiscriminately shooting them to death with an M-3 submachine gun and in some cases performed mutilations on the female victims. A strong suspect was identified, however his own death at the hands of another serial killer left many unanswered questions surrounding his guilt.
On 6 April 1986, 26-year-old Rosario Zamora Martínez brought her three daughters with her to attend a liturgical event on the San Miguel Hill in the Josefino canton of Alaljuelita. She wanted to complete the pilgrimage to the cross to give thanks to God for helping her recover from a chronic disease, and was accompanied by her sister, 41-year-old Marta Eugenia Zamora Martínez and her four daughters who all made the journey to La Cruz where the lighted cross stands in the mountains, visible for miles around. On that Sunday morning the nine members of the Salas Zamora and Sandí Zamora families started to walk up the mountain, but after some distance Rosaria complained that her feet hurt because the shoes she had worn that day were not suitable for walking long distance. She told her sister she would not be able to make it all the way up to "La Cruz", and her niece, 18-year-old Cristina Salas Zamora decided to stay with her whilst the rest continued onwards.

Carla María Sandí Zamora

After some time had elapsed Rosario began to worry as others who had made it up the mountain began to return, but there was no sign of her sister with her daughters and nieces. The search by police and volunteers began that same evening but it was not until the afternoon of 7 April that a discovery was made. The owner of a property in the area found the bodies of the women, Marta Eugenia and her daughters 16-year-old María Gabriela Salas Zamora, 11-year-old María Auxiliadora Salas Zamora and 9-year-old Carla Virginia Salas Zamora along with her nieces, the daughters of Rosaria, 13-year-old Alejandra Sandí Zamora, 11-year-old Carla María Sandí Zamora and 4-year-old María Eugenia Sandí Zamora. They had all be killed by gunshots to the head and five of the bodies were lined up under a banana tree, whilst another two were found under a chayote plant. It was later determined three of the girls had been raped prior to their deaths.

The bodies of the Zamora family are located

In what would become known as the Alajuelita Massacre, the murders quickly became known as the worst crime in Costa Rican history. Investigators had few clues as to the identity of the killer of killers, and little was known of the events that transpired. It was learned afterwards that the seven women and girls began to make their way down the mountain, but had taken a shortcut where they presumably encountered the killer. The murder weapon was eventually identified as being an M-3 submachine gun and the killer had targeted the women with head shots, with a clear intention to murder.

Rosario Zamora comforted by relatives

Marta Eugenia Zamora Martínez's husband was quoted in the Tico Times on 11 April 1986 exclaiming; "I can’t explain how something could happen like this to innocent little girls," he continued, "It’s impossible. They were little girls and they didn’t know anything about life… They were just beginning to live." It didn't take long for rumours to begin to circulate about an apparent motive for the crime. Many people, including some relatives of the victims, suspected the massacre was revenge against the husband of Rosario Zamora Martínez. Luis Roberto Sandí Rapso, known as "Macho Rapso" was a known criminal who specialised in safe cracking, and it was believed his connection to the criminal underworld had been the possible catalyst for the murders.

The Zamora Funerals

By July 1986 two suspects were arrested in relation to the case and both stood trial where they were found guilty and sentenced to prison terms. The men, Jose Luis Monge Sandí "Tres Pelos" and Arnoldo Mora Portilla "Arnoldillo", had criminal affiliations and the police believed two other men were also involved in the massacre. However these men, Alvaro Chinchilla Vásquez "Viruta" and Arnoldo Gererado Mora Quesada "Galleta" had both died in seperate violent incidents in June 1986. The local authorities were confident they had prosecuted the men responsible for the heinous crime which the people of Costa Rica would not soon forget.

The four Alajuelita Massacre suspects

On 12 December 1986, a young couple, 27-year-old Roberto Castro Mora and his girlfriend, 19-year-old Francis Salazar Suárez were reported missing to police. It wasn't until the following year that their fate would be revealed. Another young couple vanished on 11 February 1987. 23-year-old Juan Guillermo Nájera along with his girlfriend, 21-year-old Damaris Rodríguez were reported missing by friends who worried they had suffered the same unknown fate as the previous couple. A search was conducted in the vicinity of La Amistad Park where the bodies of two females were found in different sectors of the neighbouring hacienda. The bodies were those of Damaris Rodríguez and Francis Salazar Suárez, the latter was too decomposed to reveal the cause of death, whilst Suárez had been recently shot to death, and it appeared she had suffered mutilation to the genital area. A further search of the friendship park in Curridabat resulted in the discovery of two more bodies, those of Castro Mora and Guillermo Nájera who had been deposited in the same place under some bushes. All had died from gunshot wounds to the head with what ballistic tests determined was an M-3 submachine gun which used .45 ACP ammunition, the same type used in the Alajuelita Massacre.
The Police were beginning to suspect the crimes were connected, but did not reveal this publicly as it would mean the current suspects arrested and imprisoned were in fact innocent. However these murder did capture the attention of the press who began to refer to the unknown gunman as "El Psicópata/The Psychopath". Ligia Camacho Bermúdez was at her home on 14 June 1987, reading a book whilst sitting on her bed when she was shot by someone from outside the house and killed instantly. Her boyfriend had left her residence in San Antonio de Desamparados around 10:00pm and she then changed into her sleepwear and sat by her curtained window where her silhouette was seen by her killer.

Ligia Camacho Bermúdez

Her body was found the next morning when her relatives called her repeatedly and were forced to break down her bedroom door where they found her lifeless body. A bullet had entered the left side of her head, fired by an unknown calibre weapon. This crime was initially considered an isolated incident, which officers thought was perhaps the result a scorned lover because of the different circumstances in which the victim had been found, with the previous bodies all discovered outside.
Although fingerprints were found at the scene, there was no way to identify the culprit without a suspect. Only later would police make a connection when ballistic tests revealed the same M-3 submachine gun with .45 ACP ammunition had been used in this crime. No further attacks or missing people were reported for the rest of the year and police believed the killer or killers had stopped their vicious killing spree. But the investigation continued and by 1988, detectives would get the first real lead in the case when on 20 August 1988, the Psychopath launched a failed attack on a woman in San Vincente de La Union, Cartago. The victim later provided police with a composite sketch of her assailant, which revealed the face of the killer, a young man with black hair and moustache. The next day the killer would be more cautious.

Suspect sketch of El Psicópata

On 21 August 1988, Asdrubal Vargas was walking home when he noticed a pool of blood in his path. He decided to get help from three neighbours and together they followed the trail into a coffee farm where they discovered the bodies of a young couple. 18-year-old Víctor Julio Hernández and his girlfriend, 15-year-old Aracelly Astúa Calderón had left a bus stop from Curridabat at a stop on the Inter-American highway near Tres Rios, which was south of San José and were walking back from a party when they were intercepted by their killer along a darkened street in San Vincente de La Unión, in Cartago. The gunman forced the couple to continue walking about 15 meters into the coffee plantation which was adjacent to the road and there Julio Hernández was immediately shot dead. The killer then turned to Astúa Calderón, attacking her with a knife to her breasts and buttocks before shooting her to death.

Calderón and Hernández

Afterwards the killer used the same knife to mutilate her genitals in a gruesome display of butchery. Police suppressed many details of the case, but it was revealed Julio Hernández had been shot six times, with one bullet in his chest and another in his temple. Besides the extensive knife wounds, Astúa Calderón had been shot four times and because of her wounds, doctors could not determine if she had been sexually assaulted. The murder weapon was found to be the same M-3 submachine gun and .45 ACP ammunition from the previous murders. The composite drawing from the survivor was now widely circulated by detectives who warned citizens not to attempt to capture the man because he was to be considered armed and extremely dangerous. Any sightings were to be reported to the nearest police station.

Newspaper Article on the Killings

The following year saw no let up in the Psychopath's reign of terror. On 20 April 1989, 20-year-old Marta Miriam Navarro Carpio, who was married with three children, left her home in Barrio Pinto in Montes de Oca to go collect clothing from a woman in the neighbourhood of La Granja. On the way she met 30-year-old Edwin Mata Madrigal, who was divorced with a son, and her agreed to accompany her in his pick-up truck. When they arrived at a farm in Lomas de Ayarco, Curridabat, they were attacked by an armed assailant. El Psicópata shot through the back window, hitting Mata Madrigal in the nape of his neck who fell back, slumped in his seat. The killer then dragged Navarro Carpio from the vehicle, taking the woman inside the farm. She was then shot once in the face and again in the head and her body was found in the vicinity of the Tiribí River. According to the post-mortem, the killer had used a knife to inflict the same vaginal mutilations found on the previous victims. After this brutal murder the killer disappeared and would not be heard from again for six years.
Soon enough the Costa Rican authorities were forced to admit there had been a massive miscarriage of justice and in 1992 the two men arrested for the Alajuelita Massacre were cleared of all charges. The errors in the process of the investigation resulted in their trial being annulled and without enough evidence to hold them, they were released. The police now realised they had made huge mistakes in the case and the real killer had been allowed to continue his crimes whilst "Tres Pelos" and "Arnoldillo" were in prison. Investigators elaborated on the psychological profile of such a killer, who targeted women, children and couples. Several detectives had their own theories on the identity of El Psicópata, with some believing he was a "Rambo" type who had severe mental trauma and was either a former military or police official. Others put forward the idea he was the son of a wealthy politician and this was the reason he was not yet apprehended, because he was possibly untouchable. During the six year absence, it was suspected the killer was either sick, in prison, dead or had left the country.
By 1995 it was believed the Psychopath had returned, however police had their doubts. On 12 March 1995, 20-year-old Marjorie Padilla Sequeira was being accompanied home by a young man she knew along a darkened road around 800 meters from Higuito, Desamparados. The young man left the woman at about 25 meters before she reached her destination. In that short distance, she was intercepted by her killer who shot her in the back as she attempted to flee. After several hours she succumbed to her wounds. It was suspected the gunman had intended on killing both Padilla Sequeira and her male companion, but failed when the young man departed before they reached his hiding place. A test of the .45 caliber bullet confirmed to detectives the Pyschopath had struck again. This murder occurred two weeks after the death of one of the previous prime suspects, Jose Luis Monge Sandí "Tres Pelos".

Marjorie Padilla Sequeira

The last crime attributed to El Psicópata occurred on 26 October 1996 with the murder of another young couple. 23-year-old Ileana Alvarez Blandón and her boyfriend, 24-year-old Mauricio Cordero López who were reported missing by their frantic and worried parents. Soon word arrived that a body was found half-buried at the Napoleón Munoz estate, however no confirmation had been made on the identity of the corpse. As the search continued, Cordero López's Nissan Sentra was located approximately 1km along a road that led to the Napoleón Munoz estate which was the site of an abandoned pit where another body was found. The couple had both been ambushed near a block in Patarrá de Desamparados and forced from their car at gunpoint, then made to walk 500m where they were both shot to death. It was found that Alvarez Blandón had suffered the exact same mutilations to her genital region as the previous victims.
The investigation was no closer to catching a suspect after 10 years of gruesome murders attributed to the same individual or group. Although very little was known about El Psicópata, police knew enough about his victims to attempt a psychological profile of the killer. His preference was to target single women and heterosexual couples, usually in areas that were not busy at night to avoid being identified, especially in the area between Curridabat, Cartago and Desamparados, which at that time was referred to by locals as the "triangle of death". With the passing of ten years, the statute of limitations ran out on the still unsolved crimes, which made any prosecution of a potential suspect impossible, unless new evidence surfaced. Several years after the last known murder, detectives focused their investigation on one main suspect, who matched the description given by the only known survivor.
But police would be too late to apprehend the man, when they learned he was apparently killed in 1998. The 45-year-old suspect was of Nicaraguan nationality who entered Costa Rica in 1979 where he worked from 1983 to 1984 for the Metropolitan Police in San José and was assigned to work night patrols around Patarrá, Curridabat and San Antonio de Desamparados, where most of the later murders would occur. During his time with the police, he attended training courses at the police academy of Murciélago in Laz Cruz, Guanacaste. By the end of 1984 he returned to Nicaragua to fight against the Sandinistas alongside Commander Eden Pastora Gomez who commanded the Democratic Revolutionary Alliance. By the end of December 1985, he returned to Costa Rica together with a group of ex-guerillas. He bought a house in Linda Vista de Rio Azul, La Union where he lived between 1986 and 1990 and worked as a bodyguard for a Costa Rican businessman.

Updated sketch of El Psicópata

The suspect had suffered from prostrate and urological disorders between 1990 and 1995, which meant he had to receive medical attention on a regular basis. He later sold the property and moved into another one in Villas de Ayarco in Curridabat with his wife and three children until the time of his death. He was known to own two taxis, one of which he kept at a garage close to where the last victims were found in Patarrá, and during a search of his house police found a knife which was considered very similar to the one used by the killer to mutilate the female victims gentials. The suspect's wife provided authorities with a plastic bag which contained .45 caliber bullets that the suspect kept in his house and were the same as the ammunition used in the crimes. Officers also found other incriminating evidence, the nature of which they decided to withhold.
Although his identity was not released to the public, the circumstances of his death were and it appeared he had fallen victim to another serial killer. On 19 June 1998, four hikers found numerous bones scattered in a ravine in the Braulio Carrilo National Park, near the San José Guápiles highway. Police believed the bones were the remains of three adult men and determined the victims had died at different times due to the various stages of decomposition. It was suspected to be the work of a serial killer and not the perpetrator of multiple executions at the same time. A month later the Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ) established the three victims were of Nicaraguan nationality and had all previously been reported missing. This was verified after detectives cross-examined reports of disappearances which described the clothing and property of the missing. The Nicaraguan suspect, a former guerilla had a pin in his right leg, which appeared between the bones and this helped verify his identity which was also confirmed by his family.
The man police suspected to be El Psicópata was reported missing on 25 March 1998 after meeting his Costa Rican killer in a bar, who identified himself as an ex-guerilla. The man then left the bar and was involved in an alleged traffic accident in downtown San José, whilst under the influence of alcohol and cocaine. The Costa Rican man then offered to take the Nicaraguan man home in his red Nissan Sentra, but instead he took him to Zurqui where he killed him. Detectives believed the motivation for the murders originated because the 26-year-old Costa Rican suffered rape as a child at the hands of a Nicaraguan shoemaker and from then on he resented all Nicaraguan men, deciding to exact his revenge. He was known as “matanicas/Nicaraguan killer" because of his choice of victim. With the prime suspect dead, the investigation into the El Psicópata killings came to an abrupt end and the truth about the Nicaraguan ex-guerilla's involvement has become the subject of intense speculation.

Written by Nucleus