The surprising true story of Mexico’s hunt, arrest, and conviction of its first female serial killer
For three years, amid widespread public outrage, police in Mexico City struggled to uncover the identity of the killer responsible for the ghastly deaths of forty elderly women, many of whom had been strangled in their homes with a stethoscope by someone posing as a government nurse. When Juana Barraza Samperio, a female professional wrestler known as la Dama del Silencio (the Lady of Silence), was arrested—and eventually sentenced to 759 years in prison—for her crimes as the Mataviejitas (the little old lady killer), her case disrupted traditional narratives about gender, criminality, and victimhood in the popular and criminological imagination.
Marshaling ten years of research, and one of the only interviews that Juana Barraza Samperio has given while in prison, Susana Vargas Cervantes deconstructs this uniquely provocative story. She focuses, in particular, on the complex, gendered aspects of the case, asking: Who is a killer? Barraza—with her “manly” features and strength, her career as a masked wrestler in lucha libre, and her violent crimes—is presented, here, as a study in gender deviance, a disruption of what scholars call mexicanidad, or the masculine notion of what it means to be Mexican. Cervantes also challenges our conception of victimhood—specifically, who “counts” as a victim.
The Little Old Lady Killer presents a fascinating analysis of what serial killing—often considered “killing for the pleasure of killing”—represents to us.
"Serial murderers, lucha libre wrestlers, gender-transgressing vestidas, prejudiced scientists and disoriented policemen populate the pages of this insightful study of the cultural construction of crime and criminals in Mexico. Focusing on a case that challenged what Mexicans thought they knew about crime, Vargas examines performance, images, media languages and expert discourses, and uncovers their racist and machista premises. Her criticism is original but also urgently needed, as we see how the neglect of certain victims and the criminalization of those who do not conform to gender norms contribute to the dehumanizing levels of violence that Mexico is witnessing today."-Pablo Piccato,author of A History of Infamy: Crime, Truth, and Justice in Mexico
"This brilliant mixed-genre meditation on the life and crimes of Juana Barraza combines the pulse of true crime, a picaresque cast of historical characters, the contextual nuance of cultural history, the sophistication of queer theory, and disturbing new insights into Mexican identity and its complicated relationship with human mortality—a (trans)historical achievement of the highest order."-Robert Marshall Buffington,author of A Sentimental Education for the Working Man: The Mexico City Penny Press, 1900-1910