30 years ago, La Cruz de Alajuelita massacre began the worst series of killings in Costa Rican history

April 5, 2016

When the bodies of six girls and one adult woman were found on April 6, 1986 lying in two rows in a ditch in front of La Cruz de Alajuelita, the landmark metallic cross that hovers over southwestern San José, it was quickly dubbed the worst crime in Costa Rican history. Thirty years later,that grizzly distinction remains unchanged.

The slaying of 41-year-old Marta Eugenia Zamora, alongside her three daughters and three nieces, who ranged in age from 4 to 16 years old, led investigators on a chase to find the killer known as “El Psicópata,” or The Psychopath. Zamora had taken the girls on a pilgrimage to the cross to give thanks to God for helping her recover from a chronic disease.

After the murders, Zamora’s husband Carlos Luís Salas was quoted in the April 11, 1986 edition of The Tico Times:

I can’t explain how something could happen like this to innocent little girls,’ he said. ‘It’s impossible. They were little girls and they didn’t know anything about life… They were just beginning to live.’

Below is the entire Tico Times story on the massacre from then-reporter Julia Meeks:

Use the slider at the top of the DocumentCloud window to zoom in on smaller text.

Though arrests were made in the Psicópata murders, all suspects were later cleared. Meanwhile, bodies began to stack up throughout the eastern suburbs of San José. The serial killer continued to target women, sometimes while they were engaged in sexual activity.

By 1995, El Psicópata was linked to 19 killings. Ten years later, the statute of limitations ran out on the still unsolved crimes, making any prosecution of a potential suspect impossible barring new evidence.

The legend of the most feared serial killer in Costa Rican history made an eerie prelude to the most recent chain of killings in the slums of some of San José’s deeply impoverished neighborhoods last year.

There, a killer stalked drug-addicted prostitutes, killing nine women in six months, under the shroud of sparse media coverage. Unlike El Psicópata, who usually targeted the middle class, this new killer, known as “Mata Indigentes” or “Killer of the Poor,” earned his name by going after society’s most vulnerable targets.

A suspect whose DNA has been linked to at least three of the bodies is currently being held in San Sebastián prison.

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