With 138 confirmed victims, Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos tops the list of the most prolific serial killers in the history of mankind. He is estimated to have raped and killed as many as 400 children between 1992 and 1999, and was finally arrested when his luck ran out. HEMRAJ SINGH tells the story of ‘La Bestia’ (The Beast) and the investigation that led to his arrest and conviction.
The authorities had just started feeling relieved of a serial killer when four children were murdered in Bogota under circumstances almost identical to those in the other cases for which Pedro had been apprehended. And since Pedro was behind bars, there was little doubt now that he was not the killer they were looking for.
However, the team working on forensic facial reconstruction was making headway by using the techniques developed and used in foreign countries such as Russia, Britain and the USA. Artunduaga managed to reconstruct the faces of four victims, and the family members recognized the boys. This made it easier for the investigators to work their way from the victims to the perpetrator.
Duran’s investigation was also moving forward simultaneously, and from the information in the file relating to the disappearance and murder of Renald Delgado, Duran had managed to track down Garavito’s family in Trujillo. He visited Garavito’s family house and met one of Garavito’s sisters, Ester Garavito Cubillos. Duran inquired if Garavito had left anything behind. His sister told the detective that her brother had left a bag full of personal items with her and had asked her to hold for him. She handed over the bag to the detectives. The bag contained papers, notebooks, pads, photographs and other such things that revealed the details of Garavito’s travels, but did not reveal his exact whereabouts. Further investigation by Duran revealed that Garavito had been found involved by a court in the murder of another minor in Corinto.
Duran paid closer attention to the contents of the bag he had gotten from Garavito’s sister and found a receipt indicating that Garavito had wired some money to a woman in Pereira. It was not hard to track down the address of the woman concerned. The investigators found that Garavito had given another bag to this woman for safekeeping. This bag too carried papers relating to Garavito’s travels between 1994 and 1997. There were clippings from both regional and national newspapers. Bus tickets, pictures and even lottery tickets were found in the bag. The lottery tickets looked similar to the ones that Ivan Sabogal was said to be selling at the time of his disappearance. Synthetic fibres, razors and lubricants such as those found at all the crime scenes were also found in the bag, which further strengthened the suspicion that Garavito was the man they were looking for.
However, the investigators needed a lot more to seal their case against Garavito. Besides, the man was still to be caught, and so long as he was on the loose, lives of young children were in constant peril.
Based on the condition of the crime scene in Palmira and the charred items left behind by the killer at the scene, Duran surmised that the perpetrator must have burnt himself during the crime. Working the theory, the investigators assumed that a severely burnt man would need medical attention soon enough, and with that in mind they went to the medical facilities around Palmira and inquired if a man with burn injuries had approached them for treatment. It turned out that in order to put as much distance as possible between the crime scene and where he received treatment, the perpetrator had travelled for six hours in agonizing pain until he reached Pereira, where he sought medical treatment at a pharmacy. But the pharmacy could not help the detectives any further. There was no way to know where he went after receiving the preliminary treatment.
However, the detectives were now quite sure that the man they were looking for had severe burns on his left arm, left side of the body and on one of his legs. The investigation was progressing and the investigators had identified who they were after, but they had no clue as to where Garavito could possibly be.
On April 22, 1999, at 7:15 p.m., the police received a call from an auto store employee in Villavicencio, who reported that there was a terrified boy who said that someone had tried to rape him. The police rushed to the spot, and John Ivan Sabogal’s mother, Maria, was also called to see if it was her son. It was. Ivan had managed to escape from the clutches of a merciless serial killer and also from a certain and painful death at his hands. However, at that point, the police searching the area to catch hold of the child molester did not know that they were looking not just for a child rapist, but a serial killer with a huge list of victims.
Ivan told the police that the kidnapper had taken him deep into the woods and had stripped him and tied him up. When he pulled a knife out, Ivan screamed and his cry attracted the attention of a homeless, pot-smoker, who came over to his rescue. The homeless man challenged the molester and threw stones at him, which scared the attacker and in panic he cut him loose and ordered him to run deeper into the forest. Ivan, knowing that following his command could only get him in trouble, ran towards the homeless man instead. And the two of them ran away together. The attacker, knife in hand, pursued the two for a short while, but gave up soon perhaps for the fear of being caught. The two were found by the store owner, who called the police.
The search by the police for the attacker proved fruitless and they decided to head back to the police station. Ivan was with his mother in a police car being driven to the police station when he suddenly saw the man who had attacked him. He immediately pointed him out to the police. The police apprehended the person, who gave his name as Bonofacio Morero Liscado. That name was not on the list of 25 suspects that the police had prepared. The police had no reason to suspect that they had somebody quite as dangerous as the most prolific serial killer in the history of mankind in custody. Their prisoner did not seem anxious, agitated, aggressive or dangerous in any way.
However, when prosecutor Aya got to know of the arrest, he paid the prisoner a visit and did not fail to note the striking resemblance Liscado had with Garavito, the serial killer the police were looking for. He also noted that his signature on each document signed by him in police custody was different, which raised his suspicion further. The investigators investigating the murders of children committed by the serial killer were invited for a discussion and to exchange information regarding their cases by Aya so as to ascertain if the man they had in custody was actually the serial killer they had been looking for.
Aya brought along the picture of the person they had in custody and when the investigators, including Duran, looked at the picture, they knew almost instantly that they had their man in custody. He fitted the profile perfectly. The man who called himself Bonofacio Morero Liscado was in fact Luis Alfredo Garavito and was the man wanted for the rape and murder of numerous children across Columbia.
Garavito was 42 years old and 167 centimeters in height, wore glasses and had burns on his left arm and on the left side of his body. That’s precisely what the profile of the serial killer in question based on the crime scenes had predicted. However, the investigators needed to strengthen their case further in order to land a conviction. The notebooks recovered indicated his travels and also his presence at the places where the crimes were committed and at the time they were committed, but there was still a case to be built against Garavito because a direct connection between the offender and the crimes was yet to be established.
The investigators had adequate understanding of their suspect. They surmised that, given the kind of person Garvito was, it was very likely that he had other records of his crime stored somewhere else, which could help them obtain a conviction based on solid evidence. The challenge now was to unearth the evidence, which was difficult in the given circumstances because the suspect was not really forthcoming. So, the investigators got in touch with Umbar Toro, one of Garavito’s best friends, and enlisted her assistance to gather further information. At the instance of the investigators, Mrs. Toro paid a visit to Garavito in prison wearing a concealed microphone. She had a long, casual conversation with Garavito during which he revealed that there was another bag containing some of his belongings, which was in possession of the wife of another prisoner. The investigators did not face much problem getting hold of the bag, which contained a number of documents including the photographs of children and a paper with some marks scribbled on it. The marks looked random at first and did not make much sense. Later, the investigators discovered that they were looking at Garavito’s personal tally of victims. Samples of Garavito’s hair and blood samples were sent to the DNA laboratory to match them with the evidence collected from the crimes scenes. In order to verify that the partially burnt glasses found at the crime scene in Palmira, in fact, belonged to Garavito, an eye examination was necessary. But this could be tricky because Garavito could lie during the eye examination and defeat the purpose. So, the jail authorities subjected all the prisoners to an eye examination and made it look like a routine exercise to avoid rousing Garavito’s suspicions. It was during the time when Garavito was being given an eye examination that the investigators collected hair samples from his jail cell for a DNA test. The tests returned positive.
…to be continued