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.
In addition, the investigators also used the software program designed to process large amounts of data pertaining to events and calculate the probability of the two or more seemingly unconnected events being connected. The more the links between the two events, the greater the probability of their being connected. This was the first time that the investigators in Colombia used a computer software to compute the probability of the connection between a suspect and a set of crimes. The results were very encouraging. Hotel reports, testimonies and other evidences were put into the program, and it was found that Garavito had been in every location of the crimes under investigation. The results indicated that there was a very high probability that Garavito and the crimes were closely connected. With physical evidence, together with DNA results, it was further confirmed that the investigators had the right man in custody.
The prosecutors were confident that they had a watertight case against Garavito. With all the information in hand, they decided to confront and interrogate Garavito. However, there was no confession forthcoming. Garavito admitted to no wrongdoing. He swore on his soul and with tears in his eyes proclaimed to be a good man and told the investigators that they were making a huge mistake. The interrogation continued for over eight hours, but Garavito did not budge in the least. His demeanour remained perfectly composed and consistent. The interrogation had failed to break him. The investigators decided to stop the interrogation, for they were not getting anywhere with it. However, they had still not tried the best interrogator for the purpose – Aldemar Duran.
Duran had spent extraordinary amount of time investigating the crimes committed by Garavito and was also an experienced homicide detective. The vast investigative and interrogation experience coupled with the intimate knowledge of the crimes committed by Garavito came in handy when Duran sat across the table from Garavito and described in fine detail how Garavito had committed his crimes making the killer relive the experience of killing, which broke Garavito down. He could not take it any longer, and broke down. With cold detachment of the kind that only serial killers can summon, Garavito confessed and put down the details of his crimes in his own words. He mentioned the children he had assaulted, the weapons he had used and the places where he had committed the crimes. However, he did not see himself guilty of the crimes. He claimed that in each instance of crime he was possessed by an evil spirit, which used him as a tool to commit the crimes. A psychiatric evaluation found that Garavito had an ‘anti-social personality disorder’.
Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos was born on January 25, 1957 in Genova, Colombia. The horrors of the Colombian Conflict, beginning in 1964, had hit the lives of the citizens in Genova rather badly. The prevailing milieu was not ideal for a child to grow up in, and to make matters worse, Garavito’s father was far from a model parent. He did not hold back when it came to punishing his son. Garavito was the oldest of the seven sons his parents had for children, all of whom had a terrible childhood owing in no small part to the violent behaviour of their drunken father towards them.
During the police interrogation, Garavito claimed that his father was not only a wayward and violent drunkard but was also a womanizer, and on several occasions he tied Garavito up while he beat his mother up. He did not shy away from hitting her even when she was in an advanced stage of pregnancy.
During the police interrogation, Garavito told that he had also been sexually abused by two of his neighbours as a child, one of them was a local drugstore owner, who was also a friend of his father. He used to bite Garavito’s penis and buttocks and would repeatedly burn him with a candle. Garavito told that he killed and tore apart two birds to give vent to his anguish when he could not bear the abuse. During this time his homosexual tendencies grew, as he was raped by another man. Garavito told that as a young boy whenever he came across heterosexual pornographic material, he felt an aversion to it. This was also the time when he started fondling his younger brothers while they slept. However, when the beating and the abuse became a little too much to bear, Garavito decided to leave home, which also happened at a very young age in Garavito’s life. He was all of 16 when he ran away from home to avoid the relentless abuse. He started working on a farm and then as a store clerk, after which he moved on to become a street vendor selling prayer cards and religious icons.
He started roaming around picking up odd jobs for a living. He moved frequently from place to place depending upon where he needed to be for work, and he was a pretty normal person on the road. He also managed to have a steady relationship with a woman who already had a son from a previous relationship. Those who knew him from that setting knew him as a good, helpful man except that he could be angered easily. So, apart from having a short fuse, he did not show any signs of being a violent man. The son of the woman remained unharmed, and the woman had no reason to suspect that she was living with a criminal, let alone a compulsive serial killer.
It is possible that on account of the childhood abuse, Garavito had developed the psyche of a violent abuser who derived pleasure from inflicting pain on others. Perhaps, he wanted to graduate from the abused to the abuser and when the circumstances allowed, that is exactly what he did ending up leaving a trail of victims behind him. However, it did not make Garavito happy because he admitted to be depressed enough to attempt suicide once and to have been committed to psychiatric care for five years.
It emerged during the interrogation conducted by Duran that subjecting his victims to suffering made Garavito feel powerful and in control. Garavito admitted that he took advantage of the social unrest generated by the three decades of violent Colombian Conflict. He would often pose as a social worker or a priest or a teacher to gain confidence of the victim and thus mislead the victim into going with him. He sometimes also presented himself as a disabled or a displaced person to draw sympathy, and once he gained their trust he would take his victim for a long walk, and when his young victim would get tired, he would turn into the monster he really was. Once they were tired walking, they were easier to deal with. Garavito would then tie his victims up before proceeding to rape and kill them. In some cases, he cut out their genitals and stuffed their mouth with them. Garavito used the same tactic over and over again for years before he was finally arrested.
Garavito admitted that he found pleasure in raping children, biting their nipples and burning them on the sides of the buttocks. He admitted that the more pain he inflicted on his victims, the more intense his orgasm got, which explains why he later started attacking his victims with razors, lighters and candles. In the beginning, he used to chop off the thumbs of his victims and kept them as souvenirs, but as he went on killing he got wiser and realized that the sniffer dogs could track him through the severed thumbs he was carrying, which is when he dropped the practice. Garavito also told that sometimes he would wake up from crying as he remembered his victims, but would soon start laughing as he would remember the pleasure he drew from killing them. He said that he maintained the list of his victims to pray for them. In January 1984, he slipped into depression and was admitted to a psychiatric clinic for thirty-three days. After his discharge from the clinic, he went to Pereira, where he modified and perfected his technique for attracting children.
Garavito admitted to killing children in 54 cities in Colombia and Ecuador, and although Garavito kept a list of his victims, the list does not include the names of the victims and a large number of the bodies found were too badly decomposed to help in identifying the deceased. In most of the cases, Garavito did not even know the names of his victims. So, recording their names was out of question.
The interrogation lasted for eighteen hours, after which Garavito not only confessed to his crimes – though he attributed them to an evil spirit in a weak attempt to displace the guilt – but also willingly cooperated with the investigators in finding the bodies of his victims. He kept pointing out the places where he had left his victims and the police kept gathering the remains of his victims. The final tally of killings that Garavito was convicted of stood at 138, which makes Garavito the most prolific serial killer in the history in terms of the number of known victims. However, the police continued to believe that the number of victims was greater than 138.
Garavito was charged with 172 counts of murder out of which he was found guilty on 138 counts and was sentenced to 1,853 years and 9 days in prison, which happens to be the longest sentence ever awarded in the history of the nation. However, the law in Colombia places a limit on the term of imprisonment and nobody can be incarcerated for longer than 40 years. Assisting the police in the investigation took some years off the jail term and the effective sentence came down to 22 years. Garavito is currently serving his sentence in a prison, the location of which has not been disclosed to public. He is likely to be released in 2021. Therefore, it seems that Garavito, La Bestia (“The Beast”), would once again walk the streets of Colombia soon, but perhaps under an assumed name and identity fearing for his safety, if the Colombian law allows it.
In the memory of the victims of Garavito, a mural depicting children playing was created on the hillside in Pereira, Colombia, where the remains of the children were found. A sign put up at the bottom of the ravine says, “If we continue with indifference and abandonment, we’ll never know what happened to the children of Pereira.”