Monday, 2 March 2020

Real Life Horror: Luis Garavito


Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos is a Colombian rapist and serial killer.

Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos was born January 25, 1957 Génova, Quindío, Colombia. He was the oldest of seven brothers. Though Garavito's mother is unknown, it had been speculated from the community of Génova that Garavito's mother had been a long-time prostitute. During the time of working as a prostitute, Garavito's mother had been brutally abused by Garavito's father, Manuel Antonio Garavito, who was a heavy alcoholic and would also abuse Garavito's siblings. Around this time, Garavito's father would force Garavito to watch his mother conduct in sexual intercourse with her clients, letting his mother's clients sexually abuse and molest Garavito. Under the influence of drugs, Garavito's mother could not do anything due to the abuse and torture of Garavito's alcoholic father. Garavito eventually ran away from home and survived on the Colombian streets as a street vendor who sold religious icons and prayer cards. 

At the age of eight, Garavito was found by a paedophile. The man promised Garavito a hot meal and a place to rest; reluctantly, Garavito accepted the offer, but instead of the hot meal and a place to sleep, the man led Garavito to an abandoned house where Garavito was sexually assaulted. A few days after, Garavito then joined a rebellious gang for protection. The gang often robbed the Colombian civilians for food, money, and cars, which they exchanged for money at local chop shops. As an adult, Garavito drifted from job to job, drinking heavily and behaving aggressively until he wore out his welcome and moved on to the next town. He attempted suicide at least once and was under psychiatric care for five years, according to police reports. Although he frequently moved, Garavito had a girlfriend named Teresa. His girlfriend had a small child which she recalls him getting along with very well. Garavito was known by his friends to be kind, yet easily angered.


Garavito's victims were clearly identified by their age, gender, and social status. Garavito targeted boys between the ages of 6 to 16 who were either homeless, peasants, or orphaned. He would approach the young boys, either on the crowded streets or alone in the countryside, and lure them away by bribing them with small gifts such as money, candy or odd jobs. He offered easy work for money and even disguised himself as different characters who could be seen as legitimately offering work to the boy, such as a priest, a farmer, a homeless man, a street vendor, a drug dealer, an elderly man, and a gambler. To prevent suspicions about his activities from developing, Garavito would change his disguise often. Once he had the trust of a child, Garavito would walk with the boy until they were tired and vulnerable, which then made them easy to handle. 

First, their hands were bound. Then, Garavito would remove all their clothes, and proceed to torture, rape, and sometimes decapitate them. Usually, the boy would endure prolonged rape and torture by having his buttocks stabbed and sharpened objects inserted into his anus; his testicles were often severed and placed into his mouth. The bodies of the children were all found completely naked, and all bore bite marks and signs of anal penetration; bottles of lubricant were found near the bodies, along with empty liquor bottles. Most corpses showed signs of prolonged torture. Sadly, the streets of Colombia’s towns were filled with hungry boys in tattered clothing, so when a seemingly kindly stranger approached, they were only too happy to have the chance to eat and perhaps sleep in a warm bed for the night.


Beginning in 1992, boys between the ages of 6 through 16 began disappearing rapidly from the streets of Colombia. Due to the decades-long civil war, many children in Colombia were poor, homeless, or orphaned. For years, these murders had gone unnoticed because many of the victims had no police report filed on their disappearance. Another series of killings against children aged 8 to 10 in the region Valle in 1995 raised further suspicion. Two of the four dead children were cousins, and again, all children came from a weak social background, were described as not very intelligent, and again, they disappeared shortly before noon. Again, the children were found on the slope of a hill with high-growing plants, not far outside of the town. The pattern of children being killed more or less at one spot but on different days is a signature of Garavito. He did not bury the bodies but leave them on the spot. Once he had found a suitable location for the killings, he would use it all over again. 

The children may have suspected that something was wrong once they arrived but were immediately tied up. Garavito could not stop himself even in dangerous situations. On the early afternoon of June 8, 1996, a boy went missing in the town of Boyaca. He followed Garavito on his (the boy's) own bike so no violence had taken place. The corpse was found 5 days later decapitated with the severed penis stuck inside of the mouth. The mother of the boy had immediately started a search, and found that the boy had last been seen in a local shop with some other boys and a stranger who bought them sweets. The stranger was identified as Garavito who stayed in town. He was questioned by the police but stated that he sure bought the children sweets but then left alone. Approximately 4 days later, Garavito killed a 13-year old boy in the close by town Pereira. Clusters of bodies had begun popping up all over Colombia, yet authorities did not take much notice until 1997, when mass graves were uncovered. That gruesome discovery, initially thought by local authorities to be the work of a satanic cult, prompted authorities to create a nationwide task force that began to encounter similarities between cases across the country as these killings were not confined to a specific area. 


In February 1998, two naked corpses of children were discovered lying next to each other outside of the town of Genua, Colombia. The location was set on the slope of a hill as most of the other crime scenes. On the next day, only metres away, a third corpse was found, this time in a state of advanced decomposition. All bodies had been tied at the hands. Numerous blood stains could be detected in the area, as well as a knife. The necks of the bodies and the external genitals were deeply cut or severed. A closer investigation of the bodies revealed bite marks and signs of anal penetration; a bottle of lubricant was found, too. Postmortem interval could not be determined; DNA typing of the collected stains could not be performed because of costs. Since at that point there were several known serial killers on the loose in Colombia, it was not clear if these were victims of e.g. Pedro Alonso Lopez (around 70 victims; locally known as the "monster/strangler of the Andes"). The crime scenes, and the state of the corpses did however not at all match the crimes of the other serial killers, (Lopez only killed girls). Profiling was not possible due to organizational and funding problems.

It was found that the dead boys had been living in a town nearby, were aged 11 and 13,and had been close friends. They came from a socio-economically weak background, and had to work in the streets selling fruit, chewing gum, etc, to add to their family's poor incomes. The investigators noted that: (A) one victim's mother commented that her son briefly returned home on the day he disappeared and told her that he would help a man with a cattle transport, and that (B) it was odd that all children disappeared around 10 a.m. on different days. 


Close to his home town, at 6 a.m. on the morning after Halloween (considered to be the "Evening of the Children" in Columbia), Garavito also found a victim by offering a child to help him collect sweets that it had lost the night before. A four-person unit from the D.A.'s Office of Investigations from the province Armenia now started to look for similar homicides all over Columbia. Hundreds of cases were reported but most of the children had neither been identified nor was there a description of their injuries. Retroactive identification by use of the teeth was frequently impossible, either because the children never had an X-ray, or the X-rays were buried after the earthquakes of 1998. Therefore, until today, 27 of the children killed by Garavito are not identified. Facial reconstruction was performed in few cases at the Institute for Legal Medicine in Bogota.

By now, it became clear that Garavito subdivided suitable killing places into sectors, and killed one child per sector. In many cases, he very slowly tortured the children who were sometimes tied in way so that they could still walk around over quite a distance but not escape. Anal penetration seems to be a common feature of the cases but it remains unclear if this was a postmortem or perimortem act. Until today, Garavito draws precise maps out of his memory which show the exact locations of the corpses. Most of the crimes were performed on or around weekends when most children hung around the market places. Garavito tried to lure them away during day time because this raised less suspicion concerning the odd jobs lie offered as well as a possible non-presence at dinner.


At the two crime scenes a murder weapon and note that had been found that had an address written on it; this information led them to Garavito's girlfriend. She was contacted but told police that she had not seen Garavito in months. She did, however, give to the police a bag that he had left in her possession, which contained a number of Garavito's belongings. Inside were not only cryptic notes but also cut-out passport photographs of many of the deceased children (these were the only trophies that Garavito collected). Also, a calendar with further cryptic notes was found. This was later identified as a list of victims according to the dates. (Since Garavito does remember all details of his crimes, including the dates, it is not yet understood why he kept track with such a list). This new information led them to Garavito's residence, but the property was vacant. Detectives believed that Garavito was either travelling for work or away attempting to find his next victim. 

Garavito was finally arrested on April 22, 1999  by the local police on an unrelated charge of attempted rape against an adolescent boy. A homeless man had been close enough to observe the struggle between Garavito and the child and felt it necessary to rescue the adolescent. Unbeknown to them, the police had in their custody the man who was the most wanted killer in Colombia. Garavito was questioned about the local killings and his attempted rape charges. Police speculated that Garavito had planned on killing the young boy if the bystander had not intervened.  After a short interrogation, detectives suspected Garavito of being La Bestia (The Beast), although Garavito had insisted on his innocence. The detailed description of his killings brought Garavito to tears.


Garavito confessed to murdering 140 children and was charged with killing 172 altogether throughout Colombia. He was found guilty on 138 of the 172 accounts; the others are ongoing, Garavito claimed that he was drunk when he killed the children and that his body had been taken over by a ‘superior being’. For Colombia's Justice Department, Garavito's confession was not enough. Regular fingerprint identification had not been possible for organizational and technical reasons. Garavito had an eye condition that was rare and only found in men in a particular age group. His glasses were specifically designed for his unique condition. These particular glasses were found at the site of a mass grave. Garavito also left behind empty liquor bottles, his underwear, and occasionally his shoes. DNA was found on the victims, along with the other items left behind. Police scheduled the entire jail where Garavito was being detained to get an eye exam; the outcome of his eye exam would help police pair the glasses to Garavito. By making it mandatory for all the prisoners, it reduced Garavito's suspicion and kept him from lying about his eyesight. While Garavito was out of his cell, detectives took DNA samples from his pillow and living area. The DNA found on the victims was a match to the DNA found in Garavito's cell. 

Before Garavitos confessions, the public still did not generally accept that one killer was responsible for the crimes. Therefore, allthough there was no indication for it at all, the usual suspects like satanists or other secret organizations were accused. Their responsibility was unlikely since no two killings took place at the same time. Also the travel pattern of the offender was highly irregular. Another theory pointed towards alleged organ trade. Since mostly stab wounds were found, and since the conditions at the scenes of crime - identified by blood stains protruding from living persons - were highly unsterile, this theory was quickly dismissed.


Garavito usually either offered the boys juice or cake in a local shop, checked out their character, structure of skin (soft, not too dark), and then asked them either to walk with him, or to help him with carrying something. Garavito adjusted not only his outfits (street vendor, bum, priest, etc.) but also the task that he asked for according to the local situation (carrying a crate of oranges, help him with cattle, harvesting sugarcane, etc.). He also promised drugs to addicted children, and payed stakes for children interested in games. Initially Garavito had simply offered money but since most children found this suspicious, he switched to a mixture of promises and an appropriate, yet slightly raised amount of money (usually an amount worth a little more than one day of children's work - i.e., the children would not tell their parents straight away but use the money as fake income in exchange for a day off). In all cases, he tried to lure the children away immediately so they would not return home beforehand.

Decapitations, or at least their attempt seemed to be typical for Garavito. In many cases, because of the decomposition, the only way to prove this, were notches in the fourth vertebra of the neck. Many of the soft tissue cuts that could be documented were caused by a knife that produced raw lacerations as if the blade was old or notchy. The internal organs were usually left in place; on the abdomen, Garavito did produce multiple stab wounds but no anatomical cuts. The only exception was a 10-year old boy (killed in January 1997) who was found under similar circumstances, but the wounds were produced by a stabbing weapon without a blade (technically: impaling wounds). Dismembering of the corpses only took place in cases where body parts had to be transported out of houses in which very few killings had taken place. In very few cases, he also put the bodies in bags and sank them together with stones in water. 


Cooperation of the different agencies is difficult in a very large country that suffers from constant and extreme political problems and organizational problems. The public prosecutors (district attorneys), together with their own investigation units (not the same as the police) are allowed to investigate throughout the country. In the Garavito case, this was used to commission the local investigative unit of Armenia with investigating all related crimes. This was based on the fact that the prime suspect (Garavito) came from Armenia but also that numerous corpses had been found in this region. It seems that other local investigation units did, however, not share all their information with the Armenian police. Legally, the case against Garavito is not closed because he still confesses to killings. Until 2003, he was technically found guilty 70 times, for 160 separate killings. 

Since Garavito was considered to be sane (in the sense of being responsible for his acts), he could not be sent to a forensic psychiatric institution for an indefinite time. Therefore he was sentenced to custody in prison. As in the Colombian sentencing system the sentences for every single offence are added up, Garavito was actually sentenced to about 2,600 years in prison (the lengthiest sentence in Colombian history). However, this does not mean that Garavito will serve a life time prison sentence. After the reform of the Colombian Penal Code in 2000, a person can neither be sentenced to death nor stay imprisoned for more than 40 years in total (article 37.1 of the Penal Code). Since Garavito is highly cooperative, mitigation, including an earlier release might have to be applied. 


Garavito never appeared in court. This is due to a regulation that was introduced to the Colombian penal code to simplify cases in which the defendant fully confesses, and in which objective proof for his crimes is present and matches the confession. In such cases, legally binding verdicts can be passed successively and without a formal trial. The public was massively outraged already, and a regular trial was not sought after by any party. Garavito is currently serving his sentence in a maximum security prison in Valledupar in the department of El Cesar in Colombia. He is held separately from all other prisoners because it is feared that he would be killed immediately. He is extremely paranoid and is terrified of being poisoned, so he only accepts food and drinks from people he trusts implicitly. The exact number of Garavito’s victims will never be known, at the time of writing, at least 27 of his victims can’t be identified. He also lived in Ecuador at some point in his life and has been linked to the murders of young boys there.

As Garavito served his reduced sentence, many Colombians began to gradually criticize the possibility of his early release, some arguing that he deserved either life in prison or the death penalty, neither of which are applicable in Colombia. In 2006, local TV host Pirry interviewed Garavito, which aired on 11 June of that same year. In this TV special, Pirry mentioned that during the interview, the killer tried to minimize his actions and expressed intent to start a political career in order to help abused children. Pirry also described Garavito’s conditions in prison and commented that due to good behaviour, Garavito could probably apply for early release within three years. After the Pirry interview aired, criticism of Garavito’s situation gained increased notoriety in the media and in political circles. A judicial review of the cases against Garavito in different local jurisdictions found that his sentence could potentially be extended and his release delayed because he would have to answer for unconfessed crimes separately, as they were not covered by his previous judicial process.


"I rape and murder" - Luis Garavito


If you want to watch a documentary on Luis Garavito then just check out the video below:

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