Diana, Hunter of Bus Drivers
The first murder happened at 7:45 am, on August 28th, on bus route 4A. That morning, a woman hailed bus 718, climbed the steps, pulled a gun and shot the driver. The driver jumped out of the bus trying to escape but died on the sidewalk. The killer, witnesses said, was a middle-aged woman with dyed blonde hair -- or maybe it was a wig -- wearing a cap, plaid shirt and jeans. Nobody saw how she escaped. Or at least nobody would say.
The second murder happened twenty-four hours later, on the same route. A woman boarded the bus downtown and a few blocks later requested a stop. She walked towards the exit and motioned as if she were looking for the bus fare, but instead drew her gun, spat words into the driver's ear and shot him twice in the head -- then fled the scene.
One day later, a news website from El Paso called La Polaka, which specializes in covering the political gossip of Juárez, received an email:
You think that because we are women we are weak, and that may be true but only up to a point, because even though we have nobody to defend us and we have to work long hours until late into the night to earn a living for our families we can no longer be silent in the face of these acts that enrage us. We were victims of sexual violence from bus drivers working the maquila night shifts here in Juárez, and although a lot of people know about the things we've suffered, nobody defends us nor does anything to protect us. That's why I am an instrument that will take revenge for many women. For we are seen as weak, but in reality we are not. We are brave. And if we don't get respect, we will earn that respect with our own hands. We the women of Juárez are strong.
The email was signed by someone calling herself "Diana, Hunter of Bus Drivers."
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the first disappearances of young women in Juárez. Or, at least, when people started recording these disappearances, and considering them as being related, after a 13-year-old girl was kidnapped and then found dead with signs of rape and strangulation. After that, the number of women who were killed just kept growing. It went from dozens of reported murders in a year, to hundreds. So many women it was hard to count accurately. In 2010, the number peaked: at least 304 women were murdered that year.
The circumstances of the crimes were eerily similar. One day, a girl would disappear on the way to work or on the way home, and if there was any news about her, it would be when her body was found in the desert or an abandoned lot, often with traces of rape and torture. Sometimes they were found together in mass graves.
Oscar Maynez, who worked some of these cases as a criminologist, explained to me the way the authorities became complicit in the murders: "First they denied the problem," he said. "Then they played it down, and finally, they blamed the victims' lifestyle and their families." The criminologist resigned, he says, after realizing his superiors were more interested in covering up investigations and tampering with evidence than in finding justice.
So when I heard about the case of this woman -- this Diana -- who supposedly was trying to do something by herself, I wondered, after all these years without justice, if women in Juárez would look at Diana and say, "It's about time." So I went down there, to ask them.
As you can imagine, most of the women I approached to get their opinions were reluctant to speak to a stranger about the woman who'd murdered bus drivers. "I know nothing about it," said a woman with a small child on the bus, only to fix her eyes on the back of the seat afterwards and not glance in my direction again. "I have no opinion about that," another one said before quickly entering a mall.
But also, one day, I got this answer:
"When I heard about what she did, I said, ‘How great that someone's doing what many of us should have done.'"
This was Laura, 25 years old, pregnant with her second child. When I asked her, "If you were to run into Diana on the street, what would you say to her, if you knew it was her?", she said, without a doubt, "I would congratulate her."
There is a sense among the general population that buses are a bad place to be by yourself. Just this week, a bus driver was arrested for allegedly raping a girl on her way to school.
About this, Laura said:
"I remember when I was in high school I would hear a lot about it. My friends would say to me if you're going on the route, and no one's there, take a pen with you with the point facing outward, because you never know. That's been happening for years, years. And it's the same for the ladies working in the maquilas."
There's no evidence that the bus drivers who were killed by the blonde woman had actually committed a crime at all. But Laura didn't seem concerned about that. In a city where justice rarely brings results, maybe, at some point, you settle to get the justice available to you.
Just a couple of weeks before the Diana the Hunter case, Laura's younger sister, María Alejandra, 20 years old, suffered a home invasion: a man slipped through her bedroom window in the night armed with a gun and tried to rape her. She recognized him; he lived in the neighborhood. After the man left her house, María Alejandra told her sister what happened and that she was going to report it to the police. Laura told her not to do that. What for? They knew how the police work.
"I told her not to go, not to expose herself," Laura told me. "Because they would ask questions and check her. I think between the police they've created a sort of code. So you basically are putting yourself out there to suffer one humiliation after another."
"My father was with us. He wanted to go kill him. And my husband too. And me too. I said I'll kill him. I said I'll go. And I'll kill him. Since we know who it is, we're gonna go and do it with our own hands."
But despite Laura's pleading, María Alejandra, after talking to her friends, decided to go to the police anyway. And things went down exactly as Laura predicted. Even though the doctors had said that there was evidence of sexual assault, she says the police questioned her as if she was making it all up. Why didn't she have bruises? What took her so long to report the intrusion? "I would have to almost be dying for them to investigate," María Alejandra says they told her.
Laura was angry. Now the opportunity for revenge was gone. "I said to her I told you we should have done something before. Because now if we took action, they would know who did it. Because that's how justice works here. The victims are the ones that are in jail."
In 2001, police did apprehend a bus driver: Victor Garcia Uribe. He was arrested with a colleague and accused of murdering eight women who were left in an old cotton field. He denied any involvement in the killings, but the police kept questioning him. Finally, after long hours of interrogation, he confessed to taking part in those murders and in the murders of three other women. Yes, he said, he enjoyed killing them; yes, he said, they did it under the influence of marijuana, cocaine and alcohol; yes, they loved to rape them, and kill them, and then they would throw them afterwards in an empty field.
But two days later, in court, Garcia Uribe did a complete 180. Again, he denied that he was involved in the murders. He said he only confessed because officers had kidnapped him, taken him to a police academy, and tortured him until he did. He said they'd beaten him and burned him with cigarettes. Still, the judge convicted him and sentenced him to 50 years. In 2005, Garcia Uribe was freed, after it was proven that the authorities had tortured him into confessing.
"What makes me laugh," Laura told me, "Is how the bus drivers are so scared. That's what really makes me laugh."
I didn't see this myself, but María Alejandra says she's seen bus drivers who've posted a sketch of Diana near their dashboards, and when a woman who looks like her tries to board the bus, they don't let her in. She says they close the doors quickly now, and she's heard that some are carrying knives on them.
"You know what it is?" Laura said. In this country, "People don't have balls. That's what my dad has always said," Laura told me. "We don't have balls, he says, because if we had a little bit more balls many things wouldn't be happening. We don't express what we think. We don't express how we feel. And we don't act in accordance with what we think. And that's our problem. That's what we're lacking."
So I asked her: But wait, weren't you on the verge of taking things into your own hands, with your sister?
"Yeah...but...I'm not the kind of person who would do it. Sure, in the moment I reacted and I thought about it. But I would never do it. I would never try to kill anyone. It's not how I was brought up. I'm not like that."
While I was in Juárez, I spent more time riding the buses on route 4 than doing anything else. These buses -- the Juárez public transportation buses -- are old school buses imported from the U.S. They are noisy, old buses, reasonably clean but in a state of decay that everyone accepts. I rode in the back of the bus and in the front of the bus, I rode it at the time of the killings, in the morning, and late at night, when the last bus was about to finish the route.
Sitting there, I wondered if the guy driving my bus was scared at all. Nervous. I wondered if in moments on his route he was thinking about Diana the Hunter and the words she said to that second bus driver on the morning of August the 29th: "¡Ustedes se creen muy chingones!" ("You all think you are so tough!"), right before shooting the driver twice in the head, and running away.
She hasn't been spotted since. And there's no proof that the email signed by Diana actually came from the woman who did the shootings.
Whoever chose Diana's name, chose well. Diana the Hunter is the goddess of women and childbirth who, like many other Roman gods, acts out of basic human feelings: like rage and revenge. There is, on one of Mexico City's most famous streets, a statue of Diana the Hunter. And there's a replica of it outside a restaurant in Juárez. She's muscular, strong, holding a bow with her arm stretched back, about to shoot.
Maybe that image was in this one driver's mind on a bus I was riding, when he opened the door and a woman came in and he said: "What, are you Diana the Hunter?"
"No, of course not," she replied. "What, are you afraid of me now?"
"Well yeah," he replied. "Shouldn't I be?"