Ciudad Juarez has gained global notoriety over the past two decades: first for a glut of gruesome killings of young women, and then for an epidemic of violence wrought by the region’s drug gangs.
Now, the infamous Mexican border town may become known for yet another variety of murder.
A black-clad female vigilante calling herself “Diana, Huntress of Bus Drivers” is said to have shot dead two men in revenge for past sexual assaults, say officials in Juarez.
Police are searching for a killer who witnesses described as middle-aged, with a dark complexion and blonde hair – possibly wearing a wig – and who last week murdered two bus drivers on the same route on successive days.
The woman is said to have boarded her first victim’s bus on Wednesday, taken out a pistol and shot him twice in the head. Before shooting her second victim the following day, witnesses said she shouted, “You lot think you are so tough!”
Over the weekend, local news outlets were sent an e-mail claiming to be from a factory worker who had suffered sexual violence at the hands of bus drivers in the past. The message was signed, “Diana, Huntress of Bus Drivers”.
The drivers were following a route frequently used by women who work in one of the city’s manufacturing plants, or “maquiladoras”, and who are often subjected to sexual abuse as they commute to night shifts.
The author of the e-mail said she had become angry when nothing was done by the authorities to guard against such crimes.
“I am an instrument to take revenge for several women,” the message read. “Society may think that we are weak, but in reality we are brave and if we are not respected we will make ourselves respected. Juarez women are strong.”
Police say they are working to determine the authenticity of the e-mail. They have placed undercover officers on buses, and are looking into whether the woman might be among the 12 victims of recent alleged sexual assaults by bus drivers that are currently under investigation.
Neither of the victims was robbed, and nor do the killings bear any hallmarks of gang violence. Many bus drivers have stayed away from work in the wake of the murders.
Between 2008 and 2010 Ciudad Juarez, situated just across the US border from El Paso, Texas, was ranked the world’s deadliest city when a drug war between vicious rival cartels was exacerbated by a crackdown from the Mexican authorities. In February this year, a report by a Mexican think tank found that it had fallen to 19th on the list.
The city already had a violent reputation, following a spate of murders of women in the 1990s and early 2000s – crimes which have continued unabated ever since, claiming many hundreds of victims over the years.
The bodies of the missing women are often found mutilated and dumped in the desert, having been raped and tortured.
Many of the victims had come to Juarez to work in the maquiladoras during a manufacturing boom in the region. In many cases, the murdered women had disappeared during their early hours commutes.
Several bus drivers have been arrested and charged in connection with such killings, though most cases remain unsolved.
Juarez: A history of violence
Juárez became notorious for sexual violence against women in the 1990s, when hundreds of women were murdered.
Many of the victims were factory workers, waitresses or students, and there seemed to be certain shared physical characteristics. A large number of the cases remain unsolved.
Estimates of how many women were murdered vary widely, but the city’s El Diario newspaper put the total at 878 between 1993 and 2010. However, some locals put the figure in the thousands. Many of the victims had been raped and their bodies dumped.
Several bus drivers were arrested in connection with the killings. One driver was convicted but this was later overturned, and his co-defendant, another bus driver, died in prison before sentencing.
Juárez also has the highest levels of domestic violence in Mexico, which many blame on a male-dominated, machismo culture that allows men to blame women for their struggles and misfortunes.
The problem of violence against women has not been helped by statements from local officials, who have labelled the murdered women as prostitutes who were responsible for their own deaths.