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Man Confesses to 140 Child Murders

October 30, 1999

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A drifter who could turn out to be among history’s worst serial killers has confessed to killing 140 children in a five-year spree, luring his victims by posing as a beggar, a cripple or a monk, Colombia’s chief prosecutor said.

The victims of Luis Alfredo Garavito, 42, were found with their throats slit and ``showing signs of having been tied up and mutilated,″ prosecutor Alfonso Gomez told a news conference Friday.

``This has no precedent in Colombia,″ he said.

Garavito was arrested in April during an 18-month investigation into the disappearances of children in at least 11 Colombian states. Only 114 bodies have been found thus far.

Gomez said the evidence against Garavito was so strong that it prompted the confession. He said Garavito would not be charged with the murders until the investigation was complete.

The victims were mostly poor. Many of them were children of street vendors, often left unattended in parks and at city stoplights to solicit money from motorists.

Garavito passed himself off as ``a street vendor, monk, indigent, disabled person or a representative of fictitious foundations for the elderly and children’s education, in that way gaining entrance to schools as a speaker,″ Gomez said.

The suspect was shown in police mug shots to be a tall, dark-skinned man _ sometimes wearing glasses, and sometimes with a mustache or beard and a baseball cap.

Gomez said Garavito often gained victims’ confidence by offering money or a drink, then persuading them to go for a walk. Many of the skeletal remains were found tied up with nylon rope, liquor bottles discarded nearby.

The aunt of two young paperboys whose bodies were found last November in Pereira, a city in Colombia’s western coffee-producing region, said the boys ``disappeared a year ago, but for us it still feels like it was yesterday.″

``If this man is really the assassin of my two nephews, I want him to get the death penalty,″ Maria Aleida Velez told The Associated Press by telephone.

Until last November, police had few clues into a multiyear rash of child disappearances. It was then that the remains of 25 boys ages 8 through 16 were found in a ravine and an overgrown lot in Pereira, Gomez said.

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, he said.

That effort turned up an arrest warrant for Garavito in a 1996 homicide case of a child in the north-central city of Tunja.

At the time of his arrest in the eastern provincial city of Villavicencio, where he is currently being held, Garavito was living under an assumed name, prosecutors said. He was arrested on suspicion of the attempted rape there in April of a 12-year-old boy.

Garavito moved around the country frequently after the killings began in 1994, and also spent time in Ecuador, where investigations are under way to determine whether he might be linked to child slayings in the neighboring country, the prosecutor said.

The most killings took place in the western state of Risaralda, of which Pereira is the capital. Forty-one bodies have been found in Pereira and another 27 have turned up in neighboring Valle de Cauca.

In several places where Garavito lived he earned nicknames, including ``Goofy″, ``El Loco″ and ``The Priest″, Gomez said. Garavito was apparently abused as a child, and would undergo extensive psychological examinations, he said.

Most serial murder cases pale in comparison to the size of Garavito’s alleged killing spree. Among the worst known cases of serial killings in recent decades is that of former sailor Anatoliy Onoprienko, who has been sentenced to death in Ukraine after being convicted of murdering 52 people from 1989 to 1996.

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