The head of the federal investigation into the slayings of at least 90 women in the border city of Ciudad Juarez said Thursday that police are looking for an American suspect who one witness said bought the organs of the victims.
Organized crime prosecutor Jose Santiago Vasconcelos told reporters in an interview at his Mexico City offices that police were also investigating the possibility that certain mutilations -- the cutting off breasts in a few of the victims, and scars cut in some apparent design on other corpses -- might indicate the involvement of some religious cult.
``This man is apparently a US citizen named Williams. We don't have a very clear identification of him,'' Vasconcelos said of the suspect, who a witness identified as part of a purported organ trafficking ring implicated in at least three of the deaths.
``This man, Williams, supposedly got the organs in Ciudad Juarez. We don't know where he took them,'' said Vasconcelos, whose federal unit took over the investigation of 14 of the about 93 Juarez cases from Chihuahua state police in late April.
Those familiar with the case said the presumption was that the organs were destined for transplants for Americans.
``Who would have enough money to buy organs? According to this theory, Americans,'' said Oscar Maynez, the former head of the Ciudad Juarez forensics office, who worked on the case until 2001 but resigned because he claimed other state officials were tampering with the evidence he was gathering.
Vasconcelos said Mexican prosecutors were working closely with the FBI, and added that police had placed under house arrest a third Mexican suspect in the case, a Ciudad Juarez street vendor.
The first suspect -- another street vendor whose confession was later recanted, sparked the organ-trafficking theory -- and another man he implicated, a Ciudad Juarez factory manager, were placed under house arrest in April.
Williams would be the fourth suspect.
Vasconcelos said federal forensics investigators were planning a new round of autopsies on some of the 14 most recent victims, after Chihuahua medical examiners said they found no evidence that organs had been removed from the bodies.
Federal prosecutors are also investigating the possible involvement of a cult in the slayings, all of which involved young, slender women, most of whom were strangled and left half-clothed in the desert, often with their underwear pulled down along their legs or their bras around their necks.
``The possibility that rites or rituals were involved is based on the evidence that has been gathered over the years from the corpses, some of which had a breast or an ear cut off, and some of which had scars indicating some sort of design'' had been cut into their skin.
That hypothesis brought back memories of the 1989 ritual slayings in another Mexican border city, Matamoros, in which 12 people were brutally slain in the drug-fueled satanic rituals that included removing some of the victims' organs.
``This makes you think this kind of thing could still be going on down there,'' said Carl Routh, a friend of Kilroys', said in a telephone interview from Texas.
Vasconcelos said about five of the bodies in the Juarez case had suffered some form of mutilation.
He also said the Juarez killers may have acted under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If true, these facts would provide another parallel with the 1989 case, in which drug dealers performed the killings in the belief it would protect them from police.