Today’s episode of the Casual Criminalist comes as a result of several dozen audience member requests in the Youtube comments, on Twitter, and, when they occur, in user reviews of the podcast version of the show. I can confirm that I do monitor the comments and take requests, so feel free to make them. Though I do also like surprising you as well from time to time. Either way, today’s story is a grim crescendo of ever-mounting dread and repugnant evil before crashing down into the ruins and ashes of one of the most chaotic, appalling, and sinister endings I’ve ever seen in True Crime. You really couldn’t make this stuff up, so thanks for the suggestion, ladies and gentlemen. If you’re in the market for displays of utterly vile human behaviour and deep psychosis, combined with just a pinch of atrocious police incompetence and dereliction of duty, then you’ve come to the right place.
And now, my friends, once more into the darkness…
Meet Pedro Lopez
Pedro Alonso Lopez [ped-roh al-lawn-zo loh-pez] was born on October 8th 1948 in the tiny mountain village of Santa Isabel, Colombia. At the time, civil war had just broken out between the Liberal and Conservative factions in what is bluntly called La Violencia, a war that would last over 10 years and claim the lives of 250,000 people, injuring a further 800,000 people, and displacing yet another million people. The majority of the war was conducted in the countryside, plaguing towns just like Santa Isabel. The civil war killed 2% of the country’s population at the time and plunged an already poor nation deep into poverty and lawlessness. The government was highly corrupt and incompetent, and the murder rate skyrocketed to the highest in the world at the time. In short, here was yet another hellscape in which yet another psychopath was born and his spirit contorted, just like Andrei Chikatilo in the Stalinist Ukraine. It is worth noting that the similarities do not stop there.
Pedro Lopez’s father, Medardo Reyes [med-dar-doh ray-ez] was a member of the Conservative faction and had been killed three months before Pedro was born. Pedro was the seventh child of a family of 13 children, raised by his single mother, Benilda Lopez de Casteneda [ben-ilda loh-pez dee cast-en-ay-dah]. When little Pedro was 5, and while the civil war was still raging, his mother moved the family to the city of El Espinal [es-pee-nal] in search of refuge from the worst fighting and also on a quest for money. The city’s name meaning “spine” or “backbone”, El Espinal was a city embedded deep within the nervous system of the Andes mountains, it had a much larger population, and was the rice capital of Colombia. Pedro’s mother thought this would be much easier pickings for her particular kind of trade…
Benilda Lopez claims she gave her son a loving upbringing and that Pedro was always a bright and friendly child who dreamed of being a teacher. At least, that was according to mummy. Pedro Lopez, meanwhile alleged that his mother was physically abusive to the extreme, even going so far to say that she was, quote, “Sick in the head. That is not the way to punish your children. She punished me with such violence.” Meanwhile, the Lopez family was mired in poverty and Benilda paid for what little they had by working as a prostitute. When she fell pregnant, she merely had the baby and the already poor family just got larger. As a child, Pedro witnessed dozens of men coming to their apartment and using his mother in this way, and frequently these men would become violent and hit her. Either because of a disagreement over the price, or sometimes because that was simply what they paid for.
This first premature exposure to the sexual act being mired in violence, compounded by the fact his mother was in turn allegedly violent toward him, made a lasting impression in Pedro’s mind. A connection was being forged at a very tender age between sex and violence that would later contort Pedro’s own feelings of arousal, his attitudes toward women, and promote a form of sexual sadism.
In 1956, when Pedro was only 8, he left home and went to live on the streets. His mother, Benilda, alleges that Pedro ran away from home of his own accord. She claims that she wept for days and days after he left, and rushed out into El Espinal looking for him. Benilda claims that she suspected a neighbour kidnapped Pedro. Or, worse, she said, the Liberal faction had abducted and killed her son just like they had killed her husband. What the Liberal guerillas would accomplish by kidnapping and murdering an 8 year old son of an impoverished alleged prostitute, however, is difficult to say.
Pedro Lopez, on the other hand, gives a slightly different account about why he left home. Lopez states that one day in 1956 he was caught groping the breasts of one of his sisters, trying to initiate sex. He was 8 years old. Take that information as you will. For this incestuous sexual assault, Lopez claims that his mother threw him out of the house and told him never to return. Despite being 8 years old and having nowhere to go, apparently Lopez complied and did not return.
You may, by this point, have noticed that this story has a problem with unreliable narrators.
Regardless of the true version of events that led him there, now homeless, 8 year old Pedro slept in the streets, gutters, alleyways, and abandoned buildings of El Espinal. He fed himself by digging through the trash for rotting food and also by begging for money. Needless to say, this resulted in him suffering malnutrition, gaining a skeletal physique, with a distended belly. According to Lopez, quote, “I remember being a lively and energetic child. Innocent. Then in the majority of my childhood I lived in filth and sleazy places. My life has been dishonest because I was abandoned. The years can take someone and change them drastically.” The absolute thinnest of silver linings was only that the nights in El Espinal, even in winter, didn’t get particularly cold. But this was hardly comfort to a scared child, with an empty belly, sleeping amid the rats and refuse of the city.
Pedro Lopez was not on the streets for more than a few weeks before he was approached by a concerned man, who invited the child to his house for a hot meal and a bed to sleep in for the night. Pedro accepted the man’s kind offer, and he was taken to an abandoned warehouse where the stranger forcibly sodomised him before turning him back out on the streets. Pedro could not go to the police, who were not at their most effective due to high crime rates, the civil war, and their tendency to ignore the problems of the heaving throngs of the city’s poor. I hope you take note of that last point, because it is to become something of a theme in today’s story.
So traumatised was the young boy by the experience that he ceased talking to anyone, and for two months he would only venture out at night, in search of food in the city’s trash bins. He was utterly isolated and alone. During the day, he spent his time curled up sleeping in alleys or, if he was lucky, an abandoned building before El Espinal’s other homeless people scared him off. Not only was Pedro scared of talking to them, but due to the extreme poverty of the times, the vast mass of the city’s homeless waged a nightly war over the prime real estate of the city’s more sheltered sleeping spots. Just like his alleged treatment at the hands of his mother, Pedro’s rape by a stranger, who claimed to mean well, severely damaged the young boy’s fragile psyche.
Lopez said, “I don’t deny it has affected me. I have always wanted to punish those responsible. I hated it. When I see a certain type of person, like a male adult that does not respect a young boy, I make it a point to set that person straight.” Pedro’s world was one of war, poverty, and predation, where the people he wanted to trust the most turned out to be cruel. He never knew a normal childhood and developed a distorted view of humanity. This not only twisted Pedro’s moral compass but it deeply embittered his heart. Here was the first step on the long road of Pedro Lopez’s twisted quest for vengeance on the entire human race.
Oliver Twist on Crack
After a couple months of sleeping rough on the streets, 8 year old Pedro Lopez made the 90 mile or 146 kilometre long trek, on foot, from El Espinal to Bogota [boh-go-tah], Columbia’s capital city. Bogota is a sprawling metropolis, composed of millions of people and constituting between 15 and 20% of the country’s total population. During La Violencia, Bogota was the ultimate prize for both sides, but by and large the city was a refuge for those escaping the guerilla warfare of the countryside and the mountains. Like El Espinal, Bogota is also situated high in the Andes, and in 1956 was surrounded by fertile wetlands that have since largely been wiped out. A somewhat picturesque city from a distance, Bogota is also something of a dystopian hellhole worthy of Bladerunner, Cyberpunk, or League of Legends.
By moving to Bogota, Pedro Lopez disappeared amidst the slums, and fell into a community of thousands upon thousands of homeless street urchins. Most of these children were either orphans from war, or, like Pedro, they were escaping abusive households. Needless to say social services in Colombia in 1956 were not nearly robust enough to handle such large numbers of disadvantaged kids. So they were left to fend for themselves.
The nickname for these street kids was los gamines [gah-mean-aze], and they operated in a complex network of beggars, thieves, and street gangs in order to survive. Pedro quickly joined one such street gang, and, within that juvenile alliance, he helped defend the gang’s territory, or the small slice of Bogota that the gang claimed for theft, begging, and for the prime sleeping spots. Violence between these gangs was frequent, sometimes almost nightly, being fought with clubs, primitive knuckle dusters, broken bottles, knives, chains, and belts. More than once Pedro witnessed another child being killed by the other children. The homeless girls among the city started working as prostitutes as young as 12 or even 9 years old. The gamines also had to watch out for adults, who might abduct them, murder them, sexually assault them, or even conscript them as bullet fodder for paramilitary groups. Some authorities thought the gamines were such a nuisance, with their constant fighting and pickpocketing, that they’d turn a blind eye to any militias that went out hunting them. By the 1970s, Colombian street children had earned a second nickname: los desechables [day-say-chab-lays] or “the disposables.” My apologies to the Colombian Tourist Board for making historic Bogota sound so good.
In addition to finally speaking to other humans again, and learning how to be a thief and a street brawler, much of Pedro’s daily life did not change from El Espinal. His primary diet was still half-rotten food fished out of the trash. He was still rail thin and filthy. While still only a child, Pedro began smoking “basuco” [bah-sue-ko], a low grade cocaine paste with which Colombia’s poor laced their cigarettes. The name basuco is derived from the Spanish word for “dirty trash” because the cocaine paste is the stuff scraped from the bottom of the barrel after cocaine production. Highly addictive and more potent than crack, it contains a number of dangerous chemicals, like acids, kerosene, and trace elements of rubber and plastic. It can cause violent mood swings, delusions, and paranoia. And Pedro was hooked on it.
In 1958, when Pedro was 10 years old, he was spotted on the street by a highly religious American couple who had moved from the USA to Colombia for work. Such was Pedro’s thin and filthy appearance that the American couple felt heartbroken looking at him. After painstakingly earning the trust of this jumpy and frightened child, they took Pedro home, fed him, and gave him a place to sleep. After two years living in an urban hellscape, and an earlier childhood living in a broken home, Pedro finally had a stable family and homelife. He got decent meals and got to play like a normal child. He was gradually weaned off cigarettes and basuco. Generally speaking, Pedro behaved himself while living with the American couple, being quite frankly relieved to be pulled out of his life on the streets.
The couple enrolled Pedro in a local Jesuit school for orphans. Pedro began his formal education, learning the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic for the first time. And he passed two stable years living like this. But for one incident, Pedro’s story may have ended here. A triumph of charity over adversity. But in 1960, when Pedro was 12 years old, he was molested by a male teacher at the school. The betrayal of yet another adult authority figure further traumatised Pedro, and brought back horrific memories of his earlier years. His distrust of adults came rushing back. Pedro promptly stole money from the school’s main office, and disappeared back into the streets without a trace, never seeing the American couple again.
From that point forward, all Pedro expected from other people was betrayal. Later in life, Pedro would comment on this incident. “I am an adult man. I have led a backward life. I have become disoriented, deluded. All because I lacked support and help, when that is what I needed the most.” Some of you may be thinking that Pedro should have stayed with the American family, and you’d be right. Pedro would very likely have been better off. But from the perspective of a heavily traumatised child, you might be able to understand how he wished to return to the familiar environment of the streets where life was tough, but at least it was one of self-reliance where Pedro felt he had more control over his own destiny. Every time Pedro had consorted with the world of adults and normal society, he seemed to get hurt.
Gone in 60 Seconds
Pedro returned to his life of smoking basuco and running with Bogota’s street gangs. He soon rose through the ranks. Even at a young age, Pedro became a fairly accomplished thief and con artist. By the age of 16, in 1964, he had graduated to being a car thief. Pedro would steal cars from around the city and take them to one of Bogota’s many chop shops, which would break down the car into parts and sell them separately.
While not really making a substantial living at this, since it might be fair to say that barely anyone in Bogota made a decent living, Pedro was at least able to get some decent clothes and keep himself properly fed as he matured into an adult man. By the age of 18, he was a highly respected car thief in Bogota’s underworld, and even began training up younger teens to do the same in exchange for a cut of their proceeds. While I cannot condone car thievery, I’m not sure what I would have done to survive as a street kid trapped in an environment as horrible as the slums of Bogota in the 1960s. Aside from investing in the illicit cocaine industry, maybe, in preparation for the 1980s. But hindsight is 20/20. I also think I’ve missed the boat on bitcoin.
In 1969, at the age of 21, Pedro Lopez’s career as a car thief came to an end. He was caught by the police handling a stolen vehicle, arrested, and given a 2 year sentence in prison. Pedro had only been locked up for two days when he was beaten and gang raped by 4 other inmates. This enraged the now adult man, bringing back all sorts of traumatising memories of his childhood. In response, Pedro spent the evening fashioning a shiv out of a dull butterknife.
The next day, in a blitz attack, he burst into each of the inmates’ cells while they were alone. And, one by one, Pedro Lopez stabbed each of them repeatedly before they could defend themselves. Each attack took no more than a minute. Pedro Lopez managed to kill 3 out of the 4 rapists, with the fourth inmate surviving his attack in critical condition. Such was the state of the Colombian prison system that, according to Lopez, the jail warden said, quote, “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
The prison authorities determined that Lopez had committed the murders in “self-defense”, not because he had killed them in the heat of the rapists’ initial assault, but because being locked up in the prison, the inmates were likely to try it again, possibly ending up in Lopez’s own death. As endemic as rape is to many of the world’s prisons, in Colombia especially the guards did not have the resources or, frankly, even the plain interest in preventing violence from breaking out among the inmates. Short of a full blown prison riot that could potentially result in break-outs, prison authorities turned a blind eye. Additionally, in the rough and ready culture of the 1960s Colombian prison system, it was deemed highly disgraceful to be sodomised by another man, and the act of dishonour could only be expunged by an appropriate act of revenge. As such, prison murders like this were quietly condoned by the authorities, and Colombian jails operated essentially along their own informal legal codes. In the end, the authorities wound up only adding another 2 years to Pedro Lopez’s prison sentence for the murder of 3 men and the attempted murder of a fourth.
“While I was in prison, I learned how to defend myself,” Lopez later said. Indeed, he was never given any more serious trouble in the remaining four years he spent there. Lopez did not join a prison gang, though he occasionally fraternised with other inmates. He remained largely solitary. He was left alone by his fellow convicts for one simple reason. Lopez cultivated the image of being that one inmate, who seems to be in every prison, that appears to be an unpredictable, rabid animal. Completely nuts. If you messed with him, you’d be taking your life into your own hands. At this juncture in his life, Lopez’s own mental instability, babbling rants, and violent mood swings served to emphasize this point.
Lopez spent his days smoking cigarettes and lazing about in his cell. He gradually collected the porn magazines that occasionally filtered into the prison. Evidently, Lopez built up quite a collection and avidly consumed pornography while he was incarcerated. According to Lopez himself, he was conflicted over his masturbatory habits. On the one hand, he felt a need to satiate his biological impulses – and he certainly wasn’t going to sexually assault his fellow inmates, given his own experience. On the other hand, he found the women in the porn magazines repulsive. The graphic acts in which they were engaged reminded him of his mother. Sullied, soiled, completely lacking in innocence. Ultimately, such images did not stimulate him sexually, and so Pedro Lopez began fantasizing about other things.
Lopez would later claim that after his rape in prison, that was the final straw. He had been beat up all his life. When he was released, he would exact his revenge on humanity. According to Lopez, he had his innocence stolen from him at the age of 8, so he would take an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
“I am a God”
To quote what Pedro Lopez said in one of his many press interviews, “I have always lived in poverty. I have ambition of being powerful one day. Or of great importance. I understand what I have done. There is no going back.” As we shall see, Lopez had a rather grim and mutated way of achieving importance.
Pedro Lopez was released from prison in 1973. From there, Lopez’s movements go dark for half a decade. We do know that from 1973 to 1978, Lopez had no fixed address and moved between Bogota and El Espinal, occasionally making forays out to other cities and the countryside. Occasionally, Lopez would visit his mother, with whom he had re-established relations now he was an adult. Yet Lopez’s visits to his mother rarely ended on good terms. According to Benilda, Pedro would be overly confrontational and cruel, and then leave.
In 1978, Pedro Lopez traveled to Peru. There he appears on our radar again during a troubling incident.
Dwelling in the countryside and the forests of Peru are the various tribes and confederacies of the Chanka people. They are a large aboriginal ethnicity with various dialects and sub-cultures spread across multiple regions of the country. The Chanka is a traditional agrarian society and endeavour to remain as untouched as possible by modernity. They resisted conquest by the Incan Empire, and they resisted the Spanish Conquistadors. Even today, they strive to hold off the encroachments of the Peruvian government and are largely left to their own devices. In a word, you don’t f*ck with them.
In 1978, a number of young girls between the ages of 8 and 12 had gone missing from a local Chanka community, never to be found again. One day, Pedro Lopez was discovered trying to lure a 9 year old Chanka girl away into the forest. Lopez had said to the girl that he was lost and asked her to help him find his way back to the road. An angry mob of Chankas chased Lopez, grabbed him, and buried him in the sand up to his neck. They suspected that he was responsible for the recent disappearances of the young girls in the community. According to Lopez, the Chankas were about to pour syrup on his face so he would be stung repeatedly by a swarm of thousands of highly toxic bullet ants (perhaps a fanciful sounding story to Western ears but actually well within reason for punishments in that region). However, a Christian missionary worker intervened.
She convinced the Chankas to instead deliver Lopez to the local police. Lopez was tied up with rope and thrown into the back of the missionary’s Jeep. The woman drove Lopez to the local police station. There the attending officer could not really determine that there was any evidence that Lopez was responsible for the disappearances of the young girls, and did not really wish to commence an investigation. Nor had Lopez been caught doing anything criminal with the 9 year old, other than claiming to be lost and allegedly attempting to abduct her. At no point in the incident did Lopez use physical coercion or grab the girl. The officer found out that Lopez was a vagrant from Colombia, so he simply decided to have him deported. The officer ordered the missionary to drive Lopez to the border and release him, which the woman dutifully did. Then the officer presumably went back to sitting on his big fat arse.
Pedro Lopez returned to Bogota where in December 1978 he abducted, raped, and strangled a young girl whose name and exact age remain undisclosed. Her remains were not found until months later, and Lopez was not placed on the list of police suspects. In early 1979, in El Espinal, Lopez is known to have abducted, raped, and strangled another young girl named Flora Alba Sanchez. Her body was found months later on the outskirts of El Espinal and her grieving mother identified her by the dress she had been wearing. Once again, Lopez was not placed on any list of police suspects at the time. Moreover, both of these girls were from poor families and, according to typical police conduct at the time, the cases were not really worth many – if any – police resources to investigate.
In April 1979, Pedro Lopez traveled to Ecuador, where he settled in the mountain city of Ambato [am-bah-toe]. It had a moderately large population of a couple hundred thousand, into which Lopez melted as a drifter among a fairly sizeable homeless community. Lopez would later say, “Ecuadorian girls are gentler and more trusting than Colombian girls. They never scream. They expect nothing. They are innocent.”
On May 5th 1979, Lopez approached Hortensia Lozada [hor-ten-zia loh-zah-dah], a young girl selling newspapers to supplement her family’s income. Lopez asked Hortensia to be his guide. He led the girl to the outskirts of town where he sexually assaulted and murdered her and then buried her body underneath a bridge. In her shallow grave, she was shrouded in the newspapers she had been selling that day. No police investigation followed her disappearance. Thereafter, Pedro Lopez extended his activities across 11 Ecuadorian provinces.
In Ambato itself, young girls started going missing at an alarming rate. Panicked parents reported the disappearances to the police. They refused to investigate. The official police line in late 1979 was that these girls were likely runaways. The police even made some demented comments about how the girls may have failed their school exams. In reality, there were a couple reasons for police inaction. One, Lopez was not the only predator active in Ambato at the time. Sex traffickers conducted a roaring trade by abducting and shipping off young girls to parts unknown, and these criminals usually had connections in the police where they handed out bribes like candy in a highly corrupt system. The police allegedly may have assumed the disappearances were connected to the sex traffickers, and abstained from rocking the boat by even starting the most cursory investigation.
Two, the police generally did not investigate crimes committed against the local poor. Police resources and manpower were limited due to low government funding, and these resources were focused on servicing the wealthier citizenry. The authorities were extremely reluctant to get mired in the exponentially higher number of cases that occurred in poor communities, and would only do so if things became direly serious. Otherwise, the impoverished citizens of Ambato largely handled local policing and justice on their own via vigilantism, feuds, revenge killings, and mob rule. In this case, parents put up signs all over the city, offered rewards for information, but all to no avail.
Then on February 14th 1980, Ivanova Jacome [eee-van-o-vah yah–coh-may] went missing while walking alone in downtown Ambato to visit her father at work. However, her father was not poor. He owned a large chain of bakeries across the region and was a respected businessman in the community. When he informed the police, they were forced to sit up and pay attention. Finally, the police had taken notice of one of the disappearances. This further lit a fire under the parents of the other missing girls, and their voices were getting louder and louder in the community and in the press.
A few weeks later, flash flooding uncovered the remains of four girls who had been murdered and buried at various locations along a river near Ambato. It was at this point that the police realised they were dealing with a serial killer. The city went into high alert. Then on March 8th 1980, the police found Ivanova’s body lying in a farm shed on the edge of town. She was identified by her devastated father.
Pedro Lopez had decided upon a truly sickening way to wreak revenge on humankind for the way he had been treated his entire life. If he had lost his innocence at age 8, he would do the same to others. Meanwhile, because he had gone so far undetected, his sense of self-righteousness and narcissism attained delusional levels. As he later stated, “I am a god. I give life. And I take it away.”
The Festival of Fruits and Flowers
It is Sunday, March 9th, 1980. Today was Ambato’s local “festival of fruits and flowers.” Market stalls were duly set up in the plaza, filled to the bring with vegetables, fresh cut flowers, textiles, along with vendors selling hot food and sweet pastries. The mood of the festival was slightly soured by the news of a serial killer and abductor of young girls being at large in the community. Public concern and frustration had been building in Ambato for months, and the highly publicised discovery of Ivanova Jacome’s body the day before had the same effect as waving around a blowtorch in a dynamite factory.
Pedro Lopez attended the market, selling small trinkets, cheap bracelets, and padlocks. There he spotted Maria Ramon Poveda [rah-moan poh-vay-dah], aged 12, who was helping her mother, Carlina, run her hot food stand. Lopez lingered at the market for the majority of the day, staring at the young girl. Then at 4pm Lopez approached the stall and asked Carlina what sort of food she was offering. Lopez appeared indecisive and took his sweet time looking in all of the pots. At the same time, Lopez kept looking at Carlina’s daughter as if he was trying to get her attention. He kept gesturing to her to come over. Maria told her mother that this man was looking at her funny, and that she felt creeped out.
In other circumstances, perhaps one might simply tell the man to stop looking at your daughter, or even tell the man he’s being a creep and to piss off. The more overprotective fathers among us may even have threatened to punch the man and send his teeth clattering down his foul-smelling throat. But these were not ordinary circumstances. Everybody knew about the children’s disappearances. The police had accomplished nothing for months. And so, in the eyes of the citizens of Ambato, a strange man trying to gain the attention of a young girl in the marketplace was enough to warrant the utmost hostility and suspicion. Carlina Ramon Poveda yelled at the man and quickly whipped up a mob who chased Pedro Lopez across the marketplace, roughed him up, and then handed him over to police on suspicion of being the local child murderer.
Once in police custody, Pedro Lopez denied all charges and insisted that he was, quote, “a good person with a pure heart.” Police interrogation techniques remained standard at the beginning until they found out he was not an Ecuadorian, but a Colombian who was staying in the country without a visa. At this point, the police subjected Pedro Lopez to a severe beating in order to extract a confession out of him. Still Pedro Lopez did not yield and continued to protest his innocence. He was thrown into a cell.
Meanwhile, in order to extract information out of the suspect, Police Captain Pastor Gonzales [gone-zall-aze] was made Lopez’s cellmate where he posed as a fellow rapist. Because of the captain’s first surname, “Pastor”, he is often misrepresented in true crime shows as being an “undercover priest.” It took Pastor Gonzales a few days to get the suspect talking, and a nearly a month for him to slowly extract all the relevant information. Pedro Lopez confided in his cellmate that since arriving in Ecuador he had been killing an average of 3 girls per week, all over the country.
But that, unfortunately, was just the beginning. During a later press interview Pastor Gonzales would state, “For 27 days I barely slept, for fear that I would be strangled. But I tricked Lopez into confessing. He boasted about his murders, one after another, taking place in Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru. It went beyond my worst nightmares. He told me everything.” Scattered amid long hours of Pedro’s long incoherent rantings were dribs and drabs of grisly information. Eventually Gonzales became so sickened and traumatised by what he was hearing, that he had to abandon his mission, bang on the cell door, and ask his fellow officers to release him.
The Monster of the Andes
Pedro Lopez confessed to abducting, raping, and murdering 110 young girls between the ages of 8 and 12 in Ecuador between April 1979 and March 1980. In addition, he admitted to killing 140 girls in Colombia between the years 1973 and 1977, and a further 50 to 80 girls in Peru during his brief stay in the country in 1978. That amounts to approximately 2 girls per month in Colombia, 1-2 girls per week during his time in Peru, and between 2 and 3 girls per week in Ecuador. The increase in frequency from Colombia to Peru and Ecuador would imply a typical pattern of escalation, albeit on a staggeringly larger scale. In total, Pedro Lopez confessed to killing over 300 children in roughly a 7 year period.
Lopez would later say in a press interview, “I am the worst of the worst. Perhaps I took it too far because of my ignorance. I am the lowest of the low. Perhaps even a complete animal.”
Lopez had a specific type of victim. “I walked among the markets searching for a girl with a certain look on her face. A look of innocence and beauty. She would be a good girl, perhaps working with her mother. I watched, sometimes for two or three days, waiting for the moment when she was left alone.”
Lopez’s modus operandi was to select girls who appeared to be easy targets and whom the police would not work hard to find. He would mostly target girls of full or partial indigenous descent, once saying “I spent many days following rich families and their beautiful blonde daughters. But I never got the chance to take some. Their parents were too watchful.” He’d target poor girls. He would target girls selling things on street corners, or aboriginal girls living in the depths of the countryside. Lopez would never physically coerce the girls to go with him. He’d charm them to draw them away, in order to have plausible deniability should the abduction be interrupted. Lopez would pretend to be lost and in need of a guide, or he’d gain their attention by offering them cheap trinkets and baubles. His general approach was to appear as gentle, harmless, and helpless as possible so the young girls would take pity on him.
The alleged numbers are horrifying enough, so I am going to be quite swift and matter-of-fact about what came next. Lopez would take the girls to isolated areas, frequently on the edge of town, then sexually assault them. He would then leave the girls alive and sleep next to them the entire night, whispering comforting things to them to calm them down, making them think they’d get to return home the next day. Then at dawn, Lopez would sexually assault the victims again, and strangle them. Lopez said he waited for dawn so he could look into their eyes while he did so, a fixation shared by Israel Keyes from a previous video.
Lopez would then prop up the body of the victim and talk to it for hours, sometimes having what he called a “tea party”, or else by playing one-sided children’s games. He frequently referred to his victims as his “dolls.” Eventually Lopez would become bored, conceal the body, and leave. After a cooling off period of about a week, and, more recently, only a day or two, he would go off and find another victim. Due to the high numbers of Lopez’s victims, more often than once, Lopez would bring multiple victims to the same grave site as his previous crimes.
Lopez’s preference was for innocent young girls, and therefore he did not abduct girls of 8 to 12 who were working as prostitutes (which tragically was practically a common thing at the time in impoverished urban areas). The reason for this was his revulsion against what his mother stood for, and also his grieving for the loss of his own innocence when he was sexually assaulted at the age of 8.
As such, Lopez rationalised that by murdering the girls he was “helping them” by sparing them from a life where they would grow older, lose their innocence, and suffer at the hands of other people. Or, in other words, become like his mother or the women he saw in pornographic magazines. Instead, according to Lopez, he was sending the young innocents straight to heaven. During an interview, Lopez stated that it took the girls 5 to 15 minutes to die, adding “I was very considerate. I would spend a long time with them making sure they were dead. I would use a mirror to check if they were still breathing.”
If elements of Lopez’s early backstory previously made you sympathetic toward the man, I’d be genuinely curious to know what you are thinking right now.
The police were not sure what to make of Pedro Lopez. The numbers he was claiming to have killed were so large. 110 victims in Ecuador alone. They thought he could just be a raving madman, concocting wild stories after spending so many days in jail. Beyond his confessions, all they had was a mob picking him up for being creepy around a young girl in front of her mother, and outstaying his welcome in Ecuador. They kept Lopez sweet by plying him with cigarettes, coffee, beer, and fried chicken. He remembered a surprising number of dates, times, and victim descriptions. Meanwhile, Lopez began to call Pastor Gonzales “papa”, which psychologists theorise was because for almost his entire life Lopez lacked a father figure who was kind to him.
After some more rounds of questioning, the police asked Lopez to lead them to where he had buried or concealed the bodies of his victims. That would determine once and for all whether the deranged lunatic was telling the truth. In total, Lopez led police to 57 sites where the bodies of young girls were found, along with an additional 36 sites where no bodies were uncovered. In the latter cases, possible explanations for the missing bodies ranged from flooding and mudslides to animals consuming the remains. Or quite simply Lopez misremembering the exact spot where he buried or concealed a victim. By his own admission, Lopez had murdered a lot of victims in an 11 month period. But the discovery of roughly half of the 110 claimed victims indicated that Lopez was indeed telling something approaching the truth. As for correlating the claims with missing persons cases, unfortunately the poor did not always report disappearances, or come forward after the fact. Many of the children had no birth certificates or identification or any existence on government records whatsoever. The police themselves kept inadequate records when it came to reports of disappearances coming from the poor. And as previously stated there were other reasons for why a young girl might disappear in Ecuador, sex trafficking being the foremost among them.
Six weeks elapsed with Lopez taking police to site after site, multiple times a day. He would be calm and coldly point out where the bodies were. As if what he did was normal. At one of the first grave sites, on the outskirts of Ambato, police located the body of Hortensia Lozada, who was killed 11 months prior. Her father, Leonidas, was called to identify her remains, which he did by recognising her clothing. Pedro Lopez was standing right there, protected by police, and Leonidas wanted to kill him. Gradually a mob arrived and began throwing rocks at the police. They wanted to lynch Lopez. From there on out, Lopez was taken out disguised as a police officer while guiding police to new grave sites. During one outing, Lopez grabbed a girl’s skull, placed it under his arm as he posed with it, and asked one of the cops to take a picture. They quickly grabbed it off him. Lopez wanted the macabre image to immortalise him in the history books. As Lopez would state multiple times to the press, now that he was arrested and his life might be cut short by either extradition and execution or murder in prison, he wanted to make sure that he had left some impact on history.
In general, Lopez loved all the attention this grim spectacle was getting him. He did not show any remorse, saying, “When one dies, one totally loses his emotions, his vision, his ability to see. In death you can forget about who you are, because everything you did has now evaporated into the void.” Ultimately, Pedro Lopez was diagnosed as a sociopath, with anti-social personality disorder. He did not know right from wrong, had no remorse, and no empathy. Psychologists speculated that if his upbringing had been different, Pedro would likely not have wound up with such mental pathologies. Or at least they would not be as pronounced and exacerbated as they were. In short, Lopez is considered likely to be more of serial killer created by nurture rather than nature. Nevertheless, many high profile true crime shows have depicted him as a bad apple from the start for dramatic purposes.
Pedro Lopez was charged with 110 counts of murder in Ecuador, largely based on his own confessions. At trial, on July 31st 1981, Lopez pled guilty to the 57 murders where bodies had been found. Unfortunately, in Ecuador at the time there were no consecutive sentences, and being charged under more than one category of a crime was considered unconstitutional. This meant that if you abducted, raped, and killed 1 person, or 100, or 1000, you would receive the exact same sentence. And so, for the abduction, rape, and murder of 57 to 110 young girls in Ecuador, Pedro Lopez received the maximum sentence at the time of just 16 years. That’s seriously all he got. That equates to just 1.5 months to 3 months jail time for every child Lopez murdered in Ecuador. If we add the estimated death tolls from Peru and Colombia, roughly 300, Lopez spent two weeks in jail for each murder. And Pedro Lopez would be freed from prison before he reached his 50th birthday. The low maximum sentence was partially due to prison overcrowding. When later asked about the killer’s release, Ecuadorian Prison Minister Pablo Faguero [fah-gare-oh] would only say: “Yes, it does sound strange, but that is our law.”
If all that frustrates you, please know that you are not alone. I caused some very minor property damage in my apartment when I first found that out.
Lopez spent 2 years in an Ambato jail before he was transferred to a prison in Quito [key-toe], the capital city of Ecuador. There he was transferred to the murderer and rapist wing. Lopez passed his days alone, smoking basuco, the cocaine-lined cigarettes he had enjoyed in his youth. I’m not even sure I should be surprised that he managed to obtain them in prison, given what I’ve just written about his sentencing. Lopez would spend his days reading pornography, scribbling in his diary, and carving coins with Jesus on one side, and the devil on the other. Lopez gave interviews with the press whenever he could. He enjoyed the attention. He concocted a story that he had a split personality, and that a man named Jorge Patino [hor-hay pah-tee-noh] was actually responsible for the murders. Lopez said, “I did not commit the murders. I participated in the acts and was involved in them. Patino was threatening to kill me, and if I tried to leave him, he probably would have killed me.” It is uncertain whether this Jorge Patino was actually a manifestation of Pedro Lopez’s mental illness or just a fabrication that Lopez used to catch press attention. I’ll leave it to the audience to decide.
Throughout his 16 year sentence, Pedro Lopez repeatedly vowed that, if and when he was released, he would kill again. Pedro Lopez was freed from prison on August 31st 1994, after serving 14 years of his original 16 year sentence. He was released 2 years early for “good behaviour.” The parents of the victims were devastated and called for vigilante justice to kill Lopez. Already they had pooled all their resources together and placed a $25,000 bounty on Lopez’s head.
Meanwhile, a few hours after his release, Lopez was scooped up again by Ecuadorian authorities. He was ordered to be deported back into Colombia. He was handed over on the next day. Colombian authorities arrested Lopez for the murder of Flora Alba Sanchez, aged 12, in early 1979. The hope was to find Lopez guilty of a murder in Colombia and put him away for life, or else put him in front of a firing squad. Meanwhile, public pressure grew in Ecuador to reform the sentencing of multiple murderers, and a few years later the maximum sentence was increased from 16 to 25 years.
Pedro Lopez was found guilty of the murder of Flora Alba Sanchez, though he was not prosecuted for any of the other 140 murders he claimed to have committed in Colombia. Nor was he ever called to account for any murders in Peru. Then, in late 1995, Lopez was declared insane and locked up in an asylum in Bogota. After a little over 2 years’ incarceration in the asylum, a psychiatrist evaluated Pedro Lopez and declared him sane. Lopez was released back into an outraged public in February 1998, on the condition that he continue with his psychiatric treatment and report once a month to a judge. Additionally, Lopez had to pay a bail bond of just $50. That is roughly 16 cents per victim.
Upon his release in early 1998, Lopez travelled to El Espinal to visit his mother, Benilda. According to her, Lopez greeted her by saying that she should get down on her knees so he could bless her. To which Benilda replied that she was his mother and that if anyone should get down on their knees it was him. Pedro Lopez promptly got down on one knee so he could receive his mother’s blessing. He then started aggressively demanding an early share of his inheritance. Benilda replied that she was dirt poor and asked her son how she was going to give him anything, when all Benilda owned was a chair and a bed. Lopez then dragged the bed and the chair out onto the veranda, in full public view, and shouted into the street, “Who is going to buy these things? Otherwise, I will light them on fire.” A woman came forward and bought the furniture. After which, Lopez promptly left.
That was the last time anyone reported seeing Pedro Lopez ever again.
In 2002, Interpol issued an alert to apprehend Pedro Lopez, as he became a prime suspect in yet another child murder in Colombia. Beyond that, there was no significant spike in missing persons cases in Colombia, Peru, or Ecuador in the years immediately following Lopez’s release.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, we still have no idea where Lopez went after visiting his mother in El Espinal. We have no idea whether the Monster of the Andes killed again. And we have no idea if he is currently alive or dead. At time of writing, Pedro Lopez would be 73 years old.
- Whenever I sit down to write this section, the theme music Jen regularly inserts here immediately starts playing in my head and doesn’t stop until I have finished writing everything. And bear in mind that with multiple drafts and editing, that is a considerable amount of time to have a brief looping song stuck in your head. Not really relevant, but I thought I’d try and lighten the mood a little after today’s bollocking of an episode.
- Numerous authorities have speculated whether Pedro Lopez is still alive and whether he continued killing. Certainly, as the old cliché goes, a serial killer usually doesn’t stop until they are stopped. And there hasn’t been that level of death toll anywhere in South America that would imply Lopez had begun his handiwork again. But there are plenty of exceptions to that cliched rule, like the Golden State Killer, for example. So it is possible that Lopez merely ran off somewhere and stopped killing – or at least stopped killing as frequently. As for Lopez being able to conceal himself all these years, he had spent his entire life as a vagrant, and it is entirely conceivable Lopez could disappear into the vast masses of the poor and the cracks of the underworld yet again. Multiple experts agree that, if Lopez is alive, he would eventually have to flee the Spanish-speaking Americas, where he’d be more frequently recognised, and probably would head north to try and slip into the United States or Canada. Assuming, of course, that he did not manage to sneak his way onto a ship or a plane. While in prison, Lopez boasted that one day he would write a book on his crimes. It seems dubious that someone who grew to be as narcissistic as Lopez, with a literal god-complex, could have kept such a low profile for decades.
- Speaking of lightening the mood, I’ve referred several times throughout this episode to how many officials in Colombia were corrupt. Happily, this includes prison psychiatrists. While it is possible that Pedro Lopez could have behaved himself to pull the wool over a psychiatrist’s eyes in order to be released, one theory goes that vengeful families bribed the psychiatrist to declare Lopez sane. Thereupon, Lopez could be tracked after he was released and discretely murdered. That would explain why someone as recognisable and unhinged as Lopez was never heard from again. As Carlina Ramon Poveda, mother of the last known girl Lopez tried to abduct, has said, “He won’t live long. It will be a kindness to the world for someone to murder this fiend. Maybe that is why we haven’t heard of more missing girls. Perhaps someone, even the police in Colombia or Ecuador, have already killed him. If they have, I hope they made him suffer.” Though the fact that we need to discuss the possibilities of extra-judicial killings to get any sense of justice or safety out of this story stands as a condemnation of the judicial systems of both Ecuador and Colombia. Where the state ends, frontier justice begins.
- Not that it should really matter, but in case you were wondering, with a potential victim count of over 300 children, Pedro Lopez is one of the most prolific serial killers in human history, alongside the likes of Luis Garavito, Harold Shipman, and Javed Iqbal. Where exactly Lopez falls on this list depends on how you are deciding upon the numbers. For instance, are we counting only proven murders? Murders that the killer himself claimed? Or murders alleged by the police or the public? Lopez is only confirmed to have killed 57 children, all from Ecuador, but likely killed similar numbers in Colombia and Peru. So if we triple that number, Lopez ranks second or third after Garavito and Shipman. If we count all 300 as realistic, that places Lopez either first or second in history. As for the numbers themselves, all occurring in just 7 years, that is entirely feasible. Unlike a killer such as Andrei Chikatilo who murdered a likely 57 people over 12 years, Pedro Lopez was not married, employed, and did not lead a double life. As a vagrant, he could devote the majority of his time to murdering people. In that sense, especially because of the indifference and impotence of the police, the idea that Lopez could kill 3 girls a week is entirely feasible. Indeed, in 2006 the Guinness Book of World Records listed Pedro Lopez as the world’s most prolific serial killer, but got rid of the category because numerous people complained that it glorified his deeds and set a benchmark for future psychos. They are not wrong.