Netflix’s new crime thriller documentary film, The Lady of Silence revolves around one of the most notorious serial killers in the history of Mexico. “The Little Old Lady Killer” operated between 1998 and 2005 and haunted the citizens of Mexico City, particularly the elderly population. Through the accounts of the families of the victims and the police officers involved in solving the case, the documentary establishes a concrete idea about the entire course of events. From the shortcomings of the Mexican police to the modus operandi, the documentary discusses every aspect in detail.
It was a mystery to authorities as to why someone would target helpless elderly women; the question arose from a moral standpoint, but what if the person behind the murders lacked conscience altogether? Clearly, the criminal had no respect for the “Abulitas,” and naturally, they were the easiest ones to target. They knew that the old, frail ladies would not be able to resist, but it was not just their money that the criminal was interested in getting their hands on; there was clearly vengeance behind taking the lives of 42–48 elderly women. Only after the arrest of the criminal did the police find out the reason behind their hatred for seniors.
Maria Jose Cuevas allows the victims’ families to mourn the loss of their loved ones in front of the camera. The family members struggled to find words to describe the horror that they had to live through. Veronica Rizo’s mother was strangled to death in 2003, and she expresses her grief upon realizing how her mother was reduced to a number during the investigation. The entire investigation process was quite overwhelming for her, and the fact that her mother was possibly one of the victims of a serial killer astounded her. While the killing spree can be traced back to 1998, it was only in 2003 that the police started looking at it from a serial killer angle.
The focus of The Lady of Silence is not the killer but the victims and the police procedure. There is a detailed discussion of the modus operandi of the notorious serial killer. Since a lot of welfare schemes were introduced at the time, the killer pretended to be a nurse helping elderly people get access to the schemes. There was barely a thirty-minute discussion on the criminal. Since so much is already known about Juana Barraza, the documentary chooses to bring to light the loopholes or mistakes made during the investigation.
The harassment of trans sex workers remains unforgettable. Since Juana Barraza had a broad stature, the police assumed that she was a man dressed as a woman, and over forty trans people were arrested to verify fingerprints. The harassment faced by the community at the hands of the police was unforgivable. The documentary also brings forth the overall idea that a gay man was behind it since the perpetrator was known to befriend their victims before strangling them to death. The police assumed that a woman could not exert as much strength as demonstrated by the serial killer, and they were confident that there was a man underneath the nurse’s uniform. The thought of a woman executing such an elaborate crime was unimaginable.
One of the police officers comments on how he asked his female colleague to confirm if Juana Barraza was indeed a woman. It goes on to show the prejudice against trans people. The documentary does a splendid job highlighting the trauma and torture inflicted on the queer population on the basis of assumptions. The case also brought to light how the police differentiated between victims. While elderly women were being murdered in Mexico City, there were consecutive murders of young women in Chihuahua, but the police did not show any interest in investigating those cases. Finding the “Mataviejitas” was important to the police since elderly women were targeted, and it was a matter of honor. But when it came to the murder of 300 young women in Ciudad Juarez, the femicide victims were shamed for wearing inappropriate clothes or for staying out late. The Mexican authorities failed their young population as a result of their sexist views, and 90% of the total femicide cases remain unsolved.
The Mexican authorities were desperate to bring an end to the case, and instead of conducting a thorough investigation to find the perpetrators, they were arresting people they had some inkling about. Araceli Vazquez was accused of multiple robberies as well as the murders of the seniors. Araceli accepted that she had robbed houses, but she constantly denied being a murderer. The police did not have evidence against Araceli, yet she was labeled the Mataviejitas. Cameramen from seventy media outlets clicked endless pictures of her while she stood cluelessly. The murders continued even after Araceli was apprehended, and the police went on to arrest a man named Jorge Mario Tablas Silva. The District Attorney’s office accused him of being a serial killer and blamed him for eight of the recent murders. There was no concrete evidence in Mario Tablas case as well.
Araceli and Mario were perhaps wrongfully apprehended, and their arrests revealed the desperation of the Mexican authorities to have someone take the blame for the murder. It was not about punishing the right person but about brushing their hands off by blaming it on anyone who had the slightest connection to the case. Araceli did not match the description of the witnesses, and there was not enough evidence against her, yet she was wrongfully charged. The Lady of Silence does not take the easy route. It questions the authorities and tries to capture every angle possible on the case.
One of the most visually interesting scenes in the documentary was the recreation of Joel Lopez and Juana Barraza’s encounter. Joel Lopez was the tenant friend of Ana Maria, and he played a crucial role in the arrest of Barraza. Using still pictures and videos to reconstruct the crime scene and the layout of Ana Maria’s apartment, we get an idea of how the incident must have unfolded. There are moments in the Netflix documentary film that are visually and aurally quite intriguing. The use of light and color elevates the documentary. The intro sequence also deserves appreciation. From recreating the visuals to highlighting the shortcomings of the authority and focusing on the victims, Maria Jose Cuevas’s documentary digs deep. The Lady of Silence: The Mataviejitas Murders is not a documentary about a serial killer; rather, it is a documentary about the entire investigation process that culminated in the arrest of Juana Barraza.