By Kris Levin, Columnist
How many murderers have you met in your life?
The estimated statistical probability is purported to be anywhere from a few to a few dozen. I can say with a degree of certainty that I’ve crossed the paths of at least three killers throughout my life, all from my time in the professional wrestling business. I don’t want this to be misinterpreted as saying killers are drawn to professional wrestling or even that professional wrestling breeds murderers. Because, despite all the outward displays of violence and brutality, they aren’t and it doesn’t. This is solely because the world of professional wrestling is the only social circle I’ve been consistently involved with during my lifetime, but I digress.
Two of the three killers that I met had already committed the horrific act of taking away a human life (or, in one case, lives). One was a professional wrestling legend who passed from terminal illness before his allegations were proven in a court of law, despite overwhelming evidence painting a damning portrait (leaving only a guilty verdict in the court of public opinion). We met twice, briefly. The tolls that came from years of in-ring and substance abuse had made the former in-ring wildman docile and spacey. When we shook hands, I was taken aback by his soft palms and gentle disposition. He was complimentary toward me, inexplicably telling me that I was handsome and did well in the ring because I took my time. It’s a strange feeling to be on the receiving end of such unsolicited kindness from a person who had within him the capacity for such evil.
The other was a notorious retired gangster who made his fortune off of smuggling drugs. After an internationally-renowned film was released about his life where he was portrayed by an A-list actor, he has now presumably absconded from the game. His acquaintance with a promoter I was working for facilitated our meeting in passing. He was quiet but, when he did speak, incredibly blunt. Even in his advanced age he possessed an undercurrent of brimming lethality only just below the surface. Despite this, he was incredibly complimentary of my girlfriend, Bonesaw Jessie Brooks’ hard-hitting in-ring acumen. If a stone cold killer being impressed with your staged theatrics of feigned barbarism isn’t a compliment, I don’t know what is. Again, this act of unsolicited kindness left me with mixed-feelings regarding the concepts of the capacity within humans to change versus unfulfilled justice, guilt versus forgiveness, and the duality and range of difference between private and public personas.
The third I met when I was fifteen-years-old, over a decade before he had committed an act of murder-suicide. Prior to his infamy as a murderer, he carried a degree of notoriety as the collective Northeast’s area’s racist uncle. Aside from occasionally calling the fire marshal on rival promoters, he was mostly seen as a harmless—albeit belligerent—loudmouth. Because of that, in my eyes, he often transcended being seen as an actual person and was more analogous to the walking embodiment of a meme. Always ready with a vulgar one-liner or a racist quip, he worked an old school and brazenly inappropriate (though, I admit, wildly entertaining) style. I (and many others, I’m sure) often looked forward to sharing a locker room with him just for the stories we would walk away with to share in our respective group chats. Earlier this year, after inflicting what was later revealed to be decades of domestic abuse, he murdered his wife execution style and then turned the gun on himself. Their bodies were discovered the next morning by their adolescent children.
The list of manslaughters and murders surrounding the professional wrestling industry is sordid, yet mercifully brief. Reflecting upon my own brushes with this strange cast, I thought about how outwardly normal they were when removed from the context of their life-defining crimes. Speaking to an anonymous criminal prosecutor who has dealt with numerous amounts of such cases, he tells me that “most of them act perfectly normal, 99% of the time. Even the really crazy ones appear perfectly normal about 95% of the time.” This begs the question: are the latter 95% normal, with that 5% of crazy being enough to sway the balance? Or are they just adept at pretending?
Barring any yet-to-be discovered serial killers hiding in plain sight (after all, the travel schedule this industry provides would certainly be accommodating toward that endeavor), the majority of murders in this business revolve around domestic incidents and shady business practices… save for one exception. To date, only one individual within the rankings of the world of professional wrestling holds the distinction of being a full-blown serial killer: La Dama del Silencio. The Lady of Silence.
Despite her outwardly “respectable and unremarkable” appearance, according to The Guardian, during an interview with a “major television channel at a wrestling event just a few weeks before her arrest, [convicted serial killer Juana] Barraza described herself as ‘rudo to the core’… She was often seen in the front rows of the established arenas, and also organised wrestling events for small-town fiestas, occasionally fighting in the ring herself. Her wrestling persona was La Dama del Silencio, The Lady of Silence. She reportedly told police she chose the title, ‘because I am quiet and keep myself to myself.’”
In Mexican pop culture, La Dama del Silencio is better known as la Mataviejitas, which translates to “the Old Lady Killer.” From the late-nineties to the mid-aughts, the death toll had been mounting in central Mexico. Despite already being a high crime-rate area (especially for female victims), the elderly were typically seen as off-limits. This is what made la Mataviejitas’ crimes especially shocking: her targets were all women sixty and older. The killer’s modus operandi was to approach elderly women (typically those who lived alone) and gain entry under the pretext of being a social worker offering to sign-up the victim for welfare programs. La Mataviejitas would then beat or strangle them to death, afterward stealing items of religious significance as trophies. In a move criticized by many, the authorities did not recognize the series of slayings (that had started prior to Y2K) as the work of a serial killer until 2004.
It was not until 2006 that la Mataviejitas’ reign of terror finally came to an end. The culmination of a two year manhunt came after previously described MO befell 82-year-old Ana María de los Reyes Alfaro, who lived in a borough of Mexico City and was strangled to death with a stethoscope. Following her murder, a breakthrough occurred: an eyewitness reported a suspect fleeing the scene who was described as a sturdily-built, middle-aged woman. Initially, the police were certain the killer was a cross-dresser. After all, criminologists had determined the killer to be a man. In fact, up until this point, all efforts had been focused on profiling Mexico City’s population of cross-dressing prostitutes. Following the suspect’s apprehension, Mexico was in for a shock when it was discovered that el Mataviejitas (as the press referred to the killer prior to capture) was actually 48-year-old Juana Barraza.
As her arrest became public, bits and pieces of her story slowly began to emerge. She came from an abusive household, raised by an alcoholic mother who allegedly traded her as a child for liquor to a man who would habitually rape her, which led to a pregnancy. This produced a son who would later be murdered after being beaten to death by a baseball bat during an attempted mugging. This incident led her already dark life down an even darker path. Despite only being charged for post-millenium crimes, speculation has since linked her to a series of murders that began in the late-nineties when she was in her early-forties. If they were committed by Barraza, that would place the start of these killings in the same timeframe as the aftermath of her son’s murder. According to The Guardian, police criminologists believe that “Barraza was so damaged by her experiences, she ended up targeting old ladies because she identified them with her mother.” Mirroring her own childhood trauma, some of her victims had also been sexually assaulted.
The onion continued to unravel. The police investigation led to the discovery that she had a shrine in her home devoted to Santa Muerte. One idiosyncratic fact from that search quickly became sensationalistic fodder and a lasting piece of Mexico’s cultural zeitgeist and spurred the writing of this article: the discovery of a picture of Barraza dressed as a luchadora. In it, Barraza poses with short, bleached blonde hair and outfitted in pink spandex with golden accents, completed by a butterfly motif on her waistline and in the form of a lucha libre mask, which is ubiquitous throughout the tradition of Mexican professional wrestling. Over her shoulder she proudly sports a championship belt. And just like that, the story had taken a curious turn. Subsequently, the press took this new detail and milked it for all it was worth.
When I first learned of Barraza, it was her background in lucha libre that most interested me. After all, that was the most consistently reported trivia so far as the headlines were concerned. Yet, despite that, little more was ever mentioned of her actual career as a luchadora. As far as most killers are concerned, they typically save donning masks for when they commit crimes… not solely for recreational hobbies.
With that said, I don’t think that lucha libre masks will be looked at as the mark of Cain any time soon. No, my curiosity lay in seeing if anything about her performances as La Dama del Silencio hinted at the sinister secret of the heinous criminal acts committed by the real-life, criminal alter ego.
When discussing the case with a former criminal justice professor, an interesting theory was presented to me. That “in Barraza’s day-to-day life, presenting herself in public as a promoter/wrestler is what provided her with a plausible cover for traveling, being awake at odd hours, and having access to all kinds of people. They’re intertwined, in my opinion. The idea is that she exists outside of the empirical world, in wrestling and her murders. Pretty standard sociopathic behavior. It may not be fantasy to her, which makes it all the more macabre.”
At this point, I feel the need to clarify that despite what my time with deathmatch wrestling may suggest, I possess no joy in morbidity. While I can find common human and psychological interest in the story of or mystery behind a killing, I take no joy in its telling. While in New Orleans for a series of events, a misguided trip to the Museum of Death left me on the verge of vomiting.
I reached out to a few individuals who hold far more knowledge in this field than I will ever care to profess. I asked them if they could anonymously explain their interest in serial killers to me: “My interest is more of a curiosity-turned-obsession. I personally can’t understand how another human being could commit multiple acts so grotesque. I really try and wrap my head around what they did, how they did it, why they did it, and what goes through their head. It’s something my mind can’t process and I think that’s why I always try to find more information.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a ‘fan’ of serial killers but rather a ‘recreational investigator.’ There are some killers like Albert Fish that, no matter how hard you try, you will never forget that person. His ‘legend’ almost sticks to you and bothers you for life. Another example would be Jack the Ripper. So many people are so fascinated with who he was that, in a sense, they do become fans. They are so interested in what he did and who he was that they detract the person from the actions and try and solve the mystery. They end up enjoying the ‘legend’ of Jack the Ripper more and put aside the horrible acts he committed.”
Another tells me: “I don’t get why I’m so into them, honestly. I just know that I really am. It’s an interest and it’s a cool thing. It’s something that I spend a lot of time learning about. It’s this weird sense of being scared and disgusted, but also having a little bit of admiration. Not that I admire their work, but that they did something that’s impressive. It is impressive in the sense that they were able to do what they did. I don’t idolize these people or think they should be looked up to. Maybe it’s like wondering what made these people feel this way, you know? Not understanding it. What motivated a person to do all these things, because they seem normal otherwise. They seem like you or I in other fashions. But in fact they’re a sick, twisted freak. It’s more of a morbid curiosity.”
Perhaps possessing a bit of morbid curiosity of my own, I decided to dig a little deeper into this thoroughly tragic tale. On the condition of anonymity, I spoke to several veterans of lucha libre that are based out of central Mexico—la Mataviejitas’ former predatorial hunting territory—to see if they had ever crossed her path. It turns out, they had.
They had dealt with her not in the capacity as a professional wrestler, but as a promoter. They tell me that they had worked for her several times in the year prior to her arrest for events she ran every Friday night in Arena San Juan Pantitlán. They traveled via bus to neighborhood barrio shows in Acapulco Neza, which are street festivals of a sort that saw the ring set up in the middle of the road with a residential home borrowed for use as a locker room. They describe her events as presenting high-quality lucha libre and always drawing at least two hundred people, a respectable number for an independent promotion.
The fact that she was a promoter is impressive in itself. Since this business’ inception I can count on two hands at most the number of women who have promoted professional wrestling events worldwide. This is especially true of Mexico, which (while otherwise lovely) is culturally plagued by a concept of toxic masculinity known as machismo which often leads to acts of misogyny and a general imbalance in the perception of gender roles. When speaking to another luchador, he confirmed with me that he had otherwise never encountered or even so much as heard of a female promoter in Mexico.
“She didn’t look like a killer.”
My amigos go on to tell me that, while they admittedly didn’t know her well, “she didn’t look like a killer.” They tell me that she was clean, polite, and conducted herself respectably. “She was a friend of several wrestlers. She had a good reputation and was a friend of many.” Several confirm that friends and colleagues had always acted as intermediaries for booking them and working out financial terms: “She always fulfilled her agreements, so I was always happy.”
This made her quite popular among the luchadors: “Everyone wanted to get booked by her. She paid every match. There was one time when she must have had over one hundred wrestlers on a show. Even if you were not programmed she would let us fight and she would pay us.”
Unsurprisingly, these days it is difficult to find a luchador who will admit to having known her: “No one wants to say they worked with her because of her crimes. At the time, no one knew of her crimes and no one said anything after she got caught. We were shocked that we were so close to a murderer. Everyone was scared of the Ministerio Público (Police Department), so no one said anything.”
For many Mexicans, the perception is that the Ministerio Público cannot be trusted: “The Mexican police are always corrupt, it doesn’t matter what state you are in. They get paid too little, so they need the money.”
After her arrest, rumors swirled in both the lucha community and the press of the police investigating a popular local luchador who allegedly acted as an accomplice by being her getaway driver. So far as I can tell, nothing ever came of this and it is treated as nothing more than rumor and innuendo. This doesn’t surprise me, as it is only human nature for unfounded speculation to surround such a delicate event… which is to say that I give little credence to it. One luchador who was close to the situation added: “There were several wrestlers that had affairs with her. We did see [the alleged luchador accomplice] have a pretty close relationship with her. They were attracted to her money.”
While conducting research for this article, I reached out to fanáticos de lucha libre to get their perspective on the case. I was met with a certain degree of credulity regarding something that I had taken as a foregone conclusion: the fact that Juana Barraza was even a luchador.
Despite all available materials mentioning that she was a luchadora, few offered any additional details. An article (whose list of sources left me unable to independently verify all of the following) featured on TheRichest.com claims: “She never got above a very minor league amateur level, though, not once competing against a single opponent of significant name value. In fact, Silencio was injured so early in her career, she didn’t have many opponents at all. As a result, she was usually confined to handing out popcorn or other snacks during the matches while talking about dreams deferred.”
All available research left me unable to verify that Barraza truly was a luchadora. Some claim that she only dressed as one for photos. Granted, as is the standard of lucha libre, the overwhelming majority of independent events are unfilmed and their results (or even that they occurred) go unrecorded for posterity. Being that is the case, my inability to track footage of her should not in itself be considered as absolute evidence to rumors of her simply being a cosplayer.
When asking my anonymous sources who worked alongside her, they tell me: “I never saw her wrestling. I never saw her in a ring. Now that you’re doing this article, maybe things will come out that we never knew.”
Another put it a little more bluntly: “I have spent a lot of years wrestling in this area and never actually saw her wrestle. That means she didn’t wrestle.”
When all was said and done, Barraza confessed to the murder of her final victim (and allegedly three others), but maintained that she was being used as a scapegoat for the rest. She was ultimately convicted of killing eleven women, however it is believed that she has committed as many as 24-to-49 murders. She is currently serving a 759 year prison sentence for her crimes. Barraza’s case recently took another bizarre turn when, in 2015, she “found love” and wed another inmate who was also being held for murder. The two would divorce the following year.
“Success sucks less than standard existence, but when you exceed the standard dreams, what becomes of our ambitions? The average man can dream dreams of a path he’s never walked. But when that path’s your day-to-day your dreams become… warped.”
-Scroobius Pip, “The Struggle”
The entertainment industry is an inherently dishonest business, and professional wrestling is no different. We are paid to lie to an adoring crowd. The better the liar, the more successful their career. Oftentimes, particularly on the minor leagues of the indie circuit, I find that this dishonesty is often self-directed: whether in regards to their level of ability or what they have versus what they feel they deserve. Juana Barraza is no different. Maybe she was a luchadora. To date, any evidence to the contrary is circumstantial at best. After all, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Regardless of if that assertion is true in the strictest sense, for all intents and purposes, it is true in a practical one. Juana Barraza was no champion luchadora. Everything about her sorrowful life speaks volumes of an individual already indicative of being prone to escapism into the realm of fantasy. A fantasy world where elderly women could serve as a living avatar of a long-dead, absentee mother who was culpable in selling her daughter to a child rapist. A fantasy world where cold-blooded murder could perhaps right the wrongs of a stolen childhood. A fantasy world where the joining of two prisoners serving the remainder of their years for murder would produce a fairytale marriage. A fantasy world where she was, in fact, a champion luchadora.
Until next time, I hope you enjoyed this tale from the mat.
Warmest regards, Kris Levin.