Authorities in El Salvador are excavating a clandestine cemetery at the house of a former detective which is believed to contain as many as 40 bodies – most of them thought to be women.
The remains of at least 24 people have been recovered so far at the house in the municipality of Chalchuapa, about 48 miles (78km) north-west of capital San Salvador. Exhuming the bodies could take another month, officials said.
The search began after the former officer, Hugo Ernesto Osorio Chávez, 51, was detained earlier this month for killing a woman and her daughter. The suspect, who had previously been investigated for sex crimes, confessed to killing the two.
But when forensic teams searched his house, they discovered at least seven pits containing bodies, some of which may have been buried as long as two years ago.
Prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for nine other suspects who may have acted as accomplices.
Mauricio Arriaza Chicas, director of El Salvador’s national civil police, said on Wednesday that the suspects included former police officers and former soldiers as well as people smugglers and others who helped lure the victims to their death.
On Thursday, dozens of people who believed their missing relatives could be among the bodies gathered outside the house, which was guarded by a heavy police presence.
The incident has brought the issue of femicides into focus in the country of 6.7 million, which recorded 70 incidents of the crime last year. El Salvador saw 111 femicides in 2019, police data showed.
Violence against women in Latin America, including femicides, worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, according to aid groups.
In Mexico this week, a 72-year-old man was arrested as an alleged serial killer of women, local media reported, after the remains of several people were found at his home in the State of Mexico, as part of an investigation into the death of a 36-year-old woman.