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"El Chalequero" or the Mexican Jack the Ripper: The Meanings of Sexual Violence in Turn-of-the-Century Mexico City

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Abstract

Hispanic American Historical Review 81.3-4 (2001) 623-651 During the 1880s, Francisco Guerrero, aka "El Chalequero" or "Antonio el Chaleco," committed a long series of violent crimes, including at least two murders, against women who worked in the northern suburbs of Mexico City. The Mexican press compared him with Jack the Ripper, who killed five prostitutes in London in late 1888. However, unlike his British contemporary, whose true identity is unknown, Guerrero did nothing to hide his, and for several years he remained active and unpunished. He was finally arrested in 1888 and sentenced to death. President Porfirio Díaz commuted his sentence to 20 years in prison, and Guerrero was released early in 1904. In 1908 Guerrero was arrested again and convicted for the homicide of another woman; he died in 1910 awaiting execution. While Jack the Ripper has inspired many a mystery narrative, the story of El Chalequero straightforwardly displayed violence against women -- sexual violence in particular -- as part of Mexico City's everyday life. This article presents multiple facets of El Chalequero's life between 1888 and 1908 -- as a street thug, pimp, and criminal suspect. The perspectives of criminologists discussed in the latter part of this article shed more light on the larger meanings of El Chalequero than those offered by the police or judiciary. Science was involved in the investigation of Jack the Ripper's identity. In Mexico, criminologists and psychiatrists were summoned to explain Guerrero's behavior during his trial, and their reports concluded that he was not a pathological case, but a rather normal example of sexual conduct among the poor. By stating this, they took part in a discussion about the criminal nature of male sexual attackers, who international specialists preferred to not typify as criminals. On 18 October 1887 the police retrieved the body of a woman, partially covered with brush, from the Consulado River. According to forensic doctors, the victim was approximately 40 years old when her throat was slit. Two months later, another corpse with similar characteristics and wounds appeared in a ditch close to the same river. The word out was that such findings were common in the northern limits of Mexico City, including the new settlements (colonias), Peralvillo and Santa Ana, Calzada de Guadalupe, and the proximity of the village of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Other bodies had appeared in previous years, and several women had been raped and robbed near the Consulado River and the Calzada de Guadalupe. The culprit(s) had not been discovered. These were still scarcely populated areas, although characterized by an intense movement of carts and porters entering the city through the Peralvillo gate. Travelers, pilgrims going to and from the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and merchants -- all lacking the means to use the train -- patronized the many inns, pulquerías, and prostitutes of the area. Each December, during the celebrations of the Virgin, traffic and public parties increased beyond the ability of authorities to maintain order. Vending and washing laundry at the river were other important activities, both largely conducted by women. More densely populated colonias between downtown and Peralvillo, such as La Bolsa and Tepito, were feared as zones of crime and vice. As with other new lower-class settlements in a city undergoing a process of rapid growth, these areas lacked the traditional social networks of older barrios near the center of the city, especially necessary in the absence of police protection. This was hardly a problem for authorities and writers who associated the working women of the area with the hygienic and moral perils of prostitution. The author of these crimes was compared with Jack the Ripper (el destripador), whose crimes became internationally known in late 1888. Liberal newspaper El Siglo Diez y Nueve called him "The mysterious man who repeated in Mexico the same scenes that Jacques the Ripper [sic, suggesting the French sources of the journalist] in the London neighborhood of Whitechappel." The similarities seemed obvious: the victims were prostitutes in London and women who worked in the streets in Mexico; all had been attacked at night in public spaces; all were around 40 years old...

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... We have also been curious about the absence of academic attention to sexual crimes and female murders in literature about the criminal justice system in Mexico and/or at the border (though see Piccato, 2001; also one sentence in the 473-page book, Bailey and Chabat 2002: 45). ...
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... We have also been curious about the absence of academic attention to sexual crimes and female murders in literature about the criminal justice system in Mexico and/or at the border (though see Piccato, 2001; also one sentence in the 473-page book, Bailey and Chabat 2002: 45). ...
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