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As forensic science advances, one can imagine technology solving more and more crimes. It's not crazy to imagine crime-solving “apps” used on a large-scale basis, even on cold cases. Nevertheless, not every country is known to be advanced in solving crimes, and even so-called "developed countries" get it wrong, or let cases go unsolved.
Still, when mass graves of young boys were found in Colombia in 1997, authorities must have felt some pressure to take action. There were some obvious problems, however. For one thing, identifying the bodies is a key step to building a profile of the killer. It was quickly established that the killer was an adult who targeted children—probably exclusively.
The killer was not highly cautious. He didn't leave the victims' bodies as sole evidence. So, unless investigators were to completely contaminate the scene, there would be evidence to link to a suspect.
Specifically, the killer left behind underwear, shoes, eyeglasses, money, and even a note with an address on it. Frankly, it was a lot of evidence— almost like gifts to the authorities! It suggests he probably wasn't highly intelligent. Also, he probably had to flee the scene on various occasions. Those matters aside, the killer was certainly a risk-taker, likely getting additional thrills from almost getting caught, but feeling he can get away with it. Due to the savagery of his crimes, he became known as "La Bestia" or "The Beast."
Other factors were immediately obvious. Although "The Beast" left evidence behind, there was no indication that he was motivated to actually be caught. He was purely a sexual sadist, rather than someone with a greater agenda. There was no "I'm doing this to change the world” component to his crimes. Basically, "The Beast" was just a beast, and few would require it to be more complicated than that. Still, despite finding that note with Garavito's girlfriend's address on it, that was not evidence enough to convict. They did not yet have "the Beast" encaged.
How the Beast Preyed
Luis Garavito was partly caught due to his M.O. On various occasions, he was spotted by eyewitnesses luring children out of town, often with money, candy, or work (which worked especially well for children suffering from poverty). Because he'd pretend to be a Priest, he earned the additional nickname of “El Cura.”
He also switched roles, presumably based on assumptions about his victim. For some, he'd be El Cura, but for others, he'd be a farmer, a street vendor, an old man needing help or even a drug dealer. It worked for a while. Few (if any) kids immediately thought him a "monster" or a “serial killer.” They trusted him, and he savagely abused that trust.
Garavito likely also knew that, due to the sheer volume of street children, some deaths could go unnoticed. Indeed, had Garavito not created mass graves, the killings might have remained more mysterious. Garavito may have killed in populated areas, but often lured his victims into secluded sections of nearby jungle, where it would be hard to locate evidence or see crimes. Also, because most children had no fingerprints or dental records on file, forensics had to rely on DNA evidence, witness identification, and the work of forensic reconstructionist Mario Artunduaga.
How Physical Evidence Helped Identity "The Beast"
As previously stated, Garavito left behind considerable evidence—shoes, eyeglasses, money, a note with an address. Just by looking at these, investigators had an idea of who to look for. The uneven wear on his oversized shoes suggested the killer probably had a limp—possibly even rotating his foot while walking (this, of course, might make him more sympathetic to a would-be victim—similar to how Ted Bundy lured women by wearing a cast and looking like he needed help).
Based on the eyeglasses, investigators determined the killer's age as between 40 to 60 years old. Also, because of how the glasses were bent, it was believed he had oddly placed ears (another of his nicknames is "Tribilín"—an American Spanish translation of Disney's "Goofy"). A man matching these characteristics—undoubtedly Luis Garavito—was last seen with at least one of the children. Still, they didn't get the right man at first. As happens far too often, at least one man was falsely blamed for the murders. However, he was released when the murders continued during his term.
Evidence piles up and the search intensifies.
Using the address found at the crime scene, Investigator Aldemar Duran tracked down Luis Garavito's family. It was learned that, for whatever reason, Garavito left a bag of personal items with his sister.
This included journals and a receipt. The receipt led to another address where even more mementos were found.
A boy named Ivan Sabogal almost became another victim, but luck was on his side. Ivan, who sold lottery tickets to pay for schooling, was being targeted by Garavito, but a homeless man wandered by, startling the Beast and saving Ivan's life. Incredibly, Garavito was spotted by Ivan later from a police car, and it led to his apprehension.
Though Garavito showed no fear and did his best to appear as a normal person, the evidence was stacked against him. DNA evidence linked him to the crimes. Eye exams linked him to the glasses found. Also, through aggregate information, a Dutch computer program linked Garavito to every crime location. Interrogator Aldemar Duran broke Garavito after 18 hours of interrogation, and he revealed intimate details about his hideous crimes.
What will be done with the beast?
Although Colombia has violence, there aren't many serial killers like The Beast around. This is one reason why—shockingly—Garavito may be imprisoned for less than 40 years. The way their system works, a criminal's confessions and good behavior may lead to reduced sentences. Some estimate he could be released as early as 2021.
Some murderers can be changed, and perhaps genuinely feel guilt for their acts. However, it's commonly understood that serial killers and child molesters will fall back into their destructive behavior patterns. In fact, the idea of releasing Garavito is unthinkable to most people, regardless of how they feel about prisons generally. By a certain point, some people forfeit their right to live in normal society.
At the same time, we should hesitate to advocate the death penalty, even under the very worst circumstances. When death is considered a go-to solution, it does not elevate society above the common (or the uncommon) murderer. The Nazis had a social designation called "Lebensunwertes Leben," or life unworthy of life, which applied to any groups they considered worthy of extermination. Killing killers may not make people Nazis, and it may be understandable. However, it's still too close to sadistic totalitarianism.
While The Beast shouldn't be unleashed, it's also not in humanity's interests to impose death in the name of justice. Sadism is what animates a serial killer. Justice and decency are among the best ways to prevent them.