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Margarita López, the founder of Buscando Cuerpos, in front of a banner commemorating disappeared people. Margarita López, the founder of Buscando Cuerpos, in front of a banner commemorating people who have disappeared.

Mother turned investigator put her daughter’s brutal killers behind bars

The authorities 'did absolutely nothing' to help

A woman whose daughter was kidnapped and murdered in Oaxaca decided to take on the search for the victim herself. She met the killers in the process, and brought them to justice.

One of them, a former leader of the Zetas cartel in Oaxaca, was sentenced this week to 91 years in jail.

Yahaira Guadalupe Bahena López disappeared on April 13, 2011 in Tlacolula, Oaxaca. Her mother, Margarita López abandoned her business in Michoacán to dedicate herself to finding her daughter and founded Buscando Cuerpos (Searching for Bodies) in the process.

Fear was no obstruction for López. “What are we going to be afraid of if our children have already been taken from us?” she said in an interview in March 2021. 

Bahena married a soldier in the army’s special forces when she was 17, and moved from Michoacán to Tlacolula

Yahaira Guadalupe Bahena disappeared in 2011
Yahaira Guadalupe Bahena disappeared in 2011. Her mother found her remains after a two-year search.

Once there, a state police commander started harassing her. The commander had an argument with Bahena’s husband and then told members of Los Zetas that the young bride was connected to a cartel in Michoacán, and that she planned to bring their recruits to Oaxaca.  

Shortly after, Bahena was kidnapped. Her mother requested help from soldiers but they suggested she should investigate the case alone.

In her new life as an investigator, López paid people for information, disguised herself as an official, wore a concealed camera while visiting brothels with child prostitutes and paid to enter a forensic laboratory to search for her daughter’s remains.

After a long search, she tracked the 30 men who kidnapped Bahena, including Oaxaca officials who provided protection to the Zetas. 

She found the former head of the Zetas in Oaxaca, Marco Carmona Hernández, also known by the moniker “El Cabrito,” in Perote prison in Veracruz. He admitted to torturing Bahena and said he was sent the order to kill her, despite knowing that she was innocent.

Bahena was held captive for 10 days without food and was raped daily.

On the day of her murder, Carmona said she would be released. Shortly after, two gang members — one named Encarnación Martínez Colorado — decapitated her. 

But López said that wasn’t enough to satisfy the murderers. “They started playing with the head, they gave it kisses on the mouth and they threw it between one another …. I wanted to cry, I wanted to do a thousand things, to take out the eyes of the man who had confessed everything to me, but I had to stay calm,” she said. 

Both Carmona and Martínez will spend years in jail but López said there has been no victory.

“Wherever you turn, wherever you go, there are local, state and federal authorities involved with organized crime and the disappearance of people,” she said. “Just in my daughter’s case there is an anti-kidnapping commander and a commander of the ministerial police among those arrested and there are still arrest orders to be completed against federal officials. They supported us with absolutely nothing.”

López found her daughter’s remains after two years, four months and 19 days, but continues to help others search for their disappeared loved ones by looking for clandestine graves.

With reports from La Crónica de Hoy

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