Four forensic specialists from Mendoza, Argentina have begun their work in Montañita to provide a second opinion in the murder case of two Argentine women. The families of the victims had requested an independent investigation and Ecuadorian officials agreed to allow it.
Ecuador’ National Police arrested two men in connection with the murder and said the motive was robbery and sexual assault. The say that one of of the men confessed to the crime.
The victims’ families say they believe that the murders may be related to a human trafficking ring although Ecuadorian authorities say they have found no evidence to support the claim.
An attorney for one of the families said he was also concerned with how quickly local police made their conclusions. “From what we know, this is a complex case and I am surprised at how fast the police claimed to have solved it.”
The bodies of Marina Menegazzo, 21, and Maria Jose Coni, 22, both from Mendoza, were were discovered last week near Montañita. Police believe the murders occurred on February 22 or 23. The women’s bodies were found five or six days later, near the house of one of the suspects.
Residents and business owners in Montañita, a beach resort in Santa Elena Province on Ecuador’s southern coast, say the media coverage of the murders has been unfair in portraying the town as a dangerous destination. In recent press conferences, President Rafael Correa and Interior Minister Jose Serrano have made the point that Ecuador has the second lowest murder rate in Latin America and that the murders of the Argentine tourists were the first in Montañita in three years.
“I understand that statistics are meaningless when your children are murdered,” Correa said. “It is important that the rest of the world understand that Ecuador is a very safe country but that terrible crimes happen all over the world.”
Serrano added that Montañita is plagued by a high rate of robbery and has ordered expanded patrols of the tourist areas of the town. “This is a gathering place for young international tourists, a group that is always susceptible to crime,” he said.
A judge has ordered that the murder suspects be held in jail until the investigation is completed.