The gruesome case of "The Tacuba Strangler"

Serial killer Gregorio Cárdenas Hernández spent 34 years in Lecumberri prison for the murder of four young women

The gruesome case of "The Tacuba Strangler"
Gregorio Cárdenas Hernández spent five years in La Castañeda Psychiatric Hospital – Photo: File photo/EL UNIVERSAL
English 13/09/2019 20:30 Héctor Cruz Mexico City Actualizada 21:10
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While the world was under the worst war in human history, Gregorio Cárdenas Hernández, “The Tacuba Strangler,” leaped to fame on September 4th, 1942.

He was very far from being accused of femicide. Despite the multiple doubts during the trial, “Goyo” Cárdenas remained in prison for 34 years for the murdesr of four young women; he was charged with “homicide, clandestine burial, and necrophilia.”

From the start, the case shocked Mexican society, but for some women, it created a strange obsession; tens of them asked the authorities for permission to visit him in prison, although they said it was for “purely scientific reasons.”

After leaving the Black Palace of Lecumberri, “Goyo” Cárdenas was taken to the Chamber of Deputies where he received an ovation from the legislators. Until his death, at 84 years old, there was always the doubt of his innocence.

He described himself as a man “with little and emaciated hands, with little force, because I never developed muscles,” when he appeared before the 14th judge of the Fifth Criminal Court, José Espinoza y López Portillo, after being accused of strangling four women.

The first of them was María de los Ángeles González, of 16 years of age, whom he strangled the night of August 10. Then, Raquel Martínez León, 14 years old, whom he murdered the night of August 23; Rosa Reyes Quiroz, 16, on August 29, and Graciela Arias Ávalos, 21, on September 2.

He raped his first three victims and strangled them. Then, he buried them in the garden of his house, in Tacuba. The last one was the exception. He was in love, he said. She raped once dead.

The father of Graciela presented the report on September 3rd, 1942. A day later, the Police found four bodies buried in Cárdenas’s garden.

When the police found Gregorio Cárdenas, following the tracks of Graciela, he was in a sanatorium, in which his mother had hospitalized him because he had allegedly gone crazy the night before.

“I’m an inventor, friend. I’m the invisible man and I make men invisible. These pills – he said showing them pieces of white chalk – make the miracle,” said Cárdenas to the police. They established he was faking.

The next day, the officer Acosta Suárez and another three detectives, followed by José Campuzano, a friend of the victim’s father, went to Cárdenas’s house in Mar del Norte street, in Tacuba. After several hours of investigation, they found in the garden the bodies of the four women.

The red tops immediately called him “The Tacuba Strangler.” He was a terrible monster thirsty for blood, unable to feel guilt. Although since his arrest he showed himself as a kind man, without any trace of violence, even loving.

“The Tacuba Strangler” said he could not be near any woman, that he transformed: “The man disappears and the beast comes out: I cannot refrain the tremendous hate I feel against them, and that impulse has taken me to the sad condition in which I am.”

After 34 years in prison, five of them in La Castañeda Psychiatric Hospital, Goyo Cárdenas was considered an example of the prison system and social reintegration in Mexico.

Origin and destiny
The first Mexican serial killer was born in Veracruz in 1915, although the date could never be confirmed, not even by himself.

His medical record established that the nerve damage caused by early encephalitis was a decisive factor for him to show an abnormal behavior since he was a child, especially animal cruelty. In addition, he had problems to control his sphincter.

Despite these conditions, he showed to have a high IQ and was an outstanding student.

He won an academic scholarship when he studied Chemistry and worked as a shorthand typist in the Mexican company of petroleum “El Águila,” in Veracruz, thanks to his relationship with the union of the recently created Pemex.

Soon after, he became independent from his mother and rented a house in Tacuba.

According to the criminal file, the “strangler” was only 1.72 meters and was extremely thin.

Even though he did not have a good relationship with women, he got married at 24 years old with Sabina Lara, of whom he got divorced very soon, since her mother accused him of rape.

During his imprisonment, he was not a “normal” madman. He spent his time in the library reading about neurology and attended classes of psychiatric clinic, taught by medicine students.

He was friends with the authorities and even opened a store in prison, where he sold sodas and cigarettes to the over 1,500 inmates and 1,500 employees. They trusted him so much that he was allowed to go out to Mixcoac for the stock for his business.

Everything seemed fine until December 1946, when he decided to escape to Oaxaca with a nurse, but he was soon recaptured.

He did not come back to La Castañeda but was imprisoned in Lecumberri.

Gregorio saw that change as an opportunity to learn a new profession: He studied Crime Law, learned law procedures and defended and advised other inmates.

In addition, he received a huge amount of letters from women who asked to visit him. Some even brought him food and attended “other needs” of the prisoner.

He even married one of them and had four children, whom he provided for with the income of his new profession. He also wrote three books.

He recovered his freedom in 1976. His lawyer argued that at 62 years old he lacked sexual and criminal appetite.

As a free man, he was invited to the Chamber of Deputies. Four years later, he enrolled in the National Autonomous University of Mexico to study Law. He graduated in 1985. He died 14 years later.


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