SANTIAGO – The body of Fernanda Maciel was found three months ago, after she had gone missing 14 months earlier. Ever since, relatives have been seeking for answers. Chile Today spoke with Carlos Gutiérrez, forensic expert hired by the Maciel family: “I saw a police officer who collected evidence without gloves.”
Family, friends: they all knew who the suspect was, and where the body was. The police went looking, six times in total. Sometimes even with search dogs. Still, it took 14 months before the body of 21-year-old Fernanda Maciel was found on June 24 in the garage of a neighbor.
Although the suspect is facing trial, the family of the woman, who was seven months pregnant when she disappeared, is still looking for answers. How did Fernanda die? How long was she kept alive in that garage? Why couldn’t police find her? In their search for answers that could give the family peace of mind, they hired a forensic expert, Carlos Gutiérrez.
“The Police Needs to Learn From This Case”
“Although I am happy the police found her, it is odd what happened.” Gutierrez remembers his trip to Chile well. The forensic expert, who works at Chaminade University in Honolulu, Hawaii, had finally gotten permission from a judge to go look for Fernanda’s body. Upon his arrival in Chile, the permission was revoked. One day later, the body was found.
“I contacted the family in March. I read about the case during an earlier visit in January and thought, maybe I could help them. Especially after I started to see that the police weren’t doing a good job.”
It is a reoccurring theme during the interview with Chile Today: the fact that it took the police 14 months to find the body, in a garage where they searched six times before. “The entire institution needs to learn from this case. In Chile, the police are 20, maybe 30 years behind in the forensic field. I saw on television a police officer who collected evidence without gloves.”
How Did Fernanda Die?
Gutiérrez, who is heading the team of forensic experts helping the Maciel family, doesn’t blame the police at the scene. “I understand they didn’t have the proper training. But if they don’t know, why don’t they ask for help? That attitude needs to change.” However, as also pointed out by women rights organizations, it is not only the lack of knowledge that played a part in the slow search.
“They didn’t take it serious, probably because the family is poor and because Fernanda was a woman.”
For Gutiérrez and his team, the next step is to find out the cause of death. An expert has been given permission to examine the body; the next step is checking the crime scene. Although 17 months have passed since Fernanda went missing, the Chilean is sure about his team getting their own results. “We are trained to analyze bodies in these conditions. Luckily, the body was covered in lime and concrete, which means the body parts were better preserved. We have collected evidence from the body, now we are going to check the crime scene, to see if the body was moved.”
Gutiérrez works closely with the family’s lawyer, and is in close contact with Fernanda’s mother, Paola. “It is hard for them. If you see how this case is handled, it is all embarrassing. At the end, we are talking here about a human body.”
|Carlos A. Gutierrez is lecturer of Forensic Sciences at Chaminade University of Honolulu, Hawaii. He is a retired Captain of the Carabineros de Chile, with 18 years of service. Gutiérrez published a “Forensic Microanthropology Manual” in 2016. His Twitter handle is @ForensicCarlosG.|
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today.