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The Story Behind The Burning Suitcase In Providencia

SANTIAGO — Mundane epilogue to a violent death and gruesome desecration: less than 24 hours after firefighters found a burning suitcase with a body inside on May 7, PDI had identified the victim, a young homeless woman who lived in Bustamente Park, the cause of death, strangulation, and the suspect, a frequenter of the park with a violent criminal past. A motive has yet to be determined, but in the end what likely eclipses any motive in this recent “horror in Providencia” is that for many the gravity of addiction is inescapable without more help.

As previously reported, Providencia firefighters made a surprising discovery the night of May 7 when then responded to reports of a flaming suitcase in the vicinity of Parque Bustamente (Bustamente Park) metro station: inside was a bound and beaten naked body, curled up in a fetal position.

A Swift Investigation: A Suspect Within 24 Hours

The resulting homicide investigation was quick and comprehensive. Chile’s civilian police force, Policía de Investigaciones (PDI), committed over 100 officials to the task of locating Martínez’s killer; and almost immediately the victim and cause of death were identified, Estefanía del Carmen Martínez Pérez, 27, killed by strangulation, and, then, within less than 24 hours, PDI also had its suspect: Frank Pizarro, 45.

Pedro Calderón, of PDI’s Homicides Brigade, said that his team cast a wide net, which allowed them to reconstitute by means of images from different surveillance cameras the movement of the accused with the victim, as reported by Más Rancagua. Early reports noted surveillance footage that showed a man who walked at a “calm pace” with a rolling suitcase “until he reached the corner of Ernesto Prado where he placed the suitcase and lit it.”

Later that same day, May 8, a court in Santiago determined that Pizarro was a danger to society, placed him in preventive detention, and set the matter for a 120-day investigation. During the related hearing, the prosecutor for the case, Omar Mérida, said that the security cameras allowed them to trace Pizarro all the way back to where he lived and that clothing and other elements linked him to the murder, as reported by El Dínamo. Mérida also exhibited photographs that allowed PDI to prove Pizarro’s participation in the homicide.

T13 also quoted Mérida as saying that no reason had been expressed for the homicide—they had not yet questioned the accused—but the scientific evidence and what was seized at the scene of the crime indicates that Pizarro was the author.

Pizarro “has several priors for robbery and homicide,” T13 reported, and Mérida added that Pizarro appeared to have “a problem of mental pathology,” and that PDI’s investigation had determined that this was a “habitual behavior” of his to resort to certain efforts “to try to avoid responsibility in cases,” and that he had done so in previous cases “without success.”

Who Was The Victim?

Martínez lived in a tent with her partner in Bustamente Park and often danced for money in the streets of the Bellavista neighborhood or asked for money at La Terraza restaurant in Plaza Italia. The media nicknamed her “the Bellavista dancer,” but one of the more in-depth pieces to date, by El Desconcierto, emphasized that she was much more than that: she was, among other things, “the open wound of an ambivalent relationship with her partner and not being able to be close to her children.”

There was also a family history of drug use, and it might well have been that drug use, or the tension and turmoil it brought to Martínez’s family, that originally drove her to the streets at age 16.

The article also reported that Martínez had two children with her partner, “Eduardo,” a 5-year-old and a 19-month-old, but she rarely saw her children. They were in the care of her family, while she instead spent her time on the street with Eduardo, “due to problems of addiction” to cocaine base paste, or “pasta base.”

How cocaine base has become an ever-increasing problem for Chile

Martínez told people that Eduardo, nearly 20 years her senior, and whom she first met when she hit the streets, was like a father, that he worried about giving her thyroid remedies, and that he had taken care of her since her adolescence, but, according to people who knew both of them, Eduardo also beat Martínez, El Desconcierto reported.

Moreover, Martínez was not on the street for lack of options. According to her sister, “Estefanía was given many opportunities,” “but unfortunately she wanted that life. She did not abandon her partner, she loved him. She preferred her partner over being well in our house,” as BioBioChile reported.

The Details Hardly Matter

Eduardo suggested that Pizarro, who frequented Bustamente Park but lived elsewhere, had stolen a pipe and that it might have been a “mess with the pipe” that led to her death (i.e., Martínez might have confronted Pizarro over the theft), El Desconcierto reported.

In the end, the details probably don’t matter. The greater context does. The pattern is a familiar one. According to Patricia Valenzuela, a sociologist of Fundación Gente de Calle, Martínez’s life followed a trajectory that is extremely recurrent in that women who are homeless are always the object of abandonment, abuse, mistreatment, and violence, El Desconcierto reported, and femicide is among the anticipated outcomes, and until more programs that assist the homeless include a “gender focus,” women like Martínez will continue to be “the Invisibles” and completely alone in their suffering.

The Other Victims

Martínez’s children hardly knew her, but they are the ones who pull the burning suitcase now, because it was their mother who ended up there, the week before Mother’s Day, and this story will now forever be their story too.

Chile and femicide: is 2019 going to set a tragic record?

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