MISSING CHILDREN

Bretón ordered by judge to return to scene of bonfire where remains were found

Father of missing children maintaining innocence despite forensic reports

José Bretón during Tuesday's police search of his family estate, Las Quemadillas.
José Bretón during Tuesday's police search of his family estate, Las Quemadillas.Julian Rojas (EL PAÍS)

José Bretón returned to the Las Quemadillas country home of his parents on Tuesday, where he is suspected of disposing of the bodies of his two young children last October 8. The investigating judge, José Luis Rodríguez Lainz, ordered that Bretón, who has been in preventive custody since October 21, be taken back to the scene where bone and tooth fragments were discovered just days after Ruth and José Ortiz disappeared.

Two studies of the material, which were carried out by eminent professors in the fields of criminology and paleoanthropology and made public on Monday, concluded that the remains discovered are not animal, as was originally thought by police forensic investigators, but human, and belonged to two children aged between two and six.

Bretón has maintained throughout the investigation that Ruth and José went missing from a park in the center of Córdoba.

"He hasn't confessed to anything, and he is not admitting any guilt," said Bretón's lawyer, José María Sánchez, on Tuesday. "He considers it an aberration that people think he burnt his children." Sánchez added that he will not seek a counter-report until the full details of both reports, and a fresh one ordered by the judge, are known. Until then, Bretón's defense will assume the validity of the first police study, which identified the remains as rodent in origin.

At Las Quemadillas, investigators removed jerry cans and tools for farming and construction. Also to be examined are a forged table and heat-resistant bricks, which are capable of producing temperatures of up to 800º Celsius.

That bonfire is now the principle focus of the police investigation in the wake of the new evidence.

Bretón has never denied starting a fire at the property that day but his own testimony differs as to what exactly he committed to the flames. Initially he said he had burnt "clothing of my wife's that was still in the house," later adding "shoes and old rags" to the list. Later, he said that he had disposed of his wife's university exam certificates and coursework, of which many boxes were found in one of the buildings at the ranch.

Investigators, though, said the heat generated by the fire, which was still extreme 30 hours later in the embers, "could have reached 800º Celsius, which would be difficult to achieve if only clothes, wood and paper was being burnt."

Members of the Violent Crime Unit have been suspicious from the beginning of the investigation that Bretón never mentioned he had been at Las Quemadillas on October 8, and that the police came across the remains of the fire without the suspect mentioning it when questioned. The same investigators also said that DNA evidence had been found at the scene — a paper towel with traces of Ruth's blood and a smear on a plastic bottle, as well as traces of José's DNA on a roll of duct tape, which the police described as "disturbing, at the very least."

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