Nobody has been able to explain to Juan José Ruiz Fernández how it can be that two years passed without anyone realizing that something was not right with his mother.
Two weeks ago, his father, Eduardo Ruiz, found her lying in her bed at number five, Plaza del Arte in Ciempozuelos, Madrid, mummified and bearing no signs of violence. Eduardo had just gotten out of jail after serving a sentence for a horrific rape. He and Ángeles Fernández had been married for 25 years, but had not been in contact for the last three.
“We have all failed: both her relatives and the institutions, but there are different degrees of blame in this story,” says 25-year-old Juan José Ruiz, the eldest of her five children.
After the discovery, Juan José spent several days running from one place to another. He had to identify the body (“It was her, though she looked like a mummy”), give a statement to the Civil Guard, and plan the funeral. Meanwhile, he hopes the autopsy will soon give an answer about when and how his mother died. He hadn’t had any news about her in four years — until October 5, when a cousin called to say she had heard around the neighborhood that his father had found her dead.
He says that the last time he thought about her was over a month ago, when he traveled to Ciempozuelos to visit a friend and decided to head to her neighborhood on the outskirts of town. The blinds were down, the air conditioning unit had disappeared and there was a repossession order on the property. He decided not to go up. After many arguments he decided he wanted to turn over a new leaf.
“My mother suffered mood swings that nobody understood,” he explains. “She had a pretty strong character and that’s why they took away all her children. I have always lived in foster centers. It hurts me to see my father having a go at us on all the TV programs for brushing our mother aside. I’m not trying to wriggle out of my part of the blame, but a father is the pillar of the family.”
Juan José, who has just had a daughter of his own, has always had conflicting feelings about his mother. In December 2004, when he was 18, he had to leave the foster center and go back to live with his parents. He lasted three months. But after a year, during which he spent time living on the streets, he was forced to return to his parents’ house. Twenty days later, however, he met his wife Rebeca on an internet chat site.
“We arranged a blind date and her family took me into their home as if I were one of their own. They are my real family. They have always been there, through the good times and the bad,” he says with a proud smile.
Everybody around town knew Angelines, as they affectionately called Juan José’s mother. She came to Ciempozuelos from Parla, on the outskirts of Madrid, aged 15. A woman with a lot of spirit, she drank six cups of coffee a day and chain smoked cigarettes. It is thought she either died of starvation or depression, because in her final years she lived for her young daughter, the product of a relationship with a neighbor. When social services offered the four-year-old up for adoption, it was a huge blow. “She was very affected by that and she stopped eating,” says a neighbor.
It is yet to be explained how it took two years to find Angelines’ body. The first to raise the alarm were local government social services over three years ago. Employees thought that it was strange when she stopped passing by to collect the weekly food package assigned to her, say town hall sources.
The police and the Civil Guard began an investigation. They applied for a judicial order to enter the house, but the judge denied it because the husband “no longer had a relationship with his wife. He was serving a sentence for the crime of raping his wife’s sister,” said the ruling.
In September 2011, Eduardo Ruiz used a furlough to go to Ciempozuelos police station to report that he hadn’t heard from his wife for over a year. Several neighbors said they had seen her during the town fair at the beginning of September; others thought they had seen her in the nearby town of Aranjuez. The police investigation went no further.
Meanwhile, neighbors had repeatedly complained about the bad smells emanating from the woman’s apartment, especially during the summer. The bugs that came out of the house suggested that something sinister lay behind the door.
The town hall requested the building to be cleaned to try to get rid of the smell. But it could only do so from the outside because the judge once again rejected an order to enter the property.
Municipal police continued looking for Ángeles Fernández until Eduardo Ruiz completed his sentence. As he didn’t have anywhere to go, and even though he knew the marriage was over, he knocked on the door on October 5. Nobody answered, he lost his temper and kicked his way in. He thought his wife was there and didn’t want anything to do with him. He also thought she had run away with someone else.
“It is clear that the chain has failed, and we hope this doesn’t happen to any other family again,” says Juan José.