The Galicia supermarket murder mystery

Strange circumstances have thwarted efforts to find the killer of two Spanish store clerks in a crime that took place 24 years ago

Isabel López in 2010 with a picture of her sister.
Isabel López in 2010 with a picture of her sister.Pedro Agrelo

On April 30, 1994, Isabel López went to pick up her sister from the Cash Record wholesale store, located inside O Ceao industrial park on the outskirts of Lugo, as she did every Saturday.

As usual, she waited outside in the car, but Elena López did not show up. The store was closed, but the lights were still on inside. And it was eerily quiet.

Certain procedures were clearly ignored, such as an analysis of the bloody footprints inside the supermarket

Isabel went in search of help and when she returned at 9pm with her husband and her father, all they could hear was the tinkle of supermarket music and voices from the TV.

What they could not yet see was the body of Esteban Carballedo, 26, who had been stocking shelves, or the body of Elena, lying at one end of a trail of bloody footprints made by someone wearing size 42 sneakers. Elena was 32 and a mother of two children who were waiting for her in the car with their aunt.

Somebody had stolen the day’s takings, which probably amounted to over five million pesetas (around €30,000). The killer used a 9mm Parabellum firearm to shoot the two employees at around 8pm and get away with the money. Both Esteban and Elena had been shot in the head at close range. The firearm never showed up, although it has been established that it was a model used by Spain’s law enforcement agencies.

Relatives of the victims in 2010.
Relatives of the victims in 2010.Pedro Agrelo

Almost a quarter of a century after the crime was committed, the last extension secured by the lawyer of the victims’ families to keep the investigation open has just expired. The relatives believe there has been a deliberate cover-up.

Since the investigation began at the local police level, no relevant suspect has been interrogated, according to the lawyer. And a study of the paperwork on the case shows that certain procedures were clearly ignored, such as an analysis of the bloody footprints inside the supermarket, or an ownership check on the white Volkswagen Passat dumped a month later in the area with blood marks inside.

A local auto body repair owner who did provide testimony said that he had seen an identical vehicle on the day of the killings with three individuals inside who appeared to be checking out the area. Years later, this mechanic identified one of the alleged occupants of the car from a selection of photographs.

Every thread you pull on leads to an abyss

Gerardo Pardo de Vera, lawyer

 “Every thread you pull on leads to an abyss,” says Gerardo Pardo de Vera, the latest lawyer to be hired by the victims’ families, who are calling for justice against “the prosecution’s passivity.”

The investigation – what there was of it – collected significant evidence against the owner of a food establishment associated with drug and arms trafficking, and who was a regular Cash Record customer.

The suspect was sent to prison on other charges and ultimately moved away from Galicia. In 1996 he denied all knowledge of the crime and was never called upon to declare in court again. Meanwhile, a drug addict who is now dead gave evidence after a drug raid on the suspect’s premises, saying that shortly before the crime, the owner had told him to get inside his Talbot and driven past the wholesale store. He then stopped the car and put a gun in the drug addict’s hand, suggesting they burgle the premises. The drug addict added that the bar owner told him it would be easy as “there’s only the check-out girl.” But the drug addict refused.

The lawyer believes that the statute of limitations has not run out yet as the 20-year limit that existed then in the Penal Code for murder stops running the moment there is an agreement that implies charges against a suspect. “The statute of limitations is interrupted when the criminal case is directed at the accused.”

In 2014, a National Police chief spoke out as the case was put in the hands of the Specialized Delinquency and Violence Unit (UDEV). “Things could not have been done any worse. If there has been a failure to collect proper evidence through a visual inspection or to take prints at the start, the whole investigation is hampered,” he said.

Things could not have been done any worse

Anonymous National Police chief

Pardo de Vera, meanwhile, says the court in charge of the case has still not responded to their last requests in a case that will probably be closed again. It was reopened in 2010 when Elena López’s sister chained herself to the street and went on public hunger strikes.

The lawyer also wants the judge to summon the Civil Guard officer who allegedly threatened the only suspect in the case to ensure the latter would keep quiet. It was this officer who allegedly provided the firearms and the police protection for the bar owner in exchange for using the bar for his own illegal arms deals. The identity of the Civil Guard officer in question has long been shrouded in mystery. “There were three people it could have been, but now we believe we have identified him,” says Pardo de Vera, after additional documents suddenly turned up at the Lugo police station in 2011.

The papers are dated between 1995 and 1998, and they suggest that the main suspect lived in fear of the Civil Guard officer, who is now retired. The suspect said that many business owners in that area had Star BM 9mm Parabellum firearms, allegedly thanks to the Civil Guard officer’s shady arms deals. “Somebody is being covered up for; there’s a lot of dark areas,” says the lawyer for the families.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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