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Ariadna López, 15 hours locked in an apartment with her alleged murderers

EL PAÍS recounts the facts surrounding the killing of a young woman in a case that reveals Mexico’s legal gaps

Feminist activits and friends of Ariadna Fernanda Lopez place sunflowers on the site where her dead body was found.Photo: Raquel Cunha (Reuters) | Video: EPV

A sports bar in Mexico City’s fashionable Condesa neighborhood was the setting where Ariadna Fernanda López would cross paths with those currently detained for her femicide. After the death of her mother – four years ago – López found work as a waitress at Sixtie’s, where she met Rautel Astudillo, a wealthy client, and Vanessa Flores, a co-worker. Today, both are being prosecuted for her murder. While working there, she also made many friends, who spent this week demanding justice from contradicting political and judicial authorities. The death of Ariadna, 27, has shaken a country that first saw a man mourn her death on camera and, days later, saw the same man carry her lifeless body while getting rid of it. The case reopens the debate on how money and status influence Mexico’s broken judicial system, which is marred by impunity.

Ariadna’s face has been painted, like that of many other murdered women in Mexico, on the banners made by her friends to protest against femicide. Those closest to her remember her as a very funny girl with a joyful vibe who loved classic rock and comedy. She also carried a great sadness since her mother’s death; her father did not maintain contact with her, and her three half-siblings hardly spoke to her, says her friend José Luis Guzmán. After her mother died, they threw her out of her house where she had been living. Suddenly, she was on the street. “One day they changed the locks and she couldn’t get in anymore,” says another friend, who prefers not to reveal her name. That led her to work at Sixtie’s, until the pandemic hit. She then lost her job and opened her own manicure business.

On Wednesday, November 2, when no one had heard from her for two days, her friends recognized her body on a social media post. A couple of cyclists had found her, lifeless, next to a road in Tepoztlan, in the state of Morelos, and had uploaded photos of her tattoos so that her family could identify her. The police investigation reconstructed part of Ariadna’s last moments: on the night of October 30, she went to Fisher’s, a restaurant in the Condesa neighborhood, to meet with Vanessa, Rautel and other people. After approximately an hour, she got in a truck with the others to go to the defendant’s apartment.

Footage from the building’s cameras shows the group in the parking lot, getting out of the truck and entering the apartment. Inside – Vanessa told Ariadna’s friends – were a bodyguard named Ernesto and his wife, the defendant’s brother, the couple who are now in custody and the victim. The videos show the friends leaving the apartment half an hour later, around 7.45pm. Ten minutes later, at 7.55pm, Ariadna’s last WhatsApp activity was recorded. The next day, around 10.27am, Rautel’s personal driver is seen arriving at the site and leaving after a few minutes. Half an hour later, the alleged killer appears carrying the body, already with rigor mortis, and loading it into the truck. The last images show Rautel leaving, headed for Tepoztlan, where her body would later be found.

What happened during the 15 hours that Ariadna was locked in the apartment with Vanessa and Rautel is a matter of debate. The Morelos Prosecutor’s Office, which took over the case after the body was found in that state, claimed that she had choked to death on her own vomit. Two days later, the Mexico City Prosecutor’s Office contradicted that version, stating that the Ariadna had been murdered and the cause of death was multiple trauma. In addition, it issued arrest warrants against the couple and stated that, in a search of the property, blood was found on the floor, in the bedroom and on a cushion. Thanks to the conclusiveness of the video footage, the two detainees are being prosecuted, and Claudia Sheinbaum, Mexico City’s mayor, accused the Morelos Prosecutor’s Office of trying to cover up the femicide.

Security camera footage shows Ariadna arriving at a restaurant on October 31

Rautel used to stand out at Sixtie’s as a wealthy man who arrived in armored trucks with at least two bodyguards. On a normal night he could spend 80,000 pesos (about $4,000); one time he ended up paying a 150,000 peso bill (about $7,600), according to employees of the place. His house was just a few blocks away and he used to go several times a week. He had had love affairs with several waitresses, and he also met Vanessa, his current girlfriend, there. According to the authorities, he had a criminal record for property damage.

Two young women who used to work as waitresses there told EL PAÍS that Rautel was the kind of customer who arrived, bought numerous bottles of alcohol and offered shots to all the girls. At Sixtie’s, not only are the workers allowed to drink with the clients; they are rewarded with commissions. The more drinks they are bought, the more they get paid at the end of the month. “Many didn’t want to serve Rautel, because all the girls who left his table were usually in terrible condition,” says one waitress who prefers to remain anonymous. She explains that the monthly pay there is 3,000 pesos – about $150. The girls were used to him inviting them to “continue the party in his apartment,” she adds; that is exactly what happened the last night Ariadna was seen alive.

The source of Rautel’s money was a mystery to the employees of Sixtie’s as well as to other clients, who asked him several times. “Customs agent,” was his reply. The investigation of the authorities points to a network of companies owned by him and his family. The accused has two companies to his name: Cargo Conexión System and RFC y Asociados. The first is a parcel and courier company, and the second is private security. The parents own multiple companies, among other things, selling computer equipment, polyurethane belts for cars, office furniture and car washes. One of his brothers is a lawyer and the other works for an airline. Almost all of them live in well-off neighborhoods in Cuernavaca, the capital of Morelos.

Ariadna’s reality contrasted with that wealth; Vanessa’s too. The 20-year-old met Ariadna through other friends who also worked at Sixtie’s. According to the police investigation, she was born in Ecatepec, one of the most dangerous municipalities in the State of Mexico, with one of the highest rates of femicide in the entire country. Her last place of residence was located in the San Felipe de Jesus neighborhood, a dangerous area in northern Mexico City dominated by fighting between organized crime groups. She had been a waitress at the bar, her colleagues say, but left her job a few months ago because Rautel offered to give her the same money she was making, in cash, if she did.

When they found out about Ariadna’s death, her friends forced Rautel and Vanessa to make a statement regarding what happened that night. The alleged murderers agreed among themselves to cooperate with the authorities, but Rautel told Vanessa to be “careful with the details,” in a message to which EL PAÍS has had access. On November 2, the couple agreed to meet and go together to the Morelos Prosecutor’s Office. Rautel, who used to travel around in a GMC truck valued at about two million pesos (around $100,000), arrived in “a pretty old car,” recalls another friend who did not want to give her name, “as if he wanted to go unnoticed.” Everyone gave their version of the events to the authorities, but the couple’s statements were later disproved by the images presented by the government of Mexico City.

The two defendants now face a judicial process for the crime of femicide. In her first statements to the authorities, Vanessa said she did not know anything about what happened because she was asleep; that she just woke up and her boyfriend told her that Ariadna had left. Rautel said he didn’t remember anything because he was drunk. The Sunday that Ariadna disappeared, at 5.55pm, a few minutes before arriving at the restaurant to meet with Rautel and Vanessa, she posted a peculiar phrase that still remains on her Facebook account: “Are you going to miss me?” An uncomfortable mockery of fate that filled with comments and farewells from all who knew her. Like so many other women who have been murdered in Mexico, Ariadna is survived by her friends, those who fought to obtain a bit of justice, and a seven-year-old boy who is now motherless.

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