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News / Nation & World

‘Someone stole her dreams’: An alleged serial killer in Mexico killed her niece, Orange County woman says

By Nathan Solis, Los Angeles Times
Published: May 6, 2024, 5:32am

LOS ANGELES — Cassandra Calles heard a strange noise coming from her daughter’s bedroom.

The 38-year-old mother had just returned to her apartment that she shared with her two teenage daughters in the La Cruz neighborhood in the Iztacalco borough of Mexico City. When she opened the door to her daughter’s room, she saw a man standing over her daughter’s lifeless body.

Mexican authorities believe that 17-year-old María José Calles was the last victim of what police believe is a serial killer who lived in the same apartment building and kept tokens of his victims in his home, including skulls, government IDs and other items.

The man, referred to by Mexican authorities as Miguel N, also allegedly kept notebooks that detailed his cruel acts against his female victims.

For years, Cassandra Calles lived in the same building with this man and exchanged few words with him as they passed each other coming in and out of the building.

But on April 16, she confronted the assailant as he tried to escape the scene of María José Calles’ slaying. The man stabbed Cassandra Calles repeatedly after sexually assaulting her daughter, according to authorities and Cassandra’s sister, Angela Calles.

He stabbed her in the throat, in her lung and pelvis, her sister said. Then he tried to push her out of a second-story window, but Cassandra Calles held onto a curtain and screamed for help. She scratched his face and tried to get to her daughter, but her attacker threw her onto her bed just before she passed out, Angela Calles said. The man must have assumed she died from her injuries, because he ran out of the apartment, according to her sister.

A short time later, Cassandra Calles woke up, bleeding from her stab wounds, and heard the sound of police outside her window. Neighbors who heard her screams had called for help and stepped in to stop her attacker, according to authorities. Cassandra Calles had just enough strength to climb down the flight of stairs and let police into the building.

She told them her attacker was her neighbor, Angela Calles said, leading to the man’s arrest.

Cassandra Calles was rushed to a hospital and placed in the intensive care unit, but María José died in her home from her injuries, according to authorities.

“She always asked her mom’s permission when she could go outside,” Angela Calles said from her home in California’s Orange County. “She was never a bad girl.”

María José was known around her neighborhood in Mexico City as the teenage girl who walked her two pet chihuahuas daily. She wanted to study business administration and travel abroad. She hoped to land a career that would allow her to give her mother a better life and maybe one day buy her a home.

“This has been hard for us because it was like someone stole her dreams,” Angela Calles said about her niece. “She’s not going to be able to get married, she’s not going to be able to finish her career. She’s not going to be able to help her mom anymore.”

Multiple Mexican news outlets identified the suspect as Miguel Cortés Miranda, a biologist who lived alone in Cassandra’s building. Mexican authorities only revealed the suspect’s first name, as is customary in Mexico, and said he sexually assaulted his victims before he allegedly killed them.

Days after the attack, investigators with the Mexico City attorney general’s office searched the suspect’s apartment and discovered the human remains of several women. They also found a saw, cellphones, CDs, a memory stick and DNA evidence, along with the notebooks that allegedly detailed his crimes.

“We are working on the genetic study to determine who the remains found in the homes belonged to,” attorney general spokesperson Ulises Lara said in a video statement.

The suspect is being held in police custody on suspicion of femicide and attempted femicide, according to authorities. He’s scheduled to appear in court sometime in the next six months as authorities continue their investigation.

Angela Calles and her husband traveled to Mexico City after María José’s killing to support her sister and other niece. She plans to return to Mexico for any upcoming court hearings in the case, but Angela Calles, a medical assistant based in California, will have to schedule those visits around her chemotherapy treatment for Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.

The family plans to bury María José after her mother is able to leave the hospital and say one last goodbye.

Five of the IDs found in Cortés apartment belong to women who are still alive, Lara with the Mexico City attorney general’s office said. It’s unclear how many other IDs belong to women who are missing or presumed to be dead, Lara said. The attorney general’s office drew criticism in the Mexican news media and among residents after the suspect’s arrest, because one news outlet claimed that prosecutors had information about Cortés before the April 16 killing in connection to another case.

Lara “categorically rejected” such allegations in a video statement and said that his office would hold accountable anyone who released false information about the investigation.

Relatives of Frida Sofía Lima Rivera, a woman who went missing in 2015, were contacted by investigators because they believe she could be one of Cortés’ victims, according to Mexican news outlet Milenio. The family is waiting for more information from a DNA test that could prove that Cortés targeted his victims more than a decade ago.

Angela Calles accuses Mexican investigators of minimizing crimes against women and girls.

“Every time a female is killed, [Mexican authorities] try to cover it up and say, ‘Oh, nothing is happening,’” Angela Calles said. “In the case of my niece, this is a lie. My niece has to be killed so we can know what has been happening all this time.”

Before the attack, Cassandra Calles sold flowers and other goods in an outdoor market in Mexico City. Now she will need therapy after she’s released from the hospital, according to her family who started a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for funeral expenses and medical bills.

Her sister doesn’t know what to say or how to help her rebuild her life.

“I cannot help my sister,” Angela Calles said. “I cannot give her daughter back to her.”

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