Marina Menegazzo (21) and María José Coni (22) were interred on Friday in the Cemetery of Luján de Cuyo, Mendoza. The families of the murdered Argentines closed the first chapter of this bizarre, sad story... but, despite efforts to find the truth, the investigation has created as many questions as it has answered.
Marina and Majo went missing in late February at the end of their summer vacation. Days after their final message home, the local authorities reported the discovery of two young women off the beach of Montañita, Ecuador, fitting the description of the missing backpackers. Initially it was uncertain if the remains were the missing Mendocineans due to the condition of the bodies—it took several weeks to confirm with DNA testing.
Two men, Ponce M. and Eduardo "El Rojo," were arrested the next day (February 29) after the news went public. The local courts arraigned the Ecuadorian men the next morning, one of whom initially confessed to the murders. The Ecuadorian police concluded it was an open-and-shut case, but the families of the victims rejected the official report, claiming it was "implausible."
Left: Alberto Segundo Mina Ponce; Right: Aurelio Eduardo Rodriguez “El Rojo”
The two men initially arrested for the murder of María José Coni and Marina Menegazzo.
The details of the crime, including who actually committed the crime, are still under investigation. The men held by police gave contradictory testimonies. Ponce M. implicated his partner, and, in the same confession, retracted his statement and said he was pressured into confessing.
It was first believed the girls were victims of a failed attempt in human trafficking, but the latest theories suggest they might have been murdered by a group of drug-dealing Colombian expatriates in a case of sexual assault.
The victim’s family traveled to Ecuador to identify the bodies and carry out their own "investigation." They interviewed witnesses, spoke with police, visited the morgue, and searched the scrub brush area where the cadavers were found. What they discovered was highly disturbing. The local police failed to interview key witnesses, including the owner of the hostel where the girls were last seen, and overlooked essential pieces of evidence left at the crime scene, putting the police’s motives and methods into question. President Macri ordered, per the family's request, an Argentine forensics team to carry out a third investigation, which included DNA and toxicology testing.
The scrub brush area near the beach in Montañita: the bodies were found two days apart and approximately 55 yards from one another.
The Montañita murders have made international news in Latin America. Hundreds of videos on Youtube have covered the case, many with tens of thousands of views. National newspapers from Ecuador and Argentina have churned out related articles almost daily for the past month. Since the end of February, social media has made waves about the Marina and Majo travesty, seeking justice and demanding the truth.
Streets of Argentina: Outpouring of support and demand for justice.
This story has brought many issues to the forefront regarding violence, drugs, and even women’s issues. Some pundits have tried to spin the blame away from the murderers and onto the victims themselves, asking questions like: Why were they traveling alone? What were they wearing that prompted this? Wasn't this crime just a ticking time bomb waiting to happen?
At the end of the day, the real murderers are not yet known. This case could drag on for some time, as international crimes are a logistical nightmare. Also, cooperation between South American nations can be sticky, as evidenced by the Ecuadorian forensics team who have stifled the efforts of the Argentine experts.
One of the last photos of Marina and Majo during their vacation in Ecuador.
After five weeks of turmoil, the bodies of Marina and Majo have been flown back to Mendoza and are now laid to rest.
The immense outpouring of support from all over the world has been nothing short of incredible. Social media, and the Argentine media, have played an integral role in disseminating this story and creating awareness of the violence that too often occurs in places deemed safe.
The search for the truth soldiers on. It is important to share this story and hope the real criminals are found.
May Marina and Majo rest in peace.