WITH her red hair flowing over her shoulders, pretty Juana looks like any other young woman in her 20s – apart from the fact she’s holding a machine gun.
Though she may have an innocent face, Juana is actually one of the world’s most dangerous women – a bloodthirsty assassin who murdered five men and then drank their warm blood before having sex with their decapitated bodies.
Juana – known as Le Peque or “the Little One” – is one of the growing number of female assassins involved in Mexico’s brutal drug wars, which have seen 115,000 people die between 2008-2018.
Known as Sicarias – meaning “hitwomen” – these deadly killers use their good looks to charm their victims before murdering them in cold blood.
Girls as young as seven are kidnapped or forcibly taken from their parents by drug lords and trained to kill, while others are lured in by the glamorous lifestyle flaunted by the millionaire drug traffickers.
This week El Chapo’s top killer Claudia Ochoa Felix – dubbed the “Kim Kardashian of organised crime” – was found dead in her lover’s bed from a pulmonary aspiration, which can be caused by choking.
Although it is not yet known if she was murdered, many of her contemporaries have been targeted by squads of rival women.
But their successors continue to flaunt their bloodthirsty lifestyles on social media, posing with guns, flak jackets and even tigers in a bid to show off their wealth.
Inextricable link between sex and death
This year, the number of deaths attributed to the drug wars between January and June was recorded at 17,000 – a new record.
One assassin, known as La Flaca, was one of three killers who was themselves murdered – their dismembered bodies were found in beer coolers in 2014. Others have found themselves behind bars.
The past three years have seen a 400 percent increase in the number of women imprisoned for federal crimes in Mexico.
Professor Andrew Chesnut, professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, says there’s a growing trend for “young, beautiful and reckless” women lured by the millionaire lifestyle of the drug gangs to be lured into violence.
He says:“There’s an inextricable link between sex and death in the culture of these female killers in seeking to be the most desired by the narco men.
“They seek also to be the most brutal among their group of peers.”
Photojournalist Katie Orlinksy, who spent years documenting the lives of the cartels in Mexico, says the “feminisation of the drug war” is a recent trend, fuelled by the mass murder of men, leaving partners widowed, and the lack of opportunity for young girls.
In an article for the Alexia Foundation, she writes: “In a shattered economy…women are easily lured into criminal activity such as drug trafficking and kidnapping, often the only financial options available to support their children and aged parents.”
Sex with corpses and ‘excited by blood’
Born in Hidalgo, near Mexico city, Juana was recruited by the ruthless Los Zetas cartel while working as a prostitute.
Juana went on to become one of the gang’s most feared killers and, after her 2016 arrest, she boasted about her bloody exploits in a blog from her Californian jail cell.
Juana, then 28, said: “Ever since I was a little girl I was a rebel, and then became a drug addict and an alcoholic.”
Pregnant at 15, she turned to prostitution to support her child before becoming a lookout for the Zetas, keeping watch for enemies and cops for up to eight hours a day.
Any failure resulted in her being tied up and forced to live one taco per day.
Her introduction to the brutality of the gang, when she watched a man’s head being smashed with a mace, left her horrified.
“I remember feeling sad and thinking I did not want to end up like that,” she said.
But Juana soon got a taste for blood – literally.
She told Mexican website Denuncias she began to “feel excited by it, rubbing myself in it and bathing in it after killing a victim.
“I even drank it when it was still warm.”
The site claimed Juana – who admitted killing five men – “insinuated” at having “had sex with the cadavers of those decapitated, using the severed heads as well as the rest of their bodies to pleasure herself.”
Body identified by tattoo on severed arm
In January 2014, a startling picture of a slight young woman, hair scraped back and delicate gold chain adorning her neck and hugging a machine gun, went viral on Twitter and Facebook.
Joselyn Alejandra Niño – dressed in a bullet proof vest and displaying her a tattoo of her surname – posted the picture with the words “AKA La Flaka” – meaning “the skinny one”.
The smiling face belied the ruthlessness of killer Niño who, as a trained assassin for the Los Ciclones cartel, a splinter group from the powerful Gulf cartel, who were in the midst of a violent turf battle with rivals just south of the Texas border.
Four months after the picture was loaded an abandoned truck was found in a car park in the city of Matamoros with three blue and white beer coolers in the back.
In one, police found a bare right foot and a woman’s right arm with a tattoo reading “Niño.”
Another woman and a man, also thought to be Los Ciclones killers, were found in the other ice boxes.
In a brazen postscript, a rival gang posted a picture of the three corpses, before dismemberment, on Twitter as a warning, writing: “Keep sending these f—ing a—holes… It will happen to all the filth who want to support Cyclones.”
The murders were thought to have been the work of another female murderer known as Gladys of the Zetas – who has never been caught.
Bragging on social media made her a target
While most killers try to keep their crimes under wraps, Niño and her accomplices were as thirsty for likes and comments as they were for blood.
“Joselyn came to a grisly end because she made herself famous over social media, gloating over her achievements,” Prof Chesnut says says.
“These girls know that they have to keep a low profile for their work, but for many, the temptation to post on Instagram and Twitter is too great and they end up making themselves targets.”
Betrayed by lover after 150 murders
On April 5, 2015, Audencio Beltran, aka El Hector, and his nursing student girlfriend were driving past a bar when they saw a woman who was “falling down drunk”.
As they stopped to help a tall, slim woman wearing a pink shirt and jeans stepped out of the shadows and shot El Hector four times with a 9mm handgun while shouting, “A gift from La China!”
The murderer who went by that name was Melissa Margarita Calderón Ojeda, one of the most legendary female gang leaders in Mexico with an estimated murder toll of 150 murders over 10 years.
Beginning her career at 20, when she started dating Erick Davalos Von Borstel, a member of the Damaso cartel, Ojeda swiftly killed her way to position of leader, with 50 hitmen and women beneath her.
But when Erick was murdered by rival El Grande – who then took over La China’s position – she struck out on her own with her new boyfriend, Hector Gómez, aka El Chino, as her second in command.
With a new army of 300 assassins, a fleet of drug dealers on distinctive red motorbikes and countless corrupt police officers in her pocket, she staked her claim on La Paz and corpses began to pile up, often dumped on their families doorsteps with body parts missing.
Three murdered and buried in mass grave for a truck
In September 2015, El Chino was arrested and, in order to bargain for a lighter sentence, took the police to the mass grave of his girlfriend’s victims.
He told them on one occasion, when Ojeda needed a new truck, her lieutenant El Tyson introduced her to friends who were selling theirs.
Instead of paying for the truck, she killed the couple and when El Tyson objected, she cut off his forearms and killed him as well.
They were buried alongside a woman who La China had tortured and killed because she had a grudge against her lover and another of her own staff’s lovers who apparently knew too much.
On her boyfriend’s tip off, La China was arrested at the Cabo San Lucas airport, and she is currently serving life at a high security prison in Mexico.
‘Thug commander’ recruited at nine
In a worrying trend, cartels are increasingly recruiting children between the age of seven and nine, either by coercion or kidnap.
Drug bosses are keen to exploit the law that children under 14 can’t be held legally responsible for crimes they have committed and, while they start as drug mules, the gangs train them up as killers before they are 16.
Any murder charges they rack up before their 18th birthday are given a minimum sentence.
One such recruit is a fresh-faced beauty known as Comandante Malandra – meaning female thug commander.
Recruited by the Los Zetas cartel at the age of nine, she began to trend on social media two years ago, posing in body armour with a two way radio and pointing an AK47 in the air as she pouts into the camera.
The website El Blog del Narco claims the young woman, whose real name is unknown, is a female assassin who typifies the kids lured in by the lifestyles and riches of the millionaire drug traffickers only to be drawn into the brutal violence of the gangs.
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Whether enticed in by the promise of endless riches, or forced to work as killers by the threat of violence, the story rarely ends well for the deadly Sicarias.
Claudia Felix won’t be the last young, beautiful corpse to become a perpetrator and victim of the brutal cartel battle.