File #3425: "DI-1279_ref.pdf"




Harold R. TyJer, Jr.

New York, New York
December 2, 1983












. . . . . . . . . . . .

The Zepeda and Monterrosa
Investigations. . . . . .

. . . .
c. The Medrano Working Group . . . .
. .
Th~ Civil Investigation .
FALSE LEADS. . . . . . .
. . .
. .
Thomas Bracken. .
. . .
The Canadians .
. . . . .
The Hacienda Police
Money and Valuables .
. . . .
The Moran Letter. . . . . . . . .
_______ and Cortez.
. . . .
. .
The Radio Message . . . .
Abduction at the Airport. . . . .
I ..
The .22 Magnum. . . . . . . .
Sister Maria Rieckelman
. . .




The cover-Up Is Defeated.


. . . .

Sister Maura Clarke and
the Nicaraguan Connection



. .
. .
. .
. .
. .





. .




. .
. .

. . . . . .




- ii V.

PROSECUTION . . . . . . . . . . .




The Presiding Judge



The Jury . . .




The Prosecutors






The Record . . . .

Freedom From outside
Interference . . . . .





In the early days of December, 1980, four American
churchwomen, Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Dorothy Kazel and Jean
Donovan, disappeared and were later found murdered in the
Central American Republic of El.Salvador.

Occurring at a

time of increasing concern about the growing violence in
that country, the killings and the resulting criminal
investigations have provoked intense interest, frequent•
frustration and· oc;basional · dismay in the United States as

the citizens of this country have observed the workings of
the Salvadoran justice system as it first investigated, and
eventually sought to prosecute, those responsible for the
From the outset, the handling of the case by
Salvadoran authorities has been caught up in Con9}essional
deliberations about the larger questions of American military, diplomatic and economic involvement with the Republic

of El Salvador.

But many of the questions, in Congress and

out, focused on this case:

·Have the true killers been·

Were higher-ups involved?

Was there an attempt

to cover-up the crime or conceal the murderers?

Do the

Salvadoran authorities have the will and the capacity to

- 2 -

handle the prosecution of this and similar crimes of violence
involving members of the security forces?
By the spring of 1983, five National Guardsmen had
been accused of the crime, but their detention for over two
years did not make the prospect of a speedy trial seem

Increasingly, members of Congress, the families

of the murdered churchwomen and other citizens· asked with
legitimate concern whether the Salvadoran government was
serious about prosecuting the responsible parties and whether
the United States was doing as much as it could to encourage
the prosecution.
On April,26, 1983, the Secretary of State reported

to the Chairman of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of
the House Appropriations Committee that he had directed an
"independent and high-level review of all the evidence
available to the United States government -pertaining to the
churchwomen's case. 11 Y

By a letter dated May 23, 1983,

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American
·Affairs J'ames H. Michel, on behalf of the Department of
State, requested that I conduct this review.Y

Mr •. Michel,

and thereafter, the Deputy Secretary of State, Kenneth Dam,
pledged the full cooperation of all concerned Federal
Together with my colleagues, ~ogo D. West, Jr. and
Gregory L. Diskant, I have reviewed the evidence.

In the




process, we have received the cooperation that was pledged
to us.

Since May, we have had access to pertinent State

Department files, both classified and unclassified, including the numerous cables that had been transmitted between
the State Department and the United States Embassy in San
Salvador on this matter.

We have had similar access to the

classified and unclassified files of the Federal ·Bureau of
Investigation (FBI), and of other pertinent agencies as

No documents necessary to our inquiry have been

withheld from us.
We have talked extensively with present and fo;mer
government officiais of both countries who have been involved

in the various investigations of this unfortunate tragedy~
The State Department anc; the Federal Bureau of Investigation
have been especially helpful in bringing their personnel
from locations· far removed from the cities of Washington,
D.C. and New York, our principal bases of operations, for
whatever interviews we have deemed necessary.

our discus-

_"sions have included interviews with personnel presently
assigned to the United States Embassy in· San- ~alva~or and
with those who were assigned to that Embassy during the time
of the earlier investigations into the murders.

We have

consulted with Salvadoran prosecutors, with Salvadoran
attorneys in and out of government, and with representat1ves
of the Catholic Church in both this country and El Salvador.


4 -

For obvious reasons, we have sought to maintain a
particularly close liaison with the representatives of the
families of the victims.

Our conversations with- those

representatives, the Lawyers' Committee for International
Human Rights Under Law, and with members of the Maryknoll
Order, have been characterized by candor and cooperativeness
on the part of those who met with us.

These groups have

made their files available to us and have patiently assisted
us in our efforts to determine how we could increase the
likelihood that the perpetrators of these crimes will be
brought to justice.
Our mission has had both sobering and heartening


To an extent that is impossible to detail in this

report, the criminal justice system in El Salvador is in a
state of disrepair.Y

A handful of inexperienced, under-

educated, and occasionally corrupt prosecutors represent· a
society that seems to have lost its will to bring to justice
those who commit serious crimes against it.


-and corruption of prosecutors, judges and juries are widespread, and a rigid legal system renders successful prosecutions all the more difficult.

The military exerts a

pervasive influence over the nation and, as will be documented herein, has sought to shield from justice even those


who commit the most atrocious crimes.


There are some bright spots.

Some Salvadorans,

most notably Judge Bernardo Rauda Murcia and Lieutenant

- 5 -

Colonel Jose Adolfo Medrano, have exhibited the courage,
independence and fortitude to pursue an unpopular investigation of the crime in a country where the price for such
vigilance is all too often sudden and brutal death.


sentatives of United States Government agencies,- particularly the Department of State and the Federal Bureau c.£
Investigation, have been vigorous and effective in prr.ssing
the Salvadorans to investigate and prosecute this crime and,
when the prosecution was finally underway, in rendering
critical investigative and technical assistance.

At least

one United States Government officer has repeatedly exposed
himself to great p~rsonal danger to obtain evidence crucial
to the investigation.

We believe the American public, and·

the families, can ask na more than that from their


Five former members of the El Salvador National
Guard .u:e now in custody and charged with the murder of the
four ctl.urchwomen:

Luis Antonio Colindres Aleman, Carlos

Joaquin Contreras Palacios, Francisco Orlando Contreras
Recinos, Daniel Canales Ramirez and Jose Roberto Moreno


Perhaps our most important conclusion is that

these men in fact committed the crime and that the evidence
of their guilt is overwhelming.

Not all of the evidence is

admissible in the Salvadoran courts, but that which is





6 /

remains compelling.

The admissible evidence consists of

partially incriminating statements by the defendants themselves, including one complete confession; statements by
their former colleagues in the National Guard, including
t..~ose who participated in the abduction of the women and
those to whom the 'defendants made incriminating statements
following the crime; statements of other third-party witnesses; and technical evidence developed by the Federal
Bureau of Investigation in the form of ballistics tests


linking two of the defendants' weapons to the crime.
The inadmissible evidence renders the guilt of.the
defendants even mote clear.·

This consists of polygraph

examinations that the defendants failed, a fingerprint of
Subsergeant Colindres Aleman found on the van in which the

churchwomen were traveling, and highly confidentiai information collected by the United States Embassy through the
efforts of an Embassy official at great personal risk.
reliability of



information has been proved certain, but

we are convinced that lives would be endangered by public _
revelation of this evidence or its sources.

(We shall refer

to this information in-our report as·· 11 special Embassy~


.. - .

With~ect to each category of inadmissible

evidence, we have explored whether in some manner it could
be introduced as part of the prosecution case.

In each

instance, although with varying degrees of certainty, we
have concluded that the evidence cannot be used.


7 -

The evidence taken as a whole shows irrefutably
that the five defendants, following the orders of Subsergeant
Colindres Aleman, kidnapped the women at a checkpoint outside
the El Salvador Airport on December 2, 1980.

They rode

through the countryside to a remote location some fifteen
miles from the airport, where they raped and murdered the

Thereafter, the National Guardsmen drove the church-

women's van to another remote location and set it
The first reaction of the Salvadoran authorities
to the murder was, tragically, to conceal the perpetrators

from justice.

Evidence available to the United States,,


including the spe<;ial Embassy evidence, shows beyond question that Colindres Aleman confessed his involvement in the
crime to ranking members of the National Guard within days
of the murder.

They responded by concealing this fact from

the outside world, and· ordering the transfer of the killers
from their airport posts and the switching of their weapons
.to make detection more difficuit.
At a minimum, then Major Lizandro Zepeda Velasco,
the National Guard officer in charge of the Guard's internal
investigation, was aware of the identity of the killers and
participated in these acts.

Sergeant Dagoberto Martinez,

Colindres Aleman•s·immediate superior, has admitted that
he also knew of Colindres Aleman's guilt.

We believe it is

probable that Colonel Roberto Monterrosa, head of the
government's official investigation of the crime, was aware




8 -

of the identity of the killers and, further, that he
participated in the cover-up by purposely failing to provide
Colindres Aleman's fingerprints to the United States for

We believe as well that it is quite possible that

Colonel Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, then head of the
National Guard and now-a General and Minister of Defense,
was aware of, and for a time acquiesced in, the cover-up.
The cover-up was shattered in April, 1981, when
officials of the United States Embassy identified the killers
through· their own investigation.

This effort, al though

significantly assisted by ballistics and fingerprint work •
performed by the nr, came principally by the development of

the special Embassy evidence by an Embassy officer.


special Embassy eyidence first provided identification of
the perpetrators to the United States.

When the Embassy

learned the defendants' names, it pressed Salvadoran
authorities to arrest them.

At that point, Colonel Vides

casano·~a, the Director of the Salvadoran National Guard,
.·ordered the arrest of the inen.
Thereafter, Salvadoran prosecution efforts
continued to stall, although the men were at least incarcerated.

Finally, in December, 1981, a year after the

killings and.again responding to United States pressure, the
Salvadoran government undertook a serious investigation of
the crime.

National Guard Majo~ (now Lieutenant Colonel)


Adolfo Medrano led a ~oup of detectives from the Salvadoran




9 -

National Police and others in the first concentrated
gathering of evidence by the Salvadoran authorities.


technical assistance from the FBI, the Medrano working group
collected statements of witnesses tying the defendants to
the crime, including reports of extrajudicial confessions by
Colindres Aleman.

This evidence supported the discharge of

the accused guardsmen from the National Guard in.February,
1982, so that they could be tried in the civilian courts and
their remand to the custody of the civilian trial judge.
The evidence gathered by the Medrano working group remains
the principal evidence against the accused.


The technical support provided the Salvadoran

authorities by the FBI has been simply outstanding.


print and ballistics te~ts by Bureau personnel provided
initial corroboration of the special Embassy evidence
and directly linked the defendants to the crime.


technical expertise, however, Bureau agents in the United
States thoroughly interviewed relevant witnesses and
.obtained significant information.

By the artful use of the

polygraph as an investigative tool, the Bureau obtained a
statement from Colindres Aleman's former superior reporting
a critical confession by Colindres.

The FBI sent polygraph

examiners to El Salvador, who interviewed the defendants and
other witnesses and, again by using the test as an investigative tool, produced important incriminatory statements.

- 10 -

The question whether Colindres Aleman was ordered
to commit this crime by higher-ups is a troubling one.


the extent the Salvadoran authorities have investigated this
matter, their inquiry is not nearly as complete as we would
have liked.

There is some evidence suggesting the involve-

ment of higher-ups:

most importantly, two low ranking

guardsmen have testified that, in ordering them to participate, Colindres Aleman told

them he was acting on higher


on the other hand, there is evidence tcf the
contrary, which we. tend to credit.


we set forth in

detail below, the t:ircumstances of the crime itself and

Colindres Aleman's behavior during its commission are, in
our view, inconsistent with an assault on the churchwomen
ordered from above.

Post-murder statements by Colindres

Aleman to his colleagues and his superior, aiong with the
special Embassy evidence, provide what we believe to be
additional compelling evidence of lack of higher. involvement.
-Although it is· unlikely that a dispositive answer will ever
be known, we record here our best· judgment:

on the basis of

the evidence available to us, we believe that Colindres Aleman
acted on his own initiative.
Although the evidence of the defendants' guilt is,

in our view, substantial, we cannot be certain that the case
will be successfully prosecuted.
was finally elevated to


In October, 1983, the case

plenario, essentially the trial

- 11

stage, after over a year and a half in the sumario or
investigative stage.

This means that, at best, we can

expect a trial by the spring of 1984.

The newly-assigned

senior prosecutor is a veteran attorney and, based on our
discussions with him, appears competent to present the
prosecution's case.
Nonetheless, the prosecutor must convince a



majority of a jury of five, and in El Salvador juries have,
understandably, been routinely subject to intimidation.
Moreover, we are told corruption of both juries and
·--judges is an everyday event. Finally, if the system were
not already weak ~nough, we are under the impression that

this case is a relatively rare effort to prosecute members
of the Salvadoran military in the civilian courts for crimes
committed on duty.

For these reasons, we view the likeli-

hood of a conviction of the defendants by a jury of Salvadoran
citizens to depend substantially on whether the jurors can
be assured that they can vote their consciences without
Under current Salvadoran procedures, the juro~s
must be publicly identified and hear the evidence in pul:,lic.
These procedures are, of course, desirable in a stable
society, but hardly leave a jury with any sense of security
in the Salvadoran system.

We have pressed the Salvadoran

authorities to undertake a variety of novel means to protect
t.,.e jury or guarantee their anonymity.

Unfortunately, for

- 12 -

whatever reasons, the authorities have not yet looked with
favor upon the introduction of unprecedented methods into
their system of jury selection and protection.

Thus, we

must reluctantly close on a discouraging note:

unless the

ju..-y can be safeguarded, we would be foolhardy to predict

the convict on of :these defendants.



As in any criminal prosecution, the facts of the

crime are disputed, at least by the defendants.

Al t'lough

one of the defendants has confessed, the remaining accused
killers maintain their innocence and present a joint alibi.

In analyzing the facts of the crime, we have weighed all of
the in£ormation available to us, whether or not admissible
under the Salvadoran system. and whether or not public.


have rejected the alibis of the non-confessing-defendants as
self-serving fabrications.

We set forth below what we

believe actually happened, resolving differences in the
·.testimony by giving greater weight to the witnesses whose
reliability we believe to have been proven.


differences between the facts stated herein and the testimony of other witnesses are indicated in the footnotes.
In the fall of 1980, El Salvador was suffering
through a period of severe political volatility.


violence by both right-wing and left-wing groups had heightened tensions.

Terrorist acts were being committed against





- 13 -

government officials, ministry buildings, foreign embassies,
universities, churches and factories with growing regularity.
Thousands of Salvadorans had been murdered as part of a
vicious reign of terror, the majority allegedly by rightist
.elements . ii
On November 27, 1980, yet another outbreak of
political killing occurred.

Six leaders of the Salvadoran·

opposition, the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR), were
tortured and murdered after their abduction from a school in

San Salvador by a band of several hundred men.

The bodies

of the slain leaders lay in state at the Cathedral ins~
Salvador for sever'al days, ·and their funeral was to be held

on December 3, 1980.2/

Their supporters urged a large

turnout for.the funeral, and many in the Salvadoran government and military feared an outburst of public violence,
possibly as that experienced during the funeral of
Archbishop Oscar Arnuldo Romero in March, 1980.

The country

was gripped by palpable tension and fear.
On Nov~er 26, 1980, the day before the FDR
assassinations, Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clarke of the

Maryknoll Order had traveled from their station· at
Chalatenango, El Salvador, to an annual gathering of Central
American Maryknolls in Managua, Nicaragua.Y

Upon their

return to El Salvador oILDecember 2, 1980, the day before.
the FDR funerals, they, along with two other Maryknoll nuns
(Sisters Madeline Dorsey and Teresa Alexander), were to be

- 14 -

met at the airport by Sister Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline nun,
and Ms. Jean Donovan, a lay volunteer.II

Sisters Ford and

Clarke, returning to El Salvador from Nicaragua in the midst
of unprecedented tension throughout El Salvador, never
reached their destination; nor did the_ir escorts, Sister
Kazel and Ms. Donovan.
From the available evidence, events unfolded on
that tragic December 2 as follows.

some time after midday,

Sister Kazel and Ms. Donovan drove to the International
All'port to meet the four Ma.ryknoll nuns in a white Toyota
"Biace" van.Y

They parked in the parking lot in front of ,

the main passenger7 terminal at about 2:00 p.m.~


arrival was noticed by a Salvadoran National Guardsman
patrolling in front of t;he terminal, Margarito Perez Nieto.W
His attention, he .later stated, was attracted by the fact
that one of the churchwomen had returned to the vehicle to
retrieve a large bag· capable of carrying a weapon, and by
their apparently watchful attitude toward him.

Perez Nieto

mentally recorded their arrival and returned to his patrol.
Inside the terminal, the Lanica flight that Sister
Kazel and Ms. Donovan were to meet arrived at 2:30 p.m.,
carrying only two of the four nuns expected, Sisters Madeline
Dorsey and Teresa Alexander.W

Sister Kazel and Ms. Donovan

determined that they would drive the two nuns to La Libertad
and return later to meet the remaining two Maryknoll nuns.W
Guardsman Perez Nieto observed.their departure in the white

- 15 Toyota van at about 3:15 p.m.

Ee telephoned his detachment

commander at the airport, Subsergeant Luis Antonio Colindres
Aleman, to report that he suspected the women of having
weapons in their travel bags.

Colindres Aleman told Perez

Nieto to be careful.11/
Sister Kazel and Ms. Donovan returned to the
airport to meet Sisters Ford and Clarke, the remaining two
Maryknoll nuns, sometime between 4:30 and 6:00 p.m.W
Sisters Ford and Clarke arrived on a COPA (Campania Panamena
de Aviacion, the ..Panamanian Airlines) flight at about
6:30 p.m.,l§/ and were met by Sister Kazel and Ms. Donov~.

At some point, the' churchwomen were again observed by Guards•

man Perez Nieto, who apparently notified Subsergeant Colindres
Al~an again of their activities.ill

Perez Nieto's tour of

duty ended at 7:00 p.m. and. at that time (or earlier) he
returned to the National Guard barracks.

Be reported his

observations in greater detail to Colindres Aleman.!ZI
At this point, we believe, Colindres Aleman decided
·that he would stop the churchwomen.

Although there is no

evidence that he knew their identities, he apparently' believed,·
based on his guard's observations, that they were "subversives."
Although in our system these observations would usually not
be enough even to justify an airport stop for questioning,
in El Salvador in 1980, particularly on.the eve of the
burial of the FDR leaders, these grounds for suspicion were
more than adequate.

If Colindres Aleman could obtain

- 16 -

evidence that the women were carrying weapons, or even
"subversive" literature, his status in the Guard would be
There is no reason to believe that Colindres
Aleman necessarily had murder on his mind from the outset.
At a minimum, however, he knew he was up to no good.


ordered five guardsmen, Carlos Joaquin Contreras.Palacios,
Francisco Orlando Contreras Recinos, Daniel Canales Ramirez,
Jose Roberto Moreno Canj:ura, and Salvador Rivera Franco, to
change out of their uniforms into civilian clothes.


instructed the five men to accompany him with their serw.ce
rifles and ammuniii-on.U/ · Sho.rtly after 7:00 p.m., Colindres

Aleman, the five guardsmen in civilian attire and Perez
Nieto, in unifoI:m, drove in a National Guard jeep to the
traffic checkpoint near the airport entrance.ill
At the checkpoint, Colindres Aleman instructed
Perez Nieto to stop all traffic at the checkpoint for
approximately ten minutes, but to allow the "white van"
·carrying the churchwomen to pass without hinderance.W
Colindres Aleman left·Perez Nieto at the checkpoint, along
with the uniformed guardsmen already on duty there, Luis
Napoleon Cornejo Cubas, Jose Vidal Cruz Piche, and Jose Luis

After rounding a bend in the airport access

road, and nearing the first toll station for the as yet
unfinished highway between San Salvador and the airport,

- 17 -

Colindres Aleman and the five guardsmen, all in civilian
clothes, took up positions on the road and awaited the
arrival of the white van. 22 /
Meanwhile, at the airport, the four churchwomen
retrieved the luggage of Sisters Ford and Clarke and left
the terminal in their white van.

At the airport traffic

checkpoint, Guardsman Perez Nieto, following instructions,
allowed the van to pass through~

He detained all other

traffic for about ten minutes,~ and then returned to the
National Guard headquarters.
Passing the checkpoint, the churchwomen arrived at
Su.bsergeant Colindres Aleman's position.

They were stopped

and ordered to va~ate the van.£!/

The guardsmen searched

the van and questioned ~e women.

Thereupon, Colindres

Aleman ordered them back into the van together with Guardsmen Contreras Recinos, Canales Ramirez and Moreno Canjura.W
Contreras Recinos drove the van and, with Colindres Aleman
and Guardsmen Contreras Palacics and Rivera Franco following
in the National Guard jeep,W the small convoy started its
journey fifteen miles into the hills of El Salvador.
Shortly thereafter the jeep developed engine.

A.fter a brief stop for temporary repair, the two

vehicles made it to the National Guard command post at the

27 /

town of El Rosario ta Paz.=-.:.!'

There, Su.bsergeant Colindres

Aleman telephoned the airport-anp. instructed his second in
command, Corporal Isabel Aquino Giron, to send another

- 18 -

vehicle to El Rosario to retrieve them. 28 1

The jeep was

then left at the Guard post, with Guardsman Rivera Franco to
guard it.W
The five other guardsmen crowded into the small
van with the four churchwomen and proceeded in the direction
of Zacatecoluca.

At the intersection of the road to San

Pedro Nonualco, the van left the main road and drove for
another six kilometers, finally.turning off onto a dirt

At a deserted site along the lane, Subsergeant

Colindres Alentan directed Guardsman Contreras Recinos to
bring the van to a halt, and ordered 'the women out of thr
van.ill The guardsmen sexually assaulted the women.



. at Colindres Aleman' s orders, they shot the women dead with
their service rifles, l~avin.g the bodies along the roadside
as they fell.W

The guardsmen, upon completion of their

grisly mission, then returned to El Rosario La Paz in the
In the interim, Corporal Giron had sought from the
·commander of tli.e customs Police at the airport, Juan de Dies.
Barrera Rivera, a vehicle with which to pick up Colindres
Aleman and his

men.W Barrera Rivera assigned Victor

Melgar Garay to drive a blue customs Police pick-up truckW
to El Rosario La Paz, where, accompanied by Guardsman Julio
Cesar Valle Espinoza, Melgar Garay found Guardsman Rivera
Franco guarding the disabled jeep.1§1

The t...~ee were wait-

ing when Subsergeant Colindres Aleman and the other guardsmen returned without the women at approximately 11:00 p.m.W


- 19 - into the cab of the truck, Subsergeant
Colindres Aleman instructed Melgar Garay to drive back onto
the highway in the direction of La Libertad.12/

Followed by

the white Toyota Hiace van, the truck proceeded along the
coast road until ordered by Colindres Aleman to stop.W'
After the guardsmen had removed several items from the van
to the blue customs pick-up truck,W Guardsman Contreras
Recinos opened the middle door of the van and, with the help
of Contreras Palacios and Moreno Canjura, poured aviation
fuel on the inside and outside of the van and set it afire.iQ/
Near midnight, Sul:>sergeant Colindres Aleman and
his men_..returned t~,. the airport in the blue pick-up truck.ill

Upon his return, Colindres Aleman took the van's spare tire
and jack, and several articles of women's clothing to the

Later, several of the guardsmen, with Colindres

Aleman, burned this clothing and certain other articles
taken from the churchwomen.~

on December 3, Colindres

Aleman took the spare tire~and jack to a nearby fa.rm camp
·and left them there with a friend for s.afekeeping. ~

Early in the morning of December 3, 1980, villagers·
from Santiago Nonualco, a remote village fifteen miles


northeast of the ai~ort, found the bodies of the four

churchwomen sprawled along the roadside.~

One of the

villagers contacted the local Militia Commander, Jose
Dolores Melendez, to report the di scovery.~

sortl y

thereafter, two National Guardsmen and three Civil Guardsmen

- 20 -

arrived at the scene, and ordered the preparation of a
common grave.iZI

The local Justice of ·the Peace, Juan

Santos Ceron, was summoned


the Militia Commander, and

authorized the immediate burial of the women as "unknowns,"
an unf'ortunate practice that had become common in El Salvador. 48 ,

Sister Kazel and Ms. Donovan failed to .,'eturn

to La, Father Paul Schindler, an American priest
working in La Libertad, contacted the United States Consul

in San Salvador, Patricia Lasbury (now Patricia Lasbury
Hall), on December 3.!2,,'

Ms. Lasbury then inf'ol:llled the

Chief of National Police of the women's disappearance..


Salvadoran Defense'Minister Garcia was also notified.W


nationwide search was promised.
In an attempt-to locate the women himself, Father

Schindler set out to search along the coastal road leading

from La Libertad to the airport.

On the evening of December 3,

he found the burned-out shell of the churchwomen's van where
it had been abandoned along the coastal _road.§11

Its license

·plates were missing, and the van could be identified only by
the serial numbers on the engine bio~k:W·
Meanwhile, word began to circulate in the community
that four female Caucasian "unknowns" had been found dead
and buried in Santiago Nonualco.


local parish priest

heard the news and in£ormed the Vicar of the San Vicente

In turn, the Vicar notified the United States

Embassy that the bodies of the American churchwomen had been

- 21 -

Upon learning the news, United States Ambassador
Robert White went immediately to the murder site, where he
found Father Schindler, who also had been notified by the
parish priest of the discovery of the bodies.W


Secretary of the Justice of the Peace arrived and gave
permission for the removal of the bodies from the grave.W
All four women had been shot in the head; the face of one
had,been destroyed.§.§!

The underwear of three of the women

was found separately, along with bloody bandanas.W


medical examinations were performed that day, but no autopsies.~~
Sisters Ford and Clarke were b~ied in Chalatenango; Siscer
Kazel and Ms. Donovan, in the United States.W


Despite the numbing regularity with which innocents

in El Salvador have been subjected to crimes of violence,
the rape and murder of the four American churchwomen p~ovoked
immediate international outrage.

The Salvadoran government

responded by publicly promising a full investigation, and
the United States pledged its complete assistance.


actions of the United States and its representatives to
investigate the crime and to bring the perpetrators to
justice have been remarkable.

Quite simply, we believe that


the killers would never have been identified and the evidence
of their guilt never properly assembled had it not been for
the efforts, often courageous, of United States personnel.

- 22 -

The efforts of Salvadoran _officials, on the other
hand, have been mixed.

Despite the public promise of a full

and complete investigation, the actual initial Salvadoran
government response appears to have been to do everything
possible to conceal the perpetrators of the crime.


identities of the killers were known to officials of the
Salvadoran National ·Guard within days of the murders.
Nonetheless, the official response to this information
ranged from indifference to active cover-up.

It was only

after a year had passed, and the killers had been identified
by the United States, that a competent group of Salvador~

officials undertook . a thorough investigation of the crime


anyssembled the evidence that forms the basis for the

The men who perfo_rmed that task, led by Major

Medrano, and the judge who inherited the case and completed
the investigation, Judge Ber.D.ardo Murcia Rauda, performed
difficult work _under the most dangerous of circumstances.
They deserve the praise and gratitude of all those who have
.sought to see justice done in this case.


The Zepeda and Monterrosa Investigations

Within days of the murders, Salvadoran authorities
commissioned two investigations, one public and one private,
both with apparently the same objective:.

to create a written

record absolving the Salvadoran security forces of responsibility for the murders.

The public investigation was in the.


23 -

fonn of a commission headed by Colonel Roberto Monterrosa,
then director of the Armed Forces Studies Center and later
commander of the Salvadoran Navy.

The private investiga-

tion, commissioned by the National Guard itself, was headed
by Major Lizandro Z~eda Velasco.

In his interview with us,

Colonel Monterrosa was surprisingly candid about his purpose.
He stated that his investigatory commission had flatly
rejected the possibility that security forces were involved

in the murder, not because of the absence of evidence, but
because their involvement, if proved, would cause serious
consequences for the armed·forces "from a political point of
view. 11 §.Q/

The failure.of either Zepeda or the Monterrosa

Commission to pursue a serious investigation is obvious, for
the evidence of the defendants' culpability was readily
available for gathering.

As we will note below, the mur-

derers made no attempt whatever to conceal their culpability
from other National Guardsmen.

Not only had several guards-

·men witnessed the churchwomen's abduction, but the defendants
repeatedly conceded their guilt to their colleagues following
the killing.

For instance, at a meeting called by Colonel

Vides Casanova within days of the murders to ask whether any
National Guardsmen were responsible, Subsergeant Colindres
Aleman approached his immediate supervisor, Sergeant Dagoberto
Martinez and reported that, "tbe problem regarding the nuns
is me. 11

Martinez advised Colindres Aleman to be silent




24 -

about the crime, but to admit his role if questioned



National Guard officer.W
The National Guard officer assigned in December,
1980 to investigate the crime was Major Zepeda.W


interviewed Colindres Aleman,. as well as other guardsmen on
.duty at the airport on the night of December

2.W Although

all the witnesses whom Zepeda purportedly interviewed had at
least partial knowledge of the facts of the crime--knowledge
that they later confessed to Major Medrano--Zepeda blithely
reported that no one remembered anything out of the ordinary
about that evening.

His perfunctory written report, tur;ied

over to the United States many months later, concludes "(i]t

is not proven in this report that elements of the National
Guard had any participa-µon in the death of the four North
American religious (sic]."§!/
In fact, the written Zepeda report was a sham.
Indeed, it made so little an impression on Major Zepeda
himself that, when we interviewed him in September, 1983, he
.insisted that his reporting had been oral only.§.§!


persisted in this position ev~ when we told him that we had


seen copies of writ+---en reports.

Zepeda may have remembered

only an oral report because it'-was undoubtedly only orally
that he would have communicated his true findings:



National Guardsmen led by Colindres Alem~ had committed the

- 25 -

Information derived by the United States Embassy
from the special Embassy evidence shows unequivocably that
Subsergeant Colindres Aleman followed precisely Sergeant
Martinez' recommendation.

When Major Zepeda questioned

Colindres Aleman in the days following the crime, he confessed bis role in the murders to the National Guard investigating officer.
Major Zepeda did not betray Subsergeant Colindres
Aleman's trust.

Rather, he undertook a course of action in

the winter and spring of l981 to protect Colindres Aleman
and the other killers.

Of course, he issued a written •

report absolving the guardsmen of blame.
ing to



Moreover, accord-

special Embassy evidence, Major. Zepeda caused

the murderers to be transferred away from their airport
post, thus making it more difficult for outsiders to determine who had been in a position to undertake the killings or
to interview military witnesses at the airport.


.that the FBI had perfoJ:med ballistics tests on shells and
·casings associated with the crime, Major Zepeda also, according to the special. Embassy evidence,. ordered the killers
to switch their rifles with others so as to make detection
more difficult.

('rhis effort did not ultimately prevent

linking the murder weapons with the defend.ants.


Zepeda either failed to, or could not, alter the Salvadoran
milita.ry's written records identifying which rifles were
assigned to the defendants.)

- 26 -

A.ltbough we have no direct proof, we think it is
quite possible that Major Zepeda informed his superior, then
Colonel Vides Casanova, of his activities.

Vides Casanova

appointed Zepeda, and Zepeda reported directly to him.


seems un;J.ikely that a mid-level officer like Zepeda would
have undertaken the obstructive actions he did without

approval or encouragement from someone higher.


when we interviewed now General.Vides Casanova, we found him
evasive; he professed a disturbing lack of knowledge of

~zepeda's investigation, despite evidence that he was aware
of and received reports concerning Zepeda's efforts throµghout the investigation.§§! · In his answers to us, General
Vides casanova attempted to distance himself as completely
as possible from al1 investigations of the crime.
· We

believe it probable that Major Zepeda infom.ed

Colonel Monterrosa of bis findings.

Indeed, in ~s discus-

sion with us, Colonel Monterrosa asserted that he was responsible for Zepeda's appointment as investigating officer •
.. Certainly the activity undertaken by the Monterrosa Comm.ission--or, more accurately, its inactivity--suggests the
absence of any serious interest in identifying the killers.
Nonetheless, for the first few weeks of its existence, the
commission managed to suggest to the outside world that it
was undertaking a serious mission.
The commission's appointment was announced on
December 8, 1980.§11

On day the members of the

- 27 -

commission received United States Ambassador Robert White
and a team of distinguished Americans sent by President
Carter to investigate the crime.W

The commissioners

purported to welcome investigative assistance from the
United States, including technical expertise and assistance

in planning the investigation.

The Ambassador willingly


A team of FBI technicians new. to El Salvador and

gathered various evidence for laboratory analysis, including
fingerprints and debris taken from the white van, and items
of clothing found at the gravesite.W

over few days the commission requested
that autopsies be_performed on the two _churchwomen buried in

the United States;W it visited the murder site and questioned residents of the·area;lb' it took a statement from a
Salvadoran priest, Father ·Britto,W who had been stopped at
a military checkpoint near the airport on the evening of
December 2, 1980; and it requested the assistance of the
United States in locating six Canadians who had also been
·stopped at that checkpoint with Father Britto.W
Despite its initial show of activity, the Monterrosa
Commission soon slowed its pace.

On December 20, 1980, the

commission adjourned for the traditional three-week Christnas
recess,1!1 and when the commission eventually resumed its
"investigation1t in January, 1981, its efforts were unimpressive.

consistent with Colonel Monterrosa's statement to us the commission had no serious· interest in connecting

- 28 -

security forces with the crime, the commission obtained and
relied upon false exculpatory statements from guardsmen on
duty substantially identical to those collected by Major
Although the United States was, as requested,

providing investigative assistance, that assistance was
United States suggestions that the most

largely ignored.

elementary investigative steps be taken were greeted with
distrust or disinterest.

'rhus, the United States repeatedly

requested, to no avail, that guardsmen at the checkpoint and

the burial. site be fingerprinted; that airport guardsmen be


vigorously questioned about the events of December 2; that

the weapons of guardsmen at the airport be confiscated for


the like.W

When pressed to explain his

reason for failing to fingerprint the potential suspects,
Colonel Monterrosa -lamely explained, "one must understand
the political situation in El Salvador. 11 111 He later
claimed that the commission did not have the authority to
·fingerprint the men in question.W
-rherea£ter, in February, 1981, Colonel Monterrosa
began the first of his many efforts to conclude the commission's activities.W'

One might be tempted to conclude that

the Monterrosa Commission's failure to uncover useful information was the result of mere indifference or fear.



conclude that it is more probable that Major Zepeda informed
Colonel Monterrosa of Colindres Aleman's guilt and that

- 29 -

Colonel Monterr~sa purposely chose to conceal the truth.
According to Monterrosa himself in his discussion with us,
Zepeda reported everything he knew to him.
More telling than the lines of authority, however,
was an event that occurred on February 26, 1981.

On that

date, after much prodding f.rom the United States, Colonel

Monterrosa delivered to an Embassy official. fingerprints and
palm prints of three of the four guardsmen from whom the
commission had taken written statements:

Jose Luis Monterrosa,

Luis Napoleon Cornejo CUbas, and Vidal Cruz Piche, all
guardsmen stationed at the ail:port checkpoint on the day of
the murders.~

df. course, since none of these·men was

involved in the murders, their fil;gerp-rints were essentially

The significant event of that day, however·,

was Colonel MonteJ:rosa•s pointed failure to produce the
fingerprints of the fourth guardsmen who had given a statement:

Subsergeant Colindres Aleman.
A month and a·half later, after the special Embassy

.evidence had provided the Emb,.ssy an indication of Subsergeant Colindres Aleman's gtlilt, ·but before the Embassy
had revealed that knowledge ~, the Salvadorans, an Embassy
official asked Colonel Monterrosa why Colindres Aleman had
not been fingerprinted.§.ll

Colonel Monterrosa immediately

became defensive and claimed he had taken fingerprints only
from those persons requested by the Embassy.

From all the

circumstances, however, we believe that Colonel Monterrosa

- 30 -

did not provide Colindres Aleman's fingerprints because he
knew--since Major Zepeda had told him--that Colindres Aleman
was responsible for the murders.

Monterrosa feared that

providing Colindres Aleman's fingerprints would enable him
to be identified.
In the period between January ~d April, 1981,
frustrated at the inaction of the Monterrosa commission, and
stilJ. uncertain that a purposeful _cover-up was underway,
Embassy officials continued to apply direct and indirect
pressure upon Col~nel Monterrosa.

They asked the ruling

junta to press Monterrosa to conduct a meaningful inquiryt.W
President Jose Napbleon Duarte, whom we interview~d and who


have a sincere interest in the pi:osecution ~f

this case, complied with the various requests of the .United
States, and repeatedly instructed Colonel Monterrosa to
undertake pertinent investigative steps:

to identify all

security force personnel near the airport; to fingexprint
those personnel; and to collect, secur~Jand test their

Despite instructions from his civilian superior,

Colonel Monterrosa did as little as possible throughout the
early spring of 1981.

Taken together, the Monterrosa and

Zepeda investigations provide distressing evidence of the
willingness of the Salvadoran military to protect their own,

no matter what the cost.


- 31 B.

The Cover-up Is Defeated

Distressed at the apparent inability of the
Monterrosa Commission to make substantial progress, and
unaware of the cover-up engineered by Major Zepeda, officers
of the United States Embassy determined to do what they
could to identify' the killers.

In February, 1981, an Embassy

officer developed infor.mation that promised eventual discovery
of the identity of the killers.

over the next two months,

this special Embassy evidence was proven reliable.


Embassy lea.::ned the identity of the killers; of other witnesses who could prove the killers' identity in court, most
notably Sergeant D:agoberto. Martinez; and obtained convincing

evidence of the cover-up.
A significant.piece of corroboration came from FBI
analysis of two cartridge casings and three spent bullets

provided to the Embassy by the Salvadoran government on
Ma.rc:h 2, 1981.W


March 17, 1981, the FBI laboratories

identified the casings and bullets as coming from Heckler
·and Koch G-3 assault rifies,W standard issue to the
Salvadoran security forces.

Other corroborating evidence

cannot be set forth here because it would tend to disclose
and thus endanger the nature and sources of the special
Embassy evid~nce.

In any event, after several months of

testing, through the use of corroborating evidence, the
Embassy was convinced that the special Embassy evidence was
both genuine and sound.


32 -

By April, 1981, the Embassy.had concluded that

only extraordinary pressure would result in the arrest and
prosecution of the killers, and it determined to inform the
Salvadoran authorities of the information it had learned,
but not its source.

On April 21, 1981", the Embassy identi-

fied Subsergeant Colindres Aleman to President Duarte.
Several days later the Embassy named to Defense Minister
Garcia five other guardsmen identified by the special Embassy

The United States demanded that the killers be


trpon lea.nling thi.s,news, Colonel Vides_ casanova

ordered the arrest of the guardsmen who had been identi~ed.
The men were


into custody on April 29, 1981 •.W

The arrest of the guardsmen enabled the FBI to
complete the scientific.tests it had b ~ some months

on April


o, the FBI obtained the defendants '

fingerprints -and shortly thereafter matched a thumbprint of
Subsergeant Colindres Aleman with a print found on the

van.W on May 1, t::J.e weapons of the guards-

·.men were seized,W and by May 17, the FBI reported that one
of the seized weapons, which later was identified as belonging to Guardsman Moreno Canjura, had fired a cartridge found
at the murder site.W
Although the cover-up had been thwarted, and

evidence of the defendants' guilt produced, the military
apparently remained ambivalent about the extent to which it
would cooperate in the prosecution.

Major Zepeda remained

- 33 -

in charge of the National Guard's internal "investigation,"
and the disclosure of the true facts apparently·_did little
to deter him from his course of concealment.

In the period

following the arrests, Zepeda took two more written statements from Subsergean.t Colindres Aleman.W

In the first,

Colindres Aleman again denied participation in the murders.
In the second, recorded after the FBI had linked his finger-

print to the nuns' van, Colindres Aleman claimed that he
might have touched the van in the aiiport parking lot and
again denied his guilt.

Major Zepeda also interviewed

Guardsman Moreno Canjura, who bl·andly claimed that his rifle

could not have been. involved in the muJ:der because he had
. i
possessed it continuously and he had not been involved in
the murder.El

on July l, 1981, Major Zepeda submitted a second
repo_rt to Colonel Vides Casanova.W

He still concluded

that he could not determine the guilt of the guardsmen
because of the "difficulty" in resolving a case .so "delicate."
-He concluded that only the civilian courts could make a
deteniination of guilt and· that he had exhausted the resources
at his dispo·sal.

Other than Maj or Zepeda' s meager efforts,

Salvadoran attempts to investigate and prosecute the guardsmen were vi~ally nonexistent throughout the summer and

fall of 1981.

- 34 -


The Medrano Working Group

By the fall of 1981, the United States Embassy
recognized that the Salvadoran authorities were evidently
content to let the defendants remain in prison whi~e doing
nothing to prosecute the crime.

The Embassy determined to

press all the harder for a serious investigation, which, for
political reasons, would have to come under the aegis of the
Monterrosa Commission.

on December 4, 1981, the Commission agreed to the
appointment of a working~ group, .composed of professional
investigators and backed by technical assistance from th~
United States, to 6onduct the investigation.W


December 7, 1981, the Fiscal General (the chief Salvadoran
prosecutor) and his deputy agreed to this concept as well.ill
The working group was for.mally established on December 9 by
order of Colonel Vides Casanova •.2§1

National Guard Major

Jose Adolfo Medrano was appointed to head the group.
The work of the Medrano· working group is one of
the encouraging chapters in the Salvadoran handling of the
churchwomen murders case.

It stands in sharp contrast·to

the previous two investigations described he.rein, and was
pursued with thoroughness and persistence.

The Medrano

working grou~ was the first successful attempt by an agency
of the Salvadoran government to investigate the murders in a
systematic and determined way.

In two months time, the

working group, under the able leadership of Major Medrano,

- 35 -

was able to question more than a dozen important witnesses,
gain a confession, and gather valuable physical evidence.
One of the reasons, the Medrano working group was
so successful was that, with its establishment, ongoing
technical assistance was provided by the FBI at every step.
Similarly, Embassy·personnel were present for every session
of the Medrano working group.

Thus, the Medrano working

group became an organized, joint effort by Major Medrano of
the National Guard, detectives of the National Police, the
FBI Regional legal attache-and his FBI colleagues who
appeared from time to time to carry out special activiti*s
such as polygraphing, ballistics, or fingerprint analysis,

and representatives from the United States Embassy.
Representatives from the office of the Fiscal. General also

participated in working group sessions.
Within days of his appointment on December 9,
1981, Major Medrano had interviewed two of the airport fuel
workers who were on duty on the day of the murders concern. ing the dispensing of airplane fuel possibly used by the
guardsmen in their jeep;il/ J'ose Vidal


Piche, one of

the guardsmen stationed at the airpo·rt;.W the four guards
of Hector Herrera's estate, who witnessed the van passing
back and for;,h to the murder site that evening-2.21 and Jose
Luis Monterrosa, another guardsman stationed at the airport. 1001
These interviews were crucial to the case.

They provided

- 36 -

the first public evidence of the facts surrounding the
The first important break for Major Medrano was
his interview on December ll of Guardsman Cruz Piche. 1011
Cruz Piche, whom Major Medrano had known previouslylOZ/ and
who apparently felt comfortable wit b. the investigator,
confided.that on the night of the he had seen
Colindres Aleman, Contreras Recinos, Moreno Canju.ra, Canales
Ramirez, and two others depart the aiz-port in the post's
Toyota je~p shortly after 7:00 p.m., passing ~ough the
checkpoint where Cruz Piche was stationed with Guardsme:h
Luis Monterrosa and·cornejo cu.bas.

Cruz Piche said that

when he returned to the detacbment headquarters at the end
of his tour, he found that the six who had left earlier were
drunk and ~ppeared nervous. 1031
Medrano reinterviewed Guardsman Cruz Piche on
December 15, 1981. 1041 Cruz Piche amplified his previous
statement, saying that Subsergeant Colindres Aleman ordered
Guardsman Perez Nieto to remain at the checkpoint to detain
all. airport traffic for the next ten minutes, and that Pere2:

Nieto had allowed a white mic.robus to pass without inspection.
Cruz Piche reported that he later overheard Colindres Aleman
say "What's done is done," and, "If fate is against us, we
will have to pay,


or words to that effect.

This testimony

was the first public revelation that Colindres Aleman had
ever acknowledged his guilt.





- 37 /

Guardsman Cruz Piche also testified that three
days later he heard a guardsman say that he had been told by
guardsmen who had accompanied Colindres Aleman that the
victims were "subversive nuns," that "we took subversive
propaganda from them," and that another guardsman had somehow obtained 5,000 dollars or colones.

He said that eight

days later he saw Subsergeant Colindres Aleman selling
ladies' watches in the airport area.
Guardsman Jose Luis Monterrosa c:ruz
Piche's statement to the Medrano group and named the six
guardsmen he saw depart the airport:

Colindres Aleman, Jose

Elias Sanchez, Francisco Orlando Contreras Recinos, Jose

Roberto Moreno Canjura, Adrian Ramirez, and Daniel Canales . -:.
Ramirez. 105( Two days ~ter the murders, Luis Monterrosa
saw Colindres Aleman with a large amount of money purchasing
a television set, furniture, and other items, as well as
selling a tape recorder, watches, rings, and eyeglasses.

Luis Monterrosa testified that he overheard guardsmen say
.that "they were subversive nuns and had subversive propaganda," and that Colindres Aleman said "It happened today:


if our turn comes up, we'll have to pay for it."


During this period the Medrano group also took

statements of Luis Napoleon Cornejo_Cubas, the third guards-

man at the aii:port checkpoint, Corporal. Isabel Aquino Giron,
the deputy commander of the airport National Guard detachment, and Guardsman Perez Nieto, who had been on patrol at

- 38 -

the terminal and had spotted the nuns.

Taken together, the

statements significantly tightened the chain of evidence of
guilt and provided a fairly complete picture of the events
of December 2, 1980.
In his December 17, 1981 statement, 1061 airport
Guardsman Luis Napoleon Cornjeo CUbas con£i.rmed the statements of Guardsman cruz Piche and Luis Monterrosa, and
revealed that he had leuned on the night of the
murders Colindres Aleman brought back a spare tire,. which a
few days l:ater he gave to a friend at the nearby "Macondo"
cotton plantation.
five companions

He also saw Colindres Aleman and hi~


women·• s clo~g bebind the National

Guard command post several days after the killings.
Corporal Giron. testified that about 5:30 p.m., he
overheard Subsergeant Colindres Aleman talking by telephone
with Perez._Nieto, who was in the airport 107/
Thereafter, Giron swore, Colindres Aleman. ordered ·five
guardsmen to dress in civilian clothes, and they departed
.with him in the detachment jeep at about 7:00 p.m.


testified that·later that evening he received a telephone
call from Colindres Aleman, asking for a replacement vehicle.
Giron borrowed a blue pickup truck and a driver from the


commander of the airport Customs Police, and directed the
driver to proceed to El Rosario La Paz to meet Colindres




- 39 -

Giron further stated that he saw the pickup truck
return with the guardsmen shortly before midnight, observed
the guardsmen remove a tire and several cartons from the
truck, and later heard that Subsergeant Colindres Aleman
took th~ tire to a friend at the "Macondo" cotton plantation
the next day.

Finally, Giron said that on or a.bout December 7,

1980, Colindres Aleman told him that "they were subversive

I do not think there wiil be a problem. 11


implicit acknowledgment of guilt by Colindres Aleman constitutes his third extrajudicial confession in the record.
On December 22, 1981, Margarito Perez Nieto, the
guardsman on patrol-, in front of the airport terminal who had
identified the nuns, gave a deceptive statement. 1081 Although
Perez Nieto acknowledged reporting to Subsergeant Colindres
Aleman that two "suspicious looking foreign women were in
the airport terminal," he claimed that Colindres Aleman only
ordered him t~ go to the-checkpoint to search all out-going
traffic, which he claimed he did for five or ten minutes
_-without singling out any particular vehicle.

He stated that·

one of the three white vans he remembered seeing may have
been driven by one of the women he had seen earlier in the

At this initial interview, Perez Nieto failed to

reveal that he had seen Colindres Aleman depart with five
other guardsmen in civilian clothes to stop the white van.
He likewise only obscurely alluded to Colindres Aleman's
instructions to him to hold all traffic except for the ~hite
van, and his compliance with those instructions.

- 40 -

On December 23, the Medrano working group
interviewed the airport Customs commander. 1091 He corroborated Corporal Giron's statement that at about ll:00 p.m.
on the night of the murders, Giron asked him to loan the
customs Police vehicle in order to pick up Colindres Aleman
and the others.

He said that he sent his vehicle and driver

to get the guardsmen and that his driver later informed him

that the guardsmen had put bloodstained women's clothing in
the truck.

The following day, Christmas Eve, the Medrano
group interviewed M~iana ·Realejeno, the maid at the National
Guard airport ba.rracks,llO/ who testified that in late ,

December, 1980, a ;guardsman gave her a woman's skirt as a

Early in Janu~, 1982, the Medrano working group
interviewed Victor Melgar Garay, the customs Police duty
driver who had picked up the group of guardsmen in El
Rosario La Paz on the night of the murders. 111i


Garay described the unloading and burning of the white
.microbus on the highway to La I.ibertad, and testified that
he had been warned to keep silent about what he had seen.
In the same period, the Medrano group began to amass the
physical evidence that linked the six guardsmen to the

The wheel, tire, and jack stolen from the church-

women's van were recovered by the working group from the
nearby plantation where they had been taken by Colindres

Aleman. 112 /

- 41 -

The working group interviewed Adrian Ramirez
Palacios and Jose Elias Sanchez Guzman, guardsmen detained
together with the killers, on January ll and 12, 1982.


confil:llled that he had seen Subsergeant Colindres Aleman and
his group depart from the airport on the night of December 2,
1980, and that Colindres Aleman had later possessed personal
articles from the van. 113 /
Sanchez Guzman added critical incriminating statements he had heard from the defendants during his period of
incarceration with them. 114( He stated that while in prison
Guardsman Moreno Canjura had admitted that after the women
were shot, Moreno .:Canjura saw that one of them was still

alive and that he had used his own rifle to kill her.
Sanchez Guzman swore as.well that he and Ramirez Palacios
were threatened by the defendants that they would be killed
if they talked about the case after they were released.
Finally, Sanchez Guzman provided an important clarification
about the culpability of Guardsman Rivera Franco, which
··later enabled the prosecution to use Rivera Franco as a
witness against the killers:

although Rivera Franco had

participated in the kidnapping of the women, he was not one
of the killers; he had stayed behind with the disabled jeep·
at Rosario La Paz.
The various witnesses' statements had regularly
identified one guardsmen not in custody, Carlos Joaquin~
Contreras Palacios, as among the six men who had abducted

- 42 -

the churchwomen and, at the same time, had generally
omitted mention of one guardsmen in custody, Adrian Ramirez

This evidence, together with the similarity in

names, led the working gro~p to conclude by late December
that Ramirez Palacios was not involved in the murders. 115 /
During the first week in January, 1982 the Medrano working
group had located Contreras Palacios for questioning. 116 /
On January 14, 1982, the working group received a
major break:

Contreras Palacios confessed to his participation in the murders. 1171 Because Contreras Palacios had
been belatedly identified and bad not been incarcerated with.

the other five de~endants,. he apparently had not been subject
to group pressure.;.to present a joint alibi.

Rather, remorse-

ful over having raped and murdered.women who he later leaxned
were nuns, Contreras Palacios, when apprehended, provided
the first participant account of the crime.
Under Salvadoran law (common in many civil law
countries), the testimony of a participant in the crime
· cannot be used against the others. llS/

Thus, Contreras

Palacios' con£ession was, technically, admissible only
against him.

It was significan~ nonetheless.

First, it

provided full corroboration of the evidence initially provided by the special Embassy evidence and thereafter painJ

stakingly developed by the FBI and t..11.e Medrano working

Second, the confession would be admissible against

Contreras Palacios at the joint trial of all the defendants.

- 43 -

Thus, although it was technically of limited admissibility,
it would still have a significant psychological effect on

the jurors, assuring them of the defendants' guilt.
Contreras Palacios swore that he and the others,
dressed in civilian clothes, left the airport command post
at 7 : 0O p •m. , and' stopped and searched the churchwomen• s van
about a half mile from the airport. 1191 He said that they
then drove with the van towards.El Rosario La Paz, but that
they had engine trouble with the jeep, forcing them to leave
it in El Rosario,· with a guardsman (Rivera Franco) to safeguard- it.

Thereafter, they drove to a deserted spot several

miles southwest of;$an Pedro Nonualco, where Colindres

Aleman ordered them to stop and the chu;-chwomen to get out.
~e guardsmen _proceeded to rape the women and

then, at Colindres Aleman's orders, shot and killed them.
They then returned to El Rosario, picked up the guardsman
left there, and drove down the coastal highway, where they the van.

Contreras Palacios stated that he did not

..know of any other orders that the· women be killed and that
only Colindres Aleman ordered them to· kill the "subversive"


(When Contreras Palacios was reinterviewed, partially

at our suggestion, in October, 1983, he altered this last
testimony and claimed that Colindres Aleman told him he had

been ordered to kill the women, but that Colindres regularly
used such explanations to justify his orders.)

- 44 -

On the same day that the working group obtained
Contreras Palacios' confession, it began the process of
administering polygraph examinations to the suspects.
Although polygraph evidence is inadmissible in El Salvador,
as it is in the United States, the working group recognized,
at the urging of United States representatives


that the

skilled use of _the polygraph can be an important 'investigative tool.

It can provide a basis for evaluating the credi-

bility of witnesses.

More importantly, many a witness,

confronted with an impending polyg:t:aph examination or the
fact that he has failed one, decides to tell the truth. •
This happened thre;e times during the course of the polygraph

exami·nations in trlis case, all of which were administered by
an experienced Spanish speaking FBI polygrapher.
'rhree of the suspects did not altel; their testimony
concerning the murders either before or after the polygraph

Guardsman Francisco Orlando Contreras Recinos, 1201

Guardsman Daniel Canales Ram..irez-} 211 and Guardsman Jose
Roberto Moreno Canjura. 122i

Nonetheless, the FBI polygrapher

concluded all three--and a fourth, Subsergeant Colindres·
Aleman123 1--were lying when they denied involvement in the

During the polygraph examination, Colindres Aleman

was also asked whether he had been ordered by anyone to
commit _the crime.

significantly, the polygrapher concluded

that his denial of receiving higher orders was t.ruthful. 124i

- 45 -

Although Subsergeant Colindres Aleman did not
confess during the course of his polygraph examination, he
did alter his previous testimony in an incriminating wa~. 125 /
Prior to the polygraph examination, Colindres Aleman had
consistently claimed that he and his men were on duty at the
airport on the night of December 2.

During the course of

the pre-examination interview, Colindres Aleman aJ.tered his
testimony to concede significant incriminating details.


the first time, Colindres Aleman admitted receiving a telephone call from Perez Nieto at about 3:00 p.m. on December 2,
1980, reporting two suspicious persons at the airport, thus

conceding he was on notice .of the churc:hwomen's presence at
the airport.
Subsergeant Colindres Aleman also altered his
testimony to link all the suspects together.

Be admitted

that at about 7:00 p.m. he ordered Francisco Orlando
Contreras Recinos, Daniel Canales Ramirez, Carlos Joaquin
Contreras Palacios, Salvador Rivera Franco and Jose Roberto
:Moreno Canjura, the remaining suspects, to change into
civilian clothes so that they could a.lJ. drive into El Rosario
r..a Paz.

Despite this critical concession, Colindres Aleman

claimed that the purpose of the trip was only to get gas for
the unit stove, and that they returned at about 10:00 p.m.
Margarito Perez Nieto, the airport guardsman who
called Subsergeant Colindres Aleman to report to him the
movements of the churchwomen from the airport, had significantly understa_ted his knowledge at his initial interview.

- 46 -

In January, 1982 he took and failed a polygraph, and then
elected to tell the truth. 1261 On January 15, 1982 Perez
Nieto confessed that he had been ordered by Subsergeant
Colindres Aleman to allow the churchwomen's van to pass
through the checkpoint, and that he had done so.

He added

that he had had no previous instructions. to look for the
churchwomen at the airport and that he was unaware of any
such instructions to anyone in the National Guard unit at
the airport.
Salvador~RiV-era Franco, the guardsman who accompanied Sul:>sergeant Colindres Aleman and the ·
· El Rosario La. Paz,~ he remained behind to guard the

jeep, also provided significant additional information upon
being confronted with the polygraph. 1271 Initially, Rivera
Franco had offered no useful evidence in the investigation.
At the commencement of the polygraph session, however,
Rivera Franco indicated that he wished to make a statement,
and did so.

Rivera Franco thereupon identified the guards-

men who had accompanied Colindres Aleman·and the nuns from
the airport access road; described the· search of· the· churchwomen's van on the airport access road; described the return
from El Rosario La Paz after the murders along the coastal
road to the spot where the van was burned; and stated that
several of the suspect~ had confessed to him that they had
killed the women.

- 47 -

Finally, a polygraph examination helped to exonerate
another of the earlier accused, Guardsman Jose Elias Sanchez

Like Ramirez Palacios, he had been imprisoned as one

of the original six accused, but then was released upon the
development of exonerating evidence, including the confession
of Contreras Palacios· and the statements of various witnesses
excluding Sanchez Guzman from the group of six guardsmen who
had abducted the women.


a final test, Sanchez Guzman was

submitted to a polygraph examination, which he passed.
'?hereupon, the working group concluded that his continued
denial of participation in the :murders was truthful. 128 (

Ori Febru~ 9, 1-982, the Medrano working group
having completed


activities, Major Medrano forwarded the
investigative file to General Vides Casanova. 1291 General

Vides Casanova., in turn, forwarded the file, with the jack,
tire, and skirt seized during the investigation, to the
First Penal Judge in.Zacatecoluca on February io.

At the

same time, he consigned to the court Colindres Aleman,
· Contreras Recinos, Moreno Canjura, Contreras Palacios,
Canales Ramirez and·Rivera Franco;·stating that they had
been.discharged from the National Guard and arrested for
their participation in.the deaths of the four churchwomen. 1301


The Civil Investigation

The evidence assembled by the Medrano working
_group remains the principal evidence of the defendants'



48 -

Nonetheless, as the civil authorities created their

own record to support the prosecution during the ensuing
months, several significant pieces of additional evidence
were developed.

Perhaps most important of these was the evidence
of Subsergeant Colindres Aleman's confession to his superior,
Sergeant Dagobezto Martinez.

The special Embassy evidence

identified Sergeant Martinez in·l981 as one to whom Colindres
Aleman had confided 'his guilt.

By January, 1982, Martinez

was living in Los Angeles, having left El Salvador and the
National Guard in January, 1981.

He was located there and

interviewed by th~ FBI, but he denied any knowledge whatsoever about the ev~nts of. the murder. 131 /
When th• FBI reported these results back to El
Salvador~ Embassy officials knowledgeable about the special
Embassy evidence were unsatisfied.

They suggested that the

FBI reinterview sergeant Martinez with the assistance of a
polygraph examination. 132( Once again, the threat of the
·_lie detector provoked a change in testimony.

Faced with the

test, Martinez confessed that, shortly after the killings
and during a\meeting of the National Guard called by Colonel
Vides Casanova to ask whether any guardsmen were responsible,
Subsergeant Colindres Aleman approached Martinez and conceded
tha~ he was responsible for the "problem regarding the nuns. 1113 :
Martinez explained that he had advised Colindres Aleman to keep
that information to himself for the moment, but to confess it tc

- 49 the Director of the National Guard in accord with the Director's
Another .significant piece of additional evidence
was obtained in July, 1983.

Judge Rauda had refused, under

Salvadoran law, to admit into the trial record evidence
obtained outside the territorial boundaries of El Salvador
or outside his supervision. 134( For this r :ason, he
rejected the admissibility of both the ballistics and
fingerprint evidence obtained by the FBI •


the case was

readied for trial in the summer of 1983, and in pa.rt at our
suggestion, the FB.I agreed to transport its ballistic$


equipment to.El Salvador and train a Salvadoran national in
the testing proce~s. 1351

When this was done, Judge Rauda

was able to produce two.more weapons, previously unknown,
attributable to the defendants.

The ballistics test linked

one of these newly discovered weapons, that of Contreras
Palacios, to the crime, thereby providing another direct
link between the defendants and the murder. 136i
Unfortunately, it was impossible to replicate the
fingerprint evidence °linking Sul)sergeant Colindres Aleman to
the nuns' van.

The original fingerprint had been obtained

by an FBI technician in December, 1980, shortly after the
killings, and processed in Washington. 1371

According to

Judge Rauda, it was inadmissible for two reasons:

(l) the

fingerprint had been taken from the van without the authority
of the investigating judge; and (2) it had been analyzed
138 1 In 1983, an effort was made to
by a non-Salvadoran.



- so -




duplica~e the process in an admissible fashion. 139 /


_Salvadoran authorities had done nothing, however, to preserve
the van and, not surprisingly, the fingerprint could no
longer be located some two and one-half years later.
Du.ring our trip to El Salvador, we attempted to
explore ways in which the fingerprint obtained by the FBI
could nonetheless be used.

Both the prosecutors and private

attorneys retained by the Embassy persuaded us that the
fingerprint would not be admitted during the investigatory
stage of the proceedings. 1401

It is possible, however, as

we shall explain below, that the fingerprint could nonetheless be used in ~e argument section of the trial, when

otherwise inadmissible evidence may be presented to the



Since the day the bodies of the churchwomen were
found, there has been a widely held suspicion, at least in
· the United States,· that higher officers in the. Salvadoran
security forces were involved in the murders.

Indeed, at

the outset of our mission, we shared that susp,icion.


frankly-doubted that an enlisted National Guard member would
have undertaken on his own initiative the rape and murder of
four North American women, even in a society as violent as
El Salvador.

For this reason, we considered it an important

part of our mission to do what we could to help resolve the



- 51 -


The Salvadorans had done little to address it

d irect-y.

It had taken enough American effort simply to

persuade the prosecutors to pursue the murders themselves,
and we ~aw little hope that a full~fledged investiqation of
possible higher involvement would ever be undertaken, at
least absent concrete evidence of the sort used to force the
investigation of Subsergeant Colindres Aleman and guardsmen
under his command.
We resolved, therefore, to do what we could to
urge the prosecuting authorities to gather evidence relevant
to the question of higher involvement, while at the same.
time carefully re~ewing the evidence available to us in an


attempt to resolve the question for ourselves.

In particular,

we wished the Salvadbrans·to reinterview guardsmen Perez
Nieto and Contreras Palacios.

Perez Nieto had first spotted

the churchwomen at.the airport and his conversations with·
Colindres Aleman apparently led to their abduction.

We did

not believe he had been sufficiently questioned about these

We hoped that-new questioning would illuminate

Colindres Aleman's specific motivation.

Unfortunately, we

learned that, after giving his statement to Judge Rauda,
Perez Nieto had been reported missing in action since
January, 1983. 1411

We asked that Contreras Palacios be reinterviewed
because, as the sole confessing guardsman, he was in a

- 52 -

position to shed light about what, if anything, Colindres
Aleman had said about his orders, a subject on which we
believed Contreras Palacios had been insufficiently questioned earlier.

Contreras Palacios did give new testimony

in which he expanded, and contradicted, his earlier testimony by stating that Colindres Aleman had indeed claimed, in
directing the guardsmen to kill the women, that the orders
came from ~gher up. 142i Contreras Palacios added that
Colindres Aleman regularly used this sort of justification
with his troops.

For reasons set out below, we ultimately

discounted the significance of this testimony, but it served

further to underscore the importance of a reso+ution of the

higher-up question.

also asked the Salvadoran authorities to inves-

tigate links between the killers. and security forces in
Chalatenango and La t.ibertad, where the churchwomen had
lived and worked.


sought to clarify, to the extent

possible, whether any of the defendants had contacts with
.·. those cities that would suggest their participation in a
conspiracy to murder·, or whether officers in those cities
had had contacts with the airport that would suggest the

At the same time, we asked that fingerprints of

guardsmen in Chalatenango be obtained so that they could be
compared with fingerprints found on documents that threatened
the churchwomen in Chalatenago.

Although fingerprints have

- 53 -

now been obtained from the security forces commanders at
Chalatenango and analyzed without positive results, to the
best of our knowledge, other security forces personnel
stationed there have yet to be fingerprinted.
Thus, the record from which we have had to work is
not as complete as we would have liked, or as would have
been assembled for a comparable murder investigation in the
United States.

Nonetheless, we. deem the issue too important

to leave without discussion.
..-the evidence available to


We have undertaken to weigh
as~best we can.

We have analyzed

the testimony of the witnesses and the circumstances under
which the testimony was taken.



We have made Judgments about

the credibility O'f particular witnesses.

We have applied·

our various experiences as prosecutors and judge to the
facts of this case.

And; contrary to our initial supposi-

tion, we have concluded that, from the evidence now available to us, it is unlikely that Subsergeant Colindres Aleman
received higher orders to commit this crime.

We believe

. ·that he acted on his own initiative.
An analysis of the higher orders question begins

with a definition of terms.

In the broadest sense, higher

orders could simply mean an understanding among the security
forces in El Salvador, fostered by their superiors, that
crimes of violence, no matter how outrageous or unjustified,
would not be prosecuted.

We do not believe that is what

concerns those who believe Su.bsergeant Colindres Aleman was·
ordered to commit this crime.

Nonetheless, the existence of

- 54 -

this atmosphere is important in resolving the more particular
question, for it is clear to us that in El Salvador in 1980,
and perhaps still today, there was a general tolerance of
crimes of violence by the military.

At the time of this

crime, so far as we are aware, few, if any, national guardsmen had ever been civilly prosecuted for murder, even
though estimates of murdered civilians ran up to 40,000,
many allegedly at the hands of the military.

Thus, we

conclude that officers of the Salvadoran military forces,
whether by dire·ction, inactivity or tolerance, encouraged
the notion that their troops were above the law.
This bri~gs us to-the more direct higher-up ques~


Did some higher officer (or officers} order Sub-

sergeant Colindres Alem~ to murder the women he had abducted
at the El Salvador airport, either after hearing of Guardsman·
Perez Nieto's suspicions or because he had previously planned
to murder some or all of the women, knowing that they would
be at the airport on the night of December 2?
The most direct evidence that some higher officer
ordered the killing comes from the statements- of Guardsmen
Contreras Palacios and Valle Espinosa.

Contreras Palacios

has testified in his second interview that, in directing the
guardsmen to shoot the women, Subsergeant. Colindres Aleman

said he was doing so because of superior orders.ill./



addition, Valle Espinosa has testified that Colindres Aleman---said substantially the same in ordering him to participate
in the roadblock. 144/

- 55 -

In addition to the direct testimony of Contreras
Palacios and Valle Espinosa, there is certain circumstantial
evidence as well.

To some American observers· at least, it

seems unlikely that Subsergeant Colindres Aleman would
abandon his duty post at the airport, together with five of
his troops, unless he had authorization tQ do so.


generally, there is evidence of hostility between the military and the church in El Salvador and, in particular,
between the military and church workers in Chalatenango.
Our interviews with Salvadoran officers reinforced this
conclusion; their animosity towards the church was obvious.

Colonel Monterrosa,~as perhaps most blunt.

He openly specu-


lated that the churchwomen were probably subversives, and
that the·military might well have wished them dead. 145 /

This hostility manifested itself directly with

respect to churchworkers in Chalatenango, where Sisters Ford
and Clarke were based.

Military personnel stationed there

regularly harassed churchworkers by, for example, blocking
: _entry to the church with their cars and haranguing them
a.bout their alleged subversive activities. 146 i By the fall
of 1980, this hostility had become even ~ore tireatening.
In November, 1980, a sign was posted on the parish
door in Chalatenango that could be read to threaten the
lives of those working with the church there. 147 / On
December 2, the day of the murders, Father Efrain Lopez, t.~e
parish priest in Chalatenango, reportedly received a letter

- 56 -

threatening those working for the church in Chalatenango. 148 /
tater on December 2, the sacristan of the Chalatenango
church allegedly was approached and shown a list of people
to be killed that included the names of Sisters Ford and
Clarke. 149 /
Moreover, a possible opportunity existed for the
mLlitary to learn that the churchwomen would be at the
airport on December 2.

In Noveiimer, 1980, Maryknoll nun

Madeline Dorsey sent a telegram to Sister Ita Ford descril:>ing her travel plans to ~e Managua Conference and suggesting that Sisters Ford and Clarke return with her to El
Salvador on December 2. 1501 If the telegram were intert

cepted by Salvadoran intelligence officers, the possibility
existed for arranging an ambush.
ominous though the above recital may sound, it is
nonetheless quite a ways distant from direct proof of higher

More importantly, upon analysis, we believe

some of this evidence is more ambiguous than it may seem,
. ·and supports the theory that Subsergeant Colindres Aleman
acted on his own initiative as readily as the theory that he
received higher orders.

The remaining evidence, we believe,


is both of dubious probative value and substantially out-

weighed by the evidence inclining against higher involvement.
First, we believe the testimony of Guardsman
Contreras Palacios and Valle Espinosa to be, upon analysis,

Although both have testified that, in the course




- 57 /

of ordering them to participate, Subsergeant Colindres
Aleman told them that he had "superior orders" and although
we have no reason to disbelieve this testimony, it is not
conclusive of anything.

It would not be surprising if a

non-commissioned guardsman of inferior rank like Colindres
Aleman used the guise of "superior orders" to motivate his
troops, whether he had such orders or not, particularly when
asking his men to commit a blatantly illegal act.


Contreras Palacios's own statement supports this conclusion.
He observed that Colindres Aleman regularly justified his
orders on such a basis, and speculated that Colindres Aleman

had done so this time so that he would not have to bear the
full responsibility for his order.

Thus, the testimony of

Contreras Palacios and Valle Espinosa does not necessarily
support an inference either way.
We also conclude that the general animosity between

the church and the military does not necessarily support a
conclusion of higher-up involvement ...) Thf-1 belief, tolerated
:_and even encouraged by officers of the security forces, that
the Church and its workers were subversive could weli lead


lower-ranking soldiers to believe that church workers were
fair ·. game for harassment or worse.

Thus, we believe the

animosity serves as well to explain Colindres Aleman's own
motives for the crimes--and his own belief that his acts
were justified--as it does to suggest that his superiors
were necessarily involved.

- 58 -

Colindres Aleman's willingness to abandon his
airport post also does not support an inference eithe~ way.
His action was, we believe, consistent with the structure
within the National Guard at the time.

As we learned in the

course of our mission, Subsergeant Colindres Aleman had wide
latitude-in the daily functions of the unit he commanded. 151/
His superiors visited his post only occasionally, and this
lack of command control was and- is a major concern of the
Salvadoran high command ..

Until recently, the number of

officers was quite low in proportion to the number of posts
and guardsmen to supervise. 152/ Moreover, transportation

and communication;faciliti~s were limited, making it difficult for officers~to control men in the field.
We also do not accord much weight to Sister Dorsey's
telegram as providing an opportunity for the military to
learn al:>ou~ the churchwomen's travel plans.

As we learned,

the intelligence network in El Salvador is quite primitive. 153 /
There is no reason to believe that the telegram was inter.· cepted and, if it had been, we doubt that it would have been
read by anyone with a particular interest·in Sisters Ford and

Moreover, even if the telegram were intercepted and

routed to a person interested in securing the demise of the
nuns, the telegram did no more than suggest that they travel
on December 2.

It was, it seems to us, an insufficient

·basis on which to construct a plan to abduct and murder the

- 59

Finally, we conclude that there is no likely
connection between the Chalatenango death threats and the

The threats were not directed at Sisters Clarke

and Ford in particular, and thus suggest no reason why those
nuns would be singled out for detention and murder at the
airport, some distance from Chalatenango.

Moreover, if the

threats were serious, we see no reason why they would not
have been implemented in Chalatenango--where they would have
the maximum deterent effect on the local church workers-rather than in another, far~ away part of the country ....
Implementing the threats in a distant military district


would have required. a .level of coordination and cooperation

that we have neither observed nor understood to be present

in the Salvadoran secur~ty forces.

At the same time, if

such coordination were arranged, it would have necessarily
involved additional gua;-dsmen in the killings and thus

needlessly increased the chances that the conspirators would
be exposed.
If the threats were causally connected with the
killings, Subsergeant Colindres Aleman would necessarily
have had to be on the alert for the churchwomen.

The evi-

dence of Perez Nieto, which we credit and discuss further
below, however, demonstrates that Colindres Aleman was not
a.~ticipating the arrival of the churchwomen.- Finally, in
our experience, death threats rarely lead so directly to
murder, at least without their authors leaving sufficient
time for the threat to have its desired intimidating effect.

- 60 -

If the authors of the death threats truly intended inunediately to kill the churchwomen, there was no reason to issue
the threats.
In sum, much of the evidence allegedly supporting
higher involvement in the murder is, in our view, actually
neutral and suppol;ts either conclusion.

The remaining

evidence is of dubious probative value.

More importantly,

however, there is substantial evidence that, we believe,
points the other way.
First, there is the evidence of Subsergeant
Colindres Aleman' s behavior during the crime itself. · In
this regard, the testimony . of Perez Nieto, the airport

guard, is crucial.


an initial matter, we regard his

testimony as truthful because of the manner in which it was

an initial deception, followed by significant

revelations after failing a polygraph examination.


truthful, his testimony is inconsistent with higher orders.
Were there a prearranged plan to abduct the women, it is

· inconceivable to us that Colindres Aleman would not have
warned Perez Nieto to be on.the alert for them:

Not only

did Perez .Nieto affirmatively deny any such orders, but he
also simultaneously provided a plausible and independent
explanation for why the churchwomen were stopped:
he believed they were suspicious.


Perez Nieto's report to

Colindres Aleman of his suspicions is likewise inconsistent
with higher orders.

If Colindres Aleman in fact were

- 61 -

awaiting the arrival of the women, but for some reason had
neglected to warn Perez Nieto of that fact, Perez Nieto's
report of their arrival would likely have provoked a more
forthcoming response than merely "be careful."
Second, Subsergeant Colindres Alema.n's statements
to his colleagues after the murder are, in our view, incon-


sistent with higher involv~ent.

The premise for this

conclusion is that, if he had been ordered to commit the
crime, Colindres Aleman would have felt secure thereafter
that his actions would be protected from prosecution.


statements following the crime show no suc;h security.


December 4, 1980, C~lindres Aleman told Cruz Piche that

"what's done is done" and "if fate is against us, we will
have to pay, 11154( or wo;ds to that effect. On December 5,
1980, Colindres Aleman tQld Guardsman Luis Monterrosa "if
our turn comes up, we ~ill have to pay for it. 111551 On
December 7, 1980, Colindres Aleman told Corporal Giron that
"they were subversive women. I don't believe there will be
-~·any problem. 111561 These are not the words of a felon secure
in the protection of his patrons.

If he acted at the order

of superiors, Aleman would, we believe, not have
been so concerned about "fate," having to "pay," or whether
he would have a "problem."
Third, Colindres Aleman's confession to Sergeant
Oagoberto Martinez-is~inconsistent with the view that
superiors were involved.

If Colindres Aleman were ordered


to kill the women by a superior, there was simply no reason
for him apprehensively to confess his guilt to his immediate
supervisor, a sergeant.

Or, if he had felt the need to

confess, we believe it likely that he would have explained
that the "problem" he had created was ordered from above.
In.making this analysis, like our analysis of Perez 1ieto's
evidence, we necessarily treat as credible Sergeant Dagoberto

Martinez's testimony, and for like reasons.
Fourth, the information obtained from the special
Embassy evidence is consistent with the information from
Sergeant Dagoberto Martinez.

According to the special ,

Embassy informatioh-1 Subsergeant Colindres Aleman confessed
his guilt to Major Zepeda without implicating any higherups.

This, again, does.not seem to us to be a likely

course of events if Colindres Aleman's superiors were in
fact involved.

More definitively, the special Embassy

evidence also provided direct proof, which unfortunately we
are unable to reveal without endangering lives, that
. ·Coli.ldres Alenran has conceded acting on his· own.
Fifth, the evidence of the Zepeda/Monterrosa
cover-up, which we have outlined above, shows, we think, a
clear attempt to cover up a ·crime committed by lower-ranking
soldiers, an9- no effort that we can discern to prevent the
identification of higher-ups.
Sixth, we are convinced that, in light of all the
evidence, the polygraph results are worth crediting.




63 -

Su.bsergeant Colindres Aleman was asked directly, during his
polygraph exam, whether the ass.ault had been ordered from

The polygraph examiner deemed his denial to be


Some critics have suggested that the question was

too narrowly phrased to encompass all possible higher orders.
After review of the question and careful questioning of the
polygrapher, we conclude this criticism is not well-founded.
During the pre-exarnjnation interview, Colindres Aleman was
clearly infomed of the scope of the question and, as we
understand it, would have indicated an emotional response to
the question if there had been any such orders, even if the
question were inarzfully put. 157/

Taken as a whole, we think the evidence of lack of
higher involvement is persuasive and the evidence to the
contrary largely, if not entirely, speculative.


we noted

at the outset, the investigation of this question has not
been commensurate with its importance, and all the facts are
not known·.

We welcome the development of furthu information

._·on this important issue, and would view new evidence with an
open mind.

Nonetheless, we believe it would be a disservice

not to record here our view, based on the evidence now\
available, that-SUbsergeant Colindres Aleman acted at his
own initiative.
Before we leave the subject of the involvement of
others, we should note that there is some indication in the
special Embassy evidence that Colindres Aleman may have had

- 64 -

communications about the churchwomen with the National
Police in La Libertad at some point prior to the murders.
This evidence suggested not that higher-ups in La Libertad
had ordered t.~e killings, but rather that the police in La
L.ibertad had advised Subsergeant Colindres Aleman of some of
the churchwomen's 'involvement in alleged "subversive"
We have done what we could, with the limited
resources available to us, to verify this allegation.


have found nothing to confirm it, and some evidence to
refute it.

In particular, the special Embassy· evidence ,

contains an unsubs~tiated suggestion that the churchwomen

might have·been previously arrested by the Nationa+ Police.

All. those who worked with Ms.: Donovan and Sister !Cazel in
the period.prior to their murder, and who would have known
of such an arrest, denied to- us that any such event had
occ:urred. 158 ( Thus, we record some reason to doubt the

allegation, but cannot consider it disprpved •.


from all the evidence known to us, if such a communication
occurred, it would have been in .the course of an exchange
of intelligence information and would not have amounted to
orders--higher or otherwise--to kill the women.



We believe that in the course of the investigations described above a coherent picture has emerged of the

- 65 -

events of the night of December 2, 1980.

Even so, in

virtually-every investigation, and part~cularly in a wellpublicized one such as this, a substantial nwnber of leads,
tips, rumors, and apparent facts arise that must be explored,
even though the vast majority turn out to be immaterial,
incapable of confirmation or refutation, or simply wrong.
These are the proverbial "red herrings."
The investigations of.the churchwomen's murders
have grown their own crop of these issues.

Many questions

have been resolved by the Salvadoran investigations, with
the assistance of the United States Govermnent.
be explained by tl?is report.
be explained.

Others /Jlay .

A few undoubtedly will never

In order to reach the conclusions set forth

in the prece~ng sectiot;l.S, we have had to analyze each such
false lead as completely as possible.

We discuss them below

in light of the available evidence.


Thomas Bracken

On December 17, J.980, Thomas N. Bracken, a United

States citizen, was killed in a shoot-out in the streets of
San Salvador.

Just one week prior, on December ll, 1980,

Bracken had gone to the United States Embassy in San Salvador
to offer information about the churchwomen murders.


proximity of the two events has caused some speculation as
to whether Bracken's appearance at the Embassy and his
subsequent murder were causally connected.

- 66 We have found no such connection.

Bracken was

interviewed at the Embassy prior to his death, and had no
specific evidence concerning the crimes. 159 /

He offered the

theory that the murders had been committed by a right-wing
splinter group, but had no evidence to support the charge.
Bracken's stated purpose in coming forward was to trade his
vague rumors for dismissal of a criminal. warrant·outstanding

against him in El Paso, Texas. · It seems to us clear that
his offer of in£ormation was merely the act of a desperate
man trying to find a way to return to tlfe United States.
An inventory of Bracken's quarters, after his

death, revealed ~ty-five molotov cocktails, wiretapping

equipment, handguns, ammunition and military manuals.


had told the EmLassy that he was employed as an instructor

for the Salvadoran National Police.


that he appears to have met his death.

was in this capacity
Bracken accompanied

several National Police officers who were chasing armed
suspects and, in the process of attempting to make the
_apprehension, was shot dead by one or more of the suspects.
In turn, the National Police shot and killed two of the
suspects. 160 i Based on these facts, we find no connection
between Bracken's contact with the Embassy and his death.


The Canadians

group of six Canadians together with a Salvadoran

priest, Father Britto, was stopped at a military checkpoint

- 67 -

outside the San Salvador International Airport on December 2,
1980, between about 6:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m . .ill/


they provided the first evidence of military activity around
the airport, their testimony and their description of the
guardsmen were initially thought to be significant.


conclude that their evidence is of little consequence to an
understanding of the facts.
~he Canadians came to.El Salvador to attend the

funerals to be held on December 3.

At the airport, they

met briefly with Sister Kazel and Ms. Donovan, who were
awaiting the arrival of Sist~rs Ford and Clarke.


Canadians then left. the ternti nal, before ·the arrival of

Sisters Ford and Clarke, with Father Britto and the others
from the Archdiocese,


, to

an American,

whom they offered a ride. 1621
Down the road from the airport, near

a traffic

control post, they were stopped by several uniformed, armed

guardsmen, who briefly questioned them and searched the
:vehicles. 1631

Because the guardsmen were in uniform, it is

fairly certain that they were not Subsergeant Colindres
Aleman and his civilian-attired accomplices.


because the stop occurred prior to the arrival of Sisters
Ford and Clarke and before Colindres Aleman's orders were
issued to stop traffic at the checkpoint (except for the
white van) the stop was not connected with the abduction of
the churchwomen.

Rather, we conclude that the stop was one

- 68 -



guardsmen at the traffic control checkpoint,

consistent with the heightened tensions in the area on the
night prior to the FDR funerals.

It otherwise has no signi-

ficance to this case.


The Hacienda Police

Father Paul Schindler, the American priest who
worked with Sister Kazel and Ms~ Donovan in La Libertad and
who found the burned out van, has alleged that the Hacienda
Police may have been involved in the crime because (l) the
Canadians were stopped at a roadblock near the turnoff fqr a
local Hacienda Police station, and (2) there is evidence
that a red pickup truck belonging to the Hacienda Police was
used during the abduction. 164(
The first point, we conclude, is based on a misapprehension of the facts.

The guardsmen have uniformly

placed the location of the checkpoint at which traffic was
stopp_ed for 10 minutes at a position on the main access road
.to the airport, near the reinforced concrete guard post (which

is permanently maintained in the broad median strip of t:he
access road to provide security for nearby electrical
installations) .

This location is some distance removed from

the turnoff to the Hacienda Police station at San Juan
Talpa. To verify the guardsmen's testimony, we contacted
Patricia Lasbury Hall, at the time of the events in question,

United States Consul in El Salvador. 1651

Together with

- 69 -

Ambassador White, Ms. Hall drove the Canadians to the airport
on the day after they were stopped.

At that time, Ms. Hall

told us, the Canadians identified for her the location of
the checkpoint.

It was, she said, just as the guardsman had

near the existing concrete guard post in the median of the airport access road.
The claim that a police pickup truck was involved
is based on the alleged correlation of a fresh smear of red
paint on the burned out van with a red Toyota pickup truck
of the same shade at the Hacienda ~o!ice station in San Juan
Talpa on the day afteJ:: the murders.

Father Schindler noticed

the red paint smea:r_ on the left front bumper of the van when

he found it on the roadside on December 3, 1980.

Because h~

was the person responsible for the maintenance of the church
vehicles in La Li.bertad, he was familiar with the condition
of the van and is confident that the smear had not been
there before December 2.
In his subsequent search for the women, Father
_Schindler visited a nearby Hacienda Police station in San
Juan Talpa where he saw a red Toyota pickup truck.


he was unable to inspect the t-~ck thoroughly for paint
damage and although none was visible to him, he concluded
that the pickup truck and the paint smear were of the same

As a result, he suggested that the Hacienda Police

from that station might have been involved in the churchwomen murders.

We cannot draw that conclusion.

- 70 -

On December 12, 1980, FBI technicians took scrapings
of the paint smear. 166 1 These scrapings were analyzed in
the FBI Laboratory, which concluded that none of the paint
particles were of a kind used for the original paint finish
on any motor vehicles. 1671 Because Father Schindler had
identified the pickup truck as a Toyota, the Maryknoll Order
sent a corf of the FBI analysis to Toyota.

Toyota responded

specifically that the paint was·not used on their vehicles. 1681
Father Schindler told us that he believes the


Toyota pickup truck had been repainted, so that it is
possible that a non-standard paint was used.

Even if that

were so, however, it is likely that particles from the

underlying origina.J. coat of paint would have been present in
the red smear as well.

None was found.

We find the connection between the red smear and
the red pickup truck to be based entirely on supposition.
Moreover, it is inconsistent with testimony that we believe
to be truthful from several of the participants

iii the

.abduction (Guardsman Rivera Franco and Contreras Palacios),
and with the testimony of those who witnessed the activities
of December 2.

We have found no credible evidence that the

Hacienda Police were involved in the murders.


Money and Valuables

In the days following the murders, several of the
accused were seen with money and valuables. 1691


- 71 Cruz Piche reported that another guardsman claimed that
Canales Ramirez was seen with 5,000 dollars or colones. 170 1
The allegation, albeit second hand, is of concern because
possession of such a large sum of money, in excess of any
amounts conceivably taken from the churchwomen, might
suggest that the guardsmen had been paid by some unknown
party for participation in the murders.
To clarify the allegation, we asked that Guardsman
Cruz Piche be reinterviewed on the subject.

At the time of

writing this report, Cruz Piche cannot be located by
Salvadoran authorities.

Nonetheless, based on the evidence

available to us, we believe that the churchwomen's missing
personal property •
has been satisfactorily traced to Colindres
Aleman and the guardsmen, and that it probably accounts for
any perceived increase in Colindres Aleman's personal wealth.
When the nuns left the airport, they had with them
the personal belongings of Sisters Clarke and Ford, including
clothing and books.

Sister Ford was carrying some cash

·.c originally thought to be $900, now apparently· only $175) 171 /

and three checks, two for $1,800 each (to help buy a new
jeep to replace one lost earlier year) and one for $243
(to be used to pay local accounts). 172 /
According to several witnesses, the books were
burned by the accused soon after the murders, along with
articles of clothing and some jewelry. 173 / Several witnesses testified that Subsergeant Colindres Aleman was seen

- 72 -

selling women's watches, rings, eyeglasses and a tape recorder,
and buying a television set and furniture. 174 / One of the
other accused, Guardsman Contreras Palacios, gave Guardsman
Sanchez Guzman eighty dollars to exchange into colones for
him, and Canales Ramirez offered to sell Sanchez Guzman a
woman's watch. 175 /

The checks were never negotiated and,

according to the Embassy's special evidence, were destroyed
by Colindres Aleman.

Other than the second hand accounts crediting
Guardsman Canales Ramirez with 5,000 dollars or colones,
there is no evidence attributing an amount of money to any
of the guardsmen in.. excess of the cash and valuables
possessed by the churchwomen.

We conclude from this

evidence in the record that Colindres Aleman and others of
the accused looted the churchwomen's belongings after the
murders, taking what they beiieved to be valuable and burning the rest.

There is no credible evidence that Colindres

Aleman, Canales Ramirez, or anyone else received payment
from an un.taiown source for his role in the murders.


The Moran tetter

Perhaps no red herring has been so patently fabricated as the ' Moran letter.· ~,, the late spring of 1983, the
Maryknoll Order received, through an anonymous source, a
copy of a letter, purportedly written by Lt. Colonel Antonio
Moran, t..~e Chief of the Hacienda Police, to Colonel Vides

- 73 -

Casanova, the Director of the National Guard, on January s,
/ The letter states that six individuals--not the
defendants--had been detained by the police and were being
referred to Vides Casanova for the murders of the churchwomen.

If true, the letter would cast immediate doubt on

the validity of the entire prosecution.
The letter is, however, a crude forgery, obviously
created by unknown third parties--whether of the right or


the left--with an interest in disrupting the prosecution .
Colonel Moran has testified he never sent the letter, 177 /
and Vides Casanova that he never received it. 178 1 Moreover,

the signature and seal are.forgeries, according to handwriting experts appouited by Judge Rauda, 1791 .and the letter
~oes not bear either the code numbers or the fol:Illal salutation that a genuine piece of Treasury Police correspondence
would include.


·and Cortez

In SeptembP.r, 1981, an annonymous letter addressed
to the United States Congress was received by the State

Department. 1801 The letter, dated July 21, 1981, stated
that the writer was a witness to the killings of the churchwomen, and that if Congress were interested in the identity
of the assassins, it should place an advertisement in several
Mexican newspapers.

The State Department placed the adver-

tisement in late September, which led to a meeting between


- 74 -

two United States Embassy officials ·and

said that he had no direct information concerning the murders.
He identified the author of the letter to Congress as one
Cesar Cortez, allegedly a driver employed by Hans Crist, a
suspect in the January, 1981, murders of the American InstiI

tute of Free Labor Development workers.

ae said that Cortez

had fled El Salvador several months before, passing th.rough
Mexico City on his way to the United States.

On October 6,

~old the Embassy in Mexico City that Cortez had written
to him from Chicago, but that he still had no address fot
On October 15, 1981, J'ohn McAward, "Executive

Director of the Unitarian-Universalist Service Committee,
reported to the State Department that he also had met
in Mexico City. 182 i According to McAward,
. claimed
that a Cesar Cortez had approached him in Mexico City and
described the murders.

Cortez allegedly told

that he

had been instructed by his employer to drive a pickup truck
from "the Hacienda" with two Hacienda guards tor.a r.ibertad,
where he was to pick up three guardsmen, and then proceed to


the airport "to do a job"--the abduction of the churchwomen.
stated .. that Cortez denied participation in the rapes
and murders, but claimed to have seen what happened.
Thereafter, the State Department and the FBI
pursued a number of false leads in.attempting to trace the


mysterious Cortez. 183 /

75 -

Finally, responding to a suggestion

from Representative Mary Rose Oakar, the State Department
sought to submit
Cortez. 184 /

to a polygraph examination concerning

Despite repeated requests and assurances of
repeatedly refused to submit to a polygraph

examination. 1851


~'s refusal, the effort to locate

Cortez and to verify his story reached a dead end.

are convinced- that ·the

/Cortez episode has

no bearing on our understanding of the facts.
alleged story, as described by


-through McAward, is

inconsistent with the facts outlined above.

It may be ~at

. fabricated the story in an attempt to gain a visa to
the United States."1SS/


's motivation, Cortez'

alleged story, unsupport~d even by the existence of Cortez
and contradicted by the fa~, is of no apparent validity.


The Radio Messaae

In December 1980, it was reported that a witness
llad overheard a radio transmission at the airport between
members of the security forces. 1871
info;mation about what was said.

There is conflicting

According to one version,

a guardsman was heard stating, "we missed them on this
flight. 11188 /

According to another version, the conversation

focused on the fact that the churchwomen were carrying a
large amount of money. 189 / Any such conversation, if t...-ue,
would be significant because it could suggest that the

- 76 -

National Guard was awaiting the arrival of the churchwomen,
and thus that a prearranged plot was in effect.
Although the source of t.~e information was fairly
quickly identified, he resisted several attempts by Embassy
officials to persuade him to come forward


make a formal

President Duarte finally prevailed upon the

witness to submit to an interview, attended by Embassy
officials, in mid-March 1982 by·Deputy Fiscal General
Benjamin Cestoni. 1901 The witness said that he.was in the

airport tenti.nal on December 2, 1980, awaiting an incoming

While there, he claimed he overheard a telephon1--·

not radio--conversation of a uniformed guardsman speaking

from a pay telephone in the lobby.

Be said that the gist of

the conversation was "we missed them on this flight."


witness said that he then saw the arrival of two women he
believed to be two churchwomen, who were greeted by two
others and who departed at about 4:00-4:30 p.m. in a white

He averred that he was sure about the time because he

.himself. left shortly after 4:30 p.m. 191 /
Although cestoni and.the Embassy officials all
believed that the witness was not purposely attempting to

deceive them, they unanimously concluded that his recollection was nonetheless confused and highly unreliable.
Under close questioning, the witness offered varying
accounts of what he had heard, at different times claiming
that t.~e communication was by radio or by telephone, and

- 77 -

that it concerned either money in the churchwomen's possession
or their delayed arrival.

Indeed, at one point, in the course

of three interviews with Embassy personnel, the witness

stated that he had only seen a radio being used and had not
h ear d wh a t was sai. 192/ M
oreover, i. f true, th e witness's
testimony means that at least Guardsman Perez Nieto and Cruz

Piche are lying in giving ·their ac~ounts of Perez Nieto's
telephone conversation with Subsergeant Colindres Aleman.
Because of all of this, we discount the report of the witness.

Abduction at the Air:)ort


Father s6hindle.r has suggested to us that the

churchwomen had been abducted ·at the airport, not at the
roadblock manned by Subsergeant Colindres Aleman and his
guardsmen. 193 (

B:e s'aid he believed this had happened

because witnesses to.whom he spoke had said they were the
last to leave the airport and the white van remained behind.

He fu.i:ther told us that Ms. Hall had indicated to him that a
·secret Embassy source had confiJ:med that the abduction was

actually at the airport. - Ms. Hall denied to us making any ·
such statement. 194( Moreover, our review of the Embassy
files and our conversations with Embassy officials convinces
us that no such source or information exists.

Finally, the

allegation is completely contrary to all the existing evidence in the case with respect to the location of the

- 78 -


The .22 Magnum

When the.bodies of the churchwomen where taken to
a local funeral home in San Salvador on December 4, 1980, a
Maryknoll priest, Father John Spain, was present to witness
the post-mortem examination. 195 /

Father Spain heard the

funeral home attendant say that the wounds of at least one
of the women were caused by a .22 magnum, allegedly a favorite
weapon of the Salvadoran death squads.

Father Spain observed

that the wounds of Sisters Ford and Clarke were small, did
not disturb their facial features and were in other respects
different from those of Sister Kazel and Ms. Donovan.


physician and judge._present were no~committal about the

wounds, and the subsequent autopsies performed on the churchwomen drew no conclusions about the caliber of the weapons
We can give little weight to the opinion of the
funeral home attendant. The theory that a small caliber
weapon was used does not comport with the confession of



Guardsman·contreras Palacios, who testified that he and the
others had used their service weapons.

It is likewise

inconsistent wi·th the ballistics analysis of t...llose shells
and casings that were recovered.

It is, of course, possible

that a guardsman may have had a .22 magnum pistol, and could

have used it to kill one or more of the women.

Even if such

a weapon were used, however, it does not add any evidence
one way or the other about the involvement of others in the

- 79 -


Sister Maria Rieckelman

On the night of murders, Sister Maria Rieckelman,
a Maryknoll nun who attended the Managua conference together
with Sisters Ford and Clarke, was questioned by uniformed
Salvadorans when her plane landed at the International
Airport in El Salvador. 1961 This event had led some to
conclude that some coordinated harassment of churchwomen
was underway on the evening of December 2, 1980.

We do not

share that conclusion.

Without more, the questioning of passengers aboard

a plane just arrived from Sandinista Nicaragua, suppliers of
the rebels fighting the Salvadoran government, on the night
before the-FDR funeral, does not se~ to us extraordinary.
Rather, like the stop of. the Canadians, it seems to us
simply to be further proof of the heightened tensions of the
time, tensions that may have caused Colindres Aleman to
believe he could abduct and murder the churchwomen.


Sister Maura Clarke and the Nicaraguan Connection
Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita F·ord were returning

from an annual gathering of Central American Maryknolls in
Nicaragua at the time of their murder.

During our visit to

El Salvador, Jwe heard allegations that the Catholic Church,
and specifically the Maryknoll Order, are linked in the minds
of the military in El Salvador wit."l support of leftist and
revolutionary causes in Central America, especially as

- 80 -

exemplified by Maryknoll links to the Sandinista government
in Nicaragua.

When we learned that a former Sandinista

intelligence officer, Major Miguel Bolonas, had testified to
at least one subcommittee of Congress (Senator Jeremiah
Denton's Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism of the
Senate Judiciary Committee

that Sister Maura Clarke had a

role in those alleged link;,·we felt obliged to interview
Major ·Bolonas . 197 / We did so not because his alle_gations
against a murdered woman could justify such a senseless and
, wanton act, but to determine whether such charges were
likely to have been made known to Subsergeant Colindres



Aleman·or his supe.;:iors.

We found our interview·with Major

Bolonas largely unhelpful.
Major Bolonas claimed that he met Sister Maura
Clarke when she was working in Managua with other Maryknolls
and a priest known as Father Miguel in a poor area of the
city called "Open Three" in the period 1974-1975.

Later in

.1979, Bolonas claimed, during his work as an intelligence

·officer both prior to the revolution in Nicaragua and thereafter .for the Sandinistas, he le~ed from another intelligence officer that Sister Clarke and other Maryknolls, along
with Father Miguel, were routinely helpf~ to the Sandinistas
both in their charitable activities and in clandestine

Major Bolonas stated that at the time of the

murder of the nuns in El Salvador, when news of their deaths
and their identities was reported in the Nicaraguan press,

- 81 -

stories appeared pointing out Maura Clarke's role in assisting
the Sandinista revolution.
We have not had an opportunity to discuss Major
Bolonas' charges with members of the Maryknoll Order, although
we have learned from the State Department that the Maryknolls
believe Major Bolonas to be mistaken in his information.


have been told that Maryknoll records indicate that Sister
Maura Clarke was not in Nicaragua during the period 1976-1980,
but rather was in Boston. - It is our view, in any event,

that the truth or falsity of Maj or Bolonas' charges is
irrelevant for our purposes.

What could be relevant is •

whether these charges were known to and believed by the

Salvadoran govermnent, and became such a concern that
Salvadoran officials, be.lieving that they knew Sister Maura
Clarke to be a Sandinista ally, ordered her execution.
We'do riot believe that this occurred.


although Major Bolonas' credibility is apparently high with
United States intelligence agencies, we have received no
other confirmation of his cha.rg~s.

Second, we have no

indication that these alleged: activities of Sister Maura


Clarke ever brought to the attention of the Salvadoran
government or that they became the kind of common knowledge
among the Salvadorn security forces that Major Bolonas

claimed existed within the intelligence __circles of the
Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Third, as described in ou.r "Higher-

Ups" section, we have concluded that Subsergeant Colindres

- 82 -

Aleman probably acted on his own initiative.

With this in

mind, it does not appear likely that he somehow became aware
of these allegations and decided to carry out the removal of
four churchwomen in order to protect the Republic of El
Salvador from infiltration by Sister Maura Clarke.



El Salvador is a civil law state.

Virtually evecy

step of a criminal investigation and prosecution is speci•
fied in the --Salvadoran code, and we found the procedures to

be formalistic and largely.inflexible.
In an ef£9rt to understand bow the prosecution is

likely to un£old, we held discussions with Judge Rauda,
Fiscal General Rivera, ~r. Castillo, the coordinating prosecutor, and former Deputy Fiscal General Benjamin Cestoni.
we· talked as well with members of the private bar in San

Salvador, including the Salvadoran legal advisor to the
United States Embassy.

Finally, we discussed this matter

:with representatives of the United States Department of
.iustice, and with lawyers in the office of the Legal Adviser
of the United States Department of State.
As we, the trial, or, stage of

this case will be quite unlike an American trial.



will be-no live witnesses.

Rather, the evidence will be

read to the jury from the written statements taken from the
witnesses during the investigatory, or sumario, stage.

- 83 -

Thereafter, the lawyers will argue their respective sides to
the jury based on the written record.

During this argument

stage, the lawyers may refer to any documents they wish,
even if they are not part of the record.
We believe that a succ~ssful prosecution of this
case must include at least the following elements:

a carefully prepared record that demonstrates
the guilt of the-defendants an~ negates their


a capable prosecutor willing to pursue vigorously members of the Salvadoran security



a courageous and astute judge;


a jury well insulated from the potential for
corruption or intimidation; and


freedom from efforts by other Salvadorans,
whether in or out of government, to interfere
with the proceedings of the trial.


The Record

In the course of detailing the inves~gations of
this case, we have already catalogued the principal evidence
now in the record against Subsergeant Colindres Aleman and
t...1.e other guardsmen.

During the sumario_, or investigatory,

phase, Judge Rauda took testimony from the five accused and
at least twenty- f .l ve o ther

'tnesses. 198/

Ee admitted into

-. .


- 84 -

evidence the spare tire and jack taken from the churchwomen's
van and the ballistics evidence linking the guardsmen to the
shell casings at the murder site.

We believe that the

evidence is substan.tial, and sufficient to convict the five
accused guardsmen.

We will not recount it again here.

Dr. Castillo, the chief prosecutor, advised us
that he anticip-ates the defendants will rely on two principal defenses.

First, he believes they will challenge the

prosecution's reliance on extra-j-udicial confessions, rather
than those given before a judge.


El Salvador, prosecu-

tions that do not feature a confession by the defendant to
the investigating judge are· relatively .rare.

Although this

is a sad commentary on the state of justice in El Salvador-,
it nonetheless presents .a reality:

Salvadoran juries are

unused to balancing conflicting accounts of a crime.
Salvadoran law peJ:mits the admission of a defendant's extra-judicial confession, but only if it is corroborate<;_by_another witness.


we understand it, the two

witness rule does not mean two witnesses to the same confession, but only two witnesses each reporting a confession.
The record should adequately meet this requirement ..


course, there is Subsergeant Colindres Aleman's direct
confession to Sergeant Dagoberto Martinez.

That confession

should be adequately supported by.Colindres Aleman's implicit
confessions to Guardsmen Cruz Piche ("If fate is against us,
we will have to pay" ) , Aquino Gir.on ( "They were subversives .

- 85 -

I do not think there will be a problem.''), and Luis Monterrosa

("Today it happened; if our time is up, we will have to pay.").
Second, Dr. Castillo believes the defense will
argue that there was excessive American involvement in this

In essence, the argument will be an appeal to

nationalism and a suggestion that there has been undue
in£luence from a foreign power.

It was for this reason that

the prosecutors were anxious to .have Salvadoran witnesses
even for evidence actually developed in the United states ..
It is also for this reason that the prosecutors were hesitant to urge aggressively the admission of the fingerprint

and the polygraph evidence, when admission of those tests

would not be ordinary under Salvadoran law and would only
underscore the influence of the United States on this prosecution.

In our discussions with Dr. Castillo, he seemed

to be cognizant of the problem and able to deal with it
effectively in argument.
A third defense suggested by some is \1lat the
defendants were acting on higher orders.


Dr. Castillo

advised us, such a defense is not available under the
Salvadoran code when the order is to commit an, illegaf act.
The depravity of the crime, amply documented in the record,
will provide a basis for a strong argument that no guardsman

could have thought such an order was justified.

We doubt,

in any event, that the argument will be seriously pressed
because it will necessarily involve an admission of the

- 86 -

crime and a disavowal of the defendants' prior sworn
No experienced prosecutor can confidently predict
that an accused's defenses will necessarily be rejected by
the jury.

We are convinced, however, tha~ there is suffi-

cient evidence in the record from which the prosecutors can
argue that the defenses should be disregarded.


The Prosecutors

the sumario stage of the case neared its

conclusion, serious questions were raised about the expeDience and competence.of the prosecutors handling the pre~

parations for trial.

In September, l 983, in pa_~ at the

urging of the United Sta~s, an experienced prosecutor, Dr.
Juan Geronimo Castillo, was assigned to coordinate the
We spoke with Dr. Castillo and were, in general,
favorably impressed.

Dr. Castillo seemed in commanc~of the

case and at ease with the tas;..s he would have to undertake
to complete the preparations ::or the plenario · phase.


responded knowledgably to our questions about tactics and
about Salvadoran procedures.

We believe that Dr. Castillo

is capable of doing a competent job in prosecuting the case.
As we describe below, during our visit to El
Salvador, we made a number of suggestions concerning the
reinterviews that might be necessary to complete t..~e

- 87

investigation of this case and its preparation for trial.
Although we have received reports concerning the follow-up
on those suggestions by Dr. Castillo and his team, we do not
have a complete picture of how thoroughly he has completed
his investigation.

From the reports we have seen, however,

most of the investigatory work appears to be near completion.
We understand as well that the Embassy legal
advisor, a professor of law and·-member of the private criminal
bar in San Salvador, will assist Dr. Castillo in the preparation of the case.

The Embassy legal advisor has advised th~

United States Embassy about Salvadoran law and procedures

throughout the inv~stigation..

We believe this cooperation

will provide important support for Dr. Castillo's efforts.


The Presiding Judge

Judge Rauda has presided over the sumario phase of
the churchwomen murders case for most of its life, and has
been reasonably thorough about the collection of evidence.
·Judge Rauda has thrice referred the case to the plenario
stage, to be twice overruled by the appeals court.

The two

reversals resulted from technical difficulties {the first, a
failure to give sufficient notice to ther-de·£ense attorneys
and, the second, a concern a.bout additional evidence in

support of the t..1.eft charges) and in its ruling on the first
appeal, t..,.e appeals court specifically indicated that there
was sufficient evidence to support the murder charges.


- 88 -

judge took the opportunity of each reversal to add more
evidence into the trial record.

There has been an appeal of

Judge Rauda's most recent decision to refer the matter to
plenario, and we are advised by a variety of local lawyers
that the appeal is likely to be decided quickly because the
same-appellate court has heard the two previous appeals and
is familiar with the facts.
Judge Rauda has shown·himself to be a man of
considerable courage, capable of resisting pressures brought
to bear on him from either side of the case.

He is also a

diligent worker, and during our visit with him, displayep. an
encyclopedic lmowl#!dge of· the contents of the trial record.


The Jury

The trial will be held before a jury of five, with


a majority vote ·necessary to convict.

Whether a jury can be

assembled in El Salvador today that will have the courage to
convict five former National Guardsmen of murder is an open
question, and one that has conceJ:ned us greatly.
The selection of the jury does not differ substantially from our system.

'!he trial judge will chose,

from a large body of potential jurors, a panel of twelve
whose identities he will (or should) keep secret until the
day of trial.

Under Salvadoran law, we were told the

identities of the jurors will then be made public, although
their addresses may be kept secret (if they do not leak

- .89 -


At the beginning of the trial, defense counsel and

the prosecutor may each exercise one peremptory challenge
against the panel, and two challenges for cause.


for cause are rarely granted, and there should thus be no
difficulty in selecting five jurors from the panel of twelve.
What will be more difficult, we believe, is guaranteeing the jurors security from intimidation or corruption
so that they will be able to vote their consciences without

We believe that the notoriety of this case will make

~the jury (as well as the judge and prosecutor) fair game for
those who wish to see the prosecution thwarted, ~hether •
because they do no~ believe the guardsmen should be prosecuted for murder dr because they wish to demonstrate that
the Salvadoran system is incapable of policing itself.


these reasons, we have discussed at length with the Embassy
possible mechanisms to protect the jury.
Our recommendations in this regard have been set
forth in detail in an earlier memorandum to the Department
of State, and need only be summarized here.

Our principal

recommendation is that the jurors be accorded anonymity, as
is sometimes done with n~torious prosecutions in this country
where a threat of jury intimidation exists.

We have also

suggested shielding the jurors, but not the trial, from
public view; ~selecting jurors from a rem~te province for a
trial in another province; offering to relocate the jurors,

- 90 ·-

whether in or out of the country, after trial; providing
physical protection to the jurors, and perhaps their families, during the trial and for a reasonable time thereafter;
and sequestering the jury during the trial.
This is hardly an exhaustive list of possibilities, but we have not been heartened by the resistance to
these ideas by the Salvadoran authorities.

The Salvadoran

system simply must be flexible enough to adopt novel means
when its very integrity is at stake.

We must state in the

strongest possible teJ:mS that we do not believe a successful
conviction can occur without the adoption of some adequa-i:e
means of protecting_ the jury, and we hope that the Salvadoran
authorities continue to consider ways to protect the integrity
of the jury system and the physical well being of the jurors


Freedom From outside Interference

Skepti~s have told us that a successful prosecution
. _depends entirely upon the will of the military in El Salvador.
In this view, if the military thinks it is to its advantage
for the defendants to be convicted, they will be convicted;
if the military th.inks otherwise, they will be acquitted or
never go to trial.

Whether that view is correct or not, we

must acknowledge that there are many Salvadorans unhappy
about this prosecution and, furt.~er, that there already have
been attempts to influence its outc.ome.

- 91 -

Major Medrano, we were told, has received multiple
threats upon his life for his active role in pressing the

In more recent months, we have learned that

a Deputy of the constituent assembly suddenly appeared to
observe the proceedings in Judge Rauda's courtroom, an event
viewed by Embassy·observers as ominous.

At the same time,

we that the Acting President of the Supreme Court
may have interceded with Judge Rauda to direct that he not
complete his investigation aimed at disproving the bogus
Moran letter.

To date, Judge Rauda has been remarkably

courageous in resisting such efforts at intimidation.
We do noz believe that there is much that the

United States.can do to prevent such internal efforts at
disrupting the prosecution.

We can only advise the

Salvadoran leadership, as others have done, that the ability
of its system to prosecute this case will be seen by many as
a test of the system's ability to right itself after too
many years of lawlessness.



We were asked to determine whether the Salvadoran

and United States Governments have done as much as could be
done to assure a successful prosecution.
asked to suggest what might be done.
dations have been set forth above.·

If not, we were

Many of our recommenIn each case, we have

passed them along to the Department of State immediately

- 92 -

without waiting for the completion of this report, so that
there would be time for action to be taken.

To the extent

that our conclusions and recommendations have not already
been set forth, we include them in this section.

Accusador Particular.



El Salvador, as

in many civil law countries, it is possible for the family

of the victim of a crime to hire its own lawyer, an accusador
particular, to prosecute the case in addition to the government attorney.

The device is obviously a desirable· one

where, ~s here, there have been doubts regularly expressed~
about the competence and willingness of the government
prosecutors to pursue the case.

Accordingly, we have


endorsed the State Department's recommendation that the
families hire an accusad~r particular.

We have urged that

view in several meetings w~th the families and their representatives and promised the families that, if they agreed,
we would press the State Department to pay for the services
of ihe accusador.
To our regret, the families have consistently
refused taking this step.

As we understand their reasoning,

they are distrustful of participating in the Salvadoran
system itself and further doubt that a suitable attorney
could be obtained.

While we understand their reservations,

the device provides a rare opportunity for Americans

----sincerely interested in the prosecution to have di=ect
influence over the way the case is presented in the courtroom.

- 93 -

Thus, we regret the families' refusal to participate in this
On the other hand, as matters now stand, we think
the loss is less serious than it might have been.

As noted

above, we are generally impressed with Dr. Castillo and
believe him to be more competent tlan some of his predecessors.

Moreover, Or. Castillo h,s forged a solid working

relationship with the Embassy's-legal advisor.

Through the

legal advisor, American views about the prosecution can
readily be transmitted to the prosecutor, even if the
families lack a direct voice in court.

A Special Prosecutor.

Rather than hiring an

accusador particuiar, the families and the Lawyers Committee
for International Human Rights under Law b.ave suggested the
United States persuade the Salvadoran government to name a
special prosecutor to handle the churchwomen murders case.
We do not endorse this suggestion.

We do not believe that,

in the Salvadoran system, the label the prosecutor bears is
of any significance to his effectiveness or to his freedom
from interference.

Moreover, in a real sense, Or. Castillo

is essentially a special prosecutor.

He was especially

reassigned from his duties as head of a separate section of
the prosecutor's office to prosecute case.


American Prosecutor.

None of t.~e American

Embassy officials in San Salvador with responsibility for
this case is a practicing attorney, much less an experienced

- 94 -


While these officials have been diligent,

successful and often courageous in pushing the 3alvadorans
to prosecute the defendants, as the case approaches trial it
is apparent to us that American views could.more usefully be
presented by an experienced criminal prosecutor.

Such a

prosecutor could deal more effectively with the Salvadoran
attorneys involved in the case in terms of making useful
suggestions, understanding the problems of the prosecution
and analyzing the tactics used by both sides.

We have

therefore suggested that a Spanish speaking Justice Department prosecutor be made available _to assist the Embassy,


during the plenarjJJ_ proceeding.
4 •.


The Fingerprint Evidence.

Because the

analysis of Colindres Aleman's fingerprint, taken from the
churchwomen's van, was done outside of Salvadoran territorial limits and not under the supervision of the trial
judge, the Salvadoran code prohibits its introduction into

We were frankly surprised at this result and,

because the evidence was so important, sought to explore
ways to obtain its admission.

Our every suggestion was

unavailing, and we ultimately concluded, as Dr. Castillo and


--the Embassy legal advisor both told us, that we could not
expect to achieve formal admission __of the fingerprint into

t.he record.
Although the fingerprint will not be part of the
trial record, it still may be used at the trial.

During the

- 95 -

vista publica, or public presentation, stage of the proce~dings, lawyers may display to the jury and rely upon any

doc:1mentary evidence, even from outside the record.


it is possible for the fingerprint evidence to be used.
Because Dr. Castillo expects the defense to be based upon
excessive American- involvement in the prosecution, he was
nonetheless reluctant to use the fingerprint in this way
unless absolutely necessary.

An argument based upon a

fingerprint taken by United States personnel and inadmissible under Salvadoran law will only reinforce the point
that Dr. Castillo expects the defense to make.



Thus, he

will wait until hi~ reply argument to determine whether the
defense is indeed .. attacking American involvement and whether
the fingerprint will be useful.


Ballistics Evidence.

concur in this analysis.
The initial ballistics

tests taken by the FBI were inadmissible for the same reasons
as the fingerprint evidence.

We encouraged the FBI, as

recounted above, to transport its equipment to El Salvador
and train a Salvadoran national to duplicate the tests.
This was ·done with success, as set forth above.

This p1:oof

is a substantial link in the chain of evidence against the

Sergeant Dagoberto Martinez' Testimony.

Alt..~ough t..~e·record of the trial consists entirely of sworn
written statements of the witnesses, the sworn statement of
Sergeant Dagoberto Martinez, obtained by the FBI in Los
Angeles and s~orn to in t..~e Salvadoran Consulate of:ice in


- 96 -

that city, was deemed inadmissible


both the judge and the

The statement's flaw was that it was not sworn

to before the investigating judge.

We recorrunended, · as did

others, that Sergeant Martinez be flown to El Salvador at
American expense so that his statement could be duplicated
before Judge Rauda.

This was done successfully in July,

1983, and forms another important part of the trial record.

Polygranh Evidence.

Although the polygraph

evidence is inadmissible in both El Salvador and the United
States, we believe that such evidence is useful, when taken
together with other available evidence and obtained by a
skilled examiner. ;We considered whether an effort should be

· made to persuade the court to admit the evidence, and ultimately concluded that this was not the case in which to
press El SalvadQr to accept evidence that would be inadmissible in the United States.
We are told that the polygraph examinations could
be used in the vista publica in the same manner as the
._fingerprint evidence.

Dr. Castillo has told us that he· will

await his reply argument before making a decision with
respect to whether to use them.

We agree with this decision,

but would generally be inclined against using this evidence.

The Snecial Embassy Evidence.

The special

evidence developed by th~ United States Embassy is directly
probative of the defenda.n:-ts•~guilt and, as well, extremely
important in explaining our conclusions about the cover-up

- 97 -

and the question of higher-up involvement.

Accordingly, we

believed it desirable, if at all possible, to present this
evidence to the court.
At our suggestion, the State Departm~nt carefully
considered this issue, including contacting those whose
lives would be put at risk by disclosure.

Based on the

information thus collected, both we and the State DepartmeJ .t
concluded that the risk of loss .of life that would result
from public release was too_ great.

We also note that the

information has already been highly useful to the United
States since, without it, we .doubt the prosecution would

ever have been undertaken.
Th~ Cover-up.


As we have detailed above, it

is clear to us that elements of the Salvadoran military
undertook an initial attempt to protect the perpetrators of
the crime.

In El Salvador such an effort, at least by the

active participants, could constitute a separate crime and
some have urged that a criminal investigation be initiated.
We believe that it would be dangerous to initiate such an
investigation prior to a successful resolution of the underlying murdEr case.

The cooperation that the United States

has achieved to date.with Salvadoran authorities has been
hard to win, and could be easily lost.

A cover-up investi-


gation would necessarily threaten several high ranking
Salvadoran officials.

If these officials feel personally

t..'1-i.reatened, t.~ey may well attempt to scuttle the underlying


- 98 -

prosecution on the theory that there could be no cover-up
prosecution if the defendants were not found guilty.


believe this poses an unacceptable risk to the success of
the murder prosecution, and thus have recommended that any

effort to pursue the cover-up be delayed.

Additional Interviews.

To flush out various

gaps or inconsistencies in the record, we recommended last
summer that several additional interviews occur:

Margarito Perez Nieto, the National

Guardsman who first noticed the nuns at the airport,


obtain more detail about his conversations with Colindres
Aleman, and.his s~otting of the women.

Carlos Joaquin Contreras Palacios, the

confessed participant, about details that might reflect or
discredit the fact of premeditation.

Salvador Rivera Franco, the guardsman

who watched over the malfunctioning jeep, for greater
details that might reflect premeditation.


The two guardsmen at the guardpost at El

Rosario, ta Pu, to determine whether they discussed the
women with Subsergeant Colindres and whether he informed
them about his plans £or-the women.

Isabel Aquino Giron, Colindres Aleman's

second in conmiand at the airport, for further detail about
the substance of his phone conversation late on the evening
of December 2.



- 99 -


Jose Luis Monterrosa, who according to

the special Embassy evidence, knew more than he had said
about the guilt of Colindres Aleman.

In·our discussions with the United States Embassy
in San Salvador, and with the Department o.f State, we also
agreed that certain other interviews or reinterviews would
be appropriate:

Colonel Pena Arbaiza, the Army commander in

Chalatenango; Second Lieutenant· Daniel Mejia Rivas, the
officer who was the acting company commander with overall
responsibility for the Airport National Guard detachment;
and Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Armando Carranza, an officer
currently assigned . to National Guard Headquarters staff.



also agreed that additional guardsmen who had been on duty
at the airport that night, Jose Vidal Cruz Piche, Rafael
Antonio Cornejo,· Jose Elias Sanchez Guzman, Julio Cesar

Valle Espinoza, Adrian R~rez Palacios, and Orantes
Menjivar, should also be interviewed or reinterviewed.
We have been informed that the two guardsmen at

-the Guard post at El Rosario have been interviewed, but we
have not seen their statements.

Guardsman Margarito Perez

Nieto has been missing in action for almost ten months, and
Corporal Isabel Aquino Giron is dead, killed while on active

We also understand, for a number of practical reasons,

that the Salvadoran prosecutors have determined that they
would not at this time reinterview Salvador Rivera Franco.

- 100 -

Colonel Pena Arbaiza, Lieutenant Mejia Rivas and
Lieutenant Colonel Annando Carranza have also been interviewed, as have Guardsmen Contreras Palacios and Luis

Their testimony adds very little to the avail-

able evidence concerning the murders.

Guardsmen Jose Elias

Sanchez Guzman and·Jose Vidal Cruz Piche have not been
reinterviewed, because they cannot be located, and a planned

confrontation 11 by the Fiscal General between Julio Cesar

Valle Espinoza and Adrian Ramirez Palacios to resolve
apparent discrepancies in their testimonies has not occurred
because of a refusal by Valle Espinoza to cooperate f ~ r .
Guardsman.Orantes M~jivar, whose reinterview had been
planned, is dead, •and it has been determined that Lieutenant
Antonio Cornejo, whose ~terview had been planned, was not
on duty at the airport on the crucial night.·

Reinterview of Coiindres Aleman.


Aleman, more than any other person, Jmows whether he is protecting higher officers by his silence.

'thus, securing his

. _cooperation would be a key step in any possible higher-up·

We suggested efforts be made in that

direction when we returned in September, 1983, from our trip
to El Salvador.

So far as we were aware at the ~ime of our

suggestion, no military or civilian authorities involved

with the investigation of the case had spoken with Colindres

Aleman since his polygraph examination in January, 1982.
suggested that, if Colindres Aleman heard t.~e totality of


- 101 -

the evidence now accumulated against him, he might decide it
was in his interest to cooperate.
At first, we were told that Salvadoran procedures
do not encourage ,,such reinterviews.

The prosecutors agreed,

however, that there could be reinterviews for the purpose of
clearing up ambiguities in testimony or otherwise explaining
previous testimony.

On October 11, 1983, Colindres Aleman

was reinterviewed and we have reviewed the English language
translation of his statement. Unfortunately, we do not find
in the reinterview statement the cooperativeness for which
we had hoped, nor any further information that would be

helpful to us on the issue of the involvement of higher-ups.
In his reinterview, however, Colindres Aleman did provide a
further indication of his guilt by admitting his discussion
with Perez Nieto concerning the churchwomen an~ by providing
a wholly incredible explantion of his whereabouts on the
night of the murders.

Change of Venue.

For some time, the prosecu-

·tors have been giving serious consideration to requesting a
change of venue to San Salvador for the plenario stage of
the trial.

We have supported a change of venue.


Rauda's small and rustic courtroom in Zacatecoluca has
struck us as a less than desirable location for a trial

involving a substantial risk of jury intimidation.


over, the more cosmopolitan San Salvador jury pool, we have
thought, presents a far better opportunity for assembling a

- 102 -

jury that could resist such intimidation.

If the trial were

to be transferred to San Salvador, however, we are told that
it would be unlikely, if not impossible, for Judge Rauda to
preside over the trial.
Thus, a transfer to San Salvador would necessitate
a change of trial 'judge, which necessarily presents some

We were told by both Dr. Benjamin Cestoni.and the

Embassy's Salvadoran legal advisor that only three San
Salvador'judges would be desirable, from the standpoint of
experience, competence and sophistication, to preside over
the plenario stage.

Selection of another, less qualified

judge could.cause problems for the prosecution, although
they might be minimized by the extremely low-profile role
that the judge plays in.the plenario proceeding.

on balance,

we would have some concern that ·the selection of the trial
judge might be politicized. ·_The selection would be made by
the Salvadoran Supreme Court, at least one member of which,
~e were told, has alraady tried to restrict Judge Rauda's
. -investigation.
We have learned most recen~y that Dr. Castillo is

leaning against seeking a change of venue because of a growing
belief in El Salvador that the United States is interfering
unduly in the internal judicial affairs of the country, a

feeling that could result in sympathy for t.~e accused as
scapegoats, and thus distract the jury from issues of guilt
or innocence.

In view of t.~is concern and of the conflict-

ing factors outlined above, we are inclined to =ely on

- 103 Dr. Castillo's on-the-spot resolution of this sensitive
issue of local trial tactics.






r.. Diskant.

December 2, 1983
New York, New York



Letter from George P. Shultz, Secretary of State, to
The Honorable Clarence D. Long, Chairman, Foreign Operations
Subcommittee, House Corrunittee on Appropriations (April 26,



Letter from James H. Michel, Deputy Assistant Secretary
of State for Inter-American Affairs, to Harold R. Tyler, Jr.
{May 23, 1983).


For a disC'l!;sion of the Salvadoran criminal-justice
system, see DeWind and Kass, Justice in El Salvador: A
Report of a Mission of Inquiry of the Association of the Bar
of the City of New York, 38 Rec. A. B. City N.Y. No. 2
(March 1983).


!!.!. generally

K. L ~ Storrs, El Salvador--From 1931
to the March 1982 Elections: A Chronological Study of

Politics, Parties, and Conflicts, Congressional Reference
Service (March 23, 1982).




ss. "

Cable from Secretary of State to United States Embassy,
San Salvador (December 15,_1980) (hereinafter "Bowdler/Rogers
Report"). This cable transmitted the text of the report of
a special Presidential mission sent to El Salvador to report
on the churchwomen's murders, consisting of William D.
Rogers, William G. Bowdler,--and Luigi R. Einaudi.





Letter from Clerk of the Court of Appeals of the Thi.rd
·central Section, San Vicente, El Salvador to the Presiding
Judge of the Criminal Court, Zacatecoluca (March 17, 1983)
{forwarding transcript of Court of Appeals' decision) at 29.
References are to the translation by Division of Language
Services, Department of State (No. 109614) {hereinafter
cited as "Appellate Court Decision").
10/ Letter from General Eugenio Vides Casanova, Director,
National Guard, to Presiding Judge of the Criminal Court,
Zacatecoluca (February 10, 1982), at 43 (statement of Perez
Nieto). This letter transmitted a report on t.~e investi-·
gation of the murders conducted by Major Jose Adolfo Medrano,
including statements by most of the important witnesses.
References are to the translation by the Division of
Language services, Depart.~ent of State (No. 105328)



(hereinafter referred to as "Medrano Report at

Statement of Sister Madeline Maria Dorsey, M.M. (March 8,

198 3) .


Bowdler/Rogers Report.

13/ Medrano Report at 43, 44 (Perez Nieto Statement); and
89 (Colindres Aleman Statement).
14/ The exact time of Sister Kazel's and Ms. Donovan's
return to the airport is unknown. We estimate their return
to be during this period based on the statements of various
witnesses at the airport and es~imates of others familiar
with the events of that day. See, e.g., Letter from Sister
Helene O'Sullivan, M.M., to Thi'1ionora.ble William.a. Webster,
Director, fBI (July 29, 1982), wherein Sister O'Sullivan
states that Sister Kazel and Ms. Donovan returned to the
airport at a.bout 6:00 p.m. Perez Nieto stated that the
women returned at a.bout 5:00 p.m., with two men, in a
coffee-colored car, and the van was driven by a man alone.
We believe that Perez Nieto was confused by the arrival o.f
Father Britto and bis group, who arrived at the airport to
meet the Canadian•delegation to the FDR funerals in a jeep
and a white van. See Medrano Report at 44 (Perez Nieto
Statement) and Statement of John c. Ri.ll:)orn (Jantia.ry 14,


Bowdler/Rogers Report.

16/ Medrano Report at 38 (Giron Statement). Neither Perez
Nieto nor Colindres Aleman have admitted to a second telephone call. In fact, Perez Nieto denied seeing the women
return tot-he airport, see Medrano Report at 44. However,
Colindres Aleman's seconciin command, Aquino Giron, swore
·· that Colindres Aleman received a call from Perez Nieto at
··a.bout 5 :30 p.m. (his -subsequent court testimony put the time
at between 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., see Appellate Cow:t
Decision at 16) concerning suspiciouswomen in the ai::port.
This suggests that there may have been a second call. If
Giron was confused·. as to the times, of course, there may
have been only one call, but we do not regard the number of
calls from Perez Nieto to be of critical importance.
17/ Medrano Report at 43, 44 (Perez Nieto Statement).
Perez Nieto ·returned to the barracks at some point prior to
or at the end of his scheduled duty (7:00 p.m.). In his
recent statement, Colindres Aleman admitted that Perez Nieto
returned to the barracks about 6:00 p.m. and discussed the
earlier departure of Sister Kazel and Ms. Donovan. While
acknowledging thi? conversation, he again denied his guilt .

However, his admission is a significant addition to the
evi~ence against him. See Testimony of Luis Antonio
Colindres Aleman before the Court of First Instance,
Quezaltepeque, El Salvador (October 11, 1983). References
are to the translation made by the Division of Language
Services, Department of State (No. 111213-C).


Id. at 74 (Rivera Franco Statement).

,W 1S.:. at 44 (P~rez Nie~o Statement).
W Id. at 33 (Cornejo Cubas Statement), and 25 (Cruz Piche


1S.:. at 70 (Contreras Palacios Statement), and 75 (Rivera
Franco Statement).





1S.:. at 70 (Contreras Palacios Statement).




Medrano Report at 70 (Contreras Palacios Statement).


Id. at 38-39 (Giron Statement).


Id. at 70 (Contreras Palacios Statement).

at 25 (Cruz Piche Statement).

at 70 (Contreras Palacios Statement), and 75 (Rivera
Franco'statement) ., . Retired Guardsman Julio Cesar Valle
Espinoza, in his testimony of August 9, 1982 (see Cable from
United States Embassy, San Salvador, to Secretary of State,
Washington, D.C. (September 22, 1982)), stated that he was
part of another checkpoint between the traffic control post
(which probably was the·cornejo CUbas/Luis Monterrosa/cruz
Piche checkpoint) and Colindres Aleman's position. Be
testified that several guardsmen boarded the churchwomen's
van at the traffic control· post, and then drove to his
location, where he and two more guardsmen boarded the van.
He said that the van proceeded to Colindres Aleman's site,
where he (Valle Espinoza) and the other guardsmen in the van
___ e.ft..-1:he-chu.rchwomen an<Lt:etw:ned ~to the_ai.rp_o.J:.t....Q.n fQ..o:..allt..,._ __
·Although this testimony is consistent with the churchwomen's
.abduction by Colindres Aleman, its description of the mechanics of the kidnapping is contradicted by statements of the
guardsmen at the checkpoint, and by the two guardsmen with
Colindres Aleman who have admitted their roles·in the abduction and murders. We ·thus reject this testimony as, whatever
Valle Espinoza's motivations, inaccurate.


Appellate Court Decision at 28.




Medrano Report at 71 (Contreras Palacios Statement).


Id. at 39 (Giron Statement), and 48 (Barrera Rivera


Id. at 48 (Barrera Rivera Statement).


~ at 57-58 (Melgar Garay Statement); and 76 (Rivera
Franco Statement).


Id. at 76 (Rivera Franco Statement).



at 58 (Melgar Garay Statement).




- ..


!QI Appellate Cou;t Record at 28, 33.

We assume that the
"Contreras" mentioned on 33 is Contre.ras Recinos, since he
was driving the van,.~ 27.

ill Medrano Report at

39 (Giron Statement) •

.W Id. at 39 (Giron Statement); 49 (Barrera Rivera Statement); and 59 (Melgar Garay Statement). Melgar Garay described them removing a "shovel,u which probably was the tire

Id. at 36 ( Cornejo CUbas Statement); Appellate Court
Record at 26 •


Medrano Report· at 53 ( Chavez Valiente Statement) .


Cable from United States Embassy, San s·alvador, to
secretary of State, Washington, o. c. (September 14, 1981)
(hereinafter the "Zepeda Valasco Cable 11 ) .

1§/ ·.Id.

Bowdler/Rogers Report.










Id .





2i/ Id.


w Id.
2!/ from United States
San Salvador to
w Cableof State, Washington,Embassy,(December ll, 1980).

Interview with Colonel Roberto Monterrosa, San Salvador,
El Salvador (September 22, 1983).



FBI report from Los Angeles Field Offi_ce {February 10,


Zepeda Velasco Cable.




Interview with Lieutenant Colonel Lizandro Zepeda

1982) {hereinafter "Martinez Statement"). Martinez statl!d
to the FBI that he told Colindres Aleman to tell the Director
{Vides Casanova) o'f· his crime. However, according to the
special Embassy e*idence, which we. deem more reliable,
Martinez actually told Colindres Aleman to tell of his
involvement only to a National Guard superior investigating
the matter.

·Velasco, San Salvador, El Salvador (September 21, 1983)
· {hereinafter "Zep~da Velasco Interview" ) .
Interview with General Carlos Euginio Vides Casanova,
San Salvador, El Salvador {September 21, 1983).


Bowdler/Rogers Report.



69/ Cable from Legal Attache, Panama, to Director, FBI
(December 23, 1980); Interview with FBI.Agent
Washington, D.C. (August 18, 1983); and Memorandum
to the President (January 5, 1981).

70/ Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to
Secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (December 11, 1980).

1J:/ Cable from United States E.."'Ilbassy, San Salvador, to

Secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (December 12, 1980).

w Id.
w -

7.!/ Memorandum to' the President (January

5, 1981).


Compare Zepeda Velasco Cable to Cable from United
States Embassy, San Salvador, to Secretary of State,
Washington, D.C. (January 17, 1981).

Cable from Legal Attache, Panama, to Director, FBI

""[January 26, 1981).

IJ./ Cable from united-States Embassy, San Salvador, to

Secretary of State, Washington, o.c. (January 17, 1981) .•




Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to
Secretary of State, Washington, o.c. (February 19, 1981).

M~orandum from Legal Attache, Panama, to Director, FBI
Two other sets of prints were turned
over to the FBI.; those of two guardsmen at· the burial site,
Medina Gaitan and Rodriguez Coreas •

{February 27, 1981).

.§l:/ Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to
Secretary of State, Washington, o.c. (April 14, 1981) (hereinafter "April 14, 1981 Cable").


§!,!, e.g. , Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador,
to Secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (January 19, 1981).

83/ Cable from Legal Attache, Panama, to Director, FBI
{April 2, 1981).
84/ Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to
secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (March 3, 1981).
85/ FBI Memorandum from T> F. Kelleher, Jr., to Mr. Mullen
(March 17, 1981).



Cable from Legal Attache, Panama, to Director, FBI
(April 22, 1981); and Cable from United States Embassy, San
Salvador, to Secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (April 30,
1981) (hereinafter "April 30, 1981 Cable"). Two of the
guardsmen arrested at this time were released when ·further
investigation showed they were not involved in the murders,
Sanchez Guzman and Ramirez Palacios.


Zepeda Velasco Cable; and April 30, 1981 Cable.

April 30, 1981 Cable; and Report of the Latent Fingerprint Section, Identifi·cation Division, FBI (May 7, 1981).

Zepeda Velasco Cable. Zepeda Velasco reported to Vides
Casanova on May 2, 1981, that the weapons had been seized.
We assume that they were taken on May l.


FBI Laboratory Report No. 10507024 (May 13, 198. l).


Zepeda Velasco Cable.


ill Id.
w -


Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to
Secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (December 5, 1981).


2..§./ Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to
Secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (December 7, 1981).

2§/ Medrano Report at 3 (Order from General Vides Casanova,
December 9, 1981).

ill Medrano Report at 5 (Pacheco Aragon Statement); and 22
.{Mendez Velasquez Statement). The third was interviewed in
.the United States b~.· the FBI, !!:!. Cable from FBI Los Angeles
Field Office, to Di~:ector, FBI (January 8, 1982).
2.§,/ Interview with Lieutenant Colonel Jose Adolfo Medrano
San Salvador, El Salvador (September 22, 1983) (hereinafter
"Medrano Interview); and Medrano Report at 24 (Cruz Piche

99/ Medrano. Report at 13 (Melendez Avalos Statement); 15
(Mejivar Martinez Statement); 17 (Menjivar Merino Statement); and 18 (Realejeno Gonzalez Statement).
100/ Medrano Report at 29 (Luis Monterrosa Statement).
101/ Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to

Secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (December 15, 1981) ..


102/ Medra~o Interview.
103/ December 15, 1981 Cable.
104/ Medrano Report at 24 (Cruz Fiche Statement).
105/ Id. at 29 (Luis Monterrosa Statement).

Although Sanchez
Guzman and Ramirez Palacios were named by Luis Monterrosa as
accompanying Colindres Aleman, further investigation revealed
that they were not involved in the abduction or murders.
106/ ll.:_ at 33 (Cornejo Cubas Statement).
107/ ll.:_ at 38 (Giron Statement).
108/ Id. at 43, 44; and Cable from United States Embassy,
San Salvador, to Secretary of State, Washington, D.C.
(December 29, 1981).
109/ Medrano Report at 48 (Barrera Rivera Statement).

1.W ll.:_ at

51 (Marina Realejeno Statement}.

111/ ll.:_ at 57 {Meigar Garay Statement).

112/ Id. at 53 (Chavez Valiente Statement).

113/ ll.:_ at 63 (Ramirez-Palacios Statement).
114/ Id. at 66 {Sanchez Guzman State,ment); and Cable from
United States Embassy, San Salvador,· to Secretary of State,
Washington, D.C. (January 15, 1983).
115/ Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to
Secretary of State, Washington, o.c. (December 29, 1981).
116/ Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to
·secretary of State, Washington, o.c. (January 7, 1982}.
117/ Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to
Secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (January 15, 1982)

(hereinafter "Contreras Palacios Cable"); and Medrano Report
at 69 (Contreras Palacios Statement).
119/ See Memorandum of Law submitted by the Salvadoran
Ambassador to the United States to Representative Michael D.
Barnes (August 17, 1982). Translated by the Congressional
Research service, The Library of Congress.
119/ Contreras ~alacios Cable; and Medrano Report at 69

(Contreras Palacios Statement).

120/ Cable from United S~ates Embassy, San Salvador, to
Secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (January 15, 1982).
121/ Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to
Secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (January 19, 1982)
(hereinafter January 19, 1982 Cable).
122/ Id.

123/ Id.; and Memorandum from Director, FBI, to Special
Agent ··
{February 4, 1982) ( hereinafter
"Colindres Aleman polygraph 11 ) . The polygraph examination
worksheet is in Spanish and was translated by Special Agent
- --- during his interview on August 17, 1983.

124/ Colindres Aleman polygraph and


125/ January 19, 1982 Cable •
· Interview, and January 16, 1982 Cable.

127 / January 16,. 1982 Cable, and



128/ January 16, +982 Cable.
129/ _Medr~o Report at 91.
130/ Medrano Report at l.

131/ Cable from FBI Field Office, Los Angeles, to Director,
FBI (January 8, ·19s2).
132/ Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, ~o

Secretary of State, Washington~ D.C. (January 20, 1982).

133/ Martinez Statement.

·1 4/ Interview with Judge Bernardo Rauda Murcia, Zacatecoluca,
E - Salvador (September 21, 1983) (hereinafter Rauda Interview);
and Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to
Secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (May 24, 1983).


135/ Cable from Legal Attache,, to Director, FBI

(July 8, 1983).

136/ Id.

137/ Memorandum to the President (Januarf 5, 1981).
138/ Rauda Interview.
139/ Memorandum to Director, FBI (August 3, 1983).

140/ Interview with Doctor Juan Geronimo Castillo, San
Salvador, El Salvador (September 20, 1983); and Interview
with United States Embassy Legal Advisor, San Salvador, El
Salvador (September 20, 1983).
141/ Letter from Colonel Aristides Napoleon Montes, Director,
National Guard of El Salvador, to the Minister of Defense
and Public Security (September 13, 1983). References are to
the translation by the Division.of Language services, Department of State (No. 110833A).
142/ Statement by Carlos Joaquin Contreras Palacios before

the Second Criminal Court, Santa Ana, El Salvador (September 27
References are to the translation by the Division of
Language Services, Department of State (No. 1108070-A)
{hereinafter "Second Contreras Palacios statement").

We are also aware
of a statement from an anonymous political. prisoner who
claims to have been imprisoned with Colindres Aleman between
April 7 and 29, 1982. :ae said that Colindres Aleman had•
followed the-movements of the churchwomen from· the time they
left El Salvador, and that Colonel Vides Casanov_a gave
instructions conctriling the capture of the churchwomen. We
have no means of evaluating the veracity of this statement.
I t was taken by the Ma.ryknoll Order from a Salvadoran who is
a political refugee in Mexico, and whose identity was kept
secret from us. Accor.ding to Michael Posner from the Lawyers'
Committee on International Human Rights, it is difficult to
judge the veracity of such statements. Given this, the
source's apparent bias, and the absence of supporting evi- ·
dence, we cannot accept this hearsay statement as probative.
143/ Second Contreras Palacios Statement.

144/ Cable from United States Embassy, San ~alvador, to
Secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (September 22, 1982).

_145/ Monterrosa Interview.
146/ Chronology of Death '?hreats and the Conflict Between

the Army (under Colonel Pena Ar.baiza} and the Church in
Chalatenango (undated}. Contained in materials delivered to
Harold R. Tyler, Jr., by Sister Helene O'Sullivan, M.M.
( July .12, 1983).
147/ Memorandum from Legal Attache, Panama, to Director, FBI
(December 23i 1980).

148/ Id., see also Statement of Sister Madeline Maria Dorsey,
M°':'M.,entitled "Death Threats Received in Chalatenago 11
(March a, 1983), wherein Sister Dorsey gives the date as
December 3.

165/ Telephone interview with Patricia Lasbury Hall (October 4,
1983) (hereinafter "Lasbury Hall ·rnterview").
166/ Cable from Legal Attache, Panama, to Director, FBI
(December 23, 1980).
167/ FBI Laboratory Report No. 10107002 {January 30, 1981).
168/ Interview with Sister Helene O'Sullivan, M.M., New
York, New York (September 27, 1983).
169/ See, e.g., Medrano Report at 27 (Cruz Piche Statement);
31 (Luis Monterrosa Statement); and 36 {Cornejo Cu.bas


170/ Medrano Report at 27 (Cruz Piche Statement); see also
31 (Lui~ Monterrosa Statement).

171/ Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to
Secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (February 12, 1981),
wherein Sister Madeline Dorsey reportly said that Sister Ita
Ford had been given $900 in cash at the Managua Conference.
Subsequent Ma.ryknoll reports indicate that Sister Ford had
only $ l 7 5 .
,' ·· ·

172/ Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to
secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (February 19, 1981).
173/ ~,~,Medrano Report at 36 (Cornejo Cubas Statement) and 66 ( Sanchez Guzman Statement).
174/ see,

e.g., Medrano Report at 36 (Cornejo Cubas State-

ment) and 31 (Luis Monterrosa Statement).

175/ Medrano Report at 66 (Sanchez Guzman Statement}.

·179/ Cable from Secretary of State, Washington, D.C., to
United States Embassy, San Salvador (June 29, 1983).

177/ Testimony of Colonel Francisco Antonio Moran Reyes
before the Second Criminal Court, San Salvador (August 18,
1983). References are to the translation made by the
Division of Language Services, Department of State .
(No. 110870-B} (hereinafter "Moran Statement"}.

178/ Stateme~t of General Carlos Eugenio Vides Cas~nova
(August 19, 1983}. References are to the translation made
by the Division of Language Serv-ices, Depart:nent of State
{No. 111213-A).

179/ Moran Statement; and testimony of Juan Ramiro Diaz and

Jose Edmundo Reyes Castellanos before the First Criminal
Court, Zacatecoluca (October 22, 1983). References are to
the translation made by the Division of Language Services,
Department of State (No. 111213-L).
180/ Cable from Director, FBI, to FBI Field Office, Houston
(July 2, 1982) (hereinafter "Houston Cable 11 ) .


l8t/ Cable from Secretary·of State, Washington, o.c., to
United States Embassy, San Salvador (October 20, -1981)4

183/ Houston Cable.
184/ Cable from Secretary of State, Washington, o.c., to
United States Embassy, San Salvador (June 19, 1982) ..
185/ Houston Cable.
186/ Houston Cable.
187/ Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, 'to
secretary of State, Washington, D.C. (February 6, 1982)
(hereinafter "February 6, 1982 Cable 11 ) .
188/ Cable from United States Embassy,· San Salvador, to
Secretary of State, Washington, o.c. (June 7, 1982) (hereinafter "June 7, 1982 Cable").
189/ February 6, 1982 Cable.
190/ June 7, 1982 Cable.


·192/ Cable from United States Embassy, San Salvador, to
Secretary of State, Washington, o.c. (September 23, 1982);
see also Interview with Benjamin Cestoni, San Salvador, El
Salvador ( 20, 1983).
193/ Schindler Interview.

194/ tasbury Hall Interview.
195/ Memorandum prepared by Maryknoll Order entitled "Guns

and Ballistics Tests," attached to letter from Sister Helene
O'Sullivan, M.M. (March 21, 1982).