Mass grave containing up to 40 bodies found at home of former cop 'turned gang leader' in El Salvador

A MASS grave feared to contain up to 40 bodies has been found at the home of a cop "turned gang leader" in El Salvador.

Many of the remains discovered are believed to belong to women, say detectives in the municipality of Chalchuapa.

The authorities said the grim discovery suggested the existence of a murder ring that may have operated for around a decade.

Exhuming all the bodies could now take more than a month, they warned.

The remains of at least 24 people have so far been recovered at the house, which is about 48 miles northwest of the capital San Salvador.

Initially eight grisly pits were found, filled with 14 bodies. It's believed some victims may have been buried for two years.

At least 10 people are facing charges, according to the office of the attorney general, including a former police officer Hugo Ernesto Osorio Chavez.

Osorio Chavez – who has previously been investigated for sex crimes -was detained on May 8 as the main suspect in the murder of two women.

This led to police entering the 51-year-old's home where they soon began to uncover the bodies.

Neither Osorio Chavez nor his lawyer could immediately be reached for comment.

Dozens of people who believed their missing relatives could be among the dead gathered outside the house as forensic workers in white suits removed skeletons from the ground.

"There's the hope of recognizing a family member, even among the corpses," said Marleny Barrientos, 50, who carried a photograph of her son, who disappeared in 2015.

"That is why I'm here."

Justice minister Gustavo Villatoro said the depth of the holes suggested more than one person had taken part in the burials.

El Salvador's director of police, Mauricio Arriaza Chicas, said Osorio Chavez was fired from the force in 2005, and may have been killing people for a decade.

He added: "He told us that he found victims on social media and sought them out, luring them with the American dream.

"This psychopath has been detained and I believe that 99 per cent of the people who assisted him have been detained."

So far, authorities have prosecuted nine cases of aggravated femicide and another five cases of aggravated homicides in connection with the case. 

The grim discovery has brought the issue of femicides into focus in the Central American country of 6.7 million, which recorded 70 killings of women last year.

There were 111 in 2019, police data showed.

Violence against women in Latin America worsened during the coronavirus pandemic, according to aid groups.

In Mexico this week, a 72-year-old man was arrested as a suspected serial killer of women, local media reported.

The remains of several people were found at his home in the State of Mexico during an investigation into the death of a 36-year-old woman.

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