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Inside the mind of serial killer Pedro Alonzo; Monster of Andes mutilated and killed 350 girls.

Byline: RON LAYTNER

THE prison van slipped through the gates of the jail in the dead of night and made its way towards the Colombian border.

For several hours, it sped from the capital city Quito through quiet Ecuadorian villages where children slept, unaware of the unimaginable horror that was passing briefly through their lives.

Later, as dawn was breaking, the vehicle pulled off the road and Pedro Alonzo Lopez was bundled out the back door on to the soil of Colombia, his homeland. The Monster of the Andes, the worst and most feared serial killer in the world, had been released to strike again.

Next week cinemagoers will seek entertainment in terror when Hannibal, the follow-up to Silence of the Lambs, is released in Britain.

However, the people of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru know they still have a demon lurking in their midst more wicked than any character Sir Anthony Hopkins could ever portray.

Lopez was responsible for the death and mutilation of 350 young girls over a three-year period before his arrest in Ecuador in 1979.

Astonishingly, he was released in secret in early 1999, having served the maximum 20-year prison sentence allowed in the Central American country, which has no death penalty.

The lives of each of his little victims, most between the ages of nine and 12, were judged by authorities to be worth little more than a month.

And, in his only ever interview, he pledged to murder again as soon as he was released, admitting: "I will be happy to kill again, it is my mission."

I am the only journalist to have ever spoken with Lopez and visited him at his prison in Ambato, Ecuador, shortly before his release, where he gave a gruesome insight into the tortured mind of a serial killer.

Lopez, now in his forties, spent his 20-year sentence in solitary confinement, never meeting fellow prisoners and rarely mixing with guards after relatives of the victims put a $25,000 bounty on his head.

I stepped into cell 29 while several guards cocked their pistols and stood watch on the other side of the bars where my nervous interpreter cowered behind the warden.

Lopez gripped my hand and started squeezing hard with the same enormous fingers that had strangled the life so easily from so many innocent victims.

He broke into a smile but his eyes remained dead, darting from me to faded and yellowing newspaper clippings on his exploits which were pinned to the cell wall like sick trophies to his reign of terror.

He was born to be a killer, he confessed, and first murdered when he slit the throats of three fellow prisoners who had raped him when he was 18 and serving time for car theft.

He revealed: "I am the seventh son of 13 children born to a prostitute in Colombia. My mother threw me out when I was eight for touching my sister's breast and I was taken in by a man who raped me over and over again.

"I decided then to do the same to as many young girls as possible."

His killing spree began in the late Seventies when he lured hundreds of young girls away from their parents at busy markets.

He even set his sights on a young girl, who might even have been Scottish, when her tourist family stumbled into his ghoulish path. He recalled: "I walked among the markets searching for a girl with a certain look on her face of innocence and beauty.

"She would be a good girl, always working with her mother. I followed them, sometimes for two or three days, waiting for the moment she was left alone.

"Once, I even spent two days following a tourist family. I was told they came from England or Scotland. I really wanted to take their beautiful blonde daughter, but I never got the chance. Her parents were too watchful."

Lopez led his victims to secret hideaways where he had previously prepared graves, often with as many as three bodies already lying in the shallow pits.

Lopez, who persuaded them to follow with the promise of gifts and trinkets, even lulled the terrified youngsters like a loving parent before raping and murdering them at sunrise. He explained: "At the first sign of light I would get excited. I forced the girl into sex and put my hands against her throat. When the sun rose I would strangle her.

"It was only good if I could see her eyes. I never killed anyone at night. It would have been wasted in the dark. I had to watch them by daylight.

"It took them between five and 15 minutes to die. Sometimes I had to kill them all over again. They never screamed because they didn't expect anything would happen. They were innocent."

Lopez would often indulge in sick, gruesome games with his victims, even propping them up in their graves for conversations and macabre 'parties'.

He added: "My little friends liked to have company. I often put three or four girls in a single hole and talked to them.

"It was like having a party, but after a while, because they couldn't move, I got bored and went looking for new girls." His horrifying wickedness came to an end in 1979 when he was caught by angry locals trying to lure a 10-year-old from a market in Ecuador.

Three days earlier, the bodies of four victims had been washed up on a local river bank after a flood. Three had been strangled with such severity their eyes had popped out of their sockets.

Incredibly, he had been captured before, but an American missionary in Peru persuaded village chiefs to let him go. He said: "Indians in Peru had me tied up and buried me in sand up to my neck when they found what I had been doing to their daughters.

"They placed syrup on me and were going to let me be eaten by ants, but an American missionary came by in her Jeep and promised she would turn me over to the police. They left me tied up in her Jeep and she drove away , but she released me at the border with Colombia." Lopez eventually pleaded guilty to 110 charges of murder in Ecuador and admitted a further 240 murders in Peru and Columbia, but cost and complexity prevented him ever standing trial in those countries, where he would undoubtedly have faced a firing squad.

The people in all three countries were outraged when, two months after the event, they were told he had been released under the cover of darkness to prevent baying mobs and vigilantes gathering at the prison gates.

Even Victor Lascano, the governor of Ambato Jail, said: "God save the children. He is unreformed and totally remorseless. This whole nightmare may start again."

Television and radio stations in the three countries are still besieged with phone calls from frantic parents who swear to have seen Lopez lurking in their communities. Every police officer in the border area between Colombia and Ecuador carries the photo of Lopez on this page, the one I took, in their wallet.

It was the screams of Carlina Ramon Poveda that finally led to the capture of Lopez after she spotted him making off with her daughter Maria, 10.

Carlina said: "It will be a kindness to the world for someone to murder this fiend. The Monster of the Andes won't last long on the outside.

"Maybe that is why we haven't heard of more missing girls. Perhaps someone, even the police in Colombia or Ecuador, have already killed him. If they have, I hope they made him suffer."

There have been no cases of missing young girls reported in Ecuador, Colombia or Peru in the last two years. No-one knows if Pedro Alonzo Lopez is dead or alive.

Perhaps the Monster of the Andes was finally murdered by someone who felt they were doing humanity a service. Perhaps he is simply biding his time before his orgy of unimaginable wickedness begins all over again.

Additional reporting by Gary Ralston.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 10, 2001
Words:1354
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