After 21 years with no concrete answers regarding the whereabouts of María de los Ángeles “Marita” Verón, her mother Susana Trimarco said Wednesday that several witnesses have testified in court that a folder containing pictures of her body taken in 2004 exist. Verón was kidnapped by human traffickers in 2002 and was never seen again.
This is the biggest breakthrough in one of the most important missing person cases in Argentina’s history.
“This is very sad for us. I always said the truth would come out,” Trimarco said during a press conference held in San Miguel de Tucumán. “I always searched for my daughter hoping she would be alive, but I also said that I wanted to find her in any way; that if she was dead, I wanted to recover her bones and give her justice, [bury her] so we could take her flowers.”
Trimarco’s lawyers, José D’Antona and Carlos Garmendia, confirmed that the last time Verón was seen alive was in 2004, adding that several people who they couldn’t yet publicly identify will soon be accused of hiding what they knew about Verón’s whereabouts for at least 10 years.
According to Garmendia, a man reached out to Trimarco and told her that during a meeting in the labor union that he belonged to some members started talking about the existence of a folder containing pictures and documents that confirmed Verón was dead. The witness said that information was being used by union members to blackmail each other.
Trimarco said that, according to the information they have, the pictures were taken in the morgue of Luz Médica clinic, managed by the energy workers union Luz y Fuerza. There were also some smaller unions involved, she added.
The union leader at the time was the late Julio Luna, who, according to Trimarco, was friends with Rubén “La Chancha” Ale, the leader of a money laundering and drug trafficking organization who she alleges is the main person responsible for her daughter’s kidnapping, along with his brother Ángel. Rubén Ale was sentenced to house arrest for money laundering in 2017. Ángel’s involvement in Verón’s case has never been confirmed.
Following this revelation, an investigation was opened and nine people from other unions reached out to Trimarco to give information. They all testified before the Prosecutor’s Office for Trafficking and People Exploitation (PROTEX, for its Spanish acronym) under sworn testimony.
The lawyers said there’s enough evidence to affirm that the folder exists, or at least that it existed, but there are no confirmed testimonies regarding its contents.
“La Chancha” Ale died June 22. A week later, Trimarco received the first call regarding the folder. Veron’s mother said that the union infighting was linked to Ale, because he wanted to take control over the smaller unions. She also said that the union members used the folder and the photos to blackmail each other, saying they would give it to a court if the others didn’t do their bidding.
Verón, who was 23 at the time, was kidnapped April 3, 2002, after leaving her home in Tucumán to go get an intrauterine device (IUD) at a Maternity clinic. According to witnesses, she was taken by a group of men who snatched while she was walking down the street and took her away in a car.
During the trial, witnesses said they saw her walking around La Ramada, a small town 20 kilometers away from where she had been taken. According to testimonies, she was wandering around, looking disoriented, saying she wanted to go back to the provincial capital. Others said policemen found her and took her to the local bus station, but the events of that day were never fully clarified.
Her family never saw her again, and in 2013 the judiciary confirmed that she had been kidnapped to be sexually exploited. Verón would be 44.
“At first they didn’t let me report her disappearance at the police station because they said she surely had left with a boyfriend or friends. They later said they didn’t have enough paper to write down the report, or enough gas in their patrol car to go look for her,” Verón’s mother recalled in 2012, during her testimony in the trial.
Trimarco decided to take it upon herself to find out what had happened to her daughter. Several witnesses told her they had seen her daughter in brothels in La Rioja province, which were disguised as cabarets or bars.
Verón’s mother even went to La Rioja and infiltrated brothels posing as a prostitute. She discovered several women there who were being sexually exploited and held against her will, often drugged. Some of them told her they had seen Verón, but said the kidnappers were constantly moving her from place to place, and Trimarco was never able to find her.
“Sadly, I have become a specialist in this type of crime because I’ve lived through it,” Trimarco said during the trial. Over the years, she kept infiltrating brothels, and even though she never found her daughter, she managed to shut down brothels all over the country and help several other women escape.
As an activist against human trafficking, Trimarco created the María de los Ángeles Foundation, where she assists victims of sexual exploitation.
The Marita Verón disappearance case went to trial 10 years after the kidnapping. In total, 13 people were tried, including the Ale brothers and people who ran brothels in La Rioja. They were all acquitted, but Tucumán’s Supreme Court partially revoked that decision in 2013. Ten out of the 13 were sentenced, but they only went to prison in 2017.
The court concluded that brothers José and Gonzalo Gómez, who ran brothels in Tucumán, kidnapped Verón and later sexually exploited her. They were sentenced to 22 years in prison. Daniela Natalia Milhein and Andrés González, accused of keeping her captive for sexual exploitation, were sentenced to 18 years.
Six other people were sentenced for being necessary participants of the crimes.