Butcher of the Andes

A Peruvian soldier slaughters dozens, gets away with it, and heads for the subtropics

Gladys Marin, a 61-year-old in snug stonewashed jeans and a gold necklace bearing her name, chomps gum to the rumble of washers and dryers at Happy Family Coin Laundry. Her cropped sable locks flecked with gray, she describes the 15 years of neighborhood gossip she's heard while working in the tidy place on 73rd Street near Collins Avenue in Miami Beach.

One regular was said to be a cokehead. Another was a thug. Then there was the murderer. "Crazy things happen around here," she says.

But the Hurtado family seemed typical for this neighborhood of Argentines, Venezuelans, and Peruvians. Every Sunday morning for about four years, Esperanza — the plump, neatly dressed, 66-year-old matriarch — hauled in the soiled clothes of her 46-year-old son, Telmo, and his brother, Samuel, age 38. She loved to chitchat. "How is everything?" she'd pleasantly ask. But she kept mum about her family. The sons — dark-haired men with slightly protruding ears — rarely showed up.

Telmo Ricardo Hurtado, who lived in Miami Beach for nearly five years, was a patrol leader during the 1985 massacre of dozens
Asociación Para El Desarrollo Humano “Runamasinchiqpaq” (ADEHR)
Telmo Ricardo Hurtado, who lived in Miami Beach for nearly five years, was a patrol leader during the 1985 massacre of dozens
The massacre took place in the lush, isolated valley of Quebrada de Huancayoc
Asociación Para El Desarrollo Humano “Runamasinchiqpaq” (ADEHR)
The massacre took place in the lush, isolated valley of Quebrada de Huancayoc

Then this past March, Marin heard something that shocked even her. Around dawn, neighbors had spotted immigration agents outside Esperanza's home half a block from the laundry. They had burst in and found Telmo holed up in the bathroom. Samuel tried to divert them, saying his brother was someone else. But the agents nevertheless hauled all of them away. She hasn't seen Esperanza or her sons since.

A few days after the raid, the periodiquitos that mingle with the tabloids at the laundry told of Telmo Ricardo Hurtado's arrest and unveiled his shady past. He was a villain, they said, a killer who had slaughtered dozens of innocents in a remote Peruvian mountain village during the 1980s. There were machine guns, a grenade, and a fire. It was all part of Peru's war against the Shining Path rebels. "Everyone was like, 'Oh that's too bad for them,'" Marin recalls, peering over black-rimmed glasses and wrinkling her brow. "They didn't seem like bad people. They seemed like good people."

It was the manchaytimpu, a time when fear of a war that fed on peasants' blood ruled the Peruvian countryside. Soldiers saw the enemy everywhere, mistaking terror for terrorists.

As the sun dawdled in rising August 14, 1985, the air was chilly enough for a chompa, a pullover sweater. Kindling crackled in Silvestra Lizarbe Solis's two-room home in the Quebrada de Huancayoc, a deserted green valley of adobe huts and fields of corn, potatoes, beans, and wheat. Though only about 250 miles southeast of Lima, it's a rattling 14-hour trip from the capital.

Four boys and a girl, two of them only babies, curled into the mounds of sheep's wool on the dirt floor. Silvestra laced her long brown hair into a pair of practical braids for the day. Around 6:00 a.m., she sent her eldest daughter — 13-year-old Teófila — to round up the donkeys.

Soon after that, the girl burst through the door. "Mama! Mama!" she cried in Quechua, the mother tongue of the hundred or so indigenous people who farmed the lush valley.

Outside she had seen dozens of gun-toting men in fatigues, ski masks, and black boots barking orders at villagers. Dogs on leashes led some of the soldiers.

Then one of them came to their door. "Rápido! Rápido! Get to the field!" he snapped. "Now, señora. You have to go."

Instead Silvestra invited the soldier to eat some barley soup. He slurped it down.

"Gracias, señora," he said after finishing. "Get to the field."

Silvestra put on her brown hat and wrapped her one-year-old boy, Edwin, in a hand-woven wool blanket flecked with reds, yellows, and blues. Then she tied the baby to her back. Next she scooped three-year-old Celestino into her arms and clutched the tiny hands of seven-year-old Victor and six-year-old Ernestina before heading toward the door. Eight-year-old Gerardo bawled by Teófila's side.

"Don't leave me!" Teófila sobbed while clinging desperately to her mother. "Take me with you!"

Silvestra turned her dark brown eyes to her daughter and attempted to calm her. "I'll come back soon. You stay here. Take care of your brother. I love you very much. If anything ever happens to me, remember that you are strong."

Silvestra bent to embrace Teófila, whose body trembled in whimpers. The mother kissed her daughter's wet cheek and loosened her grip to stand. Under the stern soldier's watch, the family slowly departed the cozy refuge as Teófila howled, "Don't leave!" After the door closed, the girl bolted to the window to watch them join other villagers the soldiers had rounded up. She struggled not to lose sight of her mother and siblings in the crowd of 50 that gathered in a grassy open area nearby. She wept helplessly when soldiers in combat boots kicked and beat her slight, gentle mother.

Teófila watched, terrified as soldiers forced girls not much older than she into nearby homes. There were furious screams like those of innocents being raped before soldiers swaggered out and torched the dwellings. The sound of gunshots filtered into the hut where Teófila and her brother cowered.

The girl sobbed as troops ransacked the tiny adobe and wood homes of Quebrada de Huancayoc in a fruitless search for propaganda, weapons, bombs, and ammo. She rushed to the door to watch, around 11:00 a.m., when soldiers began herding villagers from the field toward a small adobe home. It was then Silvestra looked back at the home and the children she had left behind. For a moment, the eyes of mother and daughter connected, and she waved to Teófila and Gerardo in a beckoning motion. But they recoiled inside, too scared to move.

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