A tourist in Cyprus last month was snapping photos at an abandoned copper mine — an eerie landscape of rusted-out tracks, disintegrating hulks of machinery and a blood-red, toxic lake — when the visitor spotted a humanlike form floating atop a shaft flooded by recent storms.
Later that day, police fished out a woman, bound with rope and wearing only two heart-shaped earrings, the Cyprus Mail reported. A roommate soon identified her as Mary Rose Tiburcio, a 38-year-old from the Philippines who had gone missing nearly a year earlier with her 6-year-old daughter.
Within days, the discovery launched police onto the trail of a man they say is a vicious serial killer — a 35-year-old army captain who has since confessed to seven murders. Police say the man used an online dating service to find his victims, foreign women who had come to this tourism-driven Mediterranean island for work.
The killer has now spent weeks guiding police to the places where he dumped the victims, including the crimson lake, where authorities on Sunday found a suitcase full of human remains sunken beneath the poisonous water — the fourth body tied to him.
The first serial killing case in modern Cyprus history has horrified this sun-drenched isle and galvanized advocates for foreign workers, who say rampant racism contributed to police bungling multiple chances to stop the mass murderer. Hundreds have marched in the capital, Nicosia, as opposition parties demand resignations from police leaders.
“Mary Rose and her young daughter are the latest victims and the tip of the iceberg of violence against migrant women in Cyprus,” said a statement by KISA, a nonprofit in Cyprus dedicated to battling xenophobia and discrimination.
In the hours after Tiburcio was identified, police zeroed in on the father of her daughter, the Cyprus Mail reported. The Romanian man was interrogated as authorities used remote cameras to search the flooded shaft, searching for Tiburcio’s 6-year-old daughter, Sierra. But then detectives latched onto a new lead.
Tiburcio’s roommate had reported her missing in May 2018 when she and her daughter never returned from a date. Detectives learned she had gone to meet someone named “Orestis” on Badoo, the app where they’d met, the Mail reported. They soon arrested the man: a National Guard captain and father of two, whom police have not formally identified as he has yet to be criminally charged.
On April 20, police found another victim in the same mineshaft where Tiburcio had been discovered. They tentatively identified her as 28-year-old Arian Palanas Lozano, another Filipino woman who had been missing for months.
Last Thursday, police say the suspect tipped them off to a third corpse, which authorities soon found near a military firing range. That body hasn’t been identified yet, though police told local reporters it could be Ashita Khadka Bista, a woman from Nepal.
At least three more victims, the suspect told police, had been stuffed into suitcases and dropped into the red-hued lake near the copper mine. But scouring that lake wasn’t simple task, the Cyprus Mail reported, because the waters are tainted with years of dangerous mining byproduct. Divers spent days testing the water and devising special equipment before searching the man-made lake.
On Sunday, they finally found two suitcases weighted down with rocks, though they were only able to retrieve one. As the military officer had promised, it was stuffed with decomposed human remains. Police believe the victims in the lake are likely Maricar Valtez Arquiola, 31, also from the Philippines; Florentina Bunea, 36, who is from Romania; and Elena Natalia, Bunea’s 8-year-old daughter, the Associated Press reports. The Romanian mother and daughter have been missing since September 2016, while Arquiola had vanished in December 2017.
In all, police said the suspect has admitted to killing five women and two children, detailing his slayings in 10 pages of handwritten confession.
That brutal sum would have been far smaller had police paid more attention to the plight of foreign workers in Cyprus, advocates argue. Outrage at local authorities has steadily built since police first admitted that Tiburcio had been reported missing months before her body was found.
“I wonder why was this evidence not uncovered beforehand?” one advocate asked on social media, the Cyprus Mail reported. “Would investigations be of the same ‘intensity’ if it were a Cypriot mother and her child?”
Police defended their investigation, noting that local legislators had not given them the ability to access missing peoples’ email and telephone records. But they have also appointed a three-member panel to look into whether they’d botched their probes into the missing women.
Fury among the thousands of foreign workers who keep Cyprus’s hospitality industry afloat has only grown as more bodies have turned up. On Friday, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the presidential palace, where organizers read off the names of other missing women and the crowd shouted back, “Where are they?” In all, organizers told the Associated Press, the nation has 80 unsolved missing persons case dating back almost three decades.
“I felt obliged to do something for these women, all the missing women, all the killed women,” Maria Mappouridou, who organized the rally, told the Associated Press. “I think deep down, all that we want, what everybody wants, is justice.”
Police are still scouring their suspect’s social media history and looking for other women he contacted through dating sites. And Sierra, Tiburcio’s 6-year-old daughter, remains missing.
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