Dead Girls

Selva Almada

Artwork by Elephnt


The morning of November 16, 1986, was clear, not a cloud in the sky, in Villa Elisa, the town where I was born and raised in the central eastern part of Entre Ríos province.

It was a Sunday and my dad was barbecuing out back. We still didn’t have a stand-up grill, so he made do with a metal sheet on the ground, coals upon coals piled onto the metal slats of the simple parrilla. My dad would barbecue rain or shine: all he ever needed was sheet metal and hot coals.

Near the grill, the portable battery-powered radio sat nestled in the branches of a mulberry tree, tuned—as ever—to LT26 Radio Nuevo Mundo. The station played folk songs and, on the hour, a news segment, but there was never much to report. Fire season still hadn’t begun in the El Palmar National Park, thirty miles away, where summer flames made sirens blare from every fire station in the area. Aside from the occasional highway accident, always caused by a boy coming home from a night out on the town, not much happened on weekends. No soccer matches were played in the afternoon because, in this heat, all of the tournaments happened at night.

A violent storm had shaken the roof of my house earlier that morning at dawn, waking me up. I’d stretched out in bed and touched something that made me sit up suddenly, heart pounding. The mattress was damp and slimy, and lukewarm creatures moved against my legs. My mind still hazy, it took me a few seconds to put together what I was seeing at the foot of my bed: my cat had given birth again. I saw her curled up in the lightening flashes coming through the window, her yellow eyes watching me. I hugged my knees to my chest to avoid touching the newborns.

My sister was asleep on the bed next to mine. Blue flashes illuminated her face, her eyes half-open. She always slept that way, rabbit-like, chest rising and falling, far removed from the rainstorm that thundered through the room. I fell asleep too, looking at her.

Only my dad was awake when I got up. My mom and siblings were still sleeping. The cat and her babies had left my mattress. The only trace of birth was a yellowish stain with darkened edges on the far corner of my sheet.

I went out onto the patio and told my dad that the cat had given birth but that I couldn’t find her or the kittens. He sat underneath the mulberry tree, away from the grill but close enough to keep an eye on the barbecue. On the ground, the stainless steel cup he always used, filled with wine and ice. The metal sweated.

Maybe she hid them in the shed, he said.

I looked in that direction but decided against going over to check. Once, a crazy dog we owned had buried her puppies in that shed. She’d ripped the head off one of them.

The crown of the mulberry tree was a green sky with rays of golden sunlight streaming through the leaves. In a few weeks it would be full of fruit, swarming with buzzing flies, and the air would fill with the soured sweet smell of overripe mulberries until no one would want to sit in its shade. But that morning it was beautiful. There was nothing to worry about other than moth larvae, bright and green like Christmas garlands, which would sometimes grow heavy enough to fall off the mulberry leaves, their acidic bodies stinging anyone in their path.

That’s when the news came on the radio. I heard it all too clearly, even though I hadn’t been paying attention.

That same morning in San José, a town thirteen miles away, someone had murdered an adolescent girl in her bed as she slept.

My dad and I stayed silent.

Standing there motionless, I saw how he got up to arrange the embers with an iron poker, gathering them together, hitting the biggest ones to break them apart, his face covered in little beads of sweat from the heat, as the meat, just placed on the grill, sizzled quietly. A neighbor passing by called out to us. My dad turned his head, still bent over the parrilla, and raised his free hand. Coming! he shouted. And with the same iron poker he began to disassemble the pile of embers, pushing them to one corner of the metal sheet, closest to where the cedar logs burned, leaving the few he determined would be enough to keep the grill hot until he got back. “Coming” meant grabbing a few quick drinks at the corner bar. He put on the sandals that he’d left strewn in the grass while pulling on the shirt that was hanging from a branch of the mulberry tree.

Be back soon, just move a few coals over if you see it go out, he said. He went out onto the street like a kid chasing an ice cream truck, sandals clicking as he ran.

I sat in his chair and picked up the glass he’d left behind. The metal was cold. An ice cube floated in the purple-red wine. I fished it out with my fingers and started to suck on it. At first it tasted vaguely of alcohol, but soon the only flavor was water. 

When there was only a sliver of ice left, I crushed it between my back teeth. I set the palm of my hand on my bare thigh, emerging from the bottom of my shorts. My cold skin made me jump. Like a corpse’s hand, I thought. Even though I had never touched one.

I was thirteen then, and the news of the dead girl was a revelation. My house, like that of any young woman, was not the safest place in the world. They could kill you in your own home. Horror could live with you under the same roof.

Over the next few days I learned more details. The girl’s name was Andrea Danne and she was nineteen years old, blonde, blue-eyed, and pretty. She had a boyfriend and was studying to become a psychology professor. The murderers stabbed her in the heart.


Andrea stayed with me for more than twenty years. She came back with the news of each dead woman. More and more names reached the front page of national papers one at a time: María Soledad Morales, Gladys McDonald, Elena Arreche, Adriana and Cecilia Barreda, Liliana Tallarico, Ana Fuschini, Sandra Reitier, Carolina Aló, Natalia Melman, Fabiana Gandiaga, María Marta García Belsunce, Marela Martínez, Paulina Lebbos, Nora Dalmasso, Rosana Galliano. Each one made me think of Andrea and her unpunished murder.

One summer, having spent a few days in Chaco, a region in the northeast of Argentina, I stumbled upon a story in the local paper. The headline ran: “Twenty-five Years after the Murder of María Luisa Quevedo.” A fifteen-year-old girl, killed on December 8, 1983, in the town of Presidencia Roque Sáenz Peña. María Luisa had been missing for a few days before her body, raped and strangled, finally appeared in an open field on the outskirts of town. No one was prosecuted for the murder.

Just a little while later, I heard a news story about Sarita Mundín, a twenty-year-old girl who disappeared on March 12, 1988, and whose remains surfaced on the banks of the Tcalamochita River in Villa Nueva, Córdoba province, on December 29 of the same year. Another unresolved case.

Three adolescent girls killed in the 1980s, three murders left unpunished in a country that, at that time, hadn’t heard of the term femicide. That morning by the barbecue, I also hadn’t heard of María Luisa, the girl who had been killed two years before, or of Sarita Mundín, a girl who was still alive, unaware of what would happen to her two years later.

I didn’t know that a woman could be killed for the simple fact that she was a woman, but over time I began putting the stories together. Anecdotes that didn’t end in a woman’s death, but that subjected her to misogyny, abuse, and humiliation.

My mom was the one who told me these stories. One story in particular stayed etched in my memory. It happened when my mom was very young. She didn’t remember the girl’s name because they never knew each other. But she did remember that the girl lived in La Clarita, a farming community near Villa Elisa. The girl was about to get married and a seamstress from my town was making her wedding dress. The girl would go to get measured and try on the dress, always accompanied by her mother in the family car. No one could drive her to get the final adjustments, so she traveled by bus, alone. She wasn’t used to commuting on her own and got turned around, realizing that she was going the wrong way as she walked down the road that passed by the cemetery. At certain times of day that area was deserted. When she saw a car approaching, she thought it would be better to ask for help rather than continue lost and walking in circles. There were four men in the car and they kidnapped her. She was kept naked, bound and gagged for multiple days in what seemed to be an abandoned building. The men gave her just enough food and water to keep her alive. They raped her whenever they felt like it. The girl wanted to die. Through a small window, the only thing she could see was sky and an open field. One night, she heard the men leave in their car. She gathered her strength and managed to untie herself and escape through the window. She ran through the fields until she found an inhabited house. There, they helped her. She was never able to identify the place that she was held captive or her kidnappers. A few months later, she married her fiancé.

Another one of these stories had happened a little earlier, some two or three years before.

One Saturday, three boys went to a dance. One of the boys was in love with a girl, the daughter of a traditional Villa Elisa family. She led him on. He would seek her out, and she would let herself be found before slipping away. This cat-and-mouse game had gone on for a few months. That Saturday night was no different. They danced, had a drink, chatted, and then she slipped away again. For consolation, he went to the dive bar where his friends hung out, drinking. It was their idea. Why not wait for her to leave the dance and stick it to her? When he heard that, the boy in love sobered up. They were crazy, what the hell were they talking about, time to go to bed. Drunken bullshit.

But they were serious. Someone had to teach a lesson to these girls who don’t put out. They left the bar. They waited in the empty field next to her house. The girl would pass by that field no matter what.

She left the dance with a friend. They lived just a block apart. The friend reached her house first and the girl kept walking, unconcerned, taking the path she always took coming home from a night out in a town where nothing ever happened. They cut her off in the dark, hit her, forced themselves inside of her multiple times, taking turns. And when their dicks got tired, they continued raping her with a bottle.



Since early morning, the sun had warmed the metal roof of the Quevedo house in the Monseñor neighborhood in Presidencia Roque Sáenz Peña, Chaco. Those first days in December anticipated the summer highs in the region, with temperatures typically reaching 104 degrees Fahrenheit. María Luisa drowsily opened her eyes and sat up in bed, ready to get up and go to work in the Casucho family house. She had recently started working there as a maid.

Getting dressed, she chose clothes that were lightweight but pretty. She liked to look nice when she went out, even though at work she had to wear her uniform, an old t-shirt and skirt discolored by sunlight and splashes of bleach. She chose a tank top and pleated skirt from her modest closet, accessorizing the outfit with a little leather belt that she pulled around her waist. She washed her face and brushed her straight, dark hair, which was neither short nor long. She shook a bottle of spray deodorant, applying it first to her armpits and then over the rest of her body. Floating into the kitchen in a sweet, perfumed cloud, she drank two or three mates that her mom poured for her and left the house.

She had just turned fifteen on October 19, which happened to coincide with Mother’s Day that year. She was thin, her body still developing. Even though she was fifteen, she looked twelve.

The Casucho house was in the center of Sáenz Peña and María Luisa walked the twenty blocks to get there. It was the morning of December 8, the day of the Virgin Mary, which was a partial holiday since some businesses closed and others stayed open as usual. But the city was only half awake and few people were out on the street.

She was happy because it was her first job. She got there early, around 7:00 a.m., and finished at 3:00 p.m. after washing the lunch dishes.

If she thought about lingering after work to take advantage of the holiday, she never told her mom, Ángela Cabral, who began to worry when dusk fell and María Luisa—Chiqui, as the family called her—hadn’t come home after work.

Ever since separating from her husband, the father of her six children, Ángela had lived with two other women and a twenty-seven-year-old single man named Yogui. He acted as the man of the house and was the first person Ángela turned to for help.

Yogui was enjoying the day off at a public pool with some friends. That’s where a cousin found him to say that Ángela was crying because she didn’t know where Chiqui was.

The first place Yogui went to look was the house of her father, Oscar Quevedo, who lived with his new wife, a Bolivian woman who didn’t get along with his kids. But María Luisa hadn’t been there. That’s when her family began to search furiously, growing more and more desperate as hours passed.

Neither witnesses nor the police investigation were able to determine what happened or where the girl was between when she left work at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday, December 8, 1983, and the morning of Sunday, December 11, when her body was discovered.

Only Norma Romero and Elena Taborda, two of María Luisa’s new friends, stated that they saw her when she left work. The three girls walked together for a few blocks before going their separate ways.

The police search for María Luisa had only just begun when the phone rang at the first precinct on the morning of December 11. The caller reported that there was a body in an open field between Highways 51 and 28 in the outskirts of the city. That land, now abandoned, used to be where shale was extracted for bricks, leaving wide, shallow ditches that flooded when it rained and became the marshy pools that locals call represas. María Luisa’s body had been left in that dried up little represa. She had been strangled with the same leather belt that she had put on the morning she left for work.


That same Sunday, 687 miles away, the last traces of mass celebrations commemorating Raúl Alfonsín’s inauguration echoed through Buenos Aires. Raúl Alfonsín was Argentina’s first constitutionally elected president after seven years of dictatorship. The last people to leave the party nodded off in bus stops as busses passed them by, already chock full of passengers.

Everyone in Sáenz Peña was glued to the TV that Saturday because the National Channel was directly transmitting all the ceremonies and celebrations: celebrations that had begun as early as 8 a.m. There was also a party in the main square of Sáenz Peña, Plaza San Martín, which lasted until dusk. People with cars had organized a procession through the town center, little Argentine flags fluttering from antennas, horns honking, and passengers leaning out of windows, singing and waving their arms. Even though the newly elected governor of Chaco, Florencio Tenev, was in the peronista party and the fabulous new president of Argentina was from the opposing party, the return to democracy was more important than political differences and no one wanted to be left out of the festivities.

While everyone celebrated, the Quevedo family kept searching for María Luisa.



The last day Sarita Mundín was seen alive, March 12, 1988, seemed like any other day. She had spent the previous few weeks outside of Villa María, taking care of her mother in a hospital in the city of Córdoba. On the return trip, she brought her mother back to the small apartment on San Martín Street where she lived with Germán, her four-year-old son, and Mirta, her fourteen-year-old sister, who was pregnant. Her mother had gotten an operation and needed care. It was easier for the Mundín sisters to look after her if they all lived in the same place. They settled in the small apartment as best they could.

When Sarita’s lover, Dady Olivero, helped her rent the apartment, he had thought that only Sarita and Germán would live there. That way, Dady could visit at his convenience instead of arranging to meet at a motel, which was risky for a well-known, married businessman. Olivero and his family owned the major meat processing plant, El Mangrullo.

Between the trip to Córdoba and her mother’s presence in the apartment, it had been some time since Sarita had seen Dady. That day, he told her he would come by in his car so that they could spend some time alone together.

She didn’t want to go anywhere with him. Her relationship with this man who was more than ten years her senior and who had a family was beginning to peter out. Apparently, she had also met a boy she was crazy about in Córdoba. But despite her lack of interest, when Dady came to pick her up that afternoon, Sarita grabbed her purse and a towel—they were going to the river—and took the stairs down to the first floor to meet him.

She didn’t get ready to go out with Dady like she had when their relationship seemed promising, a chance to spice up her life. She went downstairs wearing a long skirt, a t-shirt, and sandals. Dressed up or not, Sarita was a beautiful woman: slender, long, wavy hair, pale skin, green eyes.

Mirta and Germán walked her to the sidewalk. When the little boy saw his mother heading over to the parked car on the curb he wanted to go with her. But, from inside the car, the driver said no with such severity that the boy hid in his aunt’s skirts, pouting. Sarita went over to her son, kissed him, and told him that she’d bring him a present when she came back.

But she never came back.

She was missing for almost a year. At the end of December, the Ubaldo Pérez dairy farm found the remains of a human skeleton hanging from tree branches at the bank of the Tcalamochita River, which separates the city of Villa María from Villa Nueva. They were in the vicinity of a place called La Herradura, on the Villa Nueva side. The remains indicate that Sarita’s murder took place on the same day that she went out with her lover, though it was never determined how she was killed.



When I started college, I went to live with a friend in Paraná, the capital of Entre Ríos, 125 miles away from my town. We didn’t have much money and lived in a cramped boarding house. When we went to visit our families on weekends, we started hitchhiking to save money. At first, we’d always ask some male acquaintance of ours, also a student, to come with us. We later realized that the trip was faster if only we went. It didn’t feel dangerous as a pair or a group of three. Then, at some point, as we grew more confident, we each started going on our own when our trips home didn’t align because of exams. We hitched rides in cars, trucks, and pickups. We didn’t get in when there was more than one man inside the vehicle, but other than that we didn’t take many precautions.

I traveled back and forth from home for five years without ever paying for a ticket. Hitchhiking was the cheapest way to get around, and sometimes it was interesting. You’d meet people. You’d talk. You’d listen, most of the time: truck drivers in particular, tired of their lonely work, would tell us their entire life stories as we sipped mate.

Every so often there’d be an uncomfortable incident. Once, a truck driver from Mendoza was telling me about his problems and said that some female students had slept with him to make a bit of money and that he didn’t see anything wrong with it, since that way they could pay for school and help their parents. Nothing happened beyond that insinuation, but I was on edge for each remaining mile of the trip. Every time I got into a car, the first thing I looked for was the door handle. That day, I remember immediately pressing myself against the window and grabbing the door handle, just in case I’d need to jump out. A different time, a young guy in an expensive car, driving too fast, said that he was a gynecologist and proceeded to tell me about how women should periodically examine themselves and how important it is to check for tumors in order to catch cancer early. He asked me if I performed these exams. I said I did, of course, every year, even though it wasn’t true. And while he was still talking and driving he stretched out one arm and began fondling my breasts. I stiffened, the seatbelt pressing into my chest. Without taking his eyes off the road, the guy said: you can find suspicious lumps on your own if you touch yourself like that, see?

But there was only one time when I really felt like I was in danger. I was going from Villa Elisa to Paraná with a friend on a Sunday afternoon. It hadn’t been a good trip, with each driver taking us only a short part of the way. The last one had dropped us off at a fork in the road near Viale, around forty miles from Paraná. The sun was setting and not a soul was on the road. Finally, a car approached us. It was an orange car, not old but also not new. We flagged it down and the driver pulled into the shoulder. We ran a few feet to reach the car. He was going to Paraná, so we got in, and my friend sat next to the man who was driving, a seventy-year-old guy; I was in the backseat. For the first few miles we talked about the usual things: the weather, where we were from, what we studied. The man told us that he was coming back from some fields he owned in the area. I couldn’t hear well from the back, and since I saw that my friend was handling the conversation, I settled into the seat and looked out the window. I don’t know how much time passed before I noticed that something was off. The guy had stopped looking at the road and was angling his head towards my friend as he talked, more animated than before. I sat up a bit. Then I saw his hand patting her knee, then that same hand moving up to stroke her arm. I started talking about the first things that came to mind: road conditions, exams from earlier that week. But the guy ignored me. He kept talking to my friend, asking her to grab a drink with him later. She never dropped her smile or lost her cool, but I could tell that inside she was as scared as I was. No thanks, I have a boyfriend. Who cares, I don’t get jealous. Your boyfriend must be some kid, what could he teach you about life. A mature man is what a little girl like you needs. Protection. Financial security. Experience. I could only hear bits and pieces of each sentence. It was already so dark outside that I couldn’t even make out the fields at the edge of the road. My blood ran cold when I brushed against guns leaning against the rear window behind my seat. There were two of them, big ones, shotguns or something.

My friend, keeping her composure, continued to amicably reject the advances that the driver insisted upon, dodging the hands that tried to grab her by the wrist. I continued to talk nonstop, even though no one paid attention to me. Talk, talk, and talk: for me, who never talks, an act of total desperation.

Then, the same thing that had made my blood run cold brought me back to earth. I was the person closest to the guns. Even though I’d never shot one before.

Finally, the lights on the outskirts of the city. A gas station with a stop on the red bus line, which would take us to the city center. We asked to get off there. The guy sneered disdainfully, pulled off the road and stopped the car: yeah, get out you stupid little shits.

We got out and walked to the bus stop. The orange car pulled back onto the road and drove off. When it was out of sight, we threw our bags to the ground, hugged each other, and burst into tears.



Maybe María Luisa and Sarita felt themselves fading away in the moments before they died. But Andrea Danne was asleep when she was stabbed on November 16, 1986.

That Saturday had seemed like any other Saturday since she had started dating Eduardo a year and a half before. They ended the night early without going out to dance or to stay at a motel like they sometimes did. That Monday, Andrea was going to take her first final exam in her major, psychology, which she had started at university earlier that year. She was nervous, so she wanted study in bed for a while and go to sleep early rather than stay out with her boyfriend.

He drove his motorcycle over to her house to visit her, though, and they were together for a few hours. They drank mate and talked on the porch. It was a hot day and a storm was in the forecast.

The sun disappeared behind nearby houses and the few streetlights on the block turned on, attracting swarms of bugs. A water truck passed, releasing steam that smelled like rain.

They went to the kitchen at 9:00 p.m. and made veal cutlet sandwiches, grabbed a cold drink, and went back onto the porch. The house was small, and when Andrea’s parents and brother were home, it was easier to get privacy outside.

As they ate, Andrea’s sister Fabiana came out and asked for help choosing her outfit. That night was the Noche de Quinceañeras, an annual tradition at the Santa Rosa club in San José: all the girls who turned fifteen each year would walk in a line, dressed up, and the most beautiful would be chosen.

The girls went into the house and Eduardo stayed outside, finishing his sandwich alone.

Neighbors carried chairs outside and some turned their TVs to face the porches, raising the volume to hear the shows over the street noise; not many cars passed, but kids played tag and chased fireflies. There wasn’t cable back then and the TV antennas only picked up Channel 7 from Buenos Aires and Channel 3 from Paysandú, so everyone basically watched the same programs. The smell of anti-mosquito coils soon filled the air.

Later, Andrea and Eduardo left to take the motorcycle for a drive through the center of town. Traffic got backed up around the main plaza, with cars moving slowly in circles, like in a motorcade. They had an ice cream and then returned to Andrea’s place.

Andrea’s parents and brother were already in bed; Fabiana had gone to the dance. The house was quiet with just the sound of a TV filtering faintly through the thin walls of the adjacent bedroom. The couple stayed in the kitchen, kissing and cuddling for a minute. At one point, they heard noise coming from the porch. Eduardo went outside and didn’t see anything amiss, but the wind shook the tops of trees and threatened to blow away the clothes hanging from the neighbors’ clothesline. When he came back inside, he talked to his girlfriend and they agreed that he should leave to avoid the storm. He didn’t go right away. They kept kissing, running their hands under each other’s clothes until she firmly said: you should go.

She walked him to the street. The wind tousled her long blond hair and pressed her clothes against her body. They kissed one last time, he drove off, and she ran back inside.

She left the window by the patio open. Even though the temperature had dropped a bit, the walls retained heat and the curtains were warm, as though they’d been recently ironed. She jumped into bed wearing a tank top and underwear, grabbing her class notes and a packet of photocopied readings covered in handwritten annotations.

She must have fallen asleep right away, though. Andrea’s mother testified that she got out of bed to close the window when the wind picked up and saw that her daughter was already asleep. It was past midnight. She had finished watching a movie on Función Privada, a legendary TV show from the eighties hosted by Carlos Morelli and Rómulo Berruti. The hosts would play a movie and discuss it afterwards over glasses of whiskey. That night they’d shown Humo de marihuana, a movie directed by Lucas Demare that had been around for twenty years or so. The movie didn’t interest her, but she wasn’t tired so she finished it. Then she turned off the TV without waiting for Morelli and Berruti’s commentary and managed to fall asleep.

After a while, she woke up, went to her daughters’ bedroom, and turned on the light. Andrea was still lying in bed but had blood coming out of her nose. According to her statement, the mother felt paralyzed, frozen in the doorframe, and yelled at her husband two or three times:

Come here, something’s happening to Andrea.

He took the time to put on pants and a button-up shirt before going over to the bedroom. He lifted Andrea up by the shoulders and more blood dripped from her chest.

The other bed, Fabiana’s, was empty and neatly made. The storm raged in all its glory. Rain joined the huge gusts of wind and hit the tin roof in what sounded like a shoot-out.

Andrea might have felt herself fading away when she woke up to die. Those eyes, suddenly open, might have blinked a few times in the two or three minutes that it took her brain to run out of oxygen. Lost, disoriented in the beating rain and the wind that snapped thin branches from the trees by the patio, dazed from sleep, entirely alone.

translated from the Spanish by Lara Norgaard