Prosecutors in Resistencia leading the investigation into the suspected killing of Cecilia Strzyzowski say there are “strong indications” the missing 28-year-old was killed at the Sena family home.
Speaking at a press conference in the northern province of Chaco, which has been rocked by Strzyzowski’s disappearance at the turn of the month, members of a special prosecutorial team said Thursday they believe the “macabre” and “atrocious” killing was “planned” in advance.
Investigators are working under the hypothesis that Strzyzowski has been the victim of a femicide.
Her husband, César Sena, 19, is currently under arrest, accused of being the perpetrator of the crime. The young man's parents, Emerenciano Sena and Marcela Acuña, have been charged as “necessary” participants in the alleged murder.
The case has shaken-up local politics. The Sena family are well-known locally and are politically close to Capitanich, Chaco’s current governor who has dominated provincial politics since 2007.
All three of the accused have now given evidence, with each offering their version of events. Both Acuña nor Emerenciano Sena refused to answer follow-up questions from investigators during their testimony, court sources said.
In total, seven people have been arrested on suspicion of playing a role in Cecilia’s killing. The other four are Fabiana González, Gustavo Obregón, Gustavo Melgarejo and Griselda Reynoso – all assistants of the picket leader.
Prosecutors are expected to ask that all of those charged in the case are remanded in custody under pre-trial detention.
Local residents have been outraged by the turn of events. Thousands of chaqueños have taken to the streets in recent weeks to demand justice and the truth.
Led by the missing woman’s mother, Gloria Romero, and Cecilia’s grandmother, Mercedes, hundreds of women attended a rally on Wednesday, marching through the provincial capital.
"I feel very supported. This has to end, no more impunity," Romero told the demonstrators in a brief speech.
Romero said she is seeking "justice, not revenge," because "an eye for an eye makes the world blind."
Demonstrators carried a number of pink balloons, her daughter's favourite colour.
Strzyzowski was last seen by her family on June 1 but security camera footage from the following day shows her entering the Sena family home. There are no images of her departing the property and investigators believed she was killed there.
A series of operations have been carried out over the past week as investigators attempt to find Strzyzowski or her remains. Days prior to her vanishing, the 28-year-old had told her parents that she was planning a trip to Tierra del Fuego with her former lover.
Macabre details have begun to emerge in local media as the search continues. Prosecutors now believe the woman was likely murdered and dismembered after she was killed.
A landlord of the Sena family home testified this week he saw her "gagged and alive." He claims that "they took her body to a rubbish dump.”
Forensic experts are also studying bone fragments found in a river and canal close to the Barrio Emerenciano Sena de Resistencia neighbourhood (3700 Calle San Martín), named after the family patriarch.
Burnt remains of a suitcase and clothing were also found, as well as an engagement ring that investigators believe belonged to the victim. Other items include a pair of earrings and more pieces of jewellery, including a pendant, investigators said.
Gloria Romero said Monday her daughter wore "a wedding ring and a wedding band that she didn't even take off to take a bath."
Reports on Thursday said that investigators had removed a section of recently laid asphalt from a street in the local area as part of the search effort. A section of around 50 metres, paved just a few days earlier, was removed after a tip-off from a local resident, lawyers for the family revealed.
Four cars, some six million pesos in cash, firearms and ammunition were found at the Sena family homes over the course of court-ordered raids.
Speaking Thursday, prosecutors said there were “strong indications” about what had happened to Strzyzowski at the Sena family home.
Prosecutor Jorge Cáceres Olivera said that while the team had not “defined for certain” what had happened, there are “several indications of how events occurred.”
He continued: "We have very strong indications that Cecilia suffered a crime at the home at 1460 Santa María de Oro [the Sena family home] and that this ended her life. We are working to find out as much as possible about what happened to her in order to provide answers to her family and to society. We know that there was planning, there are seven people in custody for a reason, we understand that they articulated and devised this whole situation to be able to kill her, we are working on that and that is the facts that these people are being accused of.”
The team also said that the investigation is being carried out with a gender perspective, that it will be judged by a popular jury when it goes to trial and that they expect "an exemplary sentence" to be handed down.
Referencing the murky provincial politics that underlie the case, Chaco Attorney General Jorge Omar Canteros said that the prosecutorial team is working independently and had not come under any pressure from “any part of the state.”
Local media outlets reported this week that testimony given by Marcela Acuña, César's mother, on Wednesday indicated that Cecilia had been slain.
"I saw a lump in one of the rooms and I assumed it was a body," she reportedly told prosecutors, according to Noticias Argentinas. “I was scared. I had nothing to do with it.”
A member of her legal team confirmed to the press that her client maintained her innocence and had made the decision to speak independently. "I did not advise her to testify. She asked to do it spontaneously," they said, adding that the woman is on hunger strike.
Emerenciano Sena also reportedly sought to distance himself from the crime in his statements to prosecutors.
Both parents were running as candidates in last weekend’s primary elections, though they were removed from the ruling party’s lists after being arrested.
The woman's disappearance dealt a political blow to Peronist Governor Jorge Capitanich, who saw the opposition surpass his vote total in the PASO. The provincial strongman will seek re-election in elections in September.