FAST BACKWARD: The ‘chop-chop’ women of Davao

FAST BACKWARD: Antonio Figueroa

In the annals of Philippine crimes, the list of cases of women murdered and their bodies chopped up into pieces and eviscerated is expanding. Since 1967, when the famous Lucila Lalu case hogged the headlines, close to a dozen similar incidents have already been recorded in blotters, nearly all of them post-millennial and most of these classified as a ‘crime of passion.’

Fact is, two of the ‘chop-chop lady’ incidents took place in Davao City. The first was the case of 39-year-old Maritess Hao who was killed on December 25, 2010by her live-in partner and her body chopped and mutilated.  The incident took place in Talomo District.

Eight years later, Davao City landed anew in the headlines. Cut body parts of 43-year-old Julia E. Taguran, a resident of Northpoint condominium of the Villars, were found inside a garbage bag and left on the roadside at Cabantian, Buhangin. No theory was advanced on the case.

The second ‘chop-chip lady’ case after Lalu’s happened on September 23, 1993. Elsa Santos Castillo, married, and American Stephen Mark Whisenhunt, also married, were having an adulterous affair; both were employed at Apex Motor Corp. It was at the condo unit of the foreigner that the killing and mutilation took place after the two had a heated argument.

Whisenhunt was convicted and meted lifetime term. Due to good behavior, his sentence was commuted; he was deported to the US on February 23, 2013. The incident spun two movies: ‘The Elsa Castillo Story: And Katotohanan,’ topbilled Kris Aquino and produced by OctoArts Films and the FLT Films’ ‘Chop-Chop Lady: The Elsa Castillo Story,’ starred by Lorna Tolentino.

One of the most gruesome ‘chop-chop’ crimes was the double murder committed in Talisay City, Cebu. On July 24, 2008, Richard Gudelosao, along with an accomplice, strangled and mutilated Eva Mae Peligro, his future sister-in-law, and cousin Gwendolyn Balasta who witnessed the crime. The motive of the crimes was due to Peligro’s threat to report his indiscretions to his mother and brother abroad. The cut body parts were placed inside garbage bags and dumped in various locations. He was convicted and meted 80 years in imprisonment.

Seventeen years after the Castillo crime, another similar incident took place in Cagayan de Oro City. On July 28, 2010, 20-year-old Rubie Jane Abalde was raped and her body cut into two. The accused suspected the woman of having an affair with his father.

The following year, on April 1, 2011, another ‘chop-chop’ incident was recorded in Laguna. Camille Ann Mamaclay, who was a mother at age 17 and worked as guest relations officer (nightclub attendant), was killed and her chopped body later found at the Canlubang Exit.  She was last seen with a Korean-looking man who. No suspect was caught and charged.

On January 5, 2017, 17-year-old Mitzi Joy Balunsay, a student of Cavite State University, was found dead at Trece Martires City, her arms and limbs cut off and her stomach disemboweled. Police identified the suspect as his former boyfriend, also studying in the same school.

In Quezon City, Heidi Estrera became the victim of a crime of passion after her husband killed her on March 11, 2018 and chopped her body into chunks. Prior to moving to the big city, the couple, which did not have a child, lived for fourteen years in Davao Oriental. Her spouse admitted to the crime. Police recovered a knife and a hammer in the crime scene as evidence.

On March 22, 2019, at Bel-Air, Makati City, a chopped-up body belonging to 26-year-old Wang Ya Lei, a Chinese, was found stuffed in a condominium trash bin, travelling bag, and shopping bag. The crime was an offshoot of a discord between the victim and the condo unit owner. Four Chinese nationals were later charged in court for the crime for their involvement.

Seven days later, on March 29, 2019, Lindsey Avelino, a sales agent, was chopped into pieces and found inside a washing machine, trolley bag and toilet in Barangay Pampang, Angeles City. Her partner, Eduardo Pasion, the prime suspect, was killed in a shootout with cops.

Most well-known among ‘chop-chop lady’ crimes, the 1967 case of Lucila Tolentino Lalu of Candaba, Pampanga was the first Filipino ‘crime of passion’ to hit big screen in the year that Lulu’s ‘To Sir with Love, No. 1 in Billboard mag’s annual countdown, was the local jukebox hit.

Lalu migrated to Manila to work as waitress and after saving money opened her own salon and resto cum cocktail lounge at Sta. Cruz, Manila. But, on May 29, 1967, her chopped legs were found at Malabon St., Sta. Cruz, Manila, wrapped in a newspaper and dumped in a trash bin, not too far away from the soda fountain she owned. The following day, here headless and legless torso was discovered on a vacant lot near the Guadalupe Bridge, Makati.

Being single, she had romantic affairs that included a married policeman (with whom she had a child), a 19-year-old waiter she financially supported, an unnamed printing press executive, and Jose Luis Santiano, dentistry student who owned up the crime. Santiano later retracted his testimony even if the cops found a blood-stained hammer, knife and razors in his home. He attributed the retraction to his lawyer’s advice. Since his release, nothing was heard from him.

As an added twist, former Los Angeles police detective turned book author Steve Hodel, in 2003, suggested that Lalu’s killer could have been his father George who was in Manila at the time the crime happened. No indirect proof was found linking George, the suspected killer in the infamous US murder case, The Black Dahlia, in 1947. The remains open and unsolved.