Dora Buentrostro and Socorro Caro
As I sat down today I planned to compile the Buentrostro case but instead thought that I would research the next one on my list. In the end I am doing something I do not believe I have done before. I am composing two different stories together not just because the similarities are so extensive but also because I think there is almost a bigger story behind the crimes, one that is often ignored, domestic violence from women.
We all know about domestic violence. It has been around for centuries. It was first often encouraged, then expected, sometimes even legal, and later often ignored. But most of us were raised in an era where it was believed that domestic violence only occurred from a man to a woman. It seems authorities did not start taking domestic violence serious until more like the 1980's. What began as a movement per se to curb domestic violence in turn became an new kind of ignorance. Shelters and help lines were created.... for women. Police officers were encouraged to arrest men even simply on the word of a woman saying that he had hit her in some manner. Even when some authorities began seeing abuse coming from the female it was dismissed, often believing the man did something to deserve it. This had often been the thought behind domestic violence in times past when it was just simply accepted that men abused women.... they did something to deserve it. Now we were at a time where things were still not equal, but had gone exactly the other way when it came to gender. Even today if you turn on an episode of Dr. Phil you will hear him say that a man should never ever put his hand on a woman in anger and hear him chastise men who have been accused of domestic violence but then you will hear him all but slap the woman on the hand like you do a toddler and tell them “no.” As the mother of boys I have always told my sons they are never to hit a woman first but if a woman comes after them they have the right to defend themselves. In the same respect I remind them nine times out of ten no matter the size a man is going to be stronger and while a woman may have hit them with all their might, they should not do the same.
It was not until about the 1990's that you would hear about men being abused by women. Men are less likely to report domestic violence than even women were for decades. This is often because of shame and guilt but it is also out of fear... and while those were the same reasons that women in past decades did not report violence, it is a different kind of fear that prevent men from reporting. Men know that we still live in a time that if he were to report domestic violence against himself, or even children shared, that if the wife or girlfriend were to tell authorities it was not her, but him, that it is more likely that they would believe her. In the same respect while violence is violence, women tend to be injured more, or seek treatment after a domestic incident. Men are expected to have scratches or bruises or can play them off easier than women, not to mention their injuries are not often severe.
According to reports issued in an article I read (although in fairness the year was not listed it was likely around the year 2001 when Socorro Caro was on trial), 70% of all confirmed cases of child abuse and 65% of parental murders are committed by mothers. While this is not traditional domestic violence, like that I have spoken about to this point, it is still domestic violence. Many of these women have been known to be abusive, whether it was reported or not, and in both of the cases I am discussing here the women, while convicted in the deaths of their own children, to this day maintain that the father's of the children committed the crimes and “framed” them for the murders. In both cases, the prosecutors maintain that the murders of their children by their mothers were attempts to “get even” with the father and the failed relationship.
The case of Dora Buenrostro took place first in San Jacinto California. On the morning of October 27, 1994 at about 6:30 in the morning she went to the local police department and reported that her estranged husband, Alejandro, aka Alex, was at her apartment where her children were and was threatening. She led the police back to her home saying she believed the children were in danger. When officers arrived they found the bodies of nine year old Susana and eight year old Vicente laying in the front room of the apartment. They had both been stabbed repeatedly in the neck with a knife. The interesting thing was that Dora's four year old daughter, Deidra was no where to be found.
Police did not know what to think about the situation but they immediately thought that Dora's behavior was unusual. One officer from the scene would later testify that Dora “went from laughing and joking to being tired and nonchalant but never showed remorse or sadness.” Within a few hours the body of Deidra was found. Reports say that she was found in a parking lot some ten miles from Dora's home, still in her car seat (although I could not determine officially if the car was there also or just her in the seat). She too had been stabbed in the neck and the blade was still in her neck. A medical examination would determine that she had likely died two days prior to the other children.
Alex and Dora had been separated for over a year at the time of the murders. While Dora and the children lived in San Jacinto, Alex lived some eighty to eighty-five miles away in Los Angeles. Authorities immediately wanted to find him and talk to him. While reports say that Alex was initially arrested I am unsure this is officially true. I believe authorities brought him in for questioning and kept him until they could establish an alibi. They spoke with Alex's boss who stated that at 7:40 that morning when others arrived Alex had already been at work for quite some time. It did not take long for authorities to determine, at least from their perspective that Alex was not involved in the murders of his children.
On October 29, 1994, two days after the discovery, Dora Buenrostro was arrested and charged with three counts of first degree murder. Prosecutors say that the motive behind the murders was a possible child custody issue and that Dora had killed her children to hurt Alex emotionally and then planned to frame him. Dora, and her attorneys attempted at her trial in 1998 to continue to maintain that Dora was innocent and that Alex was the true perpetrator. It seemingly took so long to go to trial because at some point Dora was claiming she was not competent for trial due to the fact that she was “psychotic” and yet she continued to claim innocence.
At her trial, prosecutors would claim that Dora and Alex had previously had a fight and that she had killed the children in a rage but that rage had continued for two days. Prosecutors would point out that in the two days between the murder of Deidra and then the murders of her other two children the time allowed two things. One the time could have caused her to calm down and thus not murder the other two children or two, it allowed her the time to plan her strategy as to what she planned to say and do to frame Alex. Neighbors testified that while the night before the murders in the apartment had been quiet they had often heard Dora arguing and screaming loudly at her children. Whether this was to an abusive manner or was simply used at trial to show behaviors seen by others is unclear.
The jury deliberated for 90 minutes before pronouncing Dora guilty on all three counts of first degree murder. Soon after, on July 31, 1998 the jury recommended death to be her sentence. On October 2, 1998 the judge in the case agreed. After her conviction, but apparently before her sentencing Dora continued to “lash out.” She blamed the police, prosecutors and even her own attorney's for her conviction and maintained that Alex was the true perpetrator. Appellate courts have upheld her conviction.
To be fair I found little reported forensically that tied Dora to this crime. It appears that not only her behavior but the conclusion that she lied about Alex being at the apartment at the time she said he was, as well as apparently proof that he could not have also killed Diedra. There was talk that Dora accused the San Jacinto police department of planting evidence but I am uncertain what evidence she claimed this to be.
Then some 500 miles and just over five years later a similar crime occurred in Santa Rosa California. This time prosecutors claim the perpetrator was Socorro “Cora” Caro, the wife of a prominent rheumatology specialist. Unlike the Buenrostro's, the Caro's were still married although “happily” was not a word that would be used to describe the marriage. The couple apparently argued often and by 1999 it seems everything was an argument from finances to how to discipline their children. In fact, they had one of the latter on the evening of November 22nd. It was custom of Xavier Caro Sr. to often leave the home for a few hours after an argument. Some say it was to get work done at his office in the San Fernando Valley while others suspect it was to spend more time with a woman he was having an affair with.
The Caro's were very well off and lived in what has been described as a mansion. Cora had been a nursing student when she and Xavier married in 1984 but she quit to become his office manager. The medical practice was apparently hugely successful but at some point leading up to that late November night Xavier had actually fired his wife after prosecutors say he discovered her “funneling” money to her parents and the business seemed to be suffering financially. He also took the checkbook and credit cards so that Cora could not use them. Prosecutors say this angered Cora and she became even more angry when she found paperwork from an attorney and discovered Xavier was considering a divorce.
Cora's mother would later testify that she was present on November 22nd when her daughter and Xavier had an argument over punishment of one of their children and by all accounts it sounds as if the mother-in-law said her peace to her son-in-law herself. She would then testify that soon after Xavier left the home, she too left and went to her home. Xavier stated he went to his office and while reports vary, returned home somewhere between 11:00 and 11:20pm. Xavier would say that upon his return home the house was quiet and he intended on making up with his wife but when he entered the bedroom he found her on the floor bleeding from a gunshot wound to the head. A .38 caliber handgun lay next to her. Xavier grabbed the phone and called 911. While on the phone the operator asked him about his children, who he had not checked on yet. The couple had four boys, eleven year old Xavier Jr., eight year old Michael, five year old Christopher and one year old Gabriel. As Xavier Sr. talked to the 911 operator and went to check on his children he would find the three oldest children in their beds, all with gunshot wounds to their heads. Baby Gabriel would be unharmed. Cora was rushed to the hospital where she would survive but where she would also be arrested. Like Dora Buenrstro she would ultimately be charged with three counts of first degree murder. And, like Dora Buenrostro she would be convicted, sentenced to death and maintain that she was innocent and that the real perpetrator of the crime was her husband.
Cora's defense attorney's would claim that there was evidence that Xavier returned home at least thirty minutes prior to making the 911 call, giving him time to commit the crime himself. They would claim that phone records, parking lot surveillance photos and witnesses at the medical center prove he would have been home earlier than he had stated. They also claimed that a GSR test done to Xavier's hands had come back as positive and that he had the blood of one of the children on his pants. Both of Cora's parents would testify on her behalf. Her mother would testify about the fight that had occurred just hours before the murders and her father would testify that yes, Cora had given them money, but that it was for labor and supplies he had provided when re-doing their home when it was damaged in a 1994 earthquake. Prosecutors would say she had given them in excess of $100,000. Although the defense did apparently have a few things on their side, or at least they said they did, as far as testifying as to what happened on that night Cora claimed to not be able to do so. She had initially pleaded not guilty but would later change that plea to not guilty by reason of insanity. She would claim that the bullet wound had caused brain damage and had left her without a memory as to what happened on that night. Now of course this could have been absolutely correct, but research did not indicate if conveniently this was the only night she could not remember. She, and her defense however, would maintain that Xavier was the perpetrator.
Unlike the Buenrostro case I was able to find some information about forensics in this case. As I stated above, Cora's attorney's would claim that Xavier Sr. had GSR on his hands. Prosecutors would admit to this but their claim was that it had come from him touching the gun soon after it had been fired, but not from firing it himself. They would also claim that the blood DNA from one of the children on his pants came from him touching the child after, which they did not consider to be unusual nor of vast amount. Prosecutors say that Cora had blood DNA from two of the boys on her clothing (remember he only had one), as well as under her fingernails, and both those boys' blood DNA was found in the master bathroom sink. I can only theorize that the fact that more blood (and likely GSR also) on her than what was found on Xavier is what was able to prove to investigators and prosecutors that she was the perpetrator. Obviously the defense disagreed. Just as in the Buenrostro case however, Cora and her attorney's apparently still maintain that Xavier was the killer and attempted to frame her.
While in the Buenrostro case there was apparently only reports from neighbors as to behaviors towards her children, in Cora's case there were apparently several witnesses who testified to her behavior in general. It was said that on at least eight other occasions Cora had expressed violence towards Xavier or others. There was testimony that she had used “weapons and element of surprise” in her attacks and caused several injuries. One incident apparently caused serious injury to Xavier's eyes. Whether any of this was reported prior to the murders is unclear. As I stated above we have gotten to a point where we look at domestic violence in a complete opposite way than we used to. Now instead of the woman staying because of fear, embarrassment and guilt, and not reporting issues, it is now often the man in that position. It is not unheard of for an abused woman to seek medical attention but lie to medical professionals as to how the injuries occurred. Men now often do the same. The difference is that the fabricated stories the men state are often more believed than the ones that women told.
Some believe that had Xavier reported his wife's behavior to the police the children would be alive. There were reports that at some point Cora had issues and was placed on Prozac and then also another anti-depressant. To be fair I am surprised that the defense did not use this as mitigating circumstances or blame the medication. Instead they focused it seems solely on blaming Xavier.
After a four month trial Cora was found guilty on three counts of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Her friends and family still support her and believe her story, despite the fact that even she claims to not remember what happened due to her brain injury.
The thing I found interesting about these cases was not that the mothers killed their children, because as I said earlier, 65% of parental murders are committed by mothers. And, they are often done so for one of two reasons.... to rid themselves of the burden of children or to get even with the fathers. What I find interesting about these cases is that although Buenrostro did claim to be “psychotic” after her arrest and prior to her trial, and Cora had evidence of being on medication, neither woman has ever admitted their role and continues to blame the father of the children as being the perpetrator. In Buenrostro's case, her story of seeing her estranged husband at the home was proven to be impossible. In Cora's case, the DNA spoke for the prosecutors.
Remember when we were teenagers and we lied to our parents? They were the worse lies ever but we were convinced that they would buy it. That is how I feel about these two women. Although it appears obvious that they both wanted to punish the father emotionally, as well as frame them for murder, they did not think things through obviously. Neither woman was successful in this quest. I have to wonder too if Cora knew of the Buenrostro case and thought she could “do it better” so to say. You know, we look at these cases and critique what they did wrong in what got them caught. Of course we will likely never know because it seems unlikely that either woman will ever tell the truth. It seems just as likely in California that neither will ever be executed.