Transvestites protest against raid by Mexico City police

Transvestites protested on Thursday against a raid by Mexico City police that forcibly rounded them up, photographed them and took their fingerprints as part of a search for a serial killer who allegedly dresses as a woman to gain access to his victims.

Since 2003, Mexico City has been gripped by a series of a least five killings, and possibly as many as 20, of older women living alone; in many cases, the assailant was described as a man dressed up as a nurse or social worker.

The transvestites and transsexuals, most of whom work as male prostitutes, offered to join efforts to catch the killer, known as the "Mataviejitas," or "Old Lady Killer", but said the Oct. 14 raid was misdirected and had violated their civil rights.

"They kicked the girls and beat them," said Alma Delia, 45, a matronly transvestite who was among the three to four dozen people picked up in the Oct. 14 raid. "They sprayed them with tear gas. When they finally took us to police station, they told us 'cooperate, give us your fingerprints and you can go."'

Mexico City prosecutors later acknowledged that none of the fingerprints collected in the raid matched those found at the crime scenes. They said the raid, in which the transvestites were loaded aboard a bus and released around dawn the next day , was motivated by "complains from neighbors."

The transvestite groups said they doubted the killer was part of their community, but have produced a wanted poster showing police sketches of the suspect and offered to post it around the gay community, and have offered to turn in their own fingerprints on a voluntary basis.

"We want to cooperate and help catch this person," said Jaime Montejo of the advocacy group Brigada Callejera. "We just don't want the transvestite community to be used as scapegoats."

Montejo said he believed the raid was designed to cover up police inaction on the case.

One transsexual, who gave her name as Paloma, 36, said police "are just picking on us, the most vulnerable ones."

Paloma, who refused to give her last name for fear of police reprisals, called the raid illogical. "Would a serial killer walk around at night dressed as a woman, with all the police who are always watching us?"

The killer is believed to gain access by befriending elderly women by offering them health or pension services, and once in their homes, beating and robbing them and then strangling them.

Police said the fingerprints found at five of the crimes scenes belong to the same person, but that there are no similar links in the cases of another 31 elderly women killed since 2003, reports the AP. I.L.