Colombian authorities are investigating the death of 23-year-old Valentina Trespalacios, whose boyfriend, US citizen John Poulos, was detained in Panama earlier this week. He was arrested following an Interpol “alert given by the Republic of Colombia, for the homicide of DJ Valentina Trespalacios,” according to Panama’s National Police.
In the early hours of last Sunday, a recycler found the body of a woman inside a suitcase at the bottom of a garbage container in the southwest of Bogota, the capital. He notified local authorities, who confirmed that the body was that of Trespalacios, a well-known electronic music DJ.
Bogota Metropolitan Police officers at the crime scene contacted her relatives, who confirmed that the young woman had been with her boyfriend since Saturday, January 21.
Preliminary forensic examinations by the Institute of Legal Medicine, an agency attached to the Colombian Attorney General’s Office, revealed on Monday that the young woman would have died of mechanical suffocation and that her body showed signs of having been subjected to force before dying.
“Through a special group made up of the Bogota Metropolitan Police members, in coordination with the Office of the Attorney General of the Nation, the criminal investigators will be in charge of looking for probative material elements and information to establish the person or persons responsible for the death of this young woman that was found abandoned in a sector of the district of Fontibon,” Brigadier General Carlos Fernando Triana, commander of the Bogota Metropolitan Police, told CNN.
Triana also said that he is offering “a reward of up to 20 million pesos (around US$ 4,500) for information that leads to the clarification of the crime.”
On Tuesday night, the National Police of Panama reported the detention of Poulos at the Tocumen International Airport, and Colombian authorities began the procedures for his deportation to the country, hoping to shed light on the time, manner and place in which the death of Trespalacios occurred.
Poulos arrived in Bogotá on Thursday, according to police in the Colombian capital.
The Bogota Security Department has said that Poulos “is in the process of being prosecuted and awaiting a hearing to legalize the capture, imputation and request for a security measure,” and shared images of the suspect in the hands of the authorities.
It is unclear if Poulos has legal representation. According to Miguel Angel del Rio, the lawyer for the Trespalacios family, Poulos did not accept representation from a public defender and has not hired a private lawyer.
Security footage under review
“He never showed himself as a bad person… My Valentina was a very smiling and happy young woman. She lived in the world of the rumba (party) scene,” Laura Hidalgo, the victim’s mother, told local media outside the morgue in Bogota.
“He lived in the United States and came to marry her, they were going to share a life together and do the paperwork for that,” she added.
The Police and the Colombian Attorney General’s Office are analyzing several hours of videos from security cameras of the places where the young woman and her boyfriend were from Friday night until Sunday morning, when her body was found.
These pieces of information, plus testimonies from her relatives and WhatsApp chats, will be fundamental elements in the investigation.
There are many questions that remain unanswered in this death, authorities say. But if Poulos is charged with homicide, and the crime is classified as a femicide, Colombian criminal law allows for up to 50 years in prison.
Femicide is broadly defined as the intentional murder of women because they are women. According to the World Health Organisation, “most cases of femicide are committed by partners or ex-partners.”
It is a national issue in Colombia, with 612 femicides reported last year alone, according to the Colombian Femicide Observatory.