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Puerto Vallarta News NetworkEditorials | Issues | December 2007 

Death of "Cannibal Poet" Highlights Crisis in Mexican Prisons
email this pageprint this pageemail usAllan Wall - PVNN

Jose Luis Calva, 38, better known in tabloids as Mexico City's 'cannibal,' committed suicide early Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2007 by hanging himself from his belt in his jail cell, according to Mexico City's prisons authorities. (AP/David Oziel)
On December 11th, Jose Luis Calva Zepeda, known as the "Cannibal Poet", was found hanged in his cell, in the Reclusorio Oriente, a crowded Mexico City prison with 10,000 inmates.

Aside from ending a morbid and grisly saga, the Calva case highlights serious problems in the Mexican prison system.

Jose Luis Calva Zepeda, 38 years old, was described as a habitual liar, a flamboyant personality who wrote poetry, fiction and plays, and passed himself off as a journalist, actor and TV personality.

Calva's new girlfriend, 32-year old Alejandra Galeana, a divorced mother of 2, had gone missing on October 6th. Suspecting Calva, the PFP (Federal Preventive Police) raided his apartment on October 13th. What they found there was horrifying.

"The Cannibal Poet" had been cooking human flesh in a frying pan, having seasoned it with lemon. There were pieces of human flesh still on the table. When the police entered, Calva jumped out a window and was hit by an automobile, sustaining minor injuries.

A search of the apartment turned up Alejandra's torso in a closet, human bones in a cereal box, and human flesh in the refrigerator.

Under questioning, Calva admitted to having killed Alejandra and mutilating her body, but denied the cannibalism. His explanation was that he planned to dispose of her body by feeding it to dogs. (If so, why the lemon seasoning?)

Nevertheless, Calva had shown great interest in cannibalism, and was currently writing a novel entitled Cannibal Instincts or 12 Days. The man was also an admitted admirer of "Hannibal the Cannibal," the cultured and urbane cannibal portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in "the Silence of the Lambs" and other movies.

It is also believed that Calva was also responsible for at least two other murders. One was another girlfriend, in 2004 - her mutilated body was found in cardboard boxes. That same year, another female who knew Calva was also discovered chopped up, in a suitcase.

Having killed these three young women would qualify Calva as a serial killer. (The definition of serial killer is a murderer who kills at least 3 people with breaks in between.)

It's also posible that Calva killed 5 other women whose deaths were previously unexplained.

However, these cases weren't solved and probably never will be.

On December 11th, the "Cannibal Poet" was found dead in his cell, hanged with a belt. His death was ruled a suicide, yet the circumstances don't add up. Besides, serial killers are not usually suicidal. Such a notorious prisoner is supposed to be kept under 24 hour surveillance, but Calva was not.

So, there have been suspicions that the "cannibal poet" was murdered, by fellow prisoners and/or prison authorities. Calva's sister and a former girlfriend (!) are charging foul play.

This was denied by the prison, but two days later, the director of the Reclusorio Oriente was relieved of his post and replaced by a more qualified individual.

It turns out that the prison director, Engels Lopez, wasn't even qualified for the post, being an actor and a singer. The director's principal emphasis at the prison was having prisoners rehearse to perform plays. That's a good activity to keep inmates occupied, but the principal responsibility of a prison administration should be security. Lopez has been replaced with a more qualified director.

But the Reclusorio Oriente is only one of many problem-plagued correctional institutions in Mexico. The country's prisons are infested with internal crime, drug use, bad treatment and corruption.

Prison administrators skim funds destined for inmate care, drug cartel bosses run cartels from behind bars and inmates have to depend on relatives to bring them food. According to a recent report, the director of a women's prison was utilizing female inmates as prostitutes in men's prisons.

The suspicious death of the "cannibal poet" is the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

A December 12th editorial in Universal, entitled ¿De quién son las cárceles? (Whose are the prisons?) describes a "climate of perversion, abuse and crime that exists in the national prison system, that never improves, although its directors leave their posts converted into multimillionaires... The death of Calva must be cleared up, but most of all our network of prisons must be examined."

No doubt that's true - but it's a tall order indeed.
Allan Wall is an American citizen who has been teaching English in Mexico since 1991, and writing articles about various aspects of Mexico and Mexican society for the past decade. Some of these articles are about Mexico's political scene, history and culture, tourism, and Mexican emigration as viewed from south of the border, which you can read on his website at

Click HERE for more articles by Allan Wall.

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