by Pascale Bonnefoy M. (Lea aquí el artículo original en español)
hen the curfew was lifted and the Civil Registry officials were able to return to work on September 14, 1973, an Army officer gathered them all together in a room of the old Identification Office building, which at that time was located on Amunátegui and General Mackenna streets. The officer explained that there was only one colleague in the morgue and he needed reinforcements.
“He asked for volunteers, but in reality he handpicked the younger ones,” says Héctor Herrera, then a 23-year-old civil registry official. “They immediately took us by van to the morgue. There we were given instructions in the corridors. In an office I met one of the heads of the Service, Eladio Jaña. He was directing the work of the Registro Civil officials in the morgue.”
Herrera was part of a group of eight to ten Registro Civil officials sent by the new military authorities to support the Instituto Médico Legal (IML) in identification tasks until at least the end of September 1973.
The day they arrived, 43 bodies were admitted to the Santiago morgue; all but five had died of gunshot wounds, according to the SML records. They had already received about 100 dead in those first four days of military dictatorship. The daily average of dead bodies before the coup was no more than ten.
he Independencia sub-office of the Registro Civil located at the entrance of the south gate of the morgue on La Paz Avenue was not able to cope. There were not enough personnel to take fingerprint samples from the corpses that were arriving and were to be sent to the service to confirm their identities.
ArchivosChile obtained through the Transparency Law about 280 of the original fingerprint cards taken from the deceased in the morgue between September and November 1973 and still kept by the Registro Civil, as well as the documents from the Registro Civil to the IML confirming their identities. These files faithfully reflect the brutality of the repression: fingers without skin due to their state of decomposition or to the time they had remained in the waters of rivers and canals; burned hands; destroyed hands; without fingers, and even “amputated by gunshot”. Many came with clenched fists, making it difficult–and sometimes impossible–to open their hands, recalls Herrera.
Cross-checking the information in these files and documents with the records of the SML also reveals serious errors in the identification of bodies, crossed identities that do not correspond with the names registered in the morgue, and the case of 13 detainees-disappeared who passed through the morgue and were identified by the Registro Civil , but whose trail, nevertheless, was also lost.
Of the approximately 280 files obtained by ArchivosChile, only about 70 came with prints, some of them “unclassifiable”, and the remainder were without prints. In many cases this was due to the impossibility of taking them. Some records stated that they were minors, so the Registro Civil did not have any records or fingerprints on file with which to compare them.
Many of the cards that came without fingerprints had the notation: “Taken by the Bureau“. These were the samples taken by Registro Civil officials sent to the morgue, but it is not explained why many of these cards appear without fingerprints.
All the fingerprint records were sent to the Subsection Deceased-Morgue of the Registro Civil , either complete with 10 fingerprints, with only some, or with none. In some cases, the fingerprints that were taken were so poorly done, that they were unclassifiable, impossible to compare with the fingerprints registered in the Identification Cabinet.
Fingerprint samples were taken in duplicate. One copy remained at the IML and formed part of the autopsy protocol folder, while the other went to the Registro Civil. According to Herrera, every afternoon Eladio Jaña, Chief of the Central Bureau, gathered the dozens of files with the fingerprint samples that his officials took from the dead, and that same afternoon or the following morning they were sent to the Morgue-Deceased Subsection of the Identification Bureau. There the samples were checked against the fingerprint records that the service had of the registered population.
In the log book for the admission of samples to the Deceased-Morgue Subsection, the date of admission, the protocol number assigned to the deceased at the IML, and the name of each fingerprint card, if it had any identification that had to be confirmed, were recorded.
Meanwhile, the Junta had designated Desiderio Herrera González as Interim Director of the Registro Civil, who repeatedly asked that the head of the Central Bureau, Eladio Jaña, be relieved of his post. “I consider Mr. Eladio Jaña to have critical limitations to perform in this position, the importance of which at this moment is apparent,” said the new director in an official letter addressed to the Undersecretary of Justice in December 1973.
he two-stage identity confirmation procedure in normal times was relatively simple. If the morgue card came with an identity to be confirmed, it was placed in the index file containing the cards of persons registered in the Registro Civil, arranged alphabetically by name and including personal data and fingerprints. Confirming the identity of the deceased took only minutes.
However, if the morgue card came with only fingerprints and no name, the fingerprint file was consulted, which was sorted by sex and numerically on the basis of a “14-value key” defining the characteristics of the print. The experts had to assign a numerical value to each of the fingerprints in the file, and with that classification they compared it with the fingerprint file until they found the exact combination of those keys. If no card with those values was found, the classification was subdivided, which yielded another numerical key that could also be searched against the file.
Everything depended on how the samples arrived, on the expertise of the expert to classify them correctly, on the type of classification–if it was a very common classification it could take longer, since more cards had to be reviewed–and on the need to subdivide the classification, which was more complex. Or, cards could be misfiled in the Registro Civil files, which happened infrequently but also made classification take longer.
Confirmation of identities
Registro Civil official letters obtained by ArchivosChile show that between September 11 and November 30, 1973, the Registro Civil confirmed the identity of some 500 people, and the impossibility of doing so in almost 80 cases, due to the poor quality or absence of fingerprint samples. These reports did not refer only to deaths in the Santiago morgue, but also included cases in the provinces, when the local morgues asked the Central Office of the Registro Civil to confirm an identity.he
According to the archives of the time, the Registro Civil periodically informed the SML about the identities, although with delays. The official letters were signed by Irma Palma Parada, Head of the Subdepartment of Dactyloscopy of the Registro Civil.
However, in many cases, this confirmation of identity arrived back when the deceased had already been removed from the morgue, either by relatives or by the Service itself, without the families being aware of it.
The Registro Civil was overwhelmed and behind in its work classifying fingerprints. In an official letter sent to the Subsecretary of Justice, Max Silva del Campo at the beginning of December 1973, the Director, Desiderio Herrera, reported that “the Fingerprint Subdepartment has a backlog of more than 35,000 cards to classify, research and file […] The work is accumulating more and more, since there isn’t enought time to classify everything that is received daily from all over the country […] Mr. Undersecretary knows that we are in the presence of an abnormal demand for services”.
According to the Director, the Service had only 42 staff members for these tasks, when circumstances required 100.
Crossed identities, bodies without names
artly due to this excess demand, the existing documentation of the time reveals that serious mistakes and negligence were made in the identification of some people; protocol numbers were confused, protocol numbers were forgotten, and some deceased were misidentified.
The morgue recorded the admission of 32 detainees-disappeared persons included in the Rettig Report. Of these, 13 were identified by the Registro Civil at the time, and the SML was informed of their identities. This indicates that 13 detainees did indeed pass through the Santiago morgue, were identified through their fingerprints by the Registro Civil , but nevertheless ended up disappearing from the morgue.
One of these persons, assigned protocol number 3275 and corresponding to an unidentified person riddled with bullets and found in the Zanjón de la Aguada, was erroneously identified as Juan Lorca Polanco. During a review of the NN files carried out in 1991, it was verified that the fingerprint samples taken from the body with protocol 3275 actually corresponded to Luis Núñez Álvarez, a driver for the Ministry of Public Works who died on October 12, 1973. The body of Luis Núñez Álvarez was exhumed from Patio 29 and his identity was confirmed more recently by the SML.
Unless their families arrived in time to recognize and remove the bodies of their loved ones, the Registro Civil contributed to the confusion and uncertainty regarding the true identity with which the bodies left the morgue. This was the case of the body assigned protocol 2990 at the IML. On different occasions, the Registro Civil identified the body as José Santos Ramírez Ramírez (who appears in the morgue registry as protocol 2991) and also as Jorge Reinaldo Torres Aránguiz.
Later, the Registro Civil assigned Ramírez protocol 2698, which corresponded to Jose Orostica Guajardo, who died in a traffic accident. José Ramírez is now a detainee-disappeared. It was never clarified to which body (registered by protocol number) his identity corresponded.
The 13 cases of detainees-disappeared whose bodies were actually in the morgue because their fingerprints were taken there and sent to the Registro Civil, which in turn identified them, were sent directly to the General Cemetery by the SML itself.
It was not possible to establish the exact dates on which the official letters from the Registro Civil informing of the identities physically arrived at the SML (we only have the date on which they were written), but the morgue records show that the 13 were transferred to the cemetery on days later than those indicated in those letters, although many errors have also been discovered in the dates of departure from the morgue. In the case of José Ramírez Ramírez, his body left for the cemetery on the same day that the Registro Civil issued its official document. In two other cases – William Ramírez Barria and Jorge Orrego González – the SML did not note when they left.
Four of the 13 missing detainees were supposedly incinerated in the crematorium, according to morgue records. Two of them had been identified by the Registro Civil: José Pavez Espinoza and Nelson Muñoz Torres. The other two were released as NN and their identities were confirmed in 1991: Enrique Toledo Garay and Eduardo Casanova Pino.
However, this data is not reliable: two of the people supposedly cremated–according to SML data–were actually buried in Patio 29 of the General Cemetery. In recent years, the SML confirmed the identities of Nelson Muñoz and Eduardo Casanova as two of the remains exhumed from Patio 29.
here were other serious situations: the fingerprint records include samples taken from five persons who today remain as disappeared detainees and who were never noted in the morgue’s book of deceased persons. That is to say, their bodies arrived at the morgue, fingerprint samples were taken, and the Registro Civil confirmed their identities, but they were not listed as having been admitted to the morgue. If any family member went to the morgue to look for them, they could never find their names on any list.
They were Luis Jiménez Cortes, Iván Miranda Sepúlveda, Segundo Gárate Torres, Ignacio Santander Albornoz and Pedro Garcés Portigliati.
In the case of Garcés Portigliati, member of President Salvador Allende’s security detail (aka GAP), the sample of his fingerprints taken at the morgue was sent to the Registro Civil, que confirmed his identity on September 24. However, the official who filled out the form did not note the protocol number assigned to that body. Therefore, the identity of Garcés , confirmed by the Registro Civil, could never be associated with a body. It is possible that Garcés corresponded to protocol 2720, which appears as an NN executed on the Bulnes Bridge on September 20 along with part of the GAP group with which Garcés was arrested on the day of the coup. On January 11, 2012, the SML confirmed the identity of Garcés among the remains exhumed from Patio 29 of the General Cemetery.
In the case of the other four, their fingerprints were taken at the morgue and sent to the Registro Civil . The latter promptly informed the SML of the identities of Jiménez and Miranda on September 16 and of Gárate the next day. However, their bodies were never registered at the morgue, so officially, they were not there. All three remain missing.
The Registro Civil confirmed the identity of Ignacio Santander However, the SML did not take note of them and left protocol 3130 as NN.
In the case of Luis Jiménez, the Registro Civil reported his identity to the IML on the basis of “files taken from unknown persons in that Institute on September 15,” the same day of his disappearance. However, when reporting this and nine other cases that day, the Deaths-Morgue Subsection did not include the protocol number associated with the body in the morgue, but only a file number in the Registro Civil. Therefore, it was never possible to associate the identity of Luis Jiménez with any of the NN corpses lying in the morgue.
Taking advantage of this bureaucratic error, in 1975, the Chilean Ambassador to the United Nations, Sergio Diez, answered the accusations about disappeared people in Chile in a report presented to the UN General Assembly stating that Luis Jiménez Cortés, as well as 152 other people, were not missing because “they have no legal existence in the Santiago Identification Office”.
The bodies corresponding to protocols 3351 and 3681 also appear as NN, although in the fingerprint records sent to the Registro Civil for their identification, the names appear annotated: 3351 corresponds to the executed politician Roberto Avila Márquez, and 3681 to Carlos Gaete Espinoza, whose name does not appear in the list of those admitted to the morgue or in the Rettig Report. Nevertheless, given his cause of death (gunshot wound) and the fact that his body was referred by a military prosecutor’s office, Gaete is a potential victim of human rights violations.
here were still other inexplicable situations. For example, the fingerprint record of protocol 3631 was sent to the Registro Civil without fingerprints, indicating that the fingers were “without epidermis” and that he was a minor. In the SML book, however, the same protocol number was assigned to Jeremías Jara Valenzuela, 21 years old.
On the other hand, the Registro Civil confirmed the identity of José Morales Álvarez associated to protocol 3129, but the fingerprint record corresponding to that protocol has the following annotation: “Without impressions. Putrefied. Fetus”.
There were also a dozen cases in which the Registro Civil reported the identity of the deceased but associated with a protocol number different from the one assigned to that body in the morgue, or with a name that turned out to be incorrect. The priest Juan Alsina, executed on the Bulnes Bridge on September 19, was identified by the Civil Registry, according to the analysis of his fingerprints, as “David Trigo.”
In another example, the protocol and identity numbers of two persons were confused within two days. The Registro Civil reported that the person assigned protocol number 3469 at the morgue was José Méndez Fernández Fernández, but that protocol number appears in the IML admission book as Luis Fuentes Soriano. Soriano, meanwhile, appears with protocol number 3469, but the Registro Civil identified him with protocol number 3464. According to the morgue records, both bodies were removed from the IML by relatives, despite the obvious confusion about their correct identities.
This also happened with Alberto Soto Valdés and Carlos Ibarra Echeverría. The Registro Civil reported their identities with changed protocol numbers: it identified Soto with protocol 3204, which corresponded to Ibarra, and vice versa. Ibarra’s body, however, was recognized by relatives, according to the not always accurate morgue records.
Complete fingerprints, but John Does
evidently in good condition. With that quality of the sample, the prints could have been classified and the identities confirmed; however, they never were, and those persons remained as NN.here was another questionable situation in the identification process. Of the fingerprint records obtained by ArchivosChile, there are 14 that correspond to NN (12 men, 2 women) that contain their complete fingerprints and
Strangely, one of the cards that corresponded to a Jane Doe has an annotation: “Informed by telephone, January 3, 1974”. However, in the records of the SML, she remains as NN.
According to the SML, the 14 were transferred directly from the IML to the General Cemetery and buried as NN, or perhaps cremated.
lmost 20 years later and thanks to a detainee-disappeared, 46 people who had been left as NN in the morgue between 1973 and 1984 were able to recover their identity.
In September 1990, the family of the former head of the GAP, Domingo Blanco Tarré, filed a criminal complaint for his disappearance before the Third Criminal Court of Santiago. In the search for information on his whereabouts, attorney Pamela Pereira requested that the SML request all the autopsy protocols of the NN of the time that could correspond to Blanco Tarré. After that, the judge in charge of the investigation, Dobra Lusic, ordered the Registro Civil to compare all the fingerprint records of the deceased NN taken at the morgue between September 19, 1973 until then, with its own records.
As a result, the Registro Civil was able to identify 22 people who died between September and December 1973 and who had been left as NN at the time. The remains of seven of them were positively identified by the SML in more recent years among the remains of the disappeared and executed in Patio 29 of the General Cemetery. Only one of the 22 was not a political executed person.
 Héctor Herrera remained in those functions for only one week. After the independence day celebrations (September 18), he was told that he could no longer return to the IML due to an alleged tetanus epidemic in the morgue–an epidemic that no one who worked at the IML at the time remembers or has been able to confirm. The tetanus story told to Herrera may have been because they did not want him in the morgue due to political distrust. Three weeks later, Herrera was arrested and taken to the National Stadium for 15 days. He returned to work at the Registro Civil but in December he was again arrested and this time detained for a month in the subway of the Investigative Police. He was suspended from his job for a year; upon his return, he resigned and went into self-exile.
 In preparing the documentation requested by ArchivosChile, the Registro Civil checked these records against the physical existence in its archives of the original fingerprint files of the deceased, and discovered that in six cases, the files had disappeared. These are the files of Charles Horman, Miguel Ángel Núñez Valenzuela, Héctor Eugenio Araya Garrido, Juan Miguel Córdova Yáñez, Fernando Véliz Hernández and Arnoldo Camú Veloso.
 Hugo Arredondo Sánchez, Luis Gutiérrez Merino, Jorge Orrego González, José Pavez Espinoza, Nelson Muñoz Torres, Jorge Riquelme Guzmán, José González González, Salustio Herrera Riveros, José Ramírez Ramírez, Luis Hernández Álvarez, Miguel Núñez Valenzuela, William Ramírez Barría and Luis Núñez Álvarez.
 After the Registro Civil reported in September 1991 the identity of protocol 3275 as Luis Núñez Álvarez, attorney Pamela Pereira asked the court to summon the experts to explain their methodology and to order an expert from the Investigative Police to make a new analysis of these fingerprints. There is no record in the judicial file to which ArchivosChile had access that these diligences had been carried out.
 Protocol 2823 in the entry book of deceased of the IML corresponds to Jorge Leonel Gaete Epinoza, but the name of Carlos Gaete Espinoza does not appear.
 He could be referring to David Montecinos Trigo, who died of head trauma before the military coup.
 These NN correspond to protocol numbers 2773, 2953, 3166, 3168, 3208, 3214, 3303, 3331, 3348, 419 and 3472 (males) and 3332 and 3361 (females).
 They were: Enrique Alfonso Toledo Garay, Juan José Valdebenito Miranda, Héctor Orlando Vicencio González, Jorge Carlos Romualdo Ruz Zúñiga, Eduardo Mario Casanova Pino, Pablo Ramón Aranda Schmied, José Andrés García Lazo, Raúl Luis Jiménez Barrera, Manuel Fernando Canto Gutiérrez, Pedro Segundo Antonio Opazo Parra, Daniel Hernández Orrego, Juan Osvaldo Ortiz Moraga, Sergio Alberto Gajardo Hidalgo, Hernán Peña Catalán, Jorge Antonio Aránguiz González, Bautista Van Schouwen Vasey, Bautista Segundo Oyarzo Torres, Rolando Anastasio Donaire Rodríguez, Luis Celerino Ortíz Acevedo, Luis Francisco Núñez Alvarez, Francisco Javier Lizama Irarrázabal and Hernán Soto Soto. Only Hernán Soto wasn’t killed for political reasons: He died in a traffic accident.
 Hernán Peña Catalán, Raúl Jiménez Barrera, Pablo Aranda Schmied, Eduardo Casanova Pino, Héctor Vicencio González, Juan Valdebenito Miranda and Jorge Ruz Zúñiga.
 The review reached up to 1984, and it was possible to identify another 24 NN admitted to the morgue between 1977 and 1984.
- Investigation Overview: The Bureaucracy of Death – Executions in Chile 1973
- Inside the Instituto Médico Legal (I): Bodies at dawn
- Inside the Instituto Médico Legal (II): “Cursory autopsies”
- Inside the Instituto Médico Legal (III): From the morgue to the cemetery
- Political Executions: 150 new cases?
- Crossed identities and bodies without names at the Registro Civil
- The black hole of the military prosecutors’ offices
- Military Courts: Execute first, judge second
- Wartime Tribunals: Absolute authority
- The silence of the cemetery
- The strange case of the two Luis Curivils
- Victor Jara and Littré Quiroga
- Bodies floating in the Mapocho River
- Allende suicide: Forensic reports July 19, 2011