by Pascale Bonnefoy M. (Lea el artículo original en español aquí)
- READ MORE: Patio 29 Register
- READ MORE: Inconsistencies between the SML and the General Cemetery
- READ MORE: Military courts: Execute first, judge second
Hundreds of bullet-riddled bodies were transferred from the morgue to the General Cemetery of Santiago in the first months of the military dictatorship. However, bureaucratic disorder, erroneous records and inconsistencies in the files of the Servicio Médico Legal (SML) and the cemetery raise doubts about the final destination of some of the victims of the dictatorship.
As part of its investigation “Executions in Chile 1973: The bureaucracy of death”, ArchivosChile reviewed and compared the documentary records of the SML and the General Cemetery of Santiago regarding the trajectory of the victims of political repression in the first months of the military dictatorship, from the time they entered the morgue to their final destination.
The records of the two institutions differ as to the dates on which the bodies left the morgue, who took them to the cemetery, whether they actually entered the cemetery, and where they were buried, or whether they were cremated without the knowledge of their families.
According to cemetery records, only a fraction of the bodies sent from the morgue to the cemetery appear to have arrived, and on dates different from those indicated in the SML books. In many cases, their dates and burial places do not correspond to reality.
Many of the deceased from gunshot wounds buried in Patio 29 had already been identified at the morgue. Dozens more supposedly ended up in the crematorium, some “cremated as paupers,” as the cemetery books state, which in many cases turned out to be false.
According to the records of the SML, between September 11 and December 31, 1973, more than 1,130 deceased left for the General Cemetery; of these, about 690 had died of gunshot wounds. However, many of them are not shown arriving at the cemetery, and it is not clear what happened to them.
Were they cremated in total secrecy, as has been rumored for years? Were they moved to another location and made to disappear? Were they buried as John Does (NN) in Patio 29 without being noted? Or were they buried in niches or graves and no one at the cemetery bothered to note it?
Military Intervention at the Cemetery
The first victims of the political repression began to arrive at the General Cemetery on September 14. By then, there was already a delegate of the Military Junta acting as director, a civilian named Avendaño, according to the recollection of a civil servant who at that time provided technical services. The previous director was quickly removed from his post.
The day after the coup, he says, Avendaño gathered all the personnel in a sports complex near the cemetery and harangued them about their future work.
“He told us that now we had to work. He didn’t last more than five minutes. He was overbearing, and he took over the cemetery for about a year,” recounts the official, who was present.
From then on and in a staggered manner, a dozen officials were detained from the cemetery and left for an unknown location. Most of them returned to work weeks later, but physically and psychologically in very bad shape, recalls the official. Although they did not give details of their detention, most of them said they had been at the Colina air base. Among the detainees was the person in charge of the crematorium at the time, who declined an interview with ArchivosChile.
On that September 14, when the first gunshot wound victims began to arrive at the cemetery, 71 people were buried, among them the first eight victims of human rights violations: one was 16-year-old Tabitha García Gutiérrez. The eight were buried in niches purchased by their families or in family graves, as recorded in the General Cemetery’s Book of Locations.
The next day, the number of gunshot wound victims arriving at the cemetery doubled. On that September 15, the victims were buried in Patio 29, a temporary common yard that had begun to be used earlier that year to bury unclaimed family members, unidentified deceased, and indigents. Most of the dead from gunshot wounds that were officially registered in the Book of Locations ended up in Patio 29, although they had already been identified from the morgue.
Among the victims buried in Patio 29 on September 15, 1973, according to cemetery records, were Sergio Aedo Guerrero, Luis Barrera Torres, Miguel Cisternas Bocaz and Carlos Durán Durán.
The corpses had to arrive with a burial pass issued by the Civil Registration Service office inside the morgue. This authorization included the cause of death and was based on the autopsy protocol. With the death registration number, the deceased were entered in the Book of Locations, which, among other things, indicated the date and place of burial.
However, the books of the General Cemetery of that time do not reflect the true number of deceased who arrived, nor the precise date of their burial and the real final destination of many of them. According to María Luisa Sepúlveda, former Executive Vice President of the Valech Commission, what often went wrong was the protocol for the safekeeping of the bodies from their arrival at the morgue to their transfer to the cemetery.
Sepúlveda explains that the testimonies of cemetery officials contained in the judicial investigation of Patio 29 in the 1990s confirmed that “sometimes they had to assemble the crates right there in the morgue. The gravediggers would take out the corpse, put it in a drawer and then fill out a sheet of paper. In other words, I don’t think those men were told to mix up the bodies, but they were not given any indication of how to safeguard the chain of custody”.
Lost in transit
From the Santiago morgue 223 bodies left for the cemetery in September, 315 in October, 104 in November and 44 in December. However, although the General Cemetery Location Book records the entry of an increasing number of victims of the repression throughout September and October 1973, and far fewer in November and December, it does not reflect the number of corpses supposedly leaving the morgue for the cemetery.
For example, between September 15 and 19, 73 deaths from gunshot wounds were transferred from the morgue to the cemetery. However, the General Cemetery records the admission of only 61 during the same period.
Instead of noting the burials in order of arrival, the workers wrote in the Location Book at the end of the day. This may explain the disorder and omissions in the records, in a context not only of fear and a certain amount of chaos, but also of an increased workload. This book records the burial place of the deceased by day and in alphabetical order, based on the burial passes. On some of its pages, after the alphabetical list of people and their burial places, more names were noted, without any order, implying that the burial passes arrived after the burial occurred.
After October–the month in which most deaths from gunshot wounds were transferred to the cemetery, according to SML records–the number of deaths from gunshot wounds in the General Cemetery decreased significantly.
It is noteworthy that there are practically no unidentified persons (“NN”) recorded in the Location Book during the month of September 1973, when 29 unidentified persons left the morgue that month. In October, the SML transferred 60 unidentified bodies to the General Cemetery, but for that period, only a few are recorded as having entered. According to the cemetery records, on two occasions large groups of unidentified victims were brought in, but these dates do not coincide with the date unidentified persons left the morgue in October.
According to SML records, on October 3, 1973 alone, 19 NN, dead from gunshot wounds, departed for the cemetery. However, their arrival does not appear in the cemetery books on those dates. Instead, according to the cemetery books, on October 12, 34 “Unknowns” or “NN” entered the cemetery; all but two had died of gunshot wounds. All of them were buried in Patio 29.
Two of these “NN” were later identified, according to an entry made in 1993 in the same Location Book: Jorge Ávila Pizarro and Justo Joaquín Mendoza Santibáñez. However, according to the SML, Mendoza Santibáñez’s body had been removed from the morgue by his mother nine days earlier. And Ávila Pizarro is shown leaving the SML eight days earlier.
On October 22, another 10 “Unknowns” or “NN” were admitted with a cause of death by gunshot wound, which were also buried in Patio 29. One of these was noted as “Bones.”
“Incinerated as indigents”
It has been impossible to confirm whether some of the bodies that appear leaving the morgue but are not in the cemetery records ended up cremated without the authorization or knowledge of the families. ArchivosChile tried several times to interview the person in charge of the crematorium at the time, but he refused.
However, both the SML and the General Cemetery documented the supposed cremation of people who were never cremated.
According to the records of the SML, more than 40 bodies–almost all of them killed by gunshot wounds–were sent to the crematorium of the General Cemetery; except in two cases, they were transferred directly by the service and not by their relatives.
This is the case, for example, of 12 victims listed as disappeared detainees in the Rettig Report. All of them were killed between September and October 1973 and, according to the SML books, their remains were transferred by the service itself to the General Cemetery. Four of them, according to the SML, went directly to the crematorium: Carlos Guzmán Altamirano, Carlos Gutiérrez Benavides, José Pavez Espinoza and Nelson Muñoz Torres.
However, as was discovered years later, several of them were actually buried in Patio 29, as was the Bolivian Donato Quispe Choque. According to the SML, Quispe had been transferred directly to the crematorium, although his remains were positively identified in 2010 as those of the person buried in grave 2707 of Patio 29 next to a NN.
Carlos Guzmán and Nelson Muñoz appear in the records of the General Cemetery as buried in graves 2710 and 2708, respectively, of Patio 29, and not cremated. Moreover, in 2009 the identity of Nelson Muñoz Torres was confirmed as part of Judge Alejandro Solis’ investigation of Patio 29.
José Pavez Espinoza is still missing. His name appeared until 1981 as buried in grave 2705 of Patio 29 along with another victim: Oscar Marambio Araya, whose identity was also confirmed by the SML in 2011.
In a dozen other cases, the General Cemetery registered the cremation of people who do not even correspond to the same ones that the SML noted as having been sent to the crematorium. One of them is Luis Curivil Pranamil, who died on September 13 and was sent to the cemetery on October 3. The cemetery records indicate that he was “cremated as indigent” 15 days later.
- READ MORE: The strange cases of the two Luis Curivils
Others include Desiderio Espinoza Ruiz, Rene Lizama Trafilaf, Luis Alberto Ross Hernandez and Jose Miguel Farias Padilla, who are also listed as leaving the morgue on October 3 for burial, but in the cemetery records, they appear as cremated on October 18.
And there is the case of Gabriel Panes Muñoz, whose body, according to the SML records, was removed by his “employer”, Jaime Pérez Benkis, and taken to the General Cemetery. He arrived at the cemetery that same day, according to the Book of Locations, but his burial pass clearly denies that his employer had taken him to be buried. The burial pass indicates: “Incinerated without the corresponding resolution of the V Health Zone of Santiago because it was a special case in the sense that the corpse was sent directly by the IML in the condition of indigent.”
Another victim erroneously registered in the General Cemetery books as “cremated as indigent” was Socialist lawyer Arnoldo Camú Veloso, advisor to President Salvador Allende.
Camú was killed during his arrest on September 24 and transferred from the Posta Central to the morgue. Dr. Tomás Tobar Pinochet did one of the most complete autopsies of those days on him and he was still in the morgue when the Registro Civil confirmed his identity on 28 september using his fingerprints.
According to the records of the SML, it was Camú’s father who removed him from the morgue and took him to the General Cemetery on October 11. However, the actual story is different. Camu was taken by morgue officials to the cemetery. More than two weeks had passed since his death and his family still did not know of his whereabouts, his widow, Celsa Parrau, told ArchivosChile. Parrau had been to the morgue several times to see the lists hanging outside with the names of the deceased, but Arnoldo Camú never appeared on them.
At the end of September, she entered the morgue. “What I saw inside was horrifying. Bodies piled up, some corpses in a row, others piled on top of others. It was shocking. Many bodies were cut up by machine-gun fire, with heads destroyed. I went in, but I turned back; I couldn’t see any more,” Parrau recalls.
One day, a friend who was helping her with the search called to tell her that her husband was in the morgue, and that they were about to move him to the cemetery. Parrau’s father and Camú’s brother left immediately for the cemetery, but it was too late. Only the next day they were able to exhume him from Patio 29, where he was never registered.
“My father exhumed him and told me that in the niche he was with two other corpses. There were three in total. They exhumed him and cremated him immediately. Two days later I went to look for the ashes,” Parrau recounted.
But in the cemetery, the Locations Book indicates that Camú’s body arrived a week later, on October 18, was cremated, and his ashes were left in the crematory oven. The burial pass that accompanied the body states: “Deceased sent without a relative directly from the SML. Incinerated as a pauper.”
Luis Alberto Trecanao Mora, who died on September 19 and was found in the Mapocho River, had a similar trajectory. He appears to have been taken to the cemetery on October 3 by the SML. However, his entrance to the cemetery appears with a different date–October 18–and his burial pass is similar to that of Camú: “Sent without a relative directly by the IML. Cremated as indigent. Ashes in crematory oven”.
During 1973, 1,479 people were buried in Patio 29, which had 1,421 graves. After the military coup, according to official records of burials in Patio 29 obtained by ArchivosChile, 58 people were buried in pairs in a single grave. Most were concentrated in graves 2687 to 2727. (Patio 29 Registry)
When the unidentified bodies (NN) were exhumed by court order from 107 graves in Patio 29 in September 1991, 124 corpses were found, as recorded in an Official letter from the General Cemetery’s Operations Department.
However, both relatives of the victims and cemetery officials themselves say that in some cases up to three bodies were buried together.
“In general, they came one person at a time in a crate, but we also saw three bodies arrive in a crate when they were unloaded from the trucks coming from the morgue,” says a cemetery official at the time who did not want to be identified. “Obviously they couldn’t be covered, because the bodies wouldn’t fit. They came with big holes in their backs from the bullets. We saw a pregnant woman. I saw a child. Most of them came naked. They buried them just as they were in Patio 29. Those images stayed in our retinas.”
In numerous cases, people were buried in Patio 29 who had been fully identified in the morgue, after having their fingerprints checked against the samples on file at the Civil Registry.
“When in the early 1990s a new review was made of the identifications confirmed by the Registro Civil at the time, it was concluded that many victims who had been transferred to the General Cemetery were identified. Many relatives found out at that time. And that was registered by the cemetery. Other families never found out,” SML forensic anthropologist Marisol Intriago told ArchivosChile.
On October 12, for example, nine identified persons entered and were buried in Patio 29, among them Donato Quispe, executed on September 22. The Registro Civil had confirmed his identity two days before, and according to the morgue records, he had been transferred by the SML to the cemetery on October 3. He was registered there nine days later.
On October 22 the burial of another 18 deceased by gunshot wounds was documented. All entered with their identities confirmed by the Registro Civil. All except two were buried in Patio 29.
Among them was former Army black beret and MIR militant Oscar Delgado Marín, executed on October 5. According to SML records, he had spent almost two weeks in the morgue before Dr. José Luis Vásquez performed an autopsy. In it, the thanatologist noted proof of cause of death: “complex bullet wound to the torso” and the place: Estadio Nacional.
Oscar Delgado was sent directly to the cemetery by IML on October 12 with his identity confirmed by the Registro Civil. In the cemetery records, he appears as arriving 10 days later. He was buried under his full name in grave 2654 of Patio 29.
However, his family did not learn of his death until 20 years later, when a relative went to the Vicariate of Solidarity, according to what his cousin, Silvia Delgado, told this author. They had lost track of him after the 1973 Fiestas Patrias and never learned of his arrest and death at the Estadio Nacional. Only then did Delgado’s family discover that there was a death certificate and learned the cause and place of death and burial, but it was impossible to recover his remains: they had been exhumed and cremated in November 1981, as had dozens of victims identified but whose whereabouts were still unknown.
 ArchivosChile was not allowed to copy or photograph archival documentation from the Santiago General Cemetery. It was not possible to make a systematic follow-up of the bodies that left the IML because they were registered in the cemetery with the burial pass numbers and not with the protocol numbers used in the morgue and the data of each body that entered the cemetery is spread over three different sets of books.
 This official, who still works at the General Cemetery, requested that his name be withheld.
 Except for the official cited above, no other official of the General Cemetery who can testify to the events of 1973 agreed to be interviewed by ArchivosChile. For much of 2011, ArchivosChile repeatedly attempted to arrange an interview with the Director of the General Cemetery, Mr. Tulio Guevara, or to have him respond to a questionnaire, but received no response.
 The other seven were Carlos Héctor Rojas González, Pedro Raúl Poklepovic Braun, Francisco Luis Opazo Larraín, Irma María Cristina De los Mozos Corvalán, José Fernando Fuentes Segovia, Domingo Elías Santos Muñoz and Marcos Aurelio Vega Penjean.
 The Book of Locations, July 1 to December 31, 1973, of the Santiago General Cemetery consulted for this research includes the following data: Date of burial, civil registration number, Civil Registration district, full name of the deceased, age, cause of death, classification, and place of burial. Only consultation was allowed, not reproduction or copying.
 Carlos Guzmán Altamirano, Hugo Arredondo Sánchez, Luis Gutiérrez Merino, Carlos Gutiérrez Benavides, José Pavez Espinoza, Nelson Muñoz Torres, Jorge Riquelme Guzmán, José Manuel González González, Salustio Herrera Riveros, José Santos Ramírez Ramírez, Luis Hernández Alvarez and Miguel Ángel Núñez Valenzuela.
 The remains of Arnoldo Camú were moved in 1996 to the Memorial of the Cementerio General.
 The Historical Heritage Commission of the National Monuments Council prepared this register based on official documentation from the General Cemetery as part of the investigation prior to the declaration of Patio 29 as a Historic Monument in 2006.
 The remains were sent to the SML for identification. The identities of 96 of them were confirmed in 1995 and the remains were handed over to their families; however, later on, errors were found in the identification of at least 48 of them. Work is currently underway to re-identify all of the bodies, and the identities of 45 have been confirmed to date.
 An order from the Third Military Prosecutor’s Office in July 1981 expressly prohibited the cremation, exhumation or transfer of the bodies buried in Patio 29, but this order was not fully complied with.
- 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