Obsessive Pursuit

Years after her brother was murdered in Chile's "dirty war," a diminutive former professor went after the killer

On Oct. 15, 2003, the jury found Fernandez Larios liable for kidnapping, extrajudicial murders, and crimes against humanity. Though the plaintiffs had never said how much they thought Fernandez Larios should pay, the jurors awarded them $4 million: $3 million for Veronica and her daughters, $1 million for Zita and her siblings.

Whether the family will ever collect that kind of money from an auto-body repairman is an open question. Defense attorney Davis, who declined an interview for this article, has said his client doesn't have any money. Kerrigan says that's probably true, although he says the CJA hopes to make sure by researching Fernandez Larios' assets and income. In any event, Davis has promised to appeal the verdict.

Despite the courtroom victory, Zita wasn't finished with her research.

Zita Cabello-Barrueto spent five years gathering 
evidence in the 1973 murder of her older brother 
Winston (inset).
James Sanders
Zita Cabello-Barrueto spent five years gathering evidence in the 1973 murder of her older brother Winston (inset).
Armando Fernandez Larios was a member of the 
notorious "Caravan of Death," which killed opponents 
of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
AP Wide World Photos
Armando Fernandez Larios was a member of the notorious "Caravan of Death," which killed opponents of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

"The trial for many people was a grieving period, it was closure," Zita says. "But for me it was not closure."

Right after the trial ended, she called Adolfo Gonzalez, the jail guard who'd informed her and Veronica about their husbands. He'd been afraid to testify, but said if she won the suit, he'd give her enough information that she could write a book.

When she called Gonzalez to remind him of his promise, he recalled seeing Fernandez Larios with the 13 prisoners as they left the garrison, and watching the soldier beat two of them. His testimony would have undercut the defense's argument that Fernandez Larios wasn't involved, and linked him to Winston. But Gonzalez didn't know what happened once the truck left that night.

No one, it seems, can prove beyond a doubt Ximena de la Barra's story about Fernandez Larios stabbing Winston with a corvo.


Since that interview, Zita's life has gone somewhat blurry. Roberto says his mother spent so much time preparing for the trial that she didn't prepare for after the trial.

She wants to contact the families of other dirty-war victims she's uncovered information about, but dreads the possibility of bringing even more pain into their lives. She also has begun outlining a book about Winston's murder, her pursuit of his killer, and the trial of Fernandez Larios.

"There are a lot of regrets right now," she says. "I don't see the story like other people see it. I can't abandon my journey."

But at long last, she and the rest of the Cabello family have started openly discussing Winston with each other and other Chileans.

"In Chile, it's important," says Aldo. "Everyone was told [Winston] was bad and needed to be killed. Now it shows he was a young professional trying to do his work."

There has been another bonus, too: Friends who stopped supporting Zita have returned to her life. Her friend Gloria wrote her, saying she thanked God Zita worked so hard and showed that men like Fernandez Larios aren't immune from justice. Zita also met Orlando Letelier's widow, another woman forced by Fernandez Larios to bear an irrevocable loss.

"She just hugged me," Zita says about their meeting. "She said, 'I'm so happy you could do it, because I couldn't.'"

Zita hasn't returned to teaching. Most days, she uses her old house-painting skills to brighten her own home. File boxes containing the Tomos are tucked under the bed in her guest room. Copies of her documentary are stacked in the hall closet. When roses blossom in her garden, Zita cuts them and displays them in the living room. They stand regal and tall in their vases.

"My life has been shaped by this event," Zita says of Winston's murder 31 years ago. "Never underestimate the power of hope. There's nothing you can't do. I showed everybody: Yes, it's possible."

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