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Wife Arrested in Dismemberment of Husband

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A 37-year-old mother of five was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of shooting her husband, dismembering his body and setting the remains ablaze.

Gladis Barreras Soto, 37, is believed to have shot her husband once in the head Monday before cutting up the body with an electric table saw in the garage of their apartment building, authorities said.

Soto then allegedly stuffed the head, legs and arms of 35-year-old Pedro Alba Barragan into a trash bag, which was doused with gasoline and set afire near an RV park north of Surfers Point, according to police accounts.

Soto was arrested after authorities identified the body through fingerprints and served a search warrant at the couple’s modest West Ramona Street apartment, where they discovered the rest of Barragan’s body.

The remains were removed from the rear of the family’s single-car garage, crowded with several bicycles, a laundry basket and a washer.

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Rubber-gloved police investigators also carted away a red metal gasoline can and a circular table saw from the complex in an alley just off Ramona Street in west Ventura.

“It’s definitely a gruesome crime,” Ventura Police Lt. Brad Talbot said. “And it’s really hard to grasp what may be going through someone’s mind as they do this. I don’t know if we’ll ever know the answer to that.”

Talbot said the couple had argued in the hours before Barragan’s death. He didn’t say what the argument was about, but one law enforcement source close to the case, who asked not to be identified, said alleged infidelity was a source of conflict in the couple’s marriage.

Authorities, who picked up Soto for questioning at the apartment early Tuesday, described her as cooperative with investigators.

She was booked on suspicion of murder later in the day.

Police discovered Barragan’s charred body parts Monday night.

Employees of the Ventura Beach RV Park reported that the bag of remains had been dumped just outside the park, which is in a brushy area near where the Ventura River empties into the Pacific Ocean.

A transient sleeping under a bridge along a drainage channel told authorities that he saw a woman in a blue hatchback drive to the area about 6:30 p.m. and dump a full garbage bag.

The woman doused the bag with some kind of fluid before setting it on fire, according to various accounts.

Afterward she drove off in the direction of downtown Ventura.

The unidentified transient ran to summon Edward Long, a security guard at the RV park.

Long said that as he approached the fire with an extinguisher, the transient told him that there appeared to be body parts in the bag.

“But I didn’t stop to acknowledge what he said, really,” Long said. “I didn’t really believe him at first, so I just kept walking [toward the fire].”

It wasn’t until a blast from the extinguisher hit the bag that Long saw what was inside.

“It was very, very gruesome,” he said. “I didn’t see a torso, just the other parts. But I kept putting out the fire because I didn’t want anyone else to come by and find this.”

Long asked other park employees to call police.

After the discovery, the park increased the number of security guards on duty from one to three to calm agitated residents.

“I doubted anyone would still be in this area,” Long said. “But safety is a concern of mine. This is a safe park. Myself and the other officers ensure this is a safe park.”

Coroner’s officials identified the body through fingerprints, authorities said Tuesday.

Joel Crawley, property manager of the complex where the couple lived in a working-class area, said it had been obvious for several months that Barragan and Soto were having problems.

The couple moved into the apartment Nov. 6, he said.

A few weeks later, Barragan, who worked as a welder, came into Crawley’s office and said he could not pay the rent.

“He sat down and said, ‘She left me and took all the rent money,’ ” Crawley said. “He thought he might have to move out because he couldn’t pay the rent, but he was actually able to pay and she did apparently come back.”

Crawley described Barragan as “real easygoing, real polite.”

Residents of the area said Barragan and his family seemed friendly. The couple’s children played with other neighborhood youngsters.

Barragan liked his mariachi music loud, the neighbors said.

Ventura County Child Protective Services workers were called to the home Tuesday.

Talbot said the children, ranging in age from 6 to 11, apparently did not see their father’s violent death.

Authorities described the children as deeply distraught.

While other relatives reside in Ventura County, Talbot did not know if the children had been placed in their care.

“It’s certainly a tragedy,” he said. “It’s a tragedy that violence in a domestic situation rose to the level that it did. My initial reaction here is not so much the bizarreness of the crime as much as the sadness.”

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Times staff writers Fred Alvarez and Daryl Kelley contributed to this story.


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