Federal officials have quietly closed a three-year inquiry into the rape-strangulation of 14 women and teenagers in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, leaving relatives with little hope that the killings will be solved.
The federal attorney general's office intervened in 2003, promising that it would try to solve cases beset for years by allegations of state police corruption and incompetence.
Federal prosecutors privately returned the cases to state authorities in June because they didn't find evidence of a federal crime, the Chihuahua state prosecutor's office said. The federal attorney general's office didn't respond to repeated requests for comment.
The victims' families were not told that the investigation had been closed; they read it in the local newspaper.
"It fills me with rage, with a feeling of impotence, because they never investigated anything," said Josefina Gonzalez, whose 20-year-old daughter's remains were found with those of seven other young women in 2001.
In addition to those eight killings, Mexican federal authorities also dropped investigations into the slayings of six teenagers, ages 15 to 18.
They were among about 100 young women who were sexually assaulted and strangled and whose bodies have been found in the desert outside Juarez since 1993. The killings appeared to fit a serial pattern.
Relatives of the victims have long demanded that President Vicente Fox do more to solve the killings in the city of about 1.3 million people across the border from El Paso. Police made many arrests, but the killings continued.
Over the years, police have suspected a serial killer, gangs and even organ traffickers in the deaths. But no strong evidence has emerged to support the theories.
The federal government's involvement in the 14 cases failed to pacify critics, leading Fox to establish a Juarez-based special prosecutor's office in January 2004 to monitor all investigations of the killings and look for possible gaps.
In January, the attorney general's office designated a national prosecutor, headquartered in Mexico City, for crimes against women. The Juarez office became one of three regional offices.
The same day the national office was announced, federal authorities released a final report saying that the slayings in Juarez were not serial killings and that the city was not even the most dangerous in Mexico in terms of the killings of women.
Critics say the Fox administration is apparently washing its hands of the matter.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights agreed in March to investigate allegations that state officials planted evidence and failed to go after the real killers.
"We're back to square one, but I no longer believe the killers will ever be found," said Gonzalez, one of three mothers who filed the accusations. "If there is no justice here, there will be divine justice."