Lima, Peru - She fought with all her might.
Myriam Fefer even broke her red, acrylic fingernails trying to fend off her attacker.
But in the early morning hours of August 15, 2006, the assailant succeeded in wrapping a computer cord around Fefer’s neck and strangling her to death in the bedroom of her home here.
Five months later, members of Peru’s small but tightly-knit Jewish community — and others who have followed the highly publicized case — are still wondering: Who killed the 51-year-old divorced businesswoman?
“The murder of someone who belonged to a small community tends to draw the attention of that community,” said Gustavo Gorriti, a prominent Peruvian journalist who is Jewish.
Police believe that Fefer knew her attacker, because no signs of forced entry were discovered, her Maltese dog didn’t bark and her extensive jewelry collection was untouched. Her two teenage children said they had been asleep upstairs.
Caretas, Peru’s foremost newsweekly magazine, in one of two cover stories has written about how police believe that Fefer had as many enemies as she had friends, “including members of her own family.” Her father, who died in 2003, accused her of trying to murder him 16 months earlier. Fefer worked as an executive for her father’s real estate company. Add in the elements of witchcraft found in a small room adjoining her bedroom — including torn photos of ex-lovers and a scorched bull’s horn — and it’s easy to see why this has become the most sensational murder in Lima in some time.
“I’ve never seen anything quite like this,” said Enrique Zileri, Caretas’s publisher. “It’s a mystery thriller, if you can possibly call it that.” His magazine’s most recent article reported the perplexing news that despite the abundant DNA evidence — on her broken fingernails, among other places — police had yet to even run any tests. Lorenzo Morales, who heads the police homicide department, declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation. He did complain that police feel as though they are under a spotlight, given the immense publicity surrounding the case.
The news of Fefer’s murder triggered a wave of recollections of her from among the 2,800 members of Peru’s Jewish community. She studied at Leon Pinelo, Lima’s Jewish school, but was not immersed in the Jewish community as an adult, said Jose Chlimper, a classmate who is now a successful businessman.
After Chlimper spoke fondly of Fefer in a television interview, he said, “A lot of people called me afterward to ask why.” The bad feelings stem from the accusation by Fefer’s diabetic father, Polish émigré Enrique Fefer, that she tried to kill him via a lethal injection of liquid sugar. Enrique Fefer rewrote his will to give Myriam’s share of his inheritance to her daughter, Eva. Enrique Fefer’s two brothers have been hostile to Myriam ever since the incident.
Chlimper and others were surprised to see the cheery demeanor of Eva and her brother, Andres, in interviews after their mother’s murder. The siblings have told authorities that they had stayed up talking with their mother until shortly before midnight, prior to going to bed. Police have not ruled them out as suspects.
Suspicion also has fallen on alleged ex-lovers of Fefer, including one whose photograph was torn by Fefer in what police believe was a Santeria witchcraft ceremony. Police also found an altar, half-burnt cigars and images of saints. This secret life has puzzled Lima’s Jews.
“The witchcraft is weird,” said Gorriti, the journalist. “That’s not common in the Jewish community.”
The autopsy found that Fefer had had a tummy tuck and a breast enlargement, and her ex-husband has been quoted as saying she cared very much about her appearance. So if she was meeting with a paramour the night she was murdered, as some have speculated, why was she wearing ordinary pajamas? This is only one of the mysteries of the case that the police have yet to solve.