Cypriot police investigating serial killer find woman’s remains in suitcase

A diver and an investigator remove a suitcase found in a man-made lake Credit: Petros Karadjias/AP

Cypriot investigators hunting for victims of a suspected serial killer have retrieved a suitcase with the remains of a woman inside from the bottom of lake.

The body is believed to be that of one of the victims of a Cypriot military officer who has confessed to killing seven foreign women and girls.

The suitcase was weighed down by a concrete block, the chief of Cyprus’s Criminal Investigation Department said.

According to Senior Inspector Neophytos Shailos, a coroner who examined the body at the scene said it was in an advanced stage of decomposition.

He said a series of tests will be conducted to determine the woman’s identity.

Authorities focused their search on the lake about 20 miles west of the capital, Nicosia, after the suspect — a 35-year-old army captain — told investigators he put the bodies of three of his victims into suitcases and threw them into the toxic, man-made lake, part of a now-defunct copper pyrite mine.

Investigations are continuing at the lake, near the village of Mitsero Credit: Petros Karadjias/AP

Those victims are believed to be: Maricar Valtez Arquiola, 31, from the Philippines; Florentina Bunea, 36, from Romania; and Bunea’s eight-year-old daughter, Elena Natalia.

Ms Arquiola has been missing since December 2017 while the mother and daughter vanished in September 2016.

Mr Shailos said a coroner who carried out a preliminary examination at the scene determined the body is of an adult female.

The suitcase is one of two that were located in the lake on Saturday. Mr Shailos said authorities will not retrieve the second one immediately but will continue scouring the lake for the third suitcase.

The development is the latest in a rapidly unfolding case that has shocked Cypriots who fear a serial killer has been preying on foreign women who came to work in the Mediterranean island nation.

A diver gets out from the lake after searching for female bodies. Credit: AP

The case came to light with the April 14 discovery of the bound body of 38-year-old Mary Rose Tiburcio, from the Philippines, down a flooded shaft near the lake.

The discovery triggered a homicide investigation that led to the captain’s arrest before a second woman’s body — thought to be that of 28-year-old Arian Palanas Lozano, also from the Philippines — was found in the mineshaft on April 20.

Police said the suspect admitted killing them both and they believe that he also killed Tiburcio’s six-year-old daughter, Sierra, who remains missing.

The scope of the case expanded when the suspect confessed on Thursday to killing a total of five women and two of their daughters.

The suspect also led investigators to a military firing range where the decomposed remains of a woman were discovered down a pit.

Officials said the remains could be those of Ashita Khadka Bista, from Nepal.

Women from the Philippines at a vigil outside the presidential palace in Nicosia on Friday. Credit: AP

Police initially tracked down the suspect through Ms Tiburcio’s computer messages on a dating site. Investigators said the two had a six-month relationship before Ms Tiburcio and her daughter disappeared in May 2018.

A court heard that Ms Tiburcio’s roommate had pleaded with her not to take along her daughter to a pre-arranged rendezvous with the suspect on the night of her disappearance. But Ms Tiburcio said the suspect insisted that she bring her daughter along so that the child could play with his two small children.

He faces charges including premeditated murder and kidnapping for alleged crimes dating back to September 30 2016.

Police Chief Zacharias Chrysostomou has ordered an internal probe to determine whether investigators had failed to properly investigate the women’s disappearances, amid public criticism that authorities did little to search for the women when they were reported missing.