Season 1, CHATROOM 13

The Case of the Severed Breasts on the Windowsill

At the turn of the 19th century, Guatemala City was booming. In an attempt to maintain order, the Spanish colonial government implemented a series of police reforms. In the midst of these changes, Don Cayetano Diaz discovers a pair of severed breasts on his windowsill. Nobody can make sense of this crime. Over the next few months, the perpetrator strikes again and again, much to the frustration of the local authorities. Who was the perpetrator? What was the meaning of these crimes? In this Chatroom, Sylvia Sellers-Garcia, a historian of colonial Latin America, explores her own theory of this mysterious crime and what it can tell as about this era in Guatemalan history.

Content warning: This episode features acts of dismemberment and is not suitable for young children.

Time Markers (mins:sec)

  • 0:42 In the heart of Guatemala City
  • 1:12 The breasts appear
  • 2:03 Sylvia Sellers-Garcia discovers the case in the archives
  • 2:43 How the case relates to our present
  • 3:23 Guatemala City locals react to the crime
  • 3:56 The police investigate
  • 5:46 Dr. Esparragosa makes a discovery
  • 6:26 Corpse mutilation and sacrilege
  • 7:34 The plot thickens: Simona Villagrán
  • 8:16 Sylvia discovers another victim in the hospital records
  • 9:13 Police reform in Guatemala City
  • 10:46 Sylvia presents her theory

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Reading List

Sellers-García, Sylvia. The Woman on the Windowsill: A Tale of Mystery in Several Parts. Yale University Press, 2020.

Sellers-García, Sylvia. “How Things Disappear.” Sewanee Review. Volume 128, No. 2. Spring 2020.

Sellers-García, Sylvia. Imagining Histories of Colonial Latin America. University of New Mexico Press 2017.

Sellers-García, Sylvia. Distance and Documents at the Spanish Empire’s Periphery. Stanford University Press 2014.

Sellers-García, Sylvia. “The Criminal Record.” Virginia Quarterly Review. January 2009.

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