The year was 1993. One of the crimes that captured the attention of the entire nation was the gruesome murder of “The Chop-Chop Lady.” The name, of course, came from the fact that the victim’s body was dismembered before it was thrown away. As expected, the entertainment industry did not miss this opportunity to milk a much-talked about crime. Movies were produced about the case—one starring no less than Kris Aquino and another one with Lorna Tolentino in the titular role.
What’s more disturbing is that this isn’t the first time a “chop-chop” case has happened and it wouldn’t be the last.
The Original “Chop-Chop Lady” Lucila Lulu, 1967
Sometime in the late ‘50s or early ‘60s, Lucila Tolentino Lalu left her hometown of Candaba, Pampanga, to try her luck in Manila. She initially worked as a waitress at a small bar and apparently, she was really good with money. Her hard-earned money, which she saved quite wisely, was enough to start several ventures—Lucy’s House of Beauty, a salon on Mayhaligue St. and Pagoda, which is a restaurant and cocktail lounge / nightclub located along Rizal Avenue in Sta. Cruz, Manila.
During this time, Lucila also met Aniano de Vera, a police officer who was married, but who nevertheless fell in love with her. Soon, the two began living together in a common-law marriage, and their union was blessed with a child. Like any career woman, Lucila was adeptly juggling her businesses and family life at 28 years old.
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Then one summer day in 1967, Lucila disappeared. None of the old newspaper clippings mentioned whether Lucila’s family members or friends reported her missing. Maybe it was because they thought she was just spending time with someone else—it seemed to be an open secret that Lucila kept other lovers.
On May 28, police officers found human body parts: a woman’s pair of legs, cleanly cut in four pieces, wrapped with a newspaper dated May 14th. The legs were found in a garbage can along Malabon St. not far from Pagoda. The garbage collector who found the parts said that they were cold to the touch, as if they had come from the freezer. He also noted that the toes were well-pedicured, like they belonged to someone well-to-do.
At first, police officers and the media thought they may match the badly decomposed, severed hand that had been found just a few days earlier in front of a barber shop along Recto Avenue. However, this theory was discarded after checking the decomposition rates on both body parts.
Almost a day later, a torso with arms were found along EDSA, near Guadalupe Bridge. These parts were also wrapped in newspaper, this time dated May 23. The body was identified to be Lucila’s, whose fingerprints were on file when she applied for a police clearance, back when she had just arrived in Manila.
The body was identified to be Lucila’s, whose fingerprints were on file when she applied for a police clearance, back when she had just arrived in Manila.
Homicide investigators noted that whoever killed Lucila was someone skilled with the knife, or have some sort of medical knowledge since the parts were expertly cut. In initial reports, they also mentioned that, since the body parts were frozen and scattered in different parts of the city, they were looking for someone with an access to a huge freezer and an automobile.
Several suspects were rounded up, most of them Lucila’s lovers. First was Florante Relos, a 19-year-old waiter at the Pagoda whom Lucila had supported. However, Florante was drinking with his friends during the time of the crime and he was released. He also did not have any motive to kill Lucila, the person who was both his lover and provider. She even rented out a “love nest” in Cubao where he could stay. However, the cashier at Pagoda also said that Lucila had already broken up with Florante. During the night of the murder, she also told Florante and his friends that Lucila may be at the beauty parlor if they wanted to see her. Some witnesses even said they saw her being dragged by Florante and his friends into a taxi in front of the parlor. These accounts were never verified.
The second suspect was Aniano, Lucila’s common-law husband for seven years. Many already knew that they were having problems. Their six-year-old child had been staying at Lucila’s mother in Caloocan. Aniano was also prone to fits of anger and jealousy, having fired off his service gun three times in Lucila’s Pagoda and Beauty Parlor, the month before she disappeared.
The night of her disappearance, Aniano claimed to have had dinner with her in the beauty parlor at about 6:30 p.m. He left immediately after. Some witnesses, including some of Lucila’s relatives, said that around the time Aniano left, they even saw her in the salon, sleeping. However, this contradicts Florante’s earlier testimony that he and Lucila had met, around 7:30 the same night, in another cocktail lounge on Rizal Avenue.
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There was another suspect, an executive of a printing firm who was also said to be Lucila’s lover. He was never named in any of the reports, only that he was suspected because of a cardboard material used in wrapping newsprints that was found under the torso of Lucila. This mystery man seemed to have an alibi for the night and this angle wasn’t explored any further.
The last suspect was someone who came forward due to his “guilty conscience”: a 28-year-old dentistry student, Jose Luis Santiano. It was June 15, 1967 when news broke out that a “handsome young man” son of a retired PC colonel, married and father of five, confessed in his own handwritten statement that he experienced a “mental blackout” but remember strangling Lucila to her death. Jose Luis was also one of Lucila’s lovers and was one of the boarders of the spare rooms in her parlor.
In his initial testimony, he said that Lucila had tried to seduce him, and that when he refused, she threatened to create a scandal. This was when Jose Luis lost his mind and killed her. In his testimony, he even mentioned disposing of the head in Diliman, Quezon City and carrying parts of the body in paper bags and boxes while commuting in taxis and jeepneys. Police later found traces of dried blood underneath Jose Luis’ bed where he said he kept the body before disposing of it. It was never mentioned in old news reports if the head was ever found.
Three days later, Jose Luis was singing a different tune. He retracted his earlier statement, saying he wasn’t the murderer but just an “unwilling witness” to the murder which was in fact committed by three men.
Three days later, Jose Luis was singing a different tune. He retracted his earlier statement, saying he wasn’t the murderer but just an “unwilling witness” to the murder which was in fact committed by three men. While the murder did happen in the mezzanine of the parlor where Jose Luis’ room was, he said that two men killed Lucila while another man held him hostage while pointing a gun at him. A fourth man appeared the following morning and planted evidence, the blood, in his room. Over the next few days, he allegedly also received notes, reminding him to keep silent.
The police insisted that Jose Luis did it, especially since they found a hammer with bloodstains in the mezzanine, as well as the knife and razors in his initial testimony. They claimed that he was merely following his lawyer’s suggestion of retracting his statement. When Jose Luis was being held by the NBI, they also received bomb threats to let the murder suspect go. He was released later on and some even say that Jose Luis is still alive and living abroad.
During his investigation, Steve Hodel found out that his father had been in Manila in the ‘60s, leading the younger Hodel believe that George was also behind Lucila's murder.
Without any new leads, the investigators reached a dead end. The public, on the other hand, continued to speculate on the mystery. In 2003, a former Los Angeles police detective named Steve Hodel published a book Black Dahlia Avenger: The True Story, about a similar case that took place in the US in 1947. In the book, Hodel details his 15-year investigation after his father's death into the Black Dahlia murderer, whom he suspected to be his father, Dr. George Hill Hodel.
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During his investigation, Steve Hodel found out that his father had been in Manila in the ‘60s, leading the younger Hodel believe that George was also behind Lucila's murder. There were some inaccuracies in his book, however: that Lucila’s torso was found along Zodiac Street in Makati, when news reports stated it was found along EDSA, near Guadalupe. Some followers of the mystery accept this explanation for Lucila’s murder, but the case officially remains open.