A mass grave containing up to 40 bodies of mostly women has been discovered at the house of a former police officer-turned gang leader in El Salvador.
The remains of at least 24 people have so far been recovered at the house in the municipality of Chalchuapa, northwest of the capital, San Salvador.
Hugo Ernesto Osorio Chavez is one of at least 10 people facing charges, according to the office of the attorney general.
El Salvador officials confirmed in a statement that they were excavating graves discovered at the house of the former police officer that contained as many as 40 bodies, most of them believed to be women.
The former police officer was detained on May 8 as the main suspect in the murder of a woman and her daughter, after neighbours alerted the authorities.
During a search at his home police uncovered lifeless bodies.
Justice and Security Minister Gustavo Villatoro said DNA samples were being collected from area residents who had a missing relative to see if it matched with any of the bodies.
He added that the depth of the holes suggested more than one person had taken part in the burials, according to Sky News.
Exhuming all of the bodies could take another month, while digging will continue in other parts of the property during this time, authorities added.
Families of missing people, who believed their relatives could be among the bodies, gathered outside the house on Thursday, as forensic workers removed skeletons from the ground.
‘There’s the hope of recognizing a family member, even among the corpses,’ said Marleny Barrientos, 50, who carried a photograph of her son, who disappeared in 2015. ‘That is why I’m here.’
Forensic criminologist Israel Ticas said that digging will continue in other parts of the property for months.
On Wednesday, a local judge ordered the arrest of 11 people linked to Osorio Chavez. The accomplices were accused of aggravated femicide and aggravated homicide.
El Salvador’s director of police, Mauricio Arriaza Chicas, said that Osorio Chavez had been fired from the police force back in 2015, and may have been killing people for a decade.
He continued: ‘He told us that he found victims on social media and sought them out, luring them with the American dream.
‘This psychopath has been detained and I believe that 99% of the people who assisted him have been detained.’