The boyfriend of Miss Honduras 2014’s sister has confessed to killing her and the beauty queen in a "jealous rage", Honduran police have announced, putting the spotlight on a nation ravaged by violence against women.
Bodies believed to be 19-year-old Maria Jose Alvarado and her 23-year-old sister, Sofia, were discovered buried near the spa where they disappeared a week earlier while celebrating the boyfriend's birthday.
The brutal murders have highlighted what experts call an alarming trend of violence against women in Central America, fuelled by poverty, domestic violence, street gangs, drug trafficking and a culture of chauvinism.
At some point during the night of Nov 13, a heated argument broke out and Plutarco Ruiz pulled a gun, firing first at his girlfriend and then at Alvarado as she tried to flee, police revealed. Alvarado was hit twice in the back.
The dark-haired beauty was to have flown to London Wednesday to compete in the Miss World pageant — the high point of her reign as Miss Honduras.
But their bodies were discovered early Wednesday after Ruiz led investigators to the remote gravesite where he and an alleged accomplice buried them in a mountainous area of Santa Barbara, about 240 miles west of the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa.
"We had her gown ready and her traditional dress costumes," said television personality Salvador Nasrallah, who employed Alvarado as a model on his TV game show, X-O Da Dinero.
"This is not a crime of passion; this is machismo," added Nasrallah, a former presidential candidate.
According to a report by the United Nations, murders of women and girls in Honduras increased by 263% between 2005 and 2013. The country has the highest murder rate in the world for a country not at war, with an estimated 90 to 95 killings per 100,000 people.
In a statement sent to the Huffington Post UK, Nia, a charity a dedicated to stopping violence against women and children, said The Miss World competition is part of the problem.
"Men’s violence against women is a cause and consequence of sex inequality between women and men.
"We need to make the connections between the objectification of women and violence against women. While women are seen and judged as decorative objects judged by sexist beauty standards and simultaneously as men's possessions, women and men can never be equal; and as long as we have sex inequality, we will have male violence against women."
"Violence against women is a huge problem in Honduras," Adriana Beltran, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America added.
"A lot of girls die this way, but because they're not famous, it doesn't get the attention and the crimes go unpunished," Nasrallah said.
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Honduras pageant organiser Eduardo Zablah has said the country will not compete this year because of the tragic death of Alvarado, who according to her pageant profile played volleyball and soccer and wanted to be a diplomat after graduating university.
Beauty pageants are popular in Latin America, where the winners are viewed as celebrities and often go on to become entertainers.
But those who knew Alvarado, who was crowned in April, said she was not caught up in the celebrity of her position. She would go around town in jeans with her hair up and without makeup, Nasrallah said, though she did face some unwanted harassment and had to change her cell number recently.
"When Maria Jose won the pageant, she didn't think it was that important. I just wanted her to be happy," her mother said.