TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - A Honduran beauty queen has been found shot dead in a suspected crime of passion just days before she was due to compete in the Miss World pageant in London, police said on Wednesday.
The bodies of Maria Jose Alvarado, 19, and her sister Sofia, 23, were found buried near a river in the mountainous region of Santa Barbara in western Honduras, said Leandro Osorio, head of the criminal investigation unit.
Police suspect that Plutarco Ruiz, Sofia’s boyfriend, shot and killed the elder sister in a fit of jealousy after seeing her dancing with “another person or something similar,” then shot Maria Jose and buried the bodies, Osorio said.
“This is the main hypothesis we have for this crime, based on the witnesses and investigations we’ve done,” he added.
Police took Ruiz and Aris Maldonado into custody on Tuesday, confiscating two pistols and their pick-up truck and identifying them as the homicide’s main suspects, he said.
On his Facebook page, Maldonado lamented “these very difficult and unjust moments of life” but did not make reference to any details of the double homicide. Ruiz has yet to comment publicly on the allegations.
Alvarado, a student who aspired to become a career diplomat, had been due to take part in the Miss World pageant that starts on Thursday and culminates in the final in London on Dec. 14.
The sisters went missing Nov. 13, when they were seen leaving a birthday party for Ruiz at a local water park in a car without a license plate in Santa Barbara, a coffee-growing region where drug gangs are active.
On Wednesday night, police arrested the water park’s owners on suspicion of being accomplices in the crime, Osorio said.
Drug cartels use Honduras as a staging post for U.S.-bound cocaine from South America, aggravating violence in the impoverished Central American nation that has helped spark a surge in illegal immigration to the United States.
Honduras has the world’s highest murder rate at 90.4 per 100,000 people, according to a report by the United Nations, well ahead of second-ranked Venezuela at 53.7.
Last April, Alvarado was crowned Miss Honduras World 2014, beating 18 other contestants to the top spot. She said she could not live without lip gloss or the website Wikipedia.org, according to her official biography on the Miss World competition page.
The daughter of a lower middle class family from Santa Barbara, Alvarado had worked as a model for local department stores.
Julia Morley, chairman of the Miss World Organisation, said the pageant was “devastated by this terrible loss of two young women who were so full of life.”
The group said it would hold a service with the Miss World contestants on Sunday to honor the two women, and say prayers for them and their family.
Writing by Elinor Comlay; Editing by Kieran Murray, W Simon, Alan Crosby and Edmund Klamann