Mexico's "Little Old Lady Killer" gets life term

MEXICO CITY, March 31 (Reuters) - Mexico's "Little Old Lady Killer," a female ex-wrestler who strangled and beat to death 11 elderly women in their homes after offering them domestic help, was sentenced to life in prison on Monday.

Juana Barraza, dubbed "Mataviejitas" in Spanish, murdered at least 11 people in the capital since 2000 and may have killed close to 40 in total, making her one of the worst serial killers in Mexico's recent history.

The muscular, ginger-haired former wrestler would cruise the streets of Mexico City, sometimes dressed up as a nurse, and win the confidence of frail old women by offering to wash their clothes or help with other household chores.

Once in their homes, she would strangle her victims with items like women's tights, a curtain cord or a phone cable, or bludgeon them to death with household objects. She would also steal symbolic "trophies" like ornaments or religious items.

Barraza, who is about 50 years old, was sentenced to 759 years in prison for the crimes, but under Mexican law she can only serve a maximum of 50 years. Her lawyers have 50 days to appeal the ruling.

She was arrested in 2006 after a witness spotted her fleeing from the home of woman in her 80s who had been strangled with a stethoscope.

She told police she killed to get revenge on older women after her mother gave her away to a man who sexually abused her when she was a child.

As a professional wrestler she was known as "The Silent Lady." She also worked as a popcorn vendor at fights.

After her arrest, police found an altar in her home to the death cult figure "Santa Muerte" (Saint Death), a folk saint popular with thieves and drug smugglers.

When she heard the court's ruling, she said: "Let God forgive me and not abandon me," Mexican media reported. (Reporting by Anahi Rama; Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Catherine Bremer)