Marcela Martinez Sempertegui

Article excerpt

Byline: Mac Margolis

Mahavir Enclave is a bustling working-class colony at the hard extremities of New Delhi. Houses snake up here in haphazard bursts whenever their inhabitants can afford to elbow a little more space for themselves in the world. For an outsider, these seem less homes, more just slivers of precarious brick slapped together. But for those who live there, it's psychological solidity: a toehold, finally, on life.

For Marcela Martinez Sempertegui, June 4, 2012, started out like any other morning. The 39-year-old Bolivian attorney left home in La Paz's upscale Obrajes district and drove downtown for a routine court hearing. On her way, she dropped her eldest daughter, Zarlet, at the door of the family-owned cosmetics company where the 17-year-old high school senior was interning. They agreed to meet back there a few hours later and return home for lunch, as they had countless times before. It was the last time she saw her daughter. Ten months later, Sempertegui's life is in tatters. She suspended her law practice and spends every waking hour poring over scraps of evidence, her heart racing every time the phone rings.

Her initial doubts have since given way to grim conviction. While clues are fragmented and scarce--a couple of garbled phone messages, and Zarlet's cellphone recovered in a police search--all point to the actions of practiced outlaws. …