A jilted man accused of killing his ex in revenge cut off her thumb so he could unlock her mobile phone to tell friends she was all right, a court has heard.
Accused Fernando Cronenbold was furious when his ex Patricia Rendon Rodriguez, 31, announced she wanted to start a new life with another man.
So – prosecutors in Cipolletti, Argentina, say – he killed her and buried her in a shallow grave.
Then he used her severed right thumb to open up her mobile phone so her friends and family would think she was still alive.
He was arrested in his ex’s car with bloodstained clothes while trying to flee a police checkpoint.
But after first confessing to the murder, Cronenbold then came up with a bizarre claim that Patricia had been executed by drug dealers over a debt.
He claimed he had been trying to pay off the traffickers but they killed his ex and told him he and their six-year-old daughter would be next.
They then forced him, he claims, to bury his ex.
Prosecutors say, however, that while Patricia’s phone was sending messages after she had died, it was in the same area as Cronenbold’s phone.
The clothing store owner was last seen alive on 28th June.
Her body was found in a shallow grave 60 kilometres from her home in Catriel, Rio Negro province, Argentina, two days later.
Patricia – who originally hailed from Bolivia – had been due to fly later that day to Buenos Aires to apply for a visa to travel to Rome in July.
There, her plan was to reunite with her boyfriend, a 27-year-old Italian man she had met in February.
Cronenbold told the court the traffickers had called him to say they had taken Patricia hostage and that they wanted ARS 5 million (GBP 33,000) for her release.
He claimed he arranged to meet them, turning up with his savings of ARS 1.2 million, which was not enough to satisfy the armed pair.
He said the men took out Patricia’s dead body and placed it in the boot of her Renault.
He claimed they told him that if the rest of the cash was not forthcoming, he and his daughter would meet the same fate.
He said the men ordered him to bury Patricia in the spot where her body was later found and then tell the police he had done it himself.
Cronenbold’s defence lawyer, Ruben Antiguala, told the court the victim “was involved with strange people, like Colombians who provide loans to pay debts”.
And the defendant himself said: “I don’t know if it was for drug trafficking. I talked to her every day. We got along well.
“I don’t know what that debt was for. They were armed and told me to bury her.”
The victim’s boyfriend, Francesco Nuvolari, told Argentine media: “He killed her because she had made big changes in the last three months.
“First, she did a complete renovation of her house; second, she renovated the store where she worked; third, she bought the plane ticket to travel through Italy with me; and fourth, she asked this man for a divorce.”
The trial is ongoing.