EXCLUSIVE: Zunduri, the woman forced into slavery
A woman who was kept as a slave and tortured by the owners of a Mexican dry cleaners has told of her two years of 'hell'.
In a harrowing interview with MailOnline, the woman, known only by her first name, Zunduri, revealed how she was held hostage and forced to work for 17 hours a day tied to a tight metal chain around her neck.
Speaking from her hospital bed where she is recovering from her ordeal, Zunduri, 22, said she was left with no food for five days and got so hungry she ate polythene wrapping from the clothes she was forced to iron.
Dehydrated, she also revealed how she got so thirsty she scolded her mouth tying to drink the steam from an iron.
Zunduri told how a three-metre chain was tied around her neck and she was forced to go the toilet in a plastic carrier bag.
At her lowest ebb, she even had to sleep standing up and leaning against a wall because the chain she was attached to was too short for her to lie down.
Zunduri said: 'If I made a mistake with my ironing, which I often did due to the exhaustion of having to sleep standing up, they would torture me. I went three days without drinking water.' Recalling her ordeal Zunduri said she started working at the dry cleaners in Mexico City five years ago.
It was a live-in job and she was given a room and received a low wage. But three years after starting, the dry cleaners owner Leticia Molina Ochoa accused her of burning clothes.
She told Zunduri she would go to the police and accuse her of stealing if she didn't stay and repay her 'debt'.
Ochoa – who faces 50 years’ jail for cruelty – tied her to the chain, which was too short for her to reach the toilet six metres away – and made to work 17 hours a day in the roasting hot back room.
Ochoa hid Zunduri behind a mountain of clothes and turned the radio up in the shop, preventing customers from hearing her screams.
‘They called me "animal" and said that they wished I was dead,’ Zunduri said. She called Ochoa a 'very cunning devil,' and added: 'She spun a web of lies to make sure I never escaped.
‘My family were worried and came to the shop many times because that was the last place I had been seen. But that woman played mind games with them and told them I hated them and never wanted to see them again.
‘She told them that I was now a prostitute and that they should be ashamed and glad I had disappeared, rather than searching for me.'
During months of psychological torment, Zunduri said Ochoa told her she had seen her family in the street and that they told her ‘they were glad she had disappeared’ and ‘they never loved her in the first place’.
Zunduri, who may never recover from the physical and emotional scars, told police Ochoa and her family dug their nails into her skin, threw iron tools at her and burned her with the iron.
They also scolded her with steam and starved her for days at a time.
‘I went five days without food,' she said. ‘I had to eat the polythene bags the clothes come wrapped in just to fill my stomach. That stopped the hunger.’
Petite and dreadfully thin due to months of malnourishment, 5ft 4in Zunduri would also consume the antiseptic creams that Ochoa gave her to treat her multiple wounds. There is barely an inch of her skin that is not covered in scar tissue.
The top of her head, her neck and her ears have open sores from burns and beatings. Zunduri finally escaped on April 25, when a one of Ochoa's daughters didn’t replace her chains properly after she'd been allowed a trip to the toilet.
She said: ‘I knew I had a chance to escape and I just ran for my life. I have to thank God that my two years of hell have come to an end.'
Of her ordeal, Zunduri said previously: 'I want them to pay for every tear, every pain, every blow for everything I have had to suffer. My life plan is to live. I want to be a pastry chef, I want to live, I want to recover all the years I have lost.
'I don't want the world to know my name, just call me Zunduri, it's Japanese. A friend of mine is named like that. It means beautiful girl.'
She told MailOnline: 'I honestly don’t know’ [how I survived]. I have only God to thank.' Doctors who have examined her over the past week, said that Zunduri has the body of an 80-year-old.
She is covered in welts, burn marks and scabs. She has two teeth broken at their roots and multiple third-degree burns.
She now suffers from anaemia and has legs covered in varicose veins. Last weekend she was finally reunited with her family.
Zunduri said: ‘I’m an aunt now - it seems like my siblings got there before I did! My family were very relieved to see me. The thought of them was one of the things that kept me alive throughout it all.'
Rosi Orozco, president of Mexico’s United Commission Against Abuse, has been supporting Zunduri since her escape.
She told MailOnline: ‘There’s no way she would have survived that ordeal if it wasn’t for her strength of character. In the short time I’ve had with her it’s obvious that she is a very strong individual.'
Ochoa is now in custody and has been charged with kidnapping. She faces up to 50 years in prison for holding Zunduri against her will and torturing her.
Ochoa's sister Fani Molina Ochoa, her boyfriend Jose de Jesus Sanchez Vega and her two grown up daughters, Ivette Hernandez Molina and Jannet Hernandez Molina all face charges.
Slavery is thought to be rife in Mexico. The Global Slavery Index indicates that there are 266,900 people working as if they were owned by a master in the country.
This is a greater number than those in forced slave labour estimated in the whole of Afghanistan, North Korea and Serbia combined, according to the index.