Sick secret behind sisters’ ‘cruel’ murders
When the "mutilated" remains of Australian university professor Lily Pereg and her sister Pirhya Sarusi were discovered in shallow graves on the outskirts of Argentina's wine country in January, family, friends and law enforcement were stunned by the "extreme cruelty" of the crimes.
Sarusi's son Gilad Pereg was arrested and charged with the aggravated homicide of his mother and aunt and now, in a wide-ranging jailhouse interview, he has spoken in-depth about his relationship with his slain family members in what medical experts believe could hold the key for understanding the gruesome crime.
Pereg, 38, is accused of strangling his mother Sarusi, 63, and shooting his aunt Pereg, 54, after his mother rejected his "sexual desire", triggering a psychotic episode that allegedly proved fatal.
The full transcript and psychological analysis of the interview, done for the court case and leaked to news.com.au, outlines in Pereg's own words the series of life events and mental breakdowns that led from a disturbed childhood in Israel to the moment his mother and aunt went missing from his squalid compound in Mendoza.
Renowned Argentine forensic psychologist, Dr Mariano N Castex, who interviewed Pereg for almost two hours at Mendoza's San Felipe prison, wrote in his analysis that a fundamental factor behind the crime could be Sarusi's rejection of her son's sexual desire, which would "produce a psychotic sequence of very high aggressive levels towards his maternal figure".
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Before Sarusi and her sister travelled to Argentina, Pereg allegedly contacted an Argentine fertility institute in an unsuccessful attempt to create a child with his mother.
Speaking from Buenos Aires, Dr Castex told news.com.au that Pereg suffers from paraphrenia (paranoid delusions and hallucinations) with ailuranthrope body transformation (where he believes he is a cat), making him unfit to stand trial.
"It is my theory that this (rejected sexual desire) is the reason by which he killed his mother," Dr Castex said. "If the mother rejected, he might have acted in a rapt of fury and killed her. I would have to speak with him for two or three more hours specifically about his relationship with his mother. But I think if we heard him speaking many hours more, we would get into this matter and we would know what really happened between them."
According to Pereg, he invited his mother to Argentina to save him from suicidal thoughts and improve his life after a series of failed businesses and an assault that left him hospitalised and triggered his third major "head explosion" - or mental breakdown.
She had saved him similarly more than decade earlier when she allegedly helped him avoid Israeli mental institutions by fleeing to the country to live in Argentina.
"I could not live anymore, so I asked my mother to come here … to see how I live. So she can help me and improve my life, do you understand?" Pereg said during the interview. "And after she came, she disappeared … and I don't know, I don't know where she disappeared, she came with me one day and left."
Pereg maintains that his mother is not dead and has been kidnapped. But he can't be sure about his aunt Lily, who had lived in Australia since the mid-1990s and was a professor of microbiology at the University of New England in northern New South Wales.
"The other creature that you say was with her, that you tell me is my aunt, I told you that I do not know. Apart from my mother I have nothing," Pereg said.
"I have my mum and my kids (his cats). I have no family, I have no family, but on the other creature with two legs who was with her, I … I think it is also alive too, but I'm not sure. My mum I know that she is alive and kidnapped because I am listening to her voice … I am listening to her voice inside my head."
Defence lawyer Maximiliano Legrand said he would present Dr Castex's report to the Mendoza courts and request criminal proceedings be suspended to transfer Pereg to El Sauce Psychiatric Hospital for treatment of mental illness.
"We can see a reluctance in the criminal justice system to recognise Pereg's psychosis," Mr Legrand said. "But that reluctance is not only coming from the justice system but from the whole society of Mendoza. People do not want to believe that he is a psychotic person even if we have four reports saying exactly that. So, I think this is a larger issue."
The prosecution's initial psychiatric assessments concluded that Pereg presents as dirty and dishevelled, but there were no features of mental illnesses preventing him from standing trial. Police sources believe Pereg's behaviour is part of an elaborate strategy to be classified as insane.
The following excerpts from Pereg's interview have been translated and condensed from Spanish for clarity into the key stages of his life that led to his allegedly delusional transformation from human to cat, beginning with childhood nightmares of Ghoulies, a horror movie franchise from the early-1980s.
TRANSFORMATION INTO A CAT
• "What saved my life? That Mr Balthus appeared. Mr Balthus is an old cat, big, uh … not like ordinary cats … is a big cat … it's all grey with long hair and he must be 500 or 1000 years old."
• "He said to me: 'You almost died, you were lying in the hospital for two months. Because you were loyal to your children … I will take care of you, so that it never happens to you again'."
• "He told me about the Ghoulies … that they are the enemies of the cats."
ASSAULT IN GUAYMALLEN, MENDOZA
• "And there they assaulted me, that I was in the hospital, there … my head exploded, that was the third time in my life that my head explodes that I … ehh … I lost my head completely."
FLEEING ISRAEL TO LIVE IN ARGENTINA
• "I talked to my mum, and we decided when I got released the next time from the hospital … from the psychiatric hospital, I just took the plane, and I'm running away."
• "She was sending me money all the time, and I didn't want her to have that weight on her, so I wanted to do a business here."
• "And the businesses all failed. All because I was, I thought, I am a cat in my house, 90 per cent of the time, and 10 per cent with the mask (of a two-legged creature)."
SAVED BY HIS MOTHER
• "I went to my mum's house and got into one room and did not leave for six months."
• "She was there taking care of me all the time … making me liquids to drink because I wasn't eating … My mother took care of me that I could not 'kill' (myself)."
• "I lived in my mum's house when I became a cat."
THE ISRAELI MILITARY
• "I had there the total collapse of my head. The total collapse of my head, because I saw what they do in the army … death."
• "And that they kill! And the Blood! And they don't care! And they make wars."
• "They told me that it is impossible for me to be part of the army, that my mental situation … that I do not … no … I cannot handle my head in the army, and they released me after a year."
MENTAL BREAKDOWN IN UNIVERSITY
• "I broke my head and came to an urgent, urgent situation that I could no longer live. Not only that … that I understood, in the university I understood that I cannot be part of the world of two-legged creatures."
CHILDHOOD AND EARLY ADOLESCENCE
• "I never had friends, never had … ehh … partners, never had eh … girlfriend … never, never, never had, never had anything."
• "When he (Mr. Balthus) explained to me that the Ghoulies are real … I started to think about my nightmares that I had in all the years I was a boy … a little boy."
If you or someone you know is in a crisis or needs suicide prevention support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp
Justin Vallejo is a freelance writer based in Mexico City. Continue the conversation @justinjvallejo