SANTIAGO, Chile, March 11 — More than 30 years after an American writer and filmmaker was kidnapped by Chilean security forces and killed here, signs of progress in resolving the case, on which the Academy Award-winning movie "Missing" is based, are finally beginning to appear.
Thanks to the efforts of a judge newly assigned to the case, evidence has been unearthed pointing to the involvement of high-ranking military and intelligence officials in the death of Charles Horman, who disappeared shortly after the American-instigated military coup that toppled President Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973. A former intelligence agent has already been indicted, and lawyers representing Mr. Horman's widow say they expect other arrests.
Chilean law establishes a prosecutorial role for judges and allows individuals to file criminal suits. Joyce Horman acted in December 2000, after judges here revoked the immunity of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Chile's dictator from 1973 to 1990. Other courts declared General Pinochet unfit to stand trial in 2002, but the investigation of Mr. Horman's killing was permitted to continue.
In December, Judge Jorge Zepeda Arancibia, who took over the case early last year, ordered the arrest of Rafael González Verdugo, a retired military intelligence agent. Mr. González Verdugo has admitted to having been present during an interrogation of Mr. Horman and to having helped recover his body later from a cemetery wall. He has been charged as an accomplice to the killing and was released on bail last month.
Over the years, Mr. González Verdugo has claimed in sworn affidavits that a Central Intelligence Agency operative was present at the interrogation, an assertion that was incorporated into the film and led to Congressional hearings and calls for reforms of the C.I.A. But now that he is facing charges, Mr. González Verdugo has changed his story, saying he lied in the 1970's to gain political asylum and flee Chile.
"González Verdugo has recently made a series of statements that are not only unfounded but can be shown to be such," said Fabiola Letelier, one of Mrs. Horman's lawyers and sister of Orlando Letelier, the pre-Pinochet Chilean defense minister assassinated in a car bombing in Washington in 1976. "He was a key intelligence operative in the days following the coup, but would now like people to think he was a saint who did nothing."
Judge Zepeda, who through a spokesman declined a request for an interview, has placed confidentiality restrictions on information that is contained in case files, so lawyers are limited in what they can discuss. But they report what they call significant progress in several areas of the investigation.
"When we asked initially, we were told `there is nothing left' " in the way of official files and records, said Sergio Corvalán, another of the lawyers who represents the Horman family. "But relevant documents from the period have been located in the Ministries of Foreign Relations, Defense, Interior and Health, documents that mention Charles Horman by name and relate to internal investigations of his death." Mr. Corvalán said there "is a good possibility" that other former Chilean government officials would be detained and that those indicted would probably outrank Mr. González Verdugo.
Gen. Augusto Lutz, General Pinochet's first chief of military intelligence, died at a hospital in 1974 of an "accidental" injection that is now widely believed to have been deliberate. But Gen. Herman Brady, military commander of Santiago at the time of the coup, and Gen. Sergio Arellano Stark, General Pinochet's right-hand man in the army, are still alive and have been mentioned in local press accounts as possible suspects. "Besides these, there are other generals," Mr. Corvalán said. "There was a plot."
Some of the new material also appears to cast doubts on the United States government's longstanding version of events. Mr. Horman was abducted from his house on Sept. 17, nearly a week after the coup, and was last seen at the National Stadium, where scores of Chilean and foreign political prisoners were held.
"U.S. officials were saying that Charles was killed so fast after he was picked up that there was no opportunity to protect him," Mrs. Horman said in a telephone interview from New York City. "But that just doesn't seem to hold up. He was probably killed on the 20th or 21st, so there was time and they didn't move on it."
Documents recently declassified as a result of efforts by the National Security Archive in Washington have also strengthened Mrs. Horman's conviction that the American Embassy here was both involved in her husband's death and failed to prevent it. In 1976, for instance, three State Department officials wrote a cable to the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs accepting a degree of responsibility for Mr. Horman's execution.
"U.S. intelligence may have played an unfortunate part in Horman's death," the report acknowledges. "At best, it was limited to providing or confirming information that helped motivate his murder by the government of Chile."
As part of the investigation, lawyers for the Horman family also asked that Henry A. Kissinger, secretary of state at the time of the coup, be questioned in the United States. The Chilean Supreme Court filed such a request along with a detailed questionnaire, but did not receive answers to all of its questions, with the State Department citing secrecy provisions and the principle of sovereign immunity for official actions.