the absurd mistake that put Spain’s most insane murderer in jail

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The misadventures of Romasanta, the self-proclaimed Galician lycanthrope, have many lights and an infinity of shadows. Today we know his life thanks to the version that he himself declared in front of the courts that tried him between 1852 and 1853. And that is the problem: that this renowned murderer wielded such bizarre theories on the stand as that he was transformed into a werewolf to finish off his victims or that he attacked in the company of other beings as supernatural as him. His words surrounded the case with a halo of mystery that, even today, generates a certain distrust about the veracity of his actions. But it is undeniable that, beyond the bibidis, badabis, bus of the sorceress of Cinderella, his was the story of a criminal who shook Spain.

Manuel Blanco Romasanta came into the world, as confirmed by the judge, in the Regueiro village, located in Ourense, on November 18, 1809. A delicate blonde baby, on her birth certificate was noted as Manuela … According to logic, because both her parents and the priest believed that she was a girl until she was eight years old. This is one of the many enigmas that still surround the Galician werewolf. A mystery that the head of Forensic Anthropology at the Institute of Legal Medicine of Galicia tried to shed light on in 2012, Fernando Serrulla, with a study that confirmed that our protagonist who suffered from an intersex syndrome («hermaphroditism», According to classical scholars) that made him secrete male hormones in an exaggerated way and caused him to suffer from recurring aggressive episodes.

Initial doubts

Sweet, withdrawn and with hobbies, at that time, more typical of a woman, Manuel studied the vicissitudes of soap making and sewing as a child. He also became a great connoisseur of the Galician forests, key data for his future as a murderer. Nor can he be denied his ability to learn to read and write, something that was not common in rural areas of Spain. After an adolescence of which little is known, he married in 1831 with Francisca Gomez, a little older than him. Their love story spanned only three years, when the woman passed away suddenly. The coup caused Romasanta to leave the parish that had contained her inner beast and take up the life of a peddler and peddling trinkets in Galicia Y Portugal, with whom he had already flirted before.

One of the recreations of Romasanta in the press of the time
One of the recreations of Romasanta in the press of the time – ABC

As the doctors who studied him during the trial made clear, he was a handsome man: “Blanco’s physiognomy is not at all disgusting, and without any characteristic feature: his gaze is now sweet and timid, now fierce and haughty, and forcibly serene.” Although it is impossible to know what he was like when he was about twenty summers, since we only have the physical description that the experts made of him throughout the process, when he was 45 years old. Then he was “five feet less than an inch tall,” he counted “with light brown complexion, light brown eye, black hair and beard, semi-bald back of head“And showed” flourishing health. ”

For the umpteenth time, at this point the controversy around Romasanta was born. Most historians agree that when his wife passed away, he became known as’O home do unto‘(the tallow man) or the’Sacamantecas‘. The reason was that it was dedicated to collecting tallow to sell it in Portugal, where it was used to make strange ointments that, according to tradition, were capable of curing all kinds of ills. In the 1950s, the newspaper ‘El Balear’ already made reference to the fact that it had earned this nickname, ‘el del unto’, according to ‘La voz Pública’. Years later, when his crimes became known, it did not take long to generalize the idea that that raw material was taken from its victims …

Rare crimes

The next chapter in this disconcerting story must be sought in 1843, when Romasanta was once again known. This time in León, the last stop in a life of transhumance with together instead of beasts. The chronicles narrate that that year he left the region pursued by the bailiff Vicente Fernandez, who wanted to collect a debt that he had with a Galician business. When the body of the agent was found dead, he charged Manuel, then an anonymous street vendor. In his favor, it would have to be said that there was little evidence against him, but that was of no use to him. He was sentenced in absentia to a decade in prison and had to flee, once again, to save his freedom. This time, towards the parish of Rebordechau-Bilar de Barrio, in his beloved Galicia.

It was in Rebordechau that the beast sprouted. And he did so after the image of a caring and dedicated person that Romasanta spread among the neighbors. He sewed together with the old women of the town, he lent himself to help with any daily task and, in exchange for a few coins, he was always ready to accompany women eager to cross the forests and seek a new life in Santander. Most of them he promised to mediate to get them a good job with some local rich man eager for domestic service. As determined in ‘Cause formed in the first instance court of Allariz against Manuel Blanco Romasanta’ (prepared by the lawyer who defended him in 1852), it was during one of these trips that he perpetrated his first murder in 1846. The victims would have been Manuela Garcia Blanco, 45, and her daughter Petronila.

They would have been followed, within a period of four years, Benita Garcia and her little one Francisco; Antonia Rua and her little girl Pilgrim and to finish, Josefa García and José. Maria Dolores, 12 years old and the eldest daughter of Manuela García, was his last murder. A loose end that he wanted to end with. Romasanta’s maxim, however, was not to arouse suspicion. For this reason, he gave the family of the deceased false letters in which he insisted on how well people lived in Santander. Since he didn’t have a hair as a fool, Manuel also used to talk to the girls so that they would sell him all their goods before leaving. Once in the forest, and after the murder of rigor, he kept the money of the deceased.

The final point of his Machiavellian plan was explained by the newspaper ‘El Balear’ in a news published in 1853: «Many of the clothes of the murdered people were sold by the inmate to various subjects and indeed almost all of them appeared». This last point was the one that condemned him. Gossip about the disappeared, coupled with suspicions about the sale of their clothes, forced him to leave Rebordechau in a hurry to Toledo in 1852 with a false passport and under the new name of Antonio Gómez. But, in this case, justice caught him thanks to a “denunciation made by three Galicians, in which they manifested that another countryman of theirs who was with them in the harvest was the one who was attributed the murders” perpetrated in the mountains of San Mamed and Couso.

Romasanta was hunted down by the authorities and forced to confess his real name after finding sufficient evidence in his new home. Among them, as explained in the case, “a portfolio that was found […] a bull of the Crusade of the year 51, with the name of Manuel Blanco ». Faced with the evidence, the murderer had to admit reality. «He said his name was Manuel Blanco y Romasanta, a native of RigueiroIn his opinion of the Allariz party, with no fixed neighborhood or residence, because of the kind of life he had dedicated himself to this part since he was thirteen, for what he will say; He was a widower, an itinerant shopkeeper, and a 42-year-old ”, confirmed the official document. The calendar was on August 25, 1852.

Werewolf

That summer a trial was started which lasted about a year and that it happened first in Allariz (Orense) and then in La Coruña. Romasanta not only confirmed that he had killed the nine people attributed to him, but also revealed that he had also murdered five more, as well as many others that he did not even remember. The process could have been overlooked in the press had it not been for the claim that it only killed when it turned into a wolf. «He claims that in some seasons he has the misfortune of turning into a wolf and then, against his will, he is forced to tear his neighbor tooth and nail; to achieve this he turns in the sand, a precedent condition to his transfiguration, ”he stands out in the case.

In his words, the blame for that transformation was a strange curse that had been thrown at him when he was just a teenager and whose existence was explained to him by two other werewolves whom he ran into by chance. «He knows that his criminal actions were the effect of the curse of which he is merit, because once in the valley of Couso in the Sierra, he met two wolves and became a wolf too, and he walked with them for four or five days, finally taking the form of people again, and that was when he met Don Genaro and Antonio, who told him that they had had this misfortune for a long time; whose success convinced the deponent that he was the victim of a curse, “the trial report states.

«He claims that in some seasons he has the misfortune of turning into a wolf and then, against his will, he is forced to tear his neighbor tooth and nail; to achieve this he turns in the sand, a precedent condition to his transfiguration »

Throughout the process, Romasanta had the coolness to affirm that she knew “that on the day of San Pedro the curse ended, because on that day he stopped feeling the desire” to kill. Until then, he insisted, the thirst for blood and human flesh had forced him to destroy his victims when he took on his animal form. «He declared that to carry out these murders they did not use any weapon, because after […] take that form they attacked and devoured anyone», Is completed in the case. His words made newspapers of all kinds, from ‘The Enlightenment’ to ‘El Heraldo’. The same happened with international media such as the “Diario de Gobierno de la República Mexicana”, which devoted some of its pages to the case.

The trial partly unmasked the inconsistencies of the Galician wolf. If he lost consciousness when he became an animal, how was it possible that, after the murders, he snatched their belongings from the women? Why did he only convert when he reached the forest and not before? For these and many other doubts, the judge handed down a sentence on April 6, 1853: vile garrote. But his lawyer had one last trick. Supported by one Doctor Philips, who has not yet been identified, alleged that there was insufficient evidence to convict him and appealed to higher authorities. And he was partly right, since only a woman’s coxal and a fractured skull had been found.

‘El Faro Nacional’ published that the lawyer, Rua Figueroa, also maintained that his protégé was a victim “of a mental derangement, which, just as it made him believe that he was turning into a wolf, could thus make him be convinced that he was only committing crimes that they were in his sick mind. On these pillars he asked Queen Elizabeth II to commute the sentence. In it, he stated that “the truth could not be found” and that Romasanta had only been convicted because the trial had “excited the zeal of the courts»And society. “It could not be legally ascertained but that four of the victims had been eaten by wolves that infest the mountainous country of those districts,” he completed. It worked and the November 16, 1853, the ‘Official Newspaper of Madrid’ confirmed that he would not die, but would be locked up for life. His lycanthropy was studied, but this curious character from that moment disappeared from the lights of today and died under the strictest mystery.

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