Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Trials: The Werewolf of Allariz, 1853

Manuel Blanco Romasanta is most probably Spain's first documented serial killer. At the age of 35, he was charged with the murder of a constable of León who had attempted to collect debt from Romasanta for merchandise he had purchased. Judged guilty by default for failing to appear in front of court, Romasanta fled to Portugal for fear of imprisonment. The small village of Rebordechao was to become the scene of his future murders. While there, Romasanta worked as a cordmaker, a cook, and a weaver (originally, he was a tailor and a travelling salesman). He also moonlighted as a guide leading people who wanted to cross the mountains to Castille, Asturias, and Cantabria. During his stay in town, a number of women and children who had hired him as a guide disappeared. As it later turned out, Romasanta murdered them and tried to sell their clothes to the locals, avoiding immediate suspicion by delivering fake letters to their families, saying that they had successfully arrived at their destinations. A formal complaint was eventually put forward in 1852. The same year, Romasanta was put on trial in Allariz, in the province of Ourense, and accused of murdering thirteen people. Romasanta admitted to committing the murders, but he claimed that he had committed them in the form of a wolf, maintaining that he suffered from the curse of werewolfism. It is worth noting that at the time Spain was suffering from one of the worst periods of famine in the 19th century.

The first time I transformed, was in the mountains of Couso. I came across two ferocious-looking wolves. I suddenly fell to the floor, and began to feel convulsions, I rolled over three times, and a few seconds later I myself was a wolf. I was out marauding with the other two for five days, until I returned to my own body, the one you see before you today, Your Honour. The other two wolves came with me, who I thought were also wolves, changed into human form. They were from Valencia. One was called Antonio and the other Don Genaro. They too were cursed... we attacked and ate a number of people because we were hungry. 

- Manuel Blanco Romasanta, from El hombre-lobo de Allariz (Ourense), 1853: una visión desde la psiquiatria actual by David Lorda Gerardo Menendez

Thinking that this might provide the country with a clinical case of lycanthropy, Queen Isabella II annulled his initial death sentence so that doctors may study him. Not having found anything, the doctors discredited his claim, also concluding that he was not insane, but a cold-blooded murderer. During the trial itself, the prosecution asked Romasanta to demonstrate his ability to transform, but he replied that the curse only lasted for thirteen years and that it had expired the previous week. In the end, Romasanta was acquitted of four of the murders, which were determined to have been caused by real wolf attacks, but he was found guilty of the remaining nine. In April of 1853, Romasanta was sentenced to death by garrotte, but his penalty was subsequently reduced to life imprisonment by the Territorial Court in A Coruna. Due to an appeal of the prosecution, however, the original verdict of death by garrotte was upheld. A few months after arriving in prison, Romasanta died in what were initially considered mysterious circumstances. In 2011, it was determined that he actually died in prison in 1863 from stomach cancer.

Two movies have been made on the basis of Romasanta's case: El bosque del lobo (The Wolf Forest) in 1968, and Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt in 2004.

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