A garrote or garrote vil (a Spanish word; alternative spellings include garotte and garrotte) is a weapon, most often referring to a handheld ligature of chain, rope, scarf, wire or fishing line used to strangle a person.
The garrote has been used for centuries as a means of silent assassination. A garrote can be made out of many different materials, including ropes, cable ties, fishing lines, nylon, guitar strings, telephone cord or piano wire.
A stick may be used to tighten the garrote (the Spanish word actually refers to the stick itself) so it is a pars pro toto where the eponymous component may actually be absent. In Spanish, the term may also refer to a rope and stick used to constrict a limb as a torture device.
Since World War II the garrote has been regularly employed as a weapon by soldiers as a silent means of eliminating sentries and other enemy personnel. Instruction in the use of purpose-built and improvised garrottes is included in the training of many elite military units and special forces. A typical military garrote consists of two wooden handles attached to a length of flexible wire; the wire is looped over a sentry's head and pulled taut in one motion. Soldiers of the French Foreign Legion have used a particular type of double-loop garrote (referred to as la loupe), where a double coil of rope or cord is dropped around a victim's neck and then pulled taut. Even if the victim pulls on one of the coils, he only succeeds in tightening the other.
The garrote was the principal device used for capital punishment in Spain for hundreds of years. Originally, it entailed a mode of execution wherein a convict would be beaten to death with a club (garrote in Spanish). This later developed into a practice of strangulation by which the condemned was tied to a wooden stake, with a looped section of rope placed around his neck. A wooden stick would then be placed in the loop and twisted by an executioner, causing the rope to tighten until it strangled the prisoner to death. As time went on, the execution method was modified in the form of a wooden chair to which the condemned was bound, while the executioner tightened a metal band around his/her neck with a crank or a wheel until asphyxiation of the condemned person was accomplished.
Other versions of this device incorporated a fixed metal blade or spike directed at the spinal cord to hasten the breaking of the neck. Such a device can be seen in the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, the Coppola classic "The Godfather", as well as the Banderas/Jolie film, Original Sin. The spiked version, called the Catalan garrote, was used as late as 1940. American authorities kept the garrote for a time in the Philippines after that Spanish colony was captured in 1898. Its use was abolished in 1902 (Act No. 451, passed September 2, 1902). Notable victims of the garrote in the Philippines include the trio of native priests, the Gomburza, for their alleged participation in the 1872 Cavite mutiny.
It was widely employed in 17th and 18th century India as an assassination device, particularly by the Thuggee cult. Practitioners used a yellow silk or cloth scarf called a rumāl.The Indian version of the garrote frequently incorporates a knot at the center intended to aid in crushing the larynx while applying pressure to the victim's back, usually by means of a foot or knee.
American military authorities in Puerto Rico also used the garotte to execute at least five convicted murderers in 1900. In a report to Congress, the American military governor opined "that execution by the garotte is far less inhumane and revolting than execution by hanging." However, use of this execution method was soon discontinued and replaced by hanging. (Since 1929, capital punishment has not existed under Puerto Rican law.)
In the Ottoman Empire, execution by strangulation was reserved for very high officials and members of the ruling family. Unlike the Spanish version, a bowstring was used instead of a tightening collar.
The garrote (Latin: laqueus) is known to have been used in the first century BC in Rome. It is referred to in accounts of the Second Catilinian Conspiracy, where conspirators including Publius Cornelius Lentulus Sura were strangled with a laqueus in the Tullianum, and the implement is shown in some early reliefs, e.g., Répertoire de Reliefs grecs et romains, tome I, p. 341 (1919). It was also used in the Middle Ages in Spain and Portugal. It was employed during the conquista of the Americas, notably in the execution of the Inca emperor Atahualpa.
During the Peninsular War of 1808–1814, French forces regularly used the garrote to execute Spanish guerrilleros, priests, and other opponents to Napoleonic rule. Around 1810 the earliest known metallic garrote appeared in Spain, and on 28 April 1828, the garrote was declared the sole method of executing civilians in that country.
In May 1897, the last public garroting in Spain was performed in Barcelona. After that, all executions were performed inside prisons. In 1935 in Spain the legislature adopted a law prohibiting any member of the armed forces from being a Freemason. As a result of this edict, 80 Freemasons were garroted to death in Málaga.
The last civilian executions in Spain, both by garroting, were those of Pilar Prades in May 1959 and José María Jarabo in July 1959. Recent legislation had caused many crimes (such as robbery-murder) to fall under the jurisdiction of military law; thus, prosecutors rarely requested civilian executions. Military executions were still performed in Spain until the 1970s. The garrotings of Heinz Ches (real name Georg Michael Welzel) and Salvador Puig Antich in March 1974, both convicted of killing police officers, were the last state-sanctioned garrotings in Spain and in the world.
With the 1973 Penal Code, prosecutors once again started requesting execution in civilian cases. If the death penalty had not been abolished in 1978 after dictator Francisco Franco's death, civilian executions would most likely have resumed. The last man to be sentenced to death by garroting was José Luis Cerveto "el asesino de Pedralbes" in October 1977, for a double robbery-murder in May 1974. Cerveto requested execution, but his sentence was commuted. Another prisoner whose civilian death sentence was commuted was businessman Juan Ballot, for the contract killing of his wife in Navarre in November 1973.
In Spain, the garrote was abolished in 1978 along with the death penalty after adoption of a new constitution. The writer Camilo José Cela obtained a garrote (which had probably been used for the execution of Puig Antich) from the Consejo General del Poder Judicial to display at his foundation. The device was kept in storage in Barcelona. It was displayed for a time in the room that the Cela Foundation devoted to his novel La familia de Pascual Duarte until Puig Antich's family asked for its removal.
In 1990, Andorra became the last country to officially abolish the death penalty by garrotting, though this method had not been employed there since the late 12th century.
- Oxford English Dictionary, 11th Ed: garrotte is normal British English spelling, with single r alternate. Article title is US English spelling variant.
- Newquist, H.P. and Maloof, Rich, This Will Kill You: A Guide to the Ways in Which We Go, New York: St. Martin's Press, ISBN 978-0-312-54062-3 (2009), pp. 133-6
- Whittaker, Wayne, Tough Guys, Popular Mechanics, February 1943, Vol. 79 No. 2, pp. 44
- Steele, David E., Silent Sentry Removal, Black Belt Magazine, August 1986, Vol. 24 No. 8, pp. 48-49
- garrote, 7th sense, Diccionario de la Real Academia Española.
- S. Doc. 360, 56th Cong., 1st sess., p. 3.
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- Scottish Rite News Bureau bulletin, February 15, 1937, in the files at the Scottish Rite House of the Temple in Washington, DC.
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- El director de cine Manuel Huerga presenta el libro «Cómo se hizo: Salvador». La Voz de Galicia, 21 November 2006.
- Media related to Garrote at Wikimedia Commons