Manuel Blanco Romasanta
Manuel Blanco Romasanta
Charcoal drawing from Romasanta's medical report
Manuela Blanco Romasanta
18 November 1809
|Died||December 14, 1863 (aged 54)|
|Other names||Werewolf of Allariz or Fat Extractor|
|Occupation||dressmaker, travelling salesman|
|Criminal status||death sentence commuted|
|Conviction(s)||Guilty nine counts|
Not guilty four counts
|Criminal charge||Murder 13 counts|
|Penalty||death by garrotte|
Manuel Blanco Romasanta, née Manuela (18 November 1809 — 14 December 1863) is Spain’s first documented serial killer. In 1853 Blanco Romasanta admitted to thirteen murders, claiming he was not responsible as he was suffering from a curse that turned him into a wolf. Although this defence was rejected at trial, Queen Isabella II commuted his death sentence to allow doctors to investigate the claim as an example of clinical lycanthropy. Blanco Romasanta has become part of Spanish folklore as the Werewolf of Allariz or less commonly as the Tallow Man so named for the rendering of his victims fat to make high quality soap.
One of the five children of Miguel Blanco and María Romasanta, he was born on 18 November 1809 in Regueiro, Esgos, Ourense province. Manuel Blanco Romasanta was originally named Manuela as it was initially thought that he was female. He was raised as a girl until the age of six when a doctor reassigned his sex. At the age of eight his family legally changed his name. Because he could read and write, very rare for the time in Galicia, it is believed his family was relatively wealthy.
According to various accounts, he was of small stature, being between 1.37m (4'6") and 1.49m (4'11") in height, blonde and "tender looking". As a grown man he worked as a dressmaker, and married. He was widowed a year later, he supposedly had no connection with her death. Following the death of his wife in 1833, Romasanta became a travelling salesman, initially in Esgos, then eventually throughout Galicia and Portugal. Blanco Romasanta was also known to act as a guide for travellers crossing the mountains to Castile, Asturias and Cantabria which gave him further opportunities for trade.
In 1844, Blanco Romasanta was charged with the murder of Vicente Fernández, the alguacil of León. Fernández had been found dead after attempting to collect a debt of 600 reales that Blanco Romasanta owed to a supplier in Ponferrada for the purchase of merchandise. For failing to appear, he was judged guilty by default and sentenced in absentia to 10 years imprisonment.
Other murders and arrest
Fleeing from the threat of imprisonment, Blanco Romasanta lived hiding for almost a year in an abandoned shelter in Ermida. He reappeared in public with a false passport in the name of Antonio Gómez, a native of Nogueira in Portugal, and he installed in the small village of Rebordechao, in the district of Vilar de Barrio for at least a year. Although he helped with the harvest, he also worked variously as a cook, a cordmaker and as a weaver making yarn on a spinning wheel, and became friendly with the women of the village, leading the men to consider him effeminate.
Over the following years, several women and children who had hired Blanco Romasanta as a guide disappeared. The disappearances were not immediately noticed as Blanco Romasanta delivered letters to their families advising that they had arrived at their destinations and were settling in. However, suspicion was aroused when it was noticed that he was selling their clothing locally and rumours spread that he was selling soap made from human fat. In 1852, a complaint was finally lodged in the city of Escalona alleging that Romasanta deceived women and children into travelling with him, that he then killed them and that he removed their fat which he then sold. He was arrested in September 1852, in Nombela, in the province of Toledo, and brought to trial in Allariz, in the province of Ourense. In his defence, Romasanta claimed that he was afflicted with Lycanthropy
Trial in Allariz
When Blanco Romasanta was brought to trial, Galicia was in the middle of one of the worst famines of several that had plagued Galicia throughout the nineteenth century. The famine led to mass migrations and a noticeable increase in insanity. Blanco Romasanta became the subject of a historical judgment: Cause Nº 1778 The Wolfman volume 36 of the courts of Allariz. The litigation, based on a claim of Lycanthropy, has never been repeated in the history of Spanish law.
Blanco Romasanta admitted 13 murders, but in his defence he explained that he had been cursed and had committed them after transforming into a wolf.
"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
The prosecutor, Luciano Bastida Hernáez, asked Blanco Romasanta to demonstrate the transformation for the court to which he replied that the curse only lasted for thirteen years and that he was now cured as that time had expired the previous week. In October 1852, Allariz doctors presented the court with a report on Blanco Romasanta. Based heavily on Phrenology, the report accused Blanco Romasanta of inventing his affliction of . While noting that Lycanthropy can be determined from a "visceral examination" and craneoscopia, the doctors found no causes or motives for his behaviour.
"His inclination to vice is voluntary and not forced. The subject is not insane, dim-witted or monomaniacal, nor were these [conditions] achieved while incarcerated. On the contrary, he [Romasanta] instead turns out to be a pervert, an accomplished criminal capable of anything, cool and collected and without goodness but [acts] with free will, freedom and knowledge."
The court acquitted Blanco Romasanta of four of the murders he had confessed to after forensic evidence indicated that these victims had died in real wolf attacks. He was found guilty of the other nine, the remains of which exhibited signs of butchering. On April 6, 1853 Romasanta was sentenced to death by garrote with 1000 Real compensation to be paid for each victim. The court case had lasted seven months and the transcript covered more than two thousand pages which were bound in five volumes titled "Licantropia".
The case was sent for ratification to the Territorial Court in A Coruña which, after considering the case for seven months, reduced the sentence to life imprisonment. The prosecution appealed against the reduction and a new hearing was set for March 1854, which upheld the original verdict from the court in Allariz: death by garrote.
List of named victims.
- Manuela García, age 47, and her daughter Petra, 15, killed in the Sierra de San Mamede while traveling to Santander.
- Benita García Blanco, aged 34, and her son Francisco, 10, killed in Corgo de Boi while traveling to Rua cantabras.
- Antonia land, 37 years old, and her daughter Peregrina, killed while traveling to Ourense.
- Josefa García and her son José Pazos, 21 years old.
- María Dolores, 12 years old.
Luciano Bastida y Hernáez gained considerable fame and prestige for his prosecution of Romasanta and was made a Knight of the Royal and Distinguished Order of Charles III of Spain, the most distinguished civil award that can be granted, and was appointed to the Supreme Court. Bastida died in Ponferrada in 1872 at age 60 and is considered one of the province of La Rioja's "most illustrious sons" for his legal career. The bicentenary of his birth was celebrated in La Rioja on 8 January 2012.
Commutation by Royal Decree
"Mr. Phillips", a French hypnotist living in London had been following the "Werewolf of Allariz" case through the reporting in French newspapers. Phillips wrote to José de Castro y Orozco, the Spanish Minister of Justice, stating that Romasanta was suffering from a monomania known as lycanthropy and was not responsible for his actions. He claimed that he had successfully treated the condition through hypnosis and asked that the execution be delayed so he could study the case. The Minister of Justice wrote to Queen Isabella II who personally commuted the death sentence to life imprisonment by Royal Order of 13 May 1854 and Romasanta was transferred to a prison in Celanova.
Although there is no documentary evidence for the identity of Mr. Phillips, it is believed that he was the French physician Joseph-Pierre Durand de Gros who had been exiled to Britain and who later returned to France using the pseudonym, Dr. Phillips. Durand de Gros was a significant part of the movement that led to the incorporation and assimilation of "Braidism" (viz., hypnotism à la James Braid; see ) in France and his works on the influence of the mind were later developed by Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The wolfman trial occurred at the beginning of the golden age of hypnotism.
The Celanova prison and its records no longer exist but it was widely believed that Romasanta died within months of arriving. Locals say it was from illness but there is also a rumour that he died after being shot by a guard who wanted to see him transform. However, a TVG documentary aired on May 30, 2009 investigated the possibility that he had died elsewhere, suggesting he had died in San Antón Castle in A Coruña. In October 2011, a "Xornadas Manuel Blanco Romasanta" (a symposium and exhibition of Romasanta memoriabilia) was held in Allariz where Galician researchers Félix and Cástor Castro Vicente presented evidence that Blanco Romasanta had died in the prison of Ceuta on 14 December 1863. The evidence consisted of two newspaper articles, La Iberia a Liberal journal of 23 December 1863 that included a short sentence reporting that Romasanta had died and La Esperanza newspaper dated 21 December 1863 which reported on its front page:
"In Ceuta prison, the unfortunately famous Manuel Blanco Romasanta, known in all Spain as the werewolf as a consequence of his atrocities and misdeeds and who was sentenced to prison by the Court in La Coruña, died in that place on 14 of this month being the victim of a stomach cancer."
Lycanthropy in Galicia
Galician tradition holds that the seventh son of a family can be either normal or "lobishome" (a werewolf). If normal, the child will have the image of a cross or the wheel of Saint Catherine inside his mouth while a werewolf will not. A person will become a werewolf by shedding his clothes and leaving his home at midnight each Friday. He will then visit seven villages, clothing himself in a skin at each one. He can be forced to return to his human form by making him bleed or by burning one of the skins he wears. Becoming a werewolf can be prevented by having one of his brothers sponsor the child for his Baptism and Confirmation. If none of the werewolfs brothers is eligible to be a sponsor (he must be over 16 and have taken confirmation) then baptizing the child with the name of "Bieito" will also prevent the transformation.
With the cultural movement associated with the Age of Enlightenment lycanthropy became accepted as a real medical condition. Various causes of the condition were put forward such as, Syphilis, Rabies, Porphyria, Epilepsy and belladonna poisoning. By the middle of the 19th century psychiatric diagnoses of clinical Lycanthropy became the norm with psychopathological explanations for lycanthropy.
According to the census of 1860, the province of Ourense was predominantly a rural agricultural province. There were no psychiatric hospitals until the opening of the Conxo asylum in 1885 and the insane from Galicia were sent to a hospital in Valladolid. There were no psychiatric doctors at all in Galicia and the only doctors involved in the "werewolf of Allariz" case were the doctors of the town of Allariz.
The Romasanta trial is believed to be the origin of the story of "sinister" men called Sacamantecas ("fat extractors" in English) who roamed the countryside murdering children for their fat, a story frequently used to scare provincial children in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Human fat was believed to cure illness and was also thought to be a lubricant superior to animal fats. The myth became more widespread in Spain with the spread of railways. Romasanta was the first of several people charged for selling human fat in the 19th century.
Since the early 1990s, the case has been the subject of many studies by psychiatrists who see the case as a missed opportunity to legitimize psychiatry in 19th century Spain. Psychiatry at the time was generally ignored with the public and judges determining if a defendant was suffering from a mental disorder. It is recognised that Romasanta was not psychotic but suffered from a personality disorder, likely Antisocial personality disorder.
- El bosque del lobo (The wolf's forest) is a 1968 Spanish drama film produced and directed by Pedro Olea and starring José Luis López Vázquez. The film is based on the novel El bosque de Ancines (Ancines Forest) by Carlos Martínez-Barbeito, which was in turn based on the Werewolf of Allariz court case.
- Romasanta (also titled "Werewolf Hunter - The Legend of Romasanta") is a 2004 Anglo-Spanish horror film produced by Fantastic Factory, directed by Paco Plaza and starring Julian Sands, Elsa Pataky and John Sharian. The film is based on a script by Alfredo Conde, who is a descendant of one of the doctors involved in the original Werewolf of Allariz court case. Conde went on to write the fictional novel The Uncertain Memoirs of a Galician Wolfman: Romasanta.
- In the 2014 documentary "10 Most Evil Serial Killers" from BayView Entertainment, Manuel Blanco Romasanta is portrayed by British horror actor Nathan Head.
- David Lorda Gerardo Menéndez el hombre-lobo de Allariz (Ourense), 1853: una visión desde la psiquiatría actual (The wolfman of Allariz (Ourense), 1853: A view of the current psychiatric community) Journal of Galician Psychiatry 2004 Volume 8 (In Spanish)
- The Sacamantecas Archived 2012-04-02 at the Wayback Machine. Gallery of tourist information and more (in Spanish)
- The Wolfman of Allariz Archived 2011-12-04 at the Wayback Machine. Spain Features : Profiles Nov 13, 2007
- El fiscal que encerró al hombre-lobo Government of La Rioja January 15, 2012
- See C-8938 AHP Ourense (Judiciary, File 1852) "Cause 1788, the Werewolf," 1852, Historical Archives of the Kingdom of Galicia.
- La leyenda del «hombre lobo» Romasanta resucita en Allariz La Voz de Galicia October 30, 2011
- Alfredo Conde The Uncertain Memoirs of a Galician Wolfman: Romasanta Antípodas Monographs 2006 ISBN 0-9775868-0-4