In the enchanted land of the meigas and the tardos, where ancient trees pierce with their gnarled fingers a shade of green as deep as the old legends that take root in Galician culture… This is the place we are headed to, a woodland of stories that are implausible and yet incredibly real. If we dare to walk into the dark forests of Galicia, where sunlight has not reached the grass for centuries and a thousand eyes seem to watch us from the unknown, perhaps we will walk across a case that still haunts the Galician lands: the terrifying case of the werewolf of Allariz.
The story of Manuel Blanco Romasanta is the first case of a serial killer that has ever been recorded in Spain. The peculiar conditions under which he murdered his victims and his strong conviction that he was actually a werewolf quickly brought this case to the spotlight. But let us start from the beginning: who was the werewolf of Allariz?
In order to unearth the story of the Galician lycanthrope, we will have to travel back to the early nineteenth century. Manuel Blanco Romasanta was born in 1809, in a small village in Ourense called Regueiro. There have been multiple debates regarding their gender, since Romasanta’s birth certificate said Manuela: the female version of Manuel. The child had mixed sexual traits, and their parents first believed the kid was a girl. We are probably talking about an intersexual person, but it was the nineteenth century and they did not have the tools to name it, so we cannot be sure about that either. Considering it is not possible to ask them personally, we will rely on the fact that Manuel lived most of their life as a man despite being assigned otherwise at birth.
One of the things we know about Romasanta is the fact that he was 1.37 metres tall. He was blond and kind, a person that could easily fit in and become a respectable member of society. He could read and write, which was quite uncommon at the time. Indeed, he wrote letters and documents for his neighbours. He would eventually use that skill to cover the traces of his crimes, as we will see later on. Apart from that, he worked as a tailor and had quite a common life. Then, how was the monster born?
Manuel got married to a woman called Francisca Gómez Vázquez. Sadly, she passed away very soon. This could have triggered the transformation of the werewolf of Allariz, although we cannot really know that for sure. Either way, Romasanta left his job as a tailor and he started working as a peddler, mostly travelling through Portugal.
The following time period is rather obscure. His trading activities were mainly focused on selling soap and ointments. According to some rumours, he used human grease to make them. Romasanta managed to go more or less unnoticed, and he even gained the trust of the people around him. He knew the paths and forests of Galicia like the back of his hand, and he offered to lead people through the woods, mainly women travelling with their kids searching for a better future. Of course, those ships never sailed, and those women and children were never seen again. The victims of the werewolf were doomed to wander among the crooked trees of the forest for all eternity.
In fact, the modus operandi of the werewolf of Allariz was significantly marked by its main element: the stage of the Galician forests. He eventually admitted that, on full moon nights, he would walk into the forest and crawl in the dark, under the silver silhouettes of the mountains, waiting for his prey to arrive. When they fell into his trap, Romasanta dismembered them and fed on their corpses, allegedly controlled by the primitive instincts of a wolf. He spent days out in the woods, going through a transformation which, whether we believe it or not, was certainly bloody and disturbing.
Romasanta’s literacy allowed him to impersonate his victims by writing letters on their behalf, pretending these people had reached their destinations. In said letters, he assured his victims were safe and sound; that they had found fantastic jobs in the places they expected to reach. Nevertheless, those disappearances began to raise suspicion over time, and the letters were no longer effective. Besides, they found some of the disappeared people’s belongings among the items Romasanta was selling as a peddler, and the mysterious origin of his ointments began to unsettle the inhabitants of the village he was living in. As a consequence, the cover of Romasanta’s murders began to crumble, and he was forced to run away.
Wherever the werewolf of Allariz set his foot, people began to disappear. They finally arrested him in Toledo, in 1852, and he was brought back to Allariz for a trial. The judge declared he was in full possession of his mental faculties when he committed his crimes, and therefore he had to be responsible for his actions. Either way, Romasanta became the first known case of clinical lycanthropy.
Manuel Blanco Romasanta admitted to nine accusations of murder. Depending on the source we check, the real number ascends to 13 or 17 homicides. When he was called to testify, he claimed that he transformed into a werewolf every full moon night, and sometimes that state lasted a few days, even a week. It is worth noting that, the day he got arrested, Romasanta carried a lunar calendar with him. What is more, he blamed the spell of a witch for his condition. When he was asked to prove he could turn into a werewolf, Romasanta argued that the curse only lasted for a limited number of years, and therefore he was no longer able to use that supernatural power.
The trial lasted a year more or less, and the sentence was passed on 6 April 1853. According to the judge’s final decision, Manuel Blanco Romasanta was sentenced to death by garrotte. However, and against all odds, the defence lawyer managed to avoid the death sentence for lack of evidence, and the case was brought to the Supreme Court of Spain. Not only that: a French doctor called Mr. Philips begged the then queen of Spain, Isabel II, to spare Romasanta’s life in order to study his case. The queen accepted the request, and Romasanta ended up being sentenced to life imprisonment.
The werewolf of Allariz passed away in 1863, at the age of 54, in a prison in Ceuta. The official news stated that he had died of stomach cancer, although there are theories supporting it was his cellmates who killed him. It is hard to know, just as difficult it is to imagine those nights where this silhouette surrounded by fogs and mystery roamed through the purple woods of Galicia, under the pearly beams of the moon, both the ally and the enemy of a beast that uttered its last howl a long time ago.
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