Historias con misterio: El vampiro de Barcelona
The Vampyre of Barcelona
Move aside, Twilight. I recently heard a gruesome tale that takes all the romance out of pointy fangs, sparkly chests, and all that drivel. The tale of ‘The Vampyre of Barcelona’, made all the more eerie by knowing that the story is fact, not fiction.
The district of Raval in Barcelona is now becoming quite fashionable, crammed to the brim with students, young people, and all sorts of international cuisine that is a little more difficult to find in other areas of the city. Teenagers skate around the small streets, drink Claras and smoke the night away.
Raval seems to have had much more of a murky past, however. Those mazes of tiny streets are perfect for concealing all manner of sins, and that they did, rather well, in fact. In the late 1800s, a woman named Enriqueta Martí i Ripollés moved to these shady streets, to become a maidservant. This didn’t work out for her, as she looked toward more money and grander aspirations, and she turned to the age-old trade of prostitution to make ends meet. She begged on the street in the day, dressed in rags, targeting known places of charity, and convents. Not anything out of the ordinary, one would imagine, particularly in a busy city.
However, this was simply what the average passer-by would see. A woman, a beggar, a prostitute. What Enriqueta was really doing was altogether more sinister – the begging rags were simply a disguise that enabled her to lure children back to her home, nobody the wiser as she took them by their hand as any a mother would do. Being by no means badly off from the money she earned as a prostitute, she would attend some of the fashionable events that the well-to-do of Barcelona frequented at the time, such as evenings at the Liceu Theatre, or the Casino, dressed in finery and looking quite different from the woman you would see daily on the street. She put herself about as a procurer of children, and not only prostituted herself, but them, too.
She was arrested during this time, for soliciting children between the ages of three and fourteen, but nothing else came of it, as due to her contacts in high society, she was never tried, and the paperwork lay forgotten.
Martí also had a lucrative business selling potions and charms – a self-made witch doctor. Again, her wares were peddled to the wealthy of Barcelona’s society. They paid large amounts of money for salves, rubs, and ointments, particularly for the treatment of tuberculosis, rife at the time.
Hardly any children were reported missing during this time, mostly because they were all beggar-children, of the streets, able to vanish into thin air. Vanish they did. But they did not simply go missing. Little were the wealthy to know that the treatments they were rubbing into their skin were made from the bones, fat, hair, and blood, of the children Martí had been abducting.
Nobody is sure to this day of how many children Enriqueta kidnapped and slaughtered, but it is contested that she is possibly one of the most brutal serial killers to have lived in Spain. When her apartment was searched, jars of human remains were found, along with pitchers and washbowls scattered with congealed blood, and skeletal hands.
A neighbour spotted a young girl playing in the apartment, whom she had never seen before. At the time, there was city-wide dread and fear, as it was recognised widely by the public, yet not so much the authorities, that somebody was making away with the children of the city. There had even been reports of baby-snatching, though it could have been unrelated to Martí’s sinister actions.
The little girl had been snatched along with another, and it was these two girls who, upon being spotted, ended the horror plaguing Raval and its nearby districts. One of the girls, Angelita, reported that she had seen her “mother”, as she was instructed to call Enriqueta, kill a young boy on the kitchen table. He was five years old.
Enriqueta was arrested. Upon searches of her four houses, scattered across the city, and also in Sant Feliu de Llobregat, they found more and more human remains. They were hidden in ceilings, behind false walls, and even in vases. The skulls of children as young as three years old were found.
Enriqueta met a grizzly end herself, befitting her own gruesome tale. There was large public hatred stirring for the woman, even before her trial, and after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, her cellmates did the job for her and lynched her in the prison square.
There is still high mystery surrounding the story, seeming a world away from the cosmopolitan Barcelona we know and love so much today. As she died before trial, there may be many things we will never discover about Raval’s dark past, but will continue to whisper about in rumour, and pass on the story to unsuspecting foreigners who know nothing of the secrets the twisting streets hide…