Hunting for the Vampire of Barcelona
At the turn of the 20th century, Enriqueta Martí, a woman from the witchcraft-steeped countryside of Cataluña, came to Barcelona. There, she became her country's answer to Jack the Ripper, luring children back to her house, killing them, and then...
People chasing the car in which Enriqueta was carted off after her arrest
At the turn of the 20th century, Enriqueta Martí—a woman from the witchcraft-steeped countryside of Cataluña—came to Barcelona. Like many of the poor rural immigrants flooding into Barcelona at the time, she found that the Catalan capital was less “Pearl of the Mediterranean” and more “City of Death.” This didn’t bother her, though, because it was in Barcelona that she became her country’s answer to Jack the Ripper, luring children back to her house, killing them, and then drinking their blood.
Fast forward a century and Marc Pastor, a CSI detective based in Barcelona, finds himself working on a case involving another female serial killer. In his spare time, he writes Barcelona Shadows, a retelling of Martí’s diabolical career redolent of Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, and David Peace. Already a bestseller in Spain, the book has just been published in English. I caught up with Marc for a trip back to the dark alleys of the Barcelona slums.
VICE: Hi, Marc. When exactly is your book set?
Marc Pastor: It’s in 1912. Barcelona is leaving its rural past behind and becoming a modern city. There is the biggest casino in Europe, which was an amazing amusement park with a rollercoaster. There’s a lot of poverty. People are living in the streets and there’s a lot of sickness. This is where Enriqueta appears, where she rises up. A woman. She is a female killer, which is very unusual because 99 percent of serial killers are men. It’s a dark and creepy city with a dark and creepy serial killer.
And Enriqueta came onto this scene from the countryside, to work as a servant in a house?
Actually, as a whore.
Fake wall in Enriqueta's kitchen, where she hid the bones
I was about to say: she swiftly becomes a prostitute. How quickly does she start to kill people, and can you tell me about her methods?
We don’t know exactly how many people or children she killed. That’s part of the myth. Jack the Ripper had five victims, but you don’t know how many victims Enriqueta had. She was arrested in 1912, but she went to Mallorca in 1901 for three months and had to come back because people wanted to kill her. So you can imagine she was murdering people and children for 12 years, at least. I met a lot of people after publishing the book who told me, “My grandma was a victim of Enriqueta," or, "My grandmother-in-law was one of the people Enriqueta tried to kidnap.” They showed me pictures. She tried to kidnap a lot of people. One woman told me her grandmother-in-law was approached by a woman who tried to give her candy and told her to come with her.
That’s suitably old-fashioned. What do you know about her methods?
We have a witness. A girl saw her kill a boy. She kidnapped the sons and daughters of whores and beggars; children who nobody knew about. She kidnapped them close to her house and then she would bring them home. The witness said that Enriqueta gave the boy something to put him to sleep, because she didn't want him to scream. With a knife, she cut the neck and opened the void like a piece of meat, like a cow.
Enriqueta wanted to use the blood. She used the children for prostitution, for pedophiles, but she also used them to make tonics, and for other types of witchery. There was no medicine at that time. A lot of people had tuberculosis and diseases like that and she claimed that drinking the blood of an eight-year-old child would help them. I think there was some kind of cannibalism going on. It hasn’t been proven. She thought that the blood and the cooked flesh of the children would bring immortality, so she ate them.
Inspection on Picalquers Street, searching for bones from one of Enriqueta's apartments
That’s how she became known as the Vampire of Barcelona, right?
Yes. One of the wonderful parts of this story is that she never got to her trial; she died of uterus cancer beforehand. It's quite ironic that the woman who spent her life kidnapping and eating children to become immortal, couldn't have children.
She kidnapped the children and drained them of their blood because she believed that it would make her immortal. Wasn’t there a kind of twisted logic to it?
It was more a superstition. She was illiterate. She was brought up in a small town. If she really was dying of cancer, maybe it was some kind of survival instinct kicking in. But she was also a psychopath—she enjoyed what she did.
How was she caught?
The same way all criminals get caught: because of a mistake. She kidnapped the daughter of a man who wasn't rich, but who was very loved and well known in Barcelona. The girl's name was Teresita. She cut Teresita's hair in her apartment and left the window open. A neighbor saw Teresita in the window and told the police about what she saw. When the police went into the apartment they found two girls. That was when they found out.
You work in CSI for the police.
Yes. I work on robberies and I look for DNA, blood, sperm, and fingerprints. We don’t drive hummers, though.
Teresita with the mayor and the cops who rescued her
Can you tell me about working on the case of the female serial killer Remedios Sanchez, and how that influenced the book?
I was trying to write the book and get into Enriqueta’s mind—the mind of a female serial killer. It was the summer of 2009 and a woman appeared strangled and stabbed in a neighborhood in Barcelona. We went to investigate. There was a lot of violence in those days, lots of break-ins, so we didn’t know exactly what happened. Two weeks after the crime, another old woman was murdered in an apartment.
This was less violent but there were some coincidences between the two cases. At the same time, some robberies were conducted in the same way: a woman would enter an old woman’s house, talk to her, and then beat her up in order to rob her. It was strange. In two weeks we had four or five robberies including old women being beaten. The procedure seemed to be the same. The woman would always ask for a glass of water and then come in and turn into a monster.
It must have been exhausting.
It was maybe the worst time in my career. Every time the phone rang and someone said, “She did it again,” I felt awful. You want to get her before she can do it again. It was a big investigation. She was so fast leaving the crime scene that we could never catch her. We got some blurred pictures from a CCTV camera. We knew how she moved. We found out that she lived and worked in the same neighborhood all the robberies were taking place in. It took about two months of investigation, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
It was so exhausting. I could tell she was beginning to feel powerful, because she killed even more often. The robbery was only an excuse—she had been stealing all her life. When she killed for the first time, she realized, “This is what I like.” The last killings became more and more violent. Again, we arrested her because of a mistake. She stole a credit card, went to a casino, and tried to use it. So we went to that casino and looked at the IDs and we went to arrest her. She worked at a bar where a lot of cops go, cooking omelettes. All the cops say she cooked very well.
We went to the bar, but didn’t find her. But we found her by the phone and she was going to kill another woman. She dialed the number of another woman she was going to kill that afternoon.
Guitart family. Teresita on the right side.
You said that when you looked into her eyes, you understood something about Enriqueta.
After the arrest we went to her apartment. She was so cold. She didn’t say anything. When the cop grabbed her to take her out of the car and into her building, she refused to move. She was screaming, “Leave me, leave me.” Inside the apartment the officer in charge told her: “Nobody can see you now, so stop.” She instantly stopped crying.
All her house was painted purple. She sat down on a sofa in her living room and the judge told her, “We are going to look for evidence of homicide.” She stood up, face to face with the judge, and said, “I do not agree.” Have you seen The Silence of the Lambs? It was like the “Hello, Clarice” scene. She began to walk around the room, looking into everyone’s eyes.
We found a lot of evidence. She had a lot of little things that reminded her of her victims.
And she loved to kill people, just like Enriqueta.
When I saw Sanchez, I saw Enriqueta. Well, a hundred years of difference, but they are both female serial killers who killed innocent people—children and grandmothers. Her eyes had the same glaze that I saw on the picture of Enriqueta, so I knew how to get into her mind. I wrote Enriqueta based on Sanchez.
And there is a kind of overlap, isn’t there?
When a nice woman comes to an old person and helps them with their bags or asks them if they want her to cook in their apartment, they just let her. One of Sanchez’s victims told me: “She was so nice, so kind, she helped me. Then, as soon as she entered the house, she turned into a monster. She hit me. I told her: ‘Please stop, don’t kill me.’ She didn’t say a word. She was an animal.” I will remember those words all my life. She said she saw the monster that otherwise remains inside.
Barcelona Shadows is out now, published by Pushkin Press
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