Lycanthropy is a mental disorder where a person believes that have the ability to turn into animals, in most cases the animal is a werewolf but can range anywhere from a hyena to a bear. This is exactly what occurred in the first recorded serial killer case in Spain, his name was Manuel Blanco Romasanta, or better known as the Werewolf of Allariz.
Most of Manuel’s life is not documented as he led a fairly average life up until the murders began but what is known shows a man who had a troubled past. Manuel was born on November 18, 1809 in Regueiro, a small village in the Ourense Province in Spain. His birth certificate would show a different story altogether as he was not named Manuel but Manuela. No, there was no sex change in Manuel’s life but instead a case of mistaken sexual identity. For the first six years of his life, Manual was thought to be a female until a doctor discovered that he was in fact a male and not a female.
When Manuel left home he did what most men did of the time, he found a trade and married. Until the death of his wife in 1833, Manuel worked as a tailor and was generally thought to have come from a wealthy family since he was able to read and write, traits that were not commonly practiced among the lower classes of Spain at the time.
Apparently Manuel lost his way in life after his wife passed for he left his career as a tailor and began traveling around Spain holding a variety a jobs. First he was a traveling salesman and then a guide for those who were traveling across the mountains.
The first run-in with the law occurred in 1844 when Manuel was charged with murdering the Constable of Leon, a man by the name of Vicente Fernandez. Manuel accrued a debt of 600 reales, about $151 in today’s currency, after purchasing some merchandise from a merchant, Manuel didn’t have the money to cover the debt so he killed the constable and fled.
The trial for the murder was held even though Manuel had already left and failed to appear, leaving his verdict as guilty by default. The judge had sentenced Manuel to 10 years in prison and upon hearing this, Manuel created a fake passport under the pseudonym Antonio Gomez but oddly never left Spain, never even left Ourense Province. Instead, Manuel worked as a cordmaker but more importantly, he returned to his work as a guide specifically helping women and children through Ourense Province. It is these women and children that began disappearing in the area and Manuel was the number one suspect.
At first, Manuel was questioned about the missing women and children but he provided stories that they had moved away and were settling into their news lives. These stories were believed as Manuel provided letters to the families of the missing persons, of course it was Manuel who wrote the letters, not the missing women. It wasn’t until he was caught selling the clothes of the victims that he was an official suspect and the arrest came in September of 1852.
Another incident that led to his imminent arrest was the rumor that he was using the fat of his victims for soap which he was selling along with their clothing.
Manuel was brought to the town of Allariz where is trial began in September and would continue over the next several months. In October, doctors were brought in after Manuel admitted to killing 13 people due to his curse: lycanthropy. After days of examination, the doctors determined that Manuel fabricated the story about turning into a werewolf and he was charged with 9 out of the 13 murders. The judge sentenced Manuel to death by way of the garrotte, a hand-held strangling device made with wire, rope, or chain.
The strange thing about the trial is that 4 of the victims that Manuel admitted to, the ones he was acquitted of, were actually attacked by wolves. It should be noted that during this same time there was a large famine in the Ourense Province leading to mass migration as well as insanity due to a lack of available food. This was found irrelevant in Manuel’s trial.
Death did not find it’s way to Manuel swiftly as his trial caught the attention of various people from around the world. A hypnotist from France had been known to be able to cure lycanthrophy and wrote to the Minister of Justice requesting that his death sentence be delayed in order for this Mr. Phillips to study Manuel. Queen Isabella II of Spain was contacted by the Minister of Justice who officially requested the delay resulting in Isabella changing the death sentence to imprisonment for life.
By a royal order issued by Isabella herself, Manuel was transferred to a prison where he could live out the rest of his days on May 13, 1854. And this is where our story ends. Sort of.
After being transferred to the prison in Celanova, Manuel apparently died within a few days but there is no documentation to reinforce that as fact. The prison no longer exists and neither do any of the records that were kept with the prison. But there were rumors aplenty about what happened. The most widely accepted of those rumors was that a strange illness overtook Manuel that caused his quick death after arriving. Another rumor is an officer wanted to see Manuel turn into the wolf but after stating that the curse is longer with him, the officer shot him dead. There is also the possibility that Manuel successfully escaped the prison and continued to live his life as a werewolf. The newest, maybe most sound reason, is he could have died from stomach cancer.
Unfortunately, this story provides no closure as no death date or cause of death has ever been officially given in the case. All that can be deduced is that Manuel Blanco Romasanta probably died sometime during the later half of the month of May in 1854.
An interesting fact about Galicia (where Ourense Province is located within Spain) is their folklore of werewolves. It was believed that the seventh son, or in some cases the seventh child regardless of sex, would become a werewolf. These children were killed or abandoned up until 1920 when the President of Argentina wrote a law that he would be the godfather of every seventh son. Not only was the child given a godfather but they also received a gold medal during baptism and a scholarship for education when they turned 21. The abandonment and killings came to an end thanks to the new law. Presently, the President of Argentina is still the godfather of the seventh son in any family.
Not that Manuel was the seventh son but the belief in werewolves in Galicia was a very real fear that continued well into the 20th century.