“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 Romasanta trial is believed to be the origin of the story of “sinister” men with shoulder bags (Sacaúntos), 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.
Manuel Blanco Romasanta (18th November 1809 — 14th December 1863) was Spain’s first documented serial killer. In 1853 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 defense was rejected at trial, Queen Isabella II commuted his death sentence to allow doctors to investigate the claim as an example of clinical Lycanthropy. 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.
Born in Regueiro, 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 discovered his true sex. Because he could read and write, very rare for the time, it is believed his family was relatively wealthy.
As a grown man he worked as a tailor and, according to various accounts, was of small stature, being between 1.37m (4’6″) and 1.49m (4’11”) in height.
Following the death of his wife in 1833, Romasanta became a travelling salesman, initially in Esgos, then eventually throughout Galicia and Portugal. 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, Romasanta was charged with the murder of Vicente Fernández, the constable of León. Fernández had been found dead after attempting to collect a debt of 600 reales that 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.
Fleeing from the threat of imprisonment and with a false passport in the name of Antonio Gómez, a native of Nogueira in Portugal, Romasanta lived in the small village of Rebordechao, in the district of Vilar de Barrio for at least a year. Although he worked as a cordmaker and helped with the harvest, he also became friendly with the women of the village and worked variously as a cook and as a weaver making yarn on a spinning wheel, leading the men of the village to consider him effeminate.
Over the following years, several women and children who had hired Romasanta as a guide disappeared. The disappearances were not immediately noticed as 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 defense, Romasanta claimed that he was afflicted with Lycanthropy.
In October 1852, Allariz doctors presented the court with a report on Romasanta. Based heavily on Phrenology, the report accused Romasanta of inventing his affliction.
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.”
Manuela Garcia, age 47, and her daughter Petra, 15, killed in the Sierra de San Mamede while traveling to Santander.
Benita Garcia 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 Garcia and her son Jose Pazos, 21 years old.
María Dolores, 12 years old.
When 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.
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.
Romasanta admitted 13 murders explaining that he had been cursed and had committed them after transforming into a wolf.
The prosecutor, Luciano Bastida Hernáez, asked 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.
The court acquitted 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 garrotte 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 garrotte.
Luciano Bastida 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.
“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 postponed 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 May 13, 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;) 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 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.”
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.
‘Since the early 1990s, the case has been the subject of many studies by psychiatrists who see the case as a missed opportunity to legitimise 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 widely recognised that Romasanta was not psychotic but suffered from a personality disorder, likely Antisocial personality disorder.’