Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Henrietta the Vampire

The Vampire of Barcelona
            While surfing the Internet, looking for some photographs for a project dealing with the Spanish Civil War, I came upon a photograph of a grim-faced woman, which happened to be juxtaposed with pictures of children killed in bombing raids during the war. Dark haired, heavy browed, with what looked like pockmarks on her forehead, she appeared to radiate malice. Curious, I pursued the picture and Googled the name of its subject, one Enriqueta Martí Ripolles, and found accounts of a ghastly story that dated to a century ago.  According to various websites, Enriqueta (her name would be Henrietta in English) Martí had a career that combined the worst elements of Jack the Ripper, Hannibal Lecter, the Wicked Stepmother in Snow White, panderer for pedophiles, and that rare prototype, the Female Serial Killer.

           All of this took place in Barcelona during the first decade or so of the 20th century, ending with spectacularly gruesome revelations in 1912 in connection with the kidnapping of a five-year-old girl named Teresita Guitart.  The story took place in a slum in Barcelona called the Raval, which enjoyed a reputation about as evil as Hell’s Kitchen in New York or Whitechapel in London at that time.
            Here is the sensational story as it was recounted in the contemporary Yellow Journalist Press with all of its macabre frills, bells and whistles:

            Teresa Guitart had been missing for several weeks; the child wandered off while her mother was talking with a friend in the neighborhood, and disappeared.  Searches turned up nothing, until, a woman who lived on what was then called Ponent Street looked up at a second-floor window and saw a child she had never seen in the neighborhood, who appeared to be waving at her.  Almost immediately, the window’s shutters were snapped shut.  She saw the same face at a back window shortly thereafter, with the window again swiftly shuttered.  Her suspicions aroused, she and a friend called the police, who eventually checked out the apartment.  It was most dirty, smelly and dark, and there they found two little girls, one of which turned out to be little Teresita.  They arrested the adult who lived there, Enriqueta Martí, and were soon able to reunite Teresita with her parents.

            According to the press, most notably the daily newspaper La Vanguardia, investigation of Martí began to reveal a singularly gruesome history.  It was said that inside the dirty and messy apartment, the police found some children’s clothing of rich materials, as well as a large, bloodstained butcher knife.  Amidst all the squalor, they also found one richly appointed room, papered scarlet, with elegant furniture of a similar color (shades of Shades of Gray!). Further searches revealed small bones, and other apartments that Enriqueta rented concealed more.  There were also books and papers, lists of names, and other writings in unintelligible scripts.

Antoni Esplugas's montage of Enriqueta, Angelita and Teresita
The other child, named Angelita, who Enriqueta claimed was her daughter, was not her child at all. Witnesses now recounted that Enriqueta had often been seen with Angelita, or another child, wearing rags, begging in the street, not only in the Raval, but in wealthier districts too.  Then came rumors that Enriqueta also appeared at night, richly dressed, in fashionable spots such as the Liceu Opera House and upscale gambling casinos.
But wait!  There was more!  Angelita had told authorities (or was it reporters?) that a little boy, named Pepito, had also lived with herself and Enriquita before Teresita’s arrival, and that she had witnessed Enriqueta murder him (presumably with the butcher knife) in her kitchen.  And then came the most lurid accusation: Enriqueta not only kidnapped little children, even babes in arms, but also grabbed street orphans.  Some of them she used on her begging outings.  Worse, many of them had been offered to rich upper class pedophiles to be made use of in that hidden scarlet room.  And inconceivably worse still, after these children were used, she butchered them, using their belly fat, bone marrow, hair and blood to make creams and unguents that she then sold to upper class patrons for treatments against tuberculosis, STDs, and as anti-aging creams.  Finally, she was even said to drink their blood to revive her own energies, thus earning her the title of “The Vampire of Barcelona.”

Other allegations swirled around her: that she herself had been a prostitute, that she had performed abortions, that she was abused, aided and abetted by her father, and had a stormy relationship with her husband, Juan Pujaló, a failed artist, and God knows what else.

It did turn out that Enriqueta had a police record; in 1909 she had been arrested for pimping child prostitutes, but had been able to avoid punishment, presumably because she had an influential patron. In a flurry, parents who had lost children came out of the woodwork, accusing Enriqueta of abducting them.  Rumors flew about those lists of names from the apartment, darkly suggesting that they were client lists for services and products, and included some of the most powerful people in the city, who naturally wanted everything hushed up, and the list, of course, conveniently disappeared.

Nor did the tale end with the lady’s imprisonment.  She was reputed to have attempted suicide and had to be constrained by force; and that eventually she was lynched by fellow inmates, grossed out by her deeds, in the prison courtyard.

The scholar in me can recommend some of the more lurid accounts in the contemporary Barcelona Newspaper La Vanguardia, particularly in articles from February 28 through the first week of March of 1912, or the pamphlet La secuestradora de niños, ( una vida de crímenes), by Guillermo Nuñez de Prado, who managed to write and publish it, with a lurid cover, by May of that year.  The full-blown urban legend as it survives today can be found on several websites to be found at the end of this blogpost, replete with pictures of alleged child victims, actually casualties of the Spanish Civil War 25 years later.

What intrigued me about Enriqueta Martí Ripollés was that all the details I was reading created the mother legend of evilness and perversity.  She was Snow White’s Wicked Stepmother, beautiful when she wanted to be, hag when it suited her.  She was a combination of Hannibal Lecter and Ilse Koch, drinking the blood of children and processing their remains into saleable beauty product, chopping them up for these purposes with the clinical precision of Jack the Ripper.  She was every mother’s nightmare: abductor and killer of children.  She was Queen of Conspiracies, protected by wealthy and corrupt politicians, who were also her customers, because she also had incriminating lists—blackmailers and blackmailees. She was the Evil Uppity Woman: Vampire, Witch, Hag and Corrupter of Innocence, a Misogynist’s dream.
And international!  Her misdeeds, further garbled, even made the newspapers of small-town America. For example, an article appeared in the Oswego [New York] Daily Times on October 19,1912 under the headline

Made Alleged Love Philtres from Blood:
“Enriqueta Marti, the woman who kidnapped six or more children, murdered them and made alleged love philtres from their blood, was sentenced to eleven months in prison.  A small fine was also imposed.
Cables reaching New York from Barcelona last March stated that Barcelona was greatly agitated over the disappearance of several children.  The police arrested a woman named Enriqueta Marti, aged 50, who although married was childless.
Investigation showed that the woman, with a number of accomplices, kidnapped the children and later murdered them, using the infantile blood for love philters.
One infant was rescued from the house of the woman and the remains of another was found in the woman’s former residence.  The little girl who was rescued was called Angelita and she said that one time she was made to eat the flesh of a child who had perished a short time before.”

The problem is, of course that she wasn’t all that. Within a short amount of time, investigators determined that the bones found on her various premises were not human, but animal, and that a number of them, not surprisingly in a badly-built slum, probably trapped between gaping parts of the structures, the others proved to be chicken and other meat bones, probably used for cooking.  If Enriqueta had lived today, DNA evidence and other forensic tools would probably have discounted many of the more lurid rumors—which probably would have not even been circulated in the first place. It appears also that Enriqueta died in prison, not of assassination, but, as her obituary declared, of uterine cancer at age 45.

In recent years, efforts towards a more balanced portrait of Enriqueta have appeared. The Spanish historian and novelist Elsa Plaza has researched Enriqueta’s case and used her as a character in her recent novel, El Cielo Bajo los Pies (2011), and has done a great deal to clarify her case, particularly in terms of feminist analysis of disadvantaged women in Spain at the beginning of the 20th century, as has Catalina Gayá in an article also published in 2011 in El Periódico de Barcelona. And just last year, the Catalan journalist Jordi Corominas, published Barcelona 1912: El Caso de Enriqueta Martí, which deals with the popular press of the era and its treatment of Martí. A good summary of all this can be found in an article by Ivan Vila in the periodical El Punt Avui.

So the creams and “philters” were doubtless a figment of an overheated imagination, and the scarlet room was too, and there’s no solid evidence that she ever murdered anyone—not even little Pepito, who turned out to be alive after all.

And even Teresita’s family wasn’t adverse to a little exploitation; the whole family appeared later on the local vaudeville stage as celebrities. 

Not that she was just a blameless, disadvantaged woman, victimized by a misogynist all-male press either.  Given her earlier arrest, she probably was a procuress of children over at least a decade, bad and unpalatable enough, like many before her, and certainly, beyond the wishful thinking of Internet child pornography, still going on.

But the urban Black Legend won’t die, as the numerous websites dealing with her attest. The dead children from the Civil War still turn up attached to her life and career. A thriller-detective novel by Marc Pastor, called Barcelona Shadows appeared in 2006, reveals her in all her sinister glory—and a murderess too.

As I write this, Enriqueta’s residence on what was 29 Ponent Street (since renamed Joaquim Costa Street) can be seen in tours of the sinister side of Barcelona, and you can even buy the T-shirt!
The T-Shirt

Even the photograph on Wikipedia that I had first seen in my Google search, when compared with other reproductions posted elsewhere, seems to make her worse than she was (those pockmarks are clearly part of a black transparent veil). And the cover of Nuñez de Prado’s book is a Grimm’s Fairy Tale gone berzerk
The book cover

Some Sources for the Urban Legend of Enriqueta Martí
Marc Pastor’s scenery-chewing Enriqueta is found in his novel, Barcelona Shadows, translated into English by Mara Faye Lethem, and published by Pushkin Press in 2006

Elsa Plaza’s novel, El Cielo Bajo los Pies, was published in 2011 by Edhasa.  It is available at Amazon.com.

Catalina Gayá’s article I”El miserio de siempre” in El Diario de Barcelona (Dec. 4, 2011    

Jordi Corominas’s book, Barcelona 1912: El Caso de Enriqueta Martí, was published by Silex in 2014. Its cover has a kinder, gentler Enriqueta:

Marc Pastor’s scenery-chewing Enriqueta is found in his novel, Barcelona Shadows, translated into English by Mara Faye Lethem, and published by Pushkin Press in 2006
The Urban Legend can be found at numerous sites on the Internet; just google!  Here's a sample

There are also plenty in English


  1. Judy, this was a great read - do some more!

    1. Carolee, I fully intend to; next up (sooner or later), several blogs on Goya's Avatar.

  2. Those "pockmarks" on her forehead are actually part of a black lace veil. It shows up in better resolutions of the same photograph.