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. 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.
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.
We Need to Stop Trusting the Police
Last Monday, a jury found two former Fullerton, California, police officers not guiltyon one charge of excessive force, two of manslaughter, and one of second-degree murder in the beating death of Kelly Thomas. The 2011 altercation, which lead to Thomas’s death five days later, was captured in detail by surveillance cameras and audio from police recorders—on tape, the cops can be seen beating the homeless man mercilessly and Tasing him twice in the face. At one point, Thomas is moaning “Help me dad” as the officers swing their nightsticks at him.
That fairly clear video evidence, along with the activism of Kelly’s father Ron (a former sheriff’s deputy) and the mobilization outraged community, ensured Thomas’s death got a lot more media coverage than the killing of homeless people by police normally do. But the officers are still walking free after beating an unarmed man to death. (In fact, one of them, Jay Cicinelli, already wants his job back.) How does that happen? A great many people in the community are asking that same question—multiple protests against the outcome of the trial this week resulted in 14 arrests
One answer to that question is that the jurors, like most Americans, probably thought that cops are generally almost always right. A Gallup Poll from last month found that 54 percent of respondents had “high” or “very high” amounts of trust in police officers. People think more favorably of cops than they do journalists, politicians, lawyers, or even members of the clergy. The only authority figures more trusted than the police are doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and grade school teachers.
1 On April 1, Malcolm L. Shabazz was arrested at a bar in South Bend, Indiana, where he was visiting friends. “America is eating me alive,” he told his imam.
2 He returned to his hometown in the Hudson Valley and flew to Los Angeles to meet his friend Miguel Suarez.
3 Miguel, a 30-year-old undocumented immigrant and labor organizer, was deported from Oakland on April 18. Malcolm met him in Tijuana, hoping a trip south would inspire him to live up to his legacy as Malcolm X’s grandson.
4 Miguel and Malcolm took a two-day bus ride to Mexico City. They dreamed up a plan to unite black and brown people in Mexico and beyond.
5 On May 8, their plans—and Malcolm’s tumultuous life—were cut short after a bar scam they fell for went horribly wrong near the Plaza Garibaldi.
—Investigating the unsolved murder of Malcolm X’s grandson
Corsicans Are Using Bombs to Protest Their Island Paradise
If you’ve never been to Corsica, you really should. The island, which lies just off the Italian coast, is one of the most beautiful places in the world; it’s covered in snowy mountains, picturesque little towns, and luxurious golden beaches. In certain months, you can ski in the morning and sunbathe in the afternoon; it really is paradise (if combining sunburn and heavy nylon jackets is your idea of paradise). However, perhaps its strongest sell is that it is, officially, the murder capital of Europe.
Last year, I went to Corsica to explore the island’s historical predilection for violence. A week before I touched down in Napoleon Bonaparte airport, two prominent Corsicans—a lawyer named Antoine Sollacaro and Jacques Nasser, head of the chamber of commerce—had been shot dead. I was there to try to figure out who did it (and to make a film about trying to figure out who did it). Murder isn’t shocking in Corsica; there have been more than 110 murders since 2008, the majority of them Mafia-style hits. “At the beginning of the week, we think, It’s strange; we haven’t had a killing yet," Gilles Millet, a local journalist, told me. "This society is soaked in death. You call someone to do something and they say, ‘I can’t. I have a funeral to go to.’ Death is part of [daily] life here."
I asked Gilles who he thought was responsible for the deaths of Sollacaro and Nasser. “Normally everyone knows who’s done the killings, but with Sollacaro and Nasser, we don’t know,” he answered. “Despite everybody usually knowing who did it, there have only been four prosecutions since 2008—out of more than 110 murders. There’s a culture of silence here. Nobody talks, partly out of fear, partly because it’s just not the done thing.”
Colombian Trade Unionists Keep Getting Assassinated
On the afternoon of Sunday, August 25, Huber Ballesteros was snatched by police and arrested as he ate his lunch in the Colombian capital of Bogota. Two days later he was charged with “rebellion” and “financing terrorism” at the Attorney General’s office, and denied bail. At the moment, he’s languishing in Colombia’s notoriously squalid prison, La Picota, without a trial date.
Ballesteros is one of Colombia’s most prominent social justice activists and a key personality in the country’s newest grassroots peacebuilding movement, the Patriotic March. Two weeks prior to his arrest he had helped organize nationwide strikes against the appropriation of rural peasants’ land by multinational corporations, but the Attorney General has strenuously denied the two had anything to do with each other.
Ballesteros is currently housed in a maximum-security wing, which means he’s cut off from daylight. He’s supposed to share his cell with just three other men, but if new prisoners turn up they just get packed in, with many ending up sleeping on the floor. Food rations are also dwindling—not that it makes a great deal of difference to Huber; he’s diabetic and the prison won’t cater to his diet. And the constant, pervasive smell of rotting meat does little to stimulate appetites, anyway.
The Boxer, the Murder, the Fall from Grace
The argument started over gas money. It escalated to the point where a man got shot in the testicles. And it finished with one of the participants murdered and the other—a professional boxer with 20 victories to his name—in prison.
The dead man’s name was Raul Bennett Sambola, and I’ll get to him, but it was the boxer’s involvement that made the argument and its aftermath famous up and down Nicaragua’s poverty-stricken Atlantic coast. Evans Quinn was a 28-year-old heavyweight at the time of the February 2012 murder; just nine months earlier he had been in Nevada fighting Seth Mitchell. That bout ended with Quinn getting knocked out in the first round, after which he returned to his hometown of Bluefields. But before that humiliation, before he got involved in a feud, killed Sambola, went on the run, and was finally thrown in prison, Quinn was already a local legend, beloved by the people of Bluefields because he was one of them. As he came up through the boxing ranks, they imagined he’d make it to the top and show the world that the people in this poor but lively region are fighters and winners.
“God gave Evans Quinn the ability to rise up the people of Bluefields,” a local pastor told me. “But he threw it away.”
It’s hard to describe Quinn without using words like “potential” and “ability.” He was charismatic as hell, handsome, successful, and able to make whoever he talked to feel like he was the most important person in the world. He claimed to have seven wives (“I’m Muslim,” he told me) and surrounded himself with friends, drugs, women, and guns. But he could also be dangerous—if you crossed him, he wasn’t afraid to use his immense physical talents to show you who was boss. Like when he punched that pastor’s son in the mouth just because the kid was at a nightclub with a girl Quinn thought would be better off with him.
“He was crazy, but he could have done great things,” the pastor said. That’s how eager many in Bluefields were to look the other way when Quinn did something most people would be hated for. That was the influence the boxer had once had here. Today Quinn is still a legend, but now that he’s in prison, his glory days long burned away to ash, his story is now one about wasted potential, or a cautionary tale about what happens when a man takes justice into his own hands. If you’re willing to forgive his excesses and his ugly violent streak, he could even be a folk hero who got thrown in prison by cops with a grudge against him.
CSI Afghanistan: Solving Murders in a War Zone
The man’s headless body was found sprawled in the middle of a road in the Taliban heartland of Helmand province. Pinned to his chest was a bloodstained note that read: “Anyone who attends this man’s funeral can expect the same fate.” The Afghan National Police had suspects, but nobody was talking. That’s when they called the nation’s first and only forensics laboratory, the Criminal Techniques Department in Kabul.
The CTD gave the case to Noorullah Sangarkhil, their document-exploitation expert. Using a highly specialized $98,000 machine consisting of specialized lights and digital sensors his NATO instructors had trained him on, Noorullah was able to match the handwriting on the note to the handwriting of one of the suspects the police had apprehended. Thanks to the murderer’s capture, the headless victim’s funeral was well attended.
I traveled to the CTD with a six-man military escort. Here in Afghanistan—an environment of frequent insider attacks—the amount of armor NATO soldiers choose to wear is a good indicator of how they feel about the Afghans they’re dealing with. Once we arrived at the lab, the soldiers shed everything but their rifles, leaving their heavy, ceramic-plated vests and ballistic helmets inside our up-armored SUVs. “We’re here a lot,” explained US Senior Advisor David Jacobson, “These are good guys who care about what they do. I mean, they actually show up for work every day, which in this country isn’t always the case.”
The Families of Colombia’s ‘False Positive’ Victims Are Still Fighting for Justice
I arrived in Soacha, a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Bogota, on an overcast July afternoon. We had driven away from the city center and the building that dominates its skyline—a huge structure covered in LED lights that slowly change color; a gaudy beacon for Colombia’s wealthy elite—and had pulled up on a residential side street.
I was there with the NGO Justice for Colombia to hear about the country’s ‘false positives' scandal, which first broke five years ago and shows no sign of relenting any time soon. The scandal has its roots in the Colombian 50-year civil war between the government and the left-wing peasant insurgent group FARC. In the early 2000s, then-president Alvaro Uribe, out of an apparent concern for the army’s reputation, started putting pressure on soldiers to increase their kill figures.
According to media reports, soldiers were promised cash payments and more vacation time if they produced the bodies of dead FARC guerrillas—an accusation the government denies. In an effort to increase their quotas, soldiers allegedly started luring young, impoverished men away from their homes with the offer of work. Once away from their families, the soldiers executed the men, dressed them up in guerrilla uniforms, and presented them as combat kills. Many victims were dismembered and buried hundreds of miles away from their families.
The National Victims Movement protests against the state’s “false positive” scandal. (Photo courtesy of Justice for Colombia)
When the scandal broke, the Colombian government insisted false positives were isolated incidents. By 2012, however, nearly 3,000 murders were recorded and, in 2007—the worst year for this type of killing—one in every five combat kills recorded was a false positive. In Soacha, 19 mothers lost their sons in the false positives scandal, and so far only one of them has seen the killers convicted, but his conviction was appealed and the main defendant, an army major, became a fugitive.
After parking up among the ownerless dogs and football-playing boys that seem ubiquitous in Bogota’s suburbs, I was led up some steps to a little house set back from the street. Waiting for me were three women, smartly dressed, warm and hospitable. They shook my hand and sat me down. As I waited for the rest of my group to file in, I noticed school pictures on the wall of young boys in suits—the dead sons of the women I’d just met.
You Can Get Away with Murder When Your Dad Is an Afghan Warlord
Today, more than a year and a half after the incident, Beheshti is not only a free man, but remains in office despite prominent civil society groups and local media outlets pointing to his guilt. Even more depressingly, according to Aziz Rafi, there remained a strong chance of Beheshti ultimately walking away as a free man.
Rafi blamed “Afghanistan’s culture of impunity” among its leaders, reinforced by the population’s “lack of political will” as the chief barriers to justice. Abdul Wadood Pedram, Executive Director of HREVO, agreed: “In Afghanistan, there is no [political] system, just relationships between high profile people who protect their own interests,” he explained. “There is no rule of law. Law is only implemented for ordinary people, further undermining the Afghans’ faith in the political system.”
After the years of turmoil that followed the bloody, Soviet-backed Saur Revolution in 1978, and the subsequent invasion that plunged the country into a chaos from which it is still recovering, efforts at nation building (at first by Pakistan and then by the United Nations) focused on “strong men,” many of whom were despised by a broader populous who longed for peace. Women in general, as well as civil society organizations and unarmed moderates, were completely left out of any state building attempts.