Fifty years ago, four cold-blooded murders shocked Franco-era society. The gruesome execution of the killer was to spark debate over the death penalty
In 1950s Spain, before US President Dwight D Eisenhower blessed the Franco dictatorship with his visit and launched the Marshall plan to help lift the country out of poverty, a young man from good family shot dead two men and two women. His name was José Maria Manuel Pablo de la Cruz Jarabo Pérez-Moris, a graduate of El Pilar School in Madrid (the alma mater of many ministers, director-generals and provosts over the past century), and the nephew of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court at the time, Francisco Ruiz Jarabo.
During the trial, the defence attorney called him a “psychopath”. “The best medicine for psychopaths is the gallows,” said one of the prosecutors. But Jarabo was no such thing; his were the crimes of a Spanish gentleman. But one of the prosecutors, the Falangist attorney Roberto Reyes did not share that opinion. “The minute I heard about the quadruple murder, I knew that the killer couldn’t be Spanish.” When he found out that Jarabo was indeed a Spaniard, he said: “Yes, but his education is foreign.” There was some truth to this, because Jarabo came of age in the underworld and prisons of North America.
Jarabo had just turned 17 in 1940 when his family moved to Puerto Rico. He dropped out of school and, always spoiled by his mother, lived an idle life. The party ended when he was 20 and contracted neurosyphilis. Weeks later, he married a rich heiress.
But Jarabo was not cut out for marriage, and the couple soon divorced. He moved to New York, where he was convicted of drug dealing and pornography. After four years behind bars, he flew to Madrid, landing there on May 20, 1950, with 10 million pesetas in his bag. His mother had given him the money to “get settled” in the capital. Before long, he was King of the Madrid underworld.
Tall and strong as a bull, with an insatiable sexual appetite and an affable, refined manner, Jarabo soon became a legend. Women couldn’t resist him. Madrid was a provincial town at the time, and his well-cut suits and expensive cars were impressive. To get an idea of his kind of lifestyle, the 10 million pesetas that his mother had given him – a sizeable sum in 1950 – only lasted him two years.
Alcohol was his weak point. It made him very aggressive, and he was constantly provoking fights, almost always over women. Many times, however, he came to the defence of those who needed it. One day, for instance, he was sipping on a Negroni at Parsifal, in front of the Bernabéu stadium, and noticed that three rich kids were making fun of an older man who had a beautiful young woman with him. He grabbed the three youngsters, threw them out of the bar and gave them a terrible beating in the street.
A woman – more specifically, a woman’s honour – would be Jarabo’s eventual demise. She was English and her name was Beryl Martin Jones. The wife of a Frenchman, she had come to Madrid from Lyon alone in the early summer of 1957 to do some sightseeing and above all, to think about the future of a marriage that was starting to fall apart.
After she met Jarabo, however, she didn’t have much time for her thoughts. The pair had an idyllic summer together: Beryl was head over heels for this Latin lover who, uncharacteristically, was also crazy about her. The relationship was more serious and lasted longer than usual for Jarabo.
But autumn rolled around and the money ran out. Jarabo was waiting for a shipment of cocaine (one of his sources of income) and the 7,500 pesetas a month his mother sent him wasn’t nearly enough. That’s when Jarabo notices one of Beryl’s rings, a diamond solitaire set in gold that had to be worth at least 50,000 pesetas. He immediately thought of Jusfer, a vulture’s nest that was officially a store that bought and sold jewellery, but was actually a pawn shop, a popular business back then.
Those in need of fast cash who couldn’t go to the Monte de Piedad, the official pawnbrokers, were forces to turn to places like Jusfer, where usurers preyed on the misfortunes of others. If an item was worth 100 pesetas, they offered 10 to the poor soul who, to get it back, would have to pay 30 or 40 in a short period of time if they didn’t want it to be sold to a third party.
Jarabo and Beryl went to the shop. They were shocked to learn that the owners, Emilio Fernández Diaz and Félix López Robledo, would only give them 4,000 pesetas for a piece of jewellery that was worth 50,000. They had no choice but to accept, consoled by the fact that it would also be cheaper to get the ring back in a few days, when the cocaine Jarabo was waiting for arrived.
The money was gone, the cold season came, and Beryl fell ill. When her husband found out, he came to Madrid and convinced her to return to Lyon for Christmas. The sweethearts barely had a chance to say goodbye, and that was the last time they saw each other.
Beryl wrote to Jarabo regularly. In one of her letters, sent in the spring of 1958, she reminded him about the pawned ring. Jarabo had forgotten about it, but, being a gentleman, decided to deal with the problem right away. He went back to Jusfer with the same impetus that drove D’Artagnan to recover the queen’s earrings.
To his dismay, one of the lenders, Emilio, told him that he couldn’t buy back the ring because Beryl was the owner. If he wanted it, he needed her authorization. Jarabo told him that he had a letter in which she asked him to get it back. The usurer told him to bring it in.
Jarabo came back another day with the letter, and the vultures accepted it. But there was a catch: he had to pay 10,000 pesetas to get back the ring, 250 percent more than they had originally given them for it, and Jarabo didn’t have enough. They agreed that when he had the money he would come back for it, and locked up the letter in the safe.
Jarabo didn’t go back to the pawn shop until mid-June. He had the 10,000 pesetas, but it wasn’t enough. Now they wanted 20,000. That was the price of the ring… and the letter.
The negotiation ended there. When Jarabo left the shop he was clear about one thing: he would get back the ring and the letter “no matter what it took”. Pretending to be a lieutenant colonel that collected guns, he bought a firearm from a night-watchman on Paseo de la Habana. It was a 7.65 mm FN.
He let a few weeks go by. Then, on July 18, Jarabo rang up Emilio and Félix. He told them that he had scraped together more than enough cash and jewellery to buy back the ring and the letter, and said that he would stop by the following day at 8.30 in the evening.
Jarabo liked to dress up for such occasions, and that day he chose a suit from one of the more than 20 he had hanging in his closet. That suit would turn out to be his death sentence.
He left Pension Escosura with plenty of time – his days at luxury hotels were long over – and in the Puerta del Sol he met a woman named Charito. They were together until 9.30 that night. He never had any intention of going to the pawn shop; he was planning on going straight to Emilio’s house on Lope de Rueda Street. He got there a few minutes before 10, the hour that night-watchmen locked up for the night. He knew exactly what he was doing because he opened the elevator doors with his elbows and pushed the buttons with his knuckles. He didn’t want to leave any prints. Paulina, the maid, opened the door for him and showed him into the living room. Emilio was infuriated to see him there because his home “wasn’t the place to do business.” He ordered him to get out immediately. Jarabo walked back to the front door, opened and closed it so Emilio would think he had left, and retraced his steps.
Emilio was in the bathroom and didn’t even feel the gun against the back of his neck. Jarabo shot him point blank. But then things started to get complicated. First the maid, who was stringing beans in the kitchen and heard the shot, started screaming for help. Jarabo stabbed her in the heart with the same little knife that Paulina had been using. A few minutes later, Emilio’s wife, Maria de los Desamparados walked in. Jarabo told her he was a tax inspector and that they had taken her husband into the shop to ask him some questions. The two of them sat down at the dining room table and talked for a good while. But the woman eventually discovered the bodies of her husband and Paulina. Jarabo had no choice: he shot her to death at point blank range as well.
By then it was almost midnight, and Jarabo decided to stay in the flat with his three victims. Cocaine and cognac helped him get through the night. First thing Sunday morning he stuffed his suit, soaked in blood, and a few stolen objects in his briefcase, and went back to his pension, where he slept all day.
Early Monday morning he broke into Jusfer using the keys he had stolen from Emilio. Félix, the other partner, showed up as usual at 9.30am. The minute he walked through the door, Jarabo shot him twice in the back of the head. Unable to find the key to the safe, he didn’t even manage to recover the ring and the letter.
More or less at the same time the four bodies were discovered, Jarabo dropped off his suit at a dry cleaner’s on Orense Street, telling the owners that the blood stains were from a fight in a cabaret.
Sebastián Fernández Rivas, chief inspector of the team assigned to the case, knew right away that it wasn’t going to be easy to find the killer. Clearly the death was related to the Jusfer business, and even though they had a customer file, it was like finding a needle in a haystack: there were too many clients and almost all of them had a good reason to kill those speculators. He stayed up all night going over the case.
Jarabo didn’t sleep either. He went to a couple of cabarets, determined to bed two women at once, but no-one would rent him a room. The three of them spent all night in a taxi, driving around in circles, and when the day broke they stopped for breakfast. At 11.30am, he asked the cab driver to take him to the dry cleaner’s to pick up his suit.
There, Fernández Rivas’ men were waiting for him. The two brothers who owned the business had realized that there was too much blood on the suit for it to have come from a mere fight and called the police: that day, the entire country was talking about the news of the quadruple murder.
Jarabo didn’t put up the slightest resistance – he took the defeat like a gentleman, asked them to have food from Lhardy’s and a bottle of cognac brought in for everyone, and managed to get an injection of morphine. And he told them, from start to finish, the story of the damned diamond ring. He said that he was deeply sorry about the death of the two women, but not about the death of the pair that had blackmailed him.
On Thursday, January 29, 1959 the trial began at the Palacio de Justicia in Madrid. The court room was full of celebrities, most of them women, including artists, bullfighters and the wives of high-ranking civil servants. Jarabo made a grand entrance. Wearing a custom-made suit that fit him like a glove, he walked in confidently, smiling at all the ladies, who swooned over him. The trial lasted five days, and Jarabo wore five different suits.
He got four death sentences, one for each murder. Not even the fact that his uncle was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court could save him. Franco didn’t hesitate to authorize his execution: the deaths of the maid and Emilio’s wife were too much.
The execution was ghastly. After turning the screw of the garrotte vil – the Spanish execution device where the convict sat and had a metal band tightened around his neck – twice, Jarabo was still breathing: his neck was too thick. Twenty minutes passed before the doctor pronounced him dead. The scene was so horrific that those present assembled a committee of doctors to study the use of this strangulation device.
Four police cars escorted his body to the cemetery. At the graveyard, there was a final incident: there was a rumour going around Madrid that Jarabo hadn’t been executed, due to his connections. A police captain heard one of the chauffeurs say this, adding that the body in the hearse really belonged to a Gypsy who had also been sentenced to death. The policeman grabbed the driver by the arm, put a gun up to his head and forced him to open up the hearse. “Is it Jarabo or isn’t it, you Commie?” he implored. The legend of the gentleman killer was put to rest, but the debate about the regime’s cruel methods of administering justice began.
JARABO: soon to be a major motion picture entitled TRACING THE CRIME by
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