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Spain's most prolific serial killers

A Spanish police officer
Image: Natalia de la Rubia /

The destination of endless holidays and the focus of many an expat’s dream of a sunny retirement, there’s lots to admire about Spain. It’s produced most of Europe’s finest surrealist painters and can boast some of the world’s most stunning architecture and revered cuisine. Another feather in its Cordovan hat is its impressively low crime rate: it’s one of the lowest in Europe.

The streets of its beautiful cities may be largely quite safe, but the country still has some dark spots throughout its long history. It’s not, for instance, managed to escape the ghastly impact of the repeat murderer.

Let’s look beyond the warm sunshine, Rioja, Salvador Dalí and tapas to examine some of the more disturbing parts of Spain’s criminal past.

José Antonio Rodríguez Vega – 16 victims

When someone is sentenced to serve 440 years in prison, it’s a pretty safe bet that they’ve done something really rather bad. That is, of course, a drastic understatement - especially if that person is the Spanish rapist, serial killer and necrophiliac José Antonio Rodríguez Vega.

Of those 440 years, Vega only ended up serving around 10 of them. Despite being a model prisoner inside, ‘El Mataviejas’ (‘The Old Lady Killer’) wasn’t a popular figure among other inmates. Just two days after being transferred to a jail full of extremely dangerous inmates, Vega was attacked and murdered, suffering 113 stab wounds.

At least 16 elderly women, aged 61 to 93, were sexually assaulted and murdered by Vega in and around Santander, Cantabria, between August 1987 and April 1988.

Enriqueta Martí - 12 victims

Enriqueta Martí was many things: a notorious serial killer, prostitute, kidnapper, and practitioner of black magic. She was also known as 'The Vampire of Carrer Ponent', 'The Vampire of Barcelona' and 'The Vampire of the Raval'.

Operating in Barcelona's poverty-stricken neighbourhoods in the early 20th century, Martí kidnapped and murdered young children, often girls, for profit. She sold their remains to wealthy clients who believed in the supposed medicinal properties of human flesh. Martí's crimes shocked Spanish society with their brutality.

She was eventually caught in 1912 after an extensive investigation led by Spanish police. Martí was imprisoned while awaiting trial and lynched before she could be tried in 1913.

Recent years have seen books written suggesting that Martí was framed by corrupt police officers who were paid to cover up a spate of kidnappings and child murders by wealthy aristocrats. How true that is likely won't ever be known.

Joan Vila Dilmé - 11 victims

In 2014, 'The Caretaker of Olot' was found guilty by the Supreme Court of Spain of murdering 11 elderly nursing home residents. He was sentenced to 127 years for his crimes. An 'angel of death' killer, nursing assistant Vila began killing patients in August 2009, stopping in October 2010.

Vila forced his infirm victims to orally ingest a lethal cocktail of barbiturates and other drugs, all mixed up with water. Or, if his victims had diabetes, he would intravenously inject them with extremely high doses of insulin.

He was eventually caught when a Spanish coroner refused to sign off one of the victims as having died from natural causes. He declared the death a homicide and an investigation was launched. Vila confessed to everything almost immediately.

Francisco García Escalero – 11 victims

When he was caught in April 1994, it didn't take long for authorities to declare Francisco García Escalero insane and send him to a secure psychiatric unit. The incredibly grisly crime scenes left by 'El Matamendigos' ('The Beggar Killer') were enough to convince anyone and everyone as to the murderer’s severely troubled mind.

Escalero committed all sorts of unspeakable crimes and was found to be severely schizophrenic, a condition worsened by his rampant alcoholism.

Manuel Delgado Villegas – 7 victims

Manuel Delgado Villegas was a notorious Spanish serial killer who terrorised Andalusia. His killing spree began in the 1970s, when he started targeting lone travellers that he would murder and rob, often disposing of their bodies in remote locations. Villegas gained notoriety for his brutal methods and the apparent lack of motive behind his crimes.

Delgado served in the Spanish Legion, where he became an expert in hand-to-hand fighting. One of the skills he was taught was the 'golpe legionario', also known as the 'golpe fatal', or 'deadly blow'. This jab to the throat technique was employed by Delgado to kill several of his victims. Sometimes the victim would say something trivial or insignificant, which would be enough to trigger his murderous wrath.

He was eventually apprehended in 1981 and sentenced to multiple life imprisonments. Villegas died in prison in 1998.

Alfredo Galán Sotillo – 6 victims

In 2003, the majority of Spain was obsessed with 'The Deck of Cards Killer'. Someone was going around Madrid shooting people dead and mysteriously leaving tarot cards about their bodies. That man was Alfredo Galán Sotillo.

When in custody, it was found that Galán was using a Tokarev TT-33 gun that he had brought home from his time in the military in Bosnia. He actually gave himself up in July 2003, while drunk. He recanted his confession the next day when he'd sobered up, but it was too late. He'd given enough details about himself and his crimes.

Galán was convicted and sentenced to 142 years for six murders and three attempted murders. Controversially, however, Galán is set to be released in 2028, after having served just 25 years in prison.