Serial killers are regularly associated with perversion, mental illness, or cognitive dissonance. Investigators and mental health specialists alike seek to make sense of their deviant behavior, advancing theories that range from troubled family history to chemical imbalances or even a warped sense of reality.
But in 19th-century Spain, Manuel Blanco Romasanta defied them all.
He claimed to be a wolf.
Romasanta was born in 1809, in a northwestern part of Spain at the height of two overlapping wars: the Peninsular War and the Spanish War of Independence. Manuel’s family would have been considered wealthy or privileged, as young Manuel could read and write at a time when few adults could. However, Manuel also spent the first six years of his life either ignored or overlooked. His parents believed him to be female, originally named him Manuela, and did not resolve the gender confusion until a doctor corrected them.
In his early teens, Manuel stopped growing and stood between 4’6″ and 4’11”. In his late teens to early 20s, Manuel worked as a tailor and married—but the union was short lived. His wife died suddenly in 1833, after which Manuel became a traveling salesman throughout Spain and Portugal. He also worked a guide for people traveling across the mountains to Castile, Asturias, and Cantabria.
It’s unclear what changed in the following decade, but in 1844, Manuel was charged with murder. His victim was Vicente Fernández, the constable of León. After trying to collect a debt of 600 reales from Manuel, Fernández was found dead. A trial was held, but Manuel did not appear. Instead he fled with a counterfeit passport under the name Antonio Gómez. In his absence, he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Manuel lived on the run for years—some of that time in very close proximity to his hometown. He befriended village women and worked jobs considered abnormal for men, including yarn making and cooking. Many of the men found him effeminate. But Manuel also resumed his work as a guide. Several women and children hired him for his services.
The trouble was, most of these clients soon disappeared. Family and friends were none the wiser, as they continued to receive correspondence from their traveling loved ones stating that all was well. In truth, Manuel had been writing and delivering the letters.
The ruse worked for a time. But whispers spread when Manuel was spotted selling clothes belonging to the missing people. Rumors circulated that he was killing people and pawning off their possessions—or worse.
In 1852, a complaint was filed in the city of Escalona that claimed Manuel had turned the body fat of his murder victims into soap and sold the bars to the public. The gruesome allegation turned out to be true.
In September of the same year, Manuel was arrested in Nombela and brought to trial in Allariz for the murder of thirteen people, ranging in age from 10 to 47. His defense was unlike anything ever heard in a court of law.
Manual claimed to be a victim of Lycanthropy, an illness that made him transform into a wolf and roam the streets looking for prey. Manuel described this occurrence to the courts of Allariz, stating:
“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.”
Despite its strangeness, Manuel’s claim was taken seriously. He was examined by multiple physicians, none of whom validated his illness. Instead, they deemed him a pervert, and attributed his crimes to voluntary actions. Still, Manuel was asked to offer proof of his Lycanthropy by turning into a wolf on cue. He explained that the Lycanthropy was a 13-year curse, and that the 13 years had expired the previous week.
In the end, Manuel was acquitted of four murders—ironically, because the victims had shown signs of dying in real wolf attacks. He was found guilty of the other nine slayings and sentenced to death by garroting. He was also ordered to compensate the surviving family members of his victims to the tune of 1,000 reales each.
But the death sentence was overturned after José de Castro y Orozco, the Spanish Minister of Justice, received a letter from a mysterious “Mr. Phillips,” who claimed that Manuel was suffering from monomania. Furthermore, Mr. Phillips (since believed to be French physician Joseph-Pierre Durand de Gros) claimed to be able to treat Manuel with hypnosis. The sentence was officially commuted to life imprisonment on May 13, 1854 by Royal Order. Manuel was sent to a prison in Celanova.
On December 14, 1863, Manuel died behind bars. A surviving newspaper article lists his cause of death as stomach cancer, but a persisting rumor suggests that he was shot by a guard who wanted to witness him transform into a wolf.
Featured Photo: Wikimedia Commons