Valencia’s Last Executioner

People complain a lot about work, or the absence of good, interesting posts available; and yet Saudi Arabia was looking for eight unskilled executioners recently, which goes to show that the economy is on the rise again.

One man who complained one too many times about his work was Pascual Ten Molina, Valencia’s last executioner; and yet Pascual was only called upon nine times to fulfill his contractual obligations, and when he wrote to the government complaining about having to dispatch an attractive woman, known as La Perla, whose considerable charms included lacing her husband’s coffee with strychnine, he was quite surprisingly relieved of his duties, and had to hand in his garrote.

Executioners were surprisingly unpopular in the late 19th century, and were usually more than happy to tighten the screw far away from their own towns, as was the case with Pascual, who frequently had to fill in for the deceased executioner of Albacete.

Executions were public in those days, and attracted large, encouraging crowds, who loved the opportunity to display a wide range of emotional reactions, from anger, passing through indignation to genuine sorrow.

Pascual’s first performance was in December 1889 in Lucena, Castellón, and his first victim was a woman, Pelegrina Montins Saura, a 45 year old widow, whose husband tragically succumbed to the ground glass that Pelegrina slipped into his beverages.

Pascual was only 30 years old, and had been on the job for 5 months when he slipped the black hood over Pelegrina’s head and with a turn of the screw, sent her on her last pilgrimage to seek her husband’s forgiveness.

Pascual’s second journey took him to Enguera, where a tailor and his family had tried to supplement their income by murdering a man in the pig business.

The father, Antonio Megías, escaped the clutches of the law but was later stabbed to death at Fuente la Higuera, leaving his son Francisco to face the music, and 3,000 spectators alone.

Perhaps to compensate the absence of additional victims, Pascual botched the execution and needed three tries before sending Francisco to join his father.

On a losing streak, Pascual tried again at Reus, where the condemned man, José Rañé, was discovered to have too wide a neck for the garrote, and was sent back to his cell. Eventually, as an apology for such incompetence, José received a Royal Pardon and Pascual was fined.

Next came San Mateo in Castellón, where Pedro Juan Besalduch had killed a couple and their son and injured the surviving daughter. This time Pascual dispatched his victim without too much trouble; and so on to Alcira, where a crowd of 5,000 waited anxiously for the last day of Mariano Grau, known locally as ‘El Boluda.’

Mariano had seen fit to shoot an irrigation channel guard, and paid the price at Campo de Alborchi, after a brief stop at the Plaza San Roque to pray to the virgin.

Executed at 8.30 am, his body was left on view as a deterrent until 5 pm.

There is a famous film in Spain called ‘La Crimen de Cuenca,’ which is based on a true story, to which Pascual wrote ‘The End.’

A mother and her four children were slain with hatchets in Priego, Cuenca by another family man and his sons, Juan Antonio Racionero and Justo, Casto, Agripino, and a friend who came along for the ride, Mariano Castro.

They entered the house where the family were staying, looking for easy loot. Cold bloodedly, after the killing was done, they stayed long enough to make themselves a meal before heading off to their destiny.

Casto died in jail and Agripino was a minor, but the other three were dispatched by Pascual.

Returning to Cuenca in 1894, Pascual dealt with the inappropriately named Inocenta Moragón Moreno and her husband Pedro María Saíz Lezcano, who asphyxiated María López de Haro, a deaf 76 year old woman who unwisely employed Inocenta as a maid.

Executioners were often unpopular, whether their victims were or not, and in this case nobody would accommodate Pascual, who had to sleep on a bench in the snow, but who didn’t complain, unlike today’s pampered executioners.

Pascual’s 7th job was a little too close to comfort. Sixty year old José Roig Jorge had killed his own son and faced death stoically; so much so that when Pascual started to face technical difficulties, José offered a few suggestions to help get the job done, and even the presiding priest chipped in with a recommendation or two, probably, in this way, exceeding his brief.

Incompetence stopped play for 8 minutes before Pascual sorted himself out, thus finding himself a place in the Guinness Book of Records, had it existed, for death dealing longevity, raising the bar for future candidates with an unbeaten 32 minute performance.

At Almadén, Ciudad Real, Pascual reached his peak of three victims in a single year, which may explain his exhaustion and despondence.

This time his victim was a young man, Ángel Herance, who had ambushed and killed his own aunt and a neighbour. Despite being illiterate, his last words were choked from his mouth.

Pascual’s last date with death would be his undoing as he was programmed to put an end to La Perla, Josefa Gómez Pardo, who, not content with the five children her husband Tomás Huertas Cascales had given her, decided to spice up his coffee with a little strychnine so as to be able to elope with her lover and guest at her guest house, a military man called Vicente del Castillo Eusulbe.

A maid who tried the deadly coffee was collateral damage and La Perla was given another kind of date, with Pascual.

Unfortunately Pascual was so taken with her charms that he petitioned the government to pardon her, which qualified as unprofessional conduct and led in 1896 to his expulsion from the post that no Valencian would ever fill again…..for the moment, and Pascual had to cart his garrote through the streets of Valencia and give it back, despite having done his duty with Josefa once the petition was refused.

The garrote was the standard form of execution in Spain after King Fernando VII abolished hanging, and each of Spain’s nine judicial zones employed an executioner, paid for by the intriguingly named Ministry of Mercy and Justice.

garrote

Luis Berlanga the Valencian film director made a hauntingly funny film that could well have been based on Tena, although it was a more modern version of a reluctant executioner.

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