At the turn of the twentieth century, Barcelona, Spain had been in the midst of some of their darkest days. Jobs were scarce, people were dying in the streets, and over 12,000 women within the city would have to turn to prostitution in order to make ends meet. It was this setting of severe poverty and societal tensions that Spain’s answer to Jack the Ripper would be able to slip in unnoticed and undetected.
Enriqueta Martí i Ripollés, herself, was born into poverty, but managed to find herself a comfortable position working as a housekeeper for upscale homes around the city. Before long she realized that she could make double the money working as a prostitute. It was through her days as a sex worker that she learned the dark and carnal desires of certain men within the upper echelons of society.
From there she opened her own brothel and started kidnapping children for men to have sex with. In an effort to clean up the city, police raided various brothels, as well as other seedier facets of Barcelona, and Enriqueta was sent to jail. That sentence didn’t last long and she released several years later.
Back out on the streets, Enriqueta went back to what she knew; kidnapping children for prostitution, but she took it a step further. Some of the children she would kill in order to turn their fat and blood into various tonics and creams to sell to women on the street, or at least that’s what the legends say.
Targeting mostly beggar children and the children of prostitutes, no one took much notice to the vanishing kids until the victims started nearing the hundreds. Whispers began to circulate around town and eventually the mayor was forced to ensure the public that there was no credence to the rumors.
It wasn’t until Enriqueta slipped up by taking 5-year-old Tereseta Guitart, the daughter of a poor, but beloved man in the city, that she would be arrested again. Police found her in Enriqueta’s flat. Further investigation revealed evidence of blood on the towels and various bones scattered around the residence. The papers had a field day with the story, dubbing her “The Vampire of Barcelona,” but there are some who say that the story of Enriqueta Martí i Ripollés was nothing more than a farce created by journalists looking to cash in on a good horror story.
Sifting through newspaper archives on Enriqueta’s crimes, Jordi Corominas was able to come to several conclusions about the story that contradicts the accepted narrative.
Within Enriqueta’s possession, that later led some to speculate that she had killed dozens of children for various purposes, were bloody towels. Suffering from uterine cancer prior to her arrest, the bloodied towels can easily be explained by the excessive vaginal bleeding associated with the disease.
The second conclusion Corominas reached is the possibility that she didn’t kidnap Tereseta Guitart for the nefarious reasons that have been claimed. Having lost her own child at just 10-months-old due to malnutrition, Enriqueta spiraled into a great depression. Through a collaboration with other historians, he concluded that it’s possible she kidnapped Guitart in order to have companionship, since the girl was alive and well after having lived with Enriqueta for weeks prior to her discovery.
The only other piece of evidence to charge Enriqueta for these serious crimes were the various bones found around her home. These were the days before trash pickup, so trash was often left in the streets or piled up around homes. Some of these bones accounted for could have been animal bones from meals she had prepared, while it has also been suggested that she may have purchased the bones from another woman off the street as some sort of magic talisman thought to ward off disease.
We may never know the true scope of Enriqueta Martí i Ripollés’ crimes and when truth becomes muddied with legend, the facts surrounding her life become even more difficult to dissect. Was she really a female Jack the Ripper, preying upon the weakest cogs within society? Or was Enriqueta Martí i Ripollés the real victim, torn to shreds by predatory journalists due to her social status?
She was never brought to trial, and even her death has been the subject of urban legend. It’s been claimed that she was lynched by her fellow prison inmates, but the truth is that she succumbed to her uterine cancer and died before she could ever have her real story told.