The legal practicality of resurrection in Spain

People in Barcelona have started relating the apparently low mortality rate among Chinese residents to identity theft in the way they did in London a few years back, but we’re never going to get back to the good old days before forensic tools like DNA testing, finger printing and ubiquitous photography.

There’s an entertaining story in the archives of the 19th century journal of French criminal anthropology, L’anthropologie criminelle, which has just been put online. Apparently prison guards frequently used to play around with identities in order to let prisoners out, in return for a share of their booty, but this case involves the Sant Boi/San Baudillo mental hospital near Barcelona.

[My first encounter with SB was when AD phoned: Sorry, I’m not going to make the rehearsal today, I’m in Sant Boi. Me: Come on, that’s only 20 minutes away. AD: No, no, I’M IN SANT BOI!]

Rafael Campo of Plasencia, feeling his time is approaching, makes a will in which he leaves four fifths of his estate to Eustaquio, his son by his first marriage. But there is a condition attached: Eustaquio must have gained release from Sant Boi, where he has been detained since 1865 after trying to suttee himself in the paternal garden.

Rafael’s second wife, Francisca Belloso, has inherited the remainder of the estate and gets married again, to a lawyer, Felipe de la Cruz, who frustrates her desire to have her stepson come home, and prevents her from visiting him in hospital. In 1882 Felipe himself travels to Sant Boi, and shortly afterwards produces a death certificate for Eustaquio, with which he sets about claiming the rest of Rafael’s fortune.

Francisca is beginning to have doubts about her husband, and one day overhears him telling friends that Eustaquio is alive and well and working as a carpenter in the hospital, believing himself to be Eugenio Santa Olalla, whose name the certificate should have borne. A friend of hers, Concha Somera, volunteers to feign madness and is admitted to Sant Boi, whence she departs “cured!”, having established to her satisfaction that Eugenio is in fact Eustaquio. A micro-delegation is then dispatched to the hospital and finally succeeds in convincing Eustaquio of his true identity, and he returns to Plasencia to a hero’s welcome.

Francisca has by now died, but unfortunately no one has got round to putting a stake through her lawyer husband’s heart. Despite the fact that Eustaquio has not made any claims against Felipe, and in fact wants nothing more than to get on with his carpentry, the latter, flourishing the famous death certificate, asks prosecutors to initiate proceedings against “Eugenio” for usurping Eustaquio’s identity.

After a two year investigation the ministry declares that there is a case to answer, and a year later Eustaquio goes on trial for pretending to be Eustaquio. Fortunately the only witnesses to declare that he is not are Felipe and his friends, and employees of the mental hospital. So the court splits the baby and rules that although Santa Olalla probably died in 1882, Eustaquio cannot yet be said to be Eustaquio either because the infallible civil register says that Eustaquio is also dead. Further investigation of the hospital administration would be required to enable an acquittal. At the time of writing Eustaquio is contemplating further dezombification proceedings. And presumably banging out the odd table and chair to make ends meet.

I don’t know the end of the story, but you can decide for yourself whether Eustaquio v1 = Eustaquio v2 here. Here, in La ilustración española y americana, photographers say that he was, Felipe tells his story, and neighbours speculate that Eustaquio’s mother did not actually commit suicide but was taken away and killed in Sant Boi hospital.

Several of the memes in this tale are the same as in that 20 years later of the miserable Enriqueta Martí, branded a vampire infanticide and destroyed by the Barcelona and national press, who left her to rot and die in jail when there turned out to be virtually no evidence of her crimes. A wildly inaccurate recap of the Martí witch hunt by Pedro Costa in El país suggests that journalism hasn’t improved greatly in the interim, the great Raval paedophile hysteria of the late 1990s reminds us that crowds will be mad, and Spanish justice is still a long way from being rapid or even just.

More on Enriqueta some other time. I may also serialise translations of several 19th century, Barcelona-based novels à la Eugène Sue that I’ve found. A couple of good illustrators have volunteered their services, so something may make its way onto Cafepress or whatever in due course.

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