Murcian Halloween Horrors

With Halloween arriving at the end of the month, (similar to the Spanish El Dia de las Muertos, which launches a three-day festival/celebration throughout much of the Hispanic world), we thought it might be appropriate to recount two dark but true tales of life in Murcia, as reported in the British press during the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The first event was reported widely across Britain during 1869, and was even the subject of a leader column in the Times of London newspaper.

(1): The Strange Case of Henry Jencken

Nineteenth Century Lorca, by Jose Passos (1862-1928)
Nineteenth Century Lorca, by Jose Passos (1862-1928)

During July 1869, a British barrister named Henry Jencken was based temporarily in Lorca, where he was engaged on some quite complex legal business. On July 20th he was walking down one of the town’s main streets, when he passed by a young child and her mother. After the barrister offered an innocent but perfunctory greeting of ‘buenas tardes’ to mother and child, the child ran off and within a minute or so, three men had attacked Jencken and accused him of being a child kidnapper. There was absolutely no truth at all in this allegation, but the men repeatedly stabbed and slashed at Jencken with knives. A large mob quickly appeared and dragged Jencken through the streets of Lorca. He was smashed on the back of the head with a stone, kicked and stabbed again and his jaw was badly broken. The large mob apparently thought the innocent British barrister was one of a mythical band of child-stealers who boiled children and used the fat from their entrails to grease telegraph wires. These outlandish beliefs had spread from Italy during the mid-nineteenth century and they were accepted as fact by some of the more gullible inhabitants of Lorca and elsewhere.

Jencken was eventually dragged to the town square outside the residence of the local Alcalde (Mayor), his hands were tied behind his back and the mob then planned to behead the battered and bruised barrister. It was at this point that the Lorcan Alcalde (who knew Jencken) made a timely intervention. The Alcalde and some of Jencken’s other Spanish associates were able to organise the arrest of twenty of those who had tried to murder the British lawyer. Jencken was delivered into the hands of a Spanish surgeon and the traumatised barrister made a slow recovery from his many serious wounds.

There was much speculation at the time about the true motivation of the mob who literally tried to tear Jencken apart, limb from limb. Questions were asked in the British Houses of Parliament about the matter and a chastened Henry Jencken speculated that his legal adversaries in Spain might have orchestrated the actions of the Lorca mob. The full truth about what lay behind the savage attack on the British barrister will probably never be known.

(2): Food for thought in Yecla.

Yecla Church in the early 20th Century.
Yecla Church in the early 20th Century.

In late January 1908, British newspapers from Plymouth in the southwest, to Aberdeen in the northeast, carried grisly but true reports about a Yecla resident who enjoyed cannibal feasts in the privacy of his home and stored human parts in jars (preserved in olive oil, brine and vinegar) which he ate for breakfast, lunch and evening dinner whenever he felt the need. The Yecla man concerned, disinterred bodies from the local graveyard in order to fuel his need for human flesh and was arrested by local police just as he was washing up and cleaning plates after one such cannibalistic feast.

Local crowds assembled outside the man’s house as the police made their arrest and were apparently intent on lynching the unnamed individual inside. Police, however, were able to successfully take the man into custody. The motivation behind the man’s actions remains unclear. No murders were involved and all the people were long dead when the Yecla man stole their bodies and preserved their various organs and limbs for future consumption. Hunger might possibly have been a factor, although the police involved simply believed that the man arrested was insane. What eventually happened to the Yecla cannibal is unclear, but a very long period in the medical wing of a prison, or in a psychiatric hospital, was probably inevitable.