WHO KILLED LORCA? WHY? AND WHERE DID THEY DUMP THE BODY?
In re-assessing the circumstances that led to the poet Federico García Lorca meeting his untimely end in front of a firing squad outside the village of Víznar, Granada, Miguel Caballero in his study Las trece últimas horas ...* argues that personal revenge rather than political antagonisms was the decisive factor behind the killing, and he identifies the poet’s cousin, Horacio Roldán, as the man who set the process in motion and to some extent at least steered the events to their end, remotely through his social and political networks. In particular, Roldán used his influence with Nicolás Velasco Simarro, acting Civil Governor on the day in question, to metaphorically slip the noose around the neck of his quarry.
If we accept the contention that Velasco was the prime mover in the disappearance of the poet, what of those who carried out the detention at the house of the Rosales? Here, Caballero’s thesis is that the man who has hitherto been seen as Lorca’s nemesis, Ramón Ruiz Alonso, was actually manipulated by Juan Luis Trescastro Medina, who was also present at the Rosales’s house from where Lorca was seized and who in fact provided the car in which they took their victim to the Civil Government building.
Trecastro had long been a member of the old Conservative Party and in 1931 he joined the newly founded and more militant Acción Popular, where he coincided with both Ruiz Alonso and Horacio Roldán (p109*). His relationship with Ruiz Alonso is particularly relevant. There seems to have been some sort of mutual admiration between the two, who had collaborated closely in the run-up to the November 1933 elections. The following year Ruiz Alonso chose Trecastro to be godfather to his second daughter.
26 years his senior and member of the Granada landowning bourgeoisie, with connections to some prominent families in Santa Fe on the Vega, Trecastro may have been held in awe by Ruiz Alonso, who, being a bit of an outsider, may have felt flattered by being taken under the wing of such a major pillar of local society. There is no doubt that Ruiz Alonso identified with the violent political language of the older man, while Trecastro appreciated the youthful activism of his protégé, who, while less tuned in to the strife and rivalry between landowning families on the Vega, was always keen to make an impression on his social superiors. Caballero, at least, is convinced of the dominant role played by Trecastro (left photo) in the events of 16 August 1936, even though Ruiz Alonso (right) was the more visible actor.
Many of the other key actors in the concatenation of events had no obvious family or personal connections to either side of the Roldán-García Rodríguez rivalry, either, but acted rather out of loyalty to like-minded political colleagues or superiors. This observation applies to Inspector Julio Romero Funes, the man at the Civil Government who gave Lieuenant Martínez Fajardo the order to transfer Lorca to Víznar; to Martínez Fajardo himself; and to José María Nestares Cuéllar, in command at Víznar; and even to the head of the firing squad, Mariano Anjenjo Moreno. One of Caballero’s major contributions to clarifying the events leading up to Lorca’s death is to spell out the shared political motivations of and frequent inter-connectedness between these men: many of them were old-shirts in the Falange, had experience of dealing out repression dating back to the time of the Primo de Rivera dictatorship and would continue their practices throughout the Civil War and beyond; some had experience of the war in Morocco, where they practiced and perfected, Caballero suggests, their brutal merciless methods. None of these men show any qualms about the fate they are engineering for the poet. Nowhere is there any hint that Lorca might be being unjustly treated.
Barely a handful of actors in these events showed any remorse at all; one of those who did being prison guard Eduardo González Aurioles, who wept at his own impotence when he realised he was not in a position to intervene to save the poet’s life. Another was Juan Jiménez Cascales, chosen for the firing squad apparently because of his reputation as a marksman and not there for any ideological reasons: Although he stayed on the Víznar front for much of the Civil War, he managed to get out of firing squad duties, showing symptoms of being on the verge of a nervous breakdown due to the nature of what he was asked to do. The rest of the men involved went along with the inexorable process quite happily, regardless of their relationship – or lack of one - to the warring families.
Of the men making up the firing squad, however, there is one name that stands out as someone who had some reason to bear a personal grudge: that is Antonio Benavides Benavides, son of Emilio Benavides García and Adelaida Benavides Palacios and grandson of Francisco Benavides Peña and Emilia Palacios Ríos. This Emilia was the sister of Matilde Palacio, the first wife of Federico García Rodríguez, Lorca’s father. She died childless in 1894 after fourteen years of marriage. It was a classic marriage of convenience that Lorca’s father did rather well out of, during which time his farmlands on the Vega around Asquerosa were concentrated and extended significantly. Emilia had had to resort taking Lorca’s father to court to claim her full rights to her sister’s assets.
Antonio, then, was Matilde Palacios’s sister’s grandson; he was also cousin of José Benavides (Pepe el Romano), whose nephew was Horacio Roldán. It is not hard to picture how a feeling of resentment was built up between the three men directed at Lorca and his father’s social status and success, which seemed to come at their own families’ expense. This resentment was lived out by Antonio Benavides at Víznar in the early hours of August 17: ‘I fired two bullets into the poet’s fat head,’ he was reported to have boasted to his like-minded circle of friends, an expression echoed by Juan Luis Trecastro’s ‘I fired a bullet into the homo’s fat arse’ (p186), though Trecastro was I guess too much visibly part of Granada’s high bourgeoisie to have actually taken part in the killing itself.
All of this must have delighted Horacio when the news got back to him.
So there is no doubt that Caballero is right when he says there was a concatenation of causes that led to the poet’s death and that a significant number of these had their origin in inter-family and internecine disputes and rivalries between a group of inter-related provincial dynasties on the Vega of Granada going back over half a century. This is a valuable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of Lorca’s death. But where he fails to convince is in his assertion that these localised disputes and rivalries were not grounded in the heightened political conflicts of the day, which in fact they almost certainly contributed to and fed on.
As a final footnote, the final question that Caballero was confident of being able to answer: ‘where is the body?’ The latest physical systematic search, based on Miguel Caballero’s investigation, drew another blank and was abandoned on 20 October last year, 2016. I refer you to my post: ‘No. They didn't find me’, dated 20 February 2017 [/blog.granadalabella.eu/#post60].
The conclusion is that the body was dug up shortly after the killing and reburied elsewhere. This hypothesis corresponds with what Antonio Gallego Burín told Emilia Llanos Medina and she told investigator Agustín Penón in the mid-1950s: the shock waves caused by Lorca’s murder were such that his remains were secretly moved to a mass grave nearby to make it harder for them to be found and identified.
* Miguel Caballero Pérez. Las trece últimas horas en la vida de García Lorca. La Esfera de los libros. 2011. Page numbers refer to this publication.
The photographs are of:
Juan Luis Trescastro Medina, published in Granada Gráfica (March 1922, p28), so fourteen years before these events; reproduced by Gabriel Pozo Felguera in El Independiente de Granada, 19 March 2017 http://www.elindependientedegranada.es/cultura/hallado-retrato-que-dio-dos-tiros-garcia-lorca-culo-maricon
Alonso, published in the IDEAL newspaper, 15 February 1936 [Hemeroteca Ideal]
taken from a CEDA election poster