CABALLERO VERSUS GIBSON: 13 HOURS, OR TWO AND A HALF DAYS?
Part 4: The Killing
There are, as we have seen, two different theories about the exact time that Lorca faced the firing squad, one night in August 1936 on the road between Víznar and Alfacar. At 4:45 on the morning of the 18th has been the consensus until now and is what it says in Wikipedia. When I began this analysis of the evidence, I did not realise that this date had been close to verified by a letter dated 18 August 1936 and discovered by chance by Manuel Titos Martínez*, in which José María Bérriz revealed that he had just heard from reliable sources that Lorca had been killed that same night. Of course, this evidence is not entirely conclusive, for Lorca had been disappeared and who knows how long it might have taken for the news to reach the public domain? However, one of Bérriz’s informants was his brother-in-law, Manuel Rodríguez-Acosta, a nationalist related by marriage to and on intimate terms with Nicolás Velasco Simarro, acting Civil Governor on the day of Lorca’s disappearance. (This man’s role in the persecution of the poet is discussed in //blog.granadalabella.eu/#post65 Who...? Why ...? And where ...? a critical review of Miguel Caballero’s Las trece últimas horas en la vida de García Lorca.)
Caballero, meanwhile, places the killing as not later than 4am on the 17th. He gives two arguments to substantiate his claim. One is that José María Nestares Cuéllar was removed from his position of command at Víznar for two days, 18 and 19 August, so he would not have been present to register Lorca’s arrival if he had been brought there on one of those days. But if Lorca arrived in Víznar on the 17th, and was shot before dawn on the 18th, then the question of Nestares´s removal from command for these two days becomes irrelevant. Secondly, Lieutenant Rafael Martínez Fajardo, who was encharged with bringing Lorca to Víznar to face the firing squad, was member of a column that captured the village of Huétor Tájar on 17 August, an operation that lasted twelve hours leaving Granada at five in the morning. If, as Caballero argues, the killing was carried out on the morning of the 17th, it had to leave Martínez with enough time to join his column at 5am. But, once again, if Lorca was brought to Víznar on the night of the 17th and shot in the early morning, this argument also loses its force.
The Falangist guard Pedro Cuesta Hernández is an important witness and seems to be fairly reliable: ‘The firing squad was organised before dawn, at around 4am, and it was made up of the same men who had come from Granada’ and he lists J.L.Trecastro, the Security Guards Ayllón, Correa, Villegas, whom he describes as belonging to the same ‘Black Squad’ as ‘the Pugnose of Plaza Nueva’ and ‘the Baker’, and Benavides, the man who we have seen bore a grudge against the victim and who was to boast of his part in the murder. He also includes in the squad one ‘Blanco’, and ‘the Baker’ himself. Plus Arenas, the driver. And, less willingly, by his own account, Cuesta himself.
Correo, Caballero names as Fernando Correa Carrasco. According to Caballero, however, Cuesta was mistaken about Antonio Ayllón Fernández’s participation, as he did not in fact take over as head of the firing squad until 22 August, replacing Mariano Ajenjo Moreno, who would have been the man in charge. Caballero also denies Juan Luis Trecastro’s participation in the killing. I am inclined to agree, partly due to his cocky copycat claim of firing two bullets into the victim’s arse, obviously minted on his friend Antonio Benavides’s abhorrent bragging. Even so, the possibility of a sort of ‘guest appearance’ cannot be totally ruled out. Although his proximity to the black squads was common knowledge in certain circles, Trecastro himself was too prominent a member of the respectable local bourgeoisie to appear in Nestares´s paperwork. (See below.)
It seems to me pretty likely that ‘the Baker’ was involved in the killing. Francisco Murillo Gámiz, taxi-driver and once Lorca family chauffeur, said he knew that the Black Squad that killed Lorca was made up of the Assault Guard Villegas, the Baker and the Pugnose, and he relates how on ‘the day they shot Federico’ the Baker approached him: ‘Have a Lucky (Strike). We took them off Lorca’s body after we shot him this morning.’ Bravado? Maybe. There were plenty of people in Granada who wanted to be associated with this abominable crime; Trecastro being, of course, one of the most prominent.
Nestares recalls the Black Squad that ‘the Baker’ belonged to. ‘They were really paid killers. They were organised by Julio Romero Funes (Valdés’s right-hand man at the Civil Government: there was no love lost between Nestares and Valdés), although on some occasions they acted on their own account.’ José Rosales says he knew the Baker from before the Uprising and names him tentatively as Eduardo López Peso. ‘We would give him a few pesetas to carry out reprisals.’ I presume by ‘we’ he means himself and his closest Falangist associates and by ‘reprisals’ he means acts of violence against leftwing opponents.
In the early days, Lorca’s death used to be talked about as being at the hands of these black squads, a name that has a frightening ring about it, presenting them as gangs of uncontrollable psychopathic thugs taking advantage of a situation of chaos and social breakdown. Luis García-Alix Fernández: ‘From the first days of the Movement, diverse elements, among them Ramón Ruiz Alonso, organised groups that, sometimes with the knowledge of the Civil governor and at other times without it, went round dragging out of the houses or the places where they were hiding those people they considered dangerous. And they met every night in the central cafe La Granja, to draw up the lists of executions they were going to carry out.’
In fact, Caballero’s account reveals that there were no clear lines between the official firing squads and the black squads, which were anyway by April 1937 fully integrated into the process of systemic state terror. Such is the case of Salvio Rodríguez García, mentioned by Caballero as one of Lorca’s killers, who was a black squad member up to April 1937, when all still existing unofficial murder squads were formalised. Until then, black squad members would sometimes support the official ones and gradually be absorbed by them. Antonio González Villegas, for example, was a black squad member in the first two weeks of the Uprising and was then incorporated into the assault guards, while evidently maintaining his links to his unregulated associates, the Baker and Pugnose. To me, it seems the term ‘black squad’ came to be used to distract attention from the state-sponsored elimination of oppositional forces, whereas in fact these murder squads were well organised and already, just four weeks into the uprising, pretty much under the control of the Civil Government authorities.
Both Valdés and Nestares seem to have been quite meticulous in recording their respective roles in consolidating the nationalist hold over Granada. Valdés was so meticulous in recording how he executed his savage repression that he kept well-ordered and detailed files, the one labelled ‘File 8: Re García Lorca’, significantly, found to be empty, though. Nestares, who was effectively in control of a battle front, needed to keep accurate records, in particular of movements between Granada and Víznar, but also to cover his back with regard to the unofficial executions that were taking place in his area of command.
Caballero expresses his great satisfaction with the testimony of Nestares, especially in the way it ties in so neatly with that given by his ‘assistant and friend’, Martínez Bueso, a factor which he thinks gives it particular credibility. Yet we know that Nestares was with some frequency questioned about the events of that moonless night, events that were classified as top secret. And we know that he gathered his team to school them on the facts, as Emilio Moreno Olmedo reported to Fajardo Molina, to make sure nobody strayed from ‘the truth’. His official paperwork relating to the events of that night shows signs of having been doctored, with the observation of three people being brought from Granada (Lorca, Gadalí and Cabezas) amended to ‘five’, to include a couple of petty communist-criminals and possibly a villain nicknamed ‘el Terrible’. When Manuel Castilla, Manolo el comunista, says the people buried that night were ‘the teacher from Pulianas, Galadí, Cabezas, and him, Lorca; nobody else’ he is referring to this clumsy effort on the part of Nestares to falsify the evidence. Elsewhere, Nestares reports that Funes gave the order to Martínez Fajardo to bring Lorca plus Galadí, Cabezas, and ‘the Terrible’ to Víznar; but I have found no other trace of or reference to this latter individual. I mention it here as an example of Nestares’s occasionally creative record keeping
Testimony of Lorca’s last moments comes from two sources: José Navarro Pardo and Manuel López Banús. From the former we hear how ‘the driver who had brought Lorca to Viznar’ (Arenas, supposedly) told him how the victim survived the first salvo of shots, an account confirmed by the latter, who says Cuesta himself related how, after the initial salvo, Lorca got to his knees and said ‘I’m still alive’ and had to be put out of his misery with a fresh barrage of shots. This may well be the occasion that Antonio Benavides fired two bullets into the victim’s head.
Note:*Titos Martínez, Manuel (2005). Verano del 36 en Granada. Un testimonio inédito sobre el comienzo de la guerra civil y la muerte de García Lorca. Granada.
So, by way of conclusion, what do I think happened?
The detention proceeded more or less as described by Miguel Rosales with Lorca being taken to the Civil Government in the late or mid afternoon of the 16th. But he was kept in custody until Valdés was able to get the go-ahead for the killing from Queipo de Llano. On the night of the 17th he was transferred to Víznar along with the anarchist bullfighters Gadalí and Cabezas. Schoolmaster Diáscoro Galindo joined them in the improvised prison known as ‘The Colony’, until Martínez Fajardo arrived from Granada with the official firing squad and an unknown number of black squad members. Then the killing went off more or less as Cuesta described it, plus Benavides´s credible addendum.
Does it matter?
Does it matter? Whether it was the 17th or 18th? The time he was ‘disappeared’ from the Civil Government? Who was ‘ultimately’ responsible? To what extent was Horacio Roldán able to pull strings and influence events? Did Queipo de Llano have the last word? Was Ruiz Alonso manipulated by Juan Luis Trecastro or was he motivated by his petty grievances vis-à-vis the Falange? Should we blame Valdés’s stomach ulcer and his consequent bad humour? Or maybe the offence taken by Velasco at Lorca’s anti-Guardia Civil poems? And the million-dollar question: the location of the poet’s remains.
It shouldn’t matter, but somehow it does. To some extent I share Ian Gibson’s exasperation at not knowing what happened to Lorca’s bodily remains. ‘If we don’t find them,’ Gibson complains, ‘the unanswered questions, the theories, the arguments – and the lies – will go on forever’+. (Personally, I am not convinced that the locating of Lorca’s remains will tie up the loose ends. Frankly, I feel it might throw up as many questions as it answers!)
After five decades, Gibson declares himself finished with his Lorca project. ‘I do not intend to revise my books nor write any new ones.’+
Perhaps it is time for me to take a page out of Gibson’s book and turn my attention to other matters, matters that are more pressing in the present than unpicking the tangle of testimonies, facts and fictions, lies and half-truths, arguments and counterarguments that lie eighty years in the past. Then again, they dug up Richard III in a Leicester car park after more than 500 years, so ...
Note: +María Serrano. 27/02/2017 público.es