December 12th, 2013 Headsman
On this date in 1957, Jorge Villanueva Torres was shot in Lima, Peru as the notorious “Monstruo de Armendáriz”.
Except Jorge Villanueva Torres wasn’t actually the monster. His case is well-known in Peru but less so beyond, and all links in this post are to Spanish pages.
Villanueva’s hasty transmogrification began on the ninth of September 1954, when headlines announcing the discovery of a dead three-year-old child near Lima commenced a national crime hysteria. Authorities surmised that the little boy had been raped, too.
Vague eyewitness fixing on the suspect’s height and dark skin* brought many arrests of people fitting these loose criteria. Villanueva, a career petty criminal, fit that bill; when police announced him as the suspect, he became the object of his countrymen’s hatred.
Convicted in an atmosphere of prejudicial hysteria on the strength of eyewitness testimony loosely matching him to someone who might have given the victim a sweet to lure him off, Villanueva exploded with rage, even attempting to attack the judge. Naturally this only served to further implicate him as an uncontrollable beast — not as a falsely accused man pitiably near the breaking-point after two years as a nation’s scapegoat.
Villanueva asserted his innocence all the way to the fatal stake.
Those futile protestations are today widely accepted as true. There was little firm evidence against him and even the contemporary autopsy ruled against the incendiary child-rape allegation. Later forensic investigations have suggested that the poor child might simply have been the victim of a hit-and-run car accident. The mingled torments of guilt and relief in such a motorist as the matter played out must have been profound.
This case remains in present-day Peru a standing warning against occasional attempts to reintroduce the death penalty in response to the outrageous crime du jour. (Peru abolished the death penalty for all peacetime offenses in 1979.)
The Peruvian band Nosequien and Nosecuantos muses on the injustice in a single that shares its title with Villanueva — “Monstruo de Armendáriz”.
Whomever was the true “monster” — and whatever that person’s true measure of monstrosity — has never been known.
* Racism in Peru against black skin was then and remains today endemic.
Also on this date
- 2013: Jang Sung-taek, North Korean purgee
- 1888: Tsimequor, indigenous Snuneymuxw
- 1996: Lem Tuggle, Tim Kaine client
- 1952: Hard Luck Billy Cook
- 1942: Klava Nazarova, Hero of the Soviet Union
- 1777: Rev. Benjamin Russen, child rapist
- 1984: Alpha Otis O’Daniel Stephens: hear it live
- 1635: Ivan Sulyma
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,History,Murder,Peru,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Rape,Shot,Wrongful Executions