On May 9th 1919, the body of María Cruz Bello was found in her home in Teseguite, Lanzarote. The murder would become one of the most well-known and tragic cases on the island, and has become the inspiration for a recently-published novel.
In 1919, life was tough on Lanzarote. A six-year drought meant that families even shared water to boil vegetables. María Cruz made a modest living by selling items and lending small amounts of money, and on the fateful day, was alone in the house while her parents were at the doctors. On May 9th, three men knocked at her door and when she put her head out of the window, they grabbed her hair and cut her throat. They then entered the house and, finding no money, ate the rice with pigeons that María had prepared.
The investigation that followed, however, focused on María’s sister Petra. Petra was separated from her husband, something that was enough to give a woman a bad reputation in those days, and was formally charged with the crime and imprisoned, where she was raped and beaten. She died in a lunatic asylum in Las Palmas in a state of insanity.
However, rumours about the real murderers continued to circulate on Lanzarote and two men were finally arrested, charged and convicted. The third had emigrated to Argentina. Shortly after being convicted, the two murderers received a pardon from the Spanish government of dictator Primo de Rivera. It is believed that this was requested by the landowners who employed the men.
The tragic crime received national coverage at the time, and has been covered by local writers several times. Recently, the journalist Concha de Ganzo launched her novel, The Crime of the Cruz Sisters (Ediciones Remota), a fictionalised account of the case based on interviews and accounts. The launch of the novel took place in Teseguite and was attended by several older people who knew the story well. Concha de Ganzo describes the event as a “catharsis.”
The house where María lived and died still stands in Teseguite, abandoned and guarded by five palm trees that wave gracefully in the winds that cross the plain. One hundred years later, the terrible events that took place there, and the equally cruel injustices that followed, are not forgotten.
Photo: Rubén Acosta