‘El Arropiero’: The Vagabond of Death

Spanish Serial Killer 'El Arropiero', Family Album
Spanish Serial Killer ‘El Arropiero’, Family Album

Intro

The Arropiero is said to have carried out 48 murders, including necrophilia, across Italy, France and Spain between 1964 and 1971. This psychopath holds the sad record of being the ‘greatest’ serial killer in Spanish history.

He was arrested on January 18, 1971 in Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz). But in a twisted turn of fate, he was never convicted for his crimes.

Manuel Delgado Villegas alias ‘El Arropiero’

Manuel Delgado Villegas inherited the nickname of ‘el arropiero’ because of his father, who was a travelling merchant that sold arrope. Arrope is a type of grape syrup obtained by the partial dehydration of the must over direct heat until it reaches the caramelization of its sugars.

Manuel was born in the town of Seville, Spain, in 1943. His mother died giving birth to him, so both he and his sister were raised by his grandmother in Mataró, Catalonia, after having been abandoned by his father during the Spanish post-war depression era.  

Manuel Delgado Villegas had to live with other relatives who gave him constant beatings that ended up turning him into an introverted and aggressive child. Despite attending school for several years, Manuel never learned to read or write. He also suffered from stuttering and dyslexia which increased his introversion and aggressiveness.

Spanish Serial Killer 'El Arropiero' Manuel Delgado Villegas - The Vagabond of Death
Spanish Serial Killer ‘El Arropiero’ Manuel Delgado Villegas – The Vagabond of Death

He was bisexual and adopted promiscuity as a way of life, becoming somewhat famous in homosexual and prostitution circles. This was because he suffered from “aspermatism” (absence of ejaculation), which meant that he could have had plenty of coitus in search of an orgasm that he could never reach.

 At the age of 18, in 1961, he joined the Spanish Legion where he learned hand-to-hand combat techniques. In particular, he learned the ‘legionnaire blow’, also known as ‘mortal blow’ or ‘death blow’, a technique that is used to strike the larynx of the enemies with the knife-edge of the hand, which would crash the victim’s larynx and they would choke to death.  

'El Arropiero' showing Detective Salvador Ortega his Legionnaire Blog Technique
‘El Arropiero’ showing Detective Salvador Ortega his Legionnaire Blow Technique

El Arropiero left the army shortly after joining. There are two versions of the story as to why this happened. The first version of events states that he began to consume marijuana for which he was admitted to a detoxification centre and suffered epileptic seizures, logically he was declared unfit for military service. The second version, and most likely the correct one, is much simpler: it was Manuel who deserted the Legion.

He grew a moustache imitating that of Cantinflas since he was a great follower of the Mexican artist.

After leaving the army he began a nomadic lifestyle, travelling through different European countries and, if that was not enough, he also developed a liking for narcotics.

A Trail of Corpses

Manuel did not kill with premeditation. Instead, he killed because of trivial things that simply ‘triggered’ him, such as off-handed comments that he would take as insults.

  • Manuel’s first victim happened on the 21st of January 1964. The victim’s name was Adolfo Folch Muntane. Adolfo was a chef who had gone to the beach of Llorac (Barcelona) to collect sand that he used to clean the grease from the kitchen pots and stoves. Adolfo had fallen asleep. Manuel simply grabbed a large stone and crash his skull with it. After that, he took his wallet and watch and fled the scene.

I saw a sleeping man leaning against a wall. I approached him and very slowly, with a large rock that I had picked up close to the wall, hit him over the head. When I realised that he was dead, I took his wallet and the watch on his wrist. He had barely anything in it and the watch was crap!

Manuel Delgado Villegas – Spanish Serial Killer
Spanish Serial Killer Manuel Delgado Villegas - The Vagabond of Death
Spanish Serial Killer Manuel Delgado Villegas – The Vagabond of Death
  • The second killing occurred on the 20th of June 1967 on the Spanish island of Ibiza. The victim was a 21-year-old French student named Margaret Hélène Thérese Boudrie that was on holiday with an American friend named Jules Morton. The pair had been partying in a local discotheque and taking LSD the previous night. They then moved to an abandoned house north of the island to carry on partying on their own.
Newspaper clipping covering the death of Margaret Hélène Thérese Boudrie
Newspaper clipping covering the death of Margaret Hélène Thérese Boudrie

During the night when they were asleep, Jules heard a noise and went to investigate, leaving the door open. Manuel used this opportunity to enter the house and wake up Margaret. He then proceeded to rape her and ended up suffocating her with a pillow after stabbing her in the back with a Stiletto knife.

I don’t like the times I have killed a woman

Manuel Delgado Villegas – Spanish Serial Killer
The Vagabond of Death
The Vagabond of Death

Jules Morton was incarcerated for a year before he was cleared of having murdered Margaret.

  • The third victim was Venancio Hernández Carrasco, a 71-year-old man that was tending his vineyards when Manuel approached him and asked him for some food. The man told Manuel that he was young and strong, and if he wanted to eat he should work. This comment cost him his life.

Initially, the death of Venancio was reported as an accidental drowning, as he was found floating in the river near the San Galindo reservoir, in the province of Madrid.

During investigations, Manuel Delgado changed his testimony, claiming he had attacked the man because he was trying to rape a little girl.

  • The next victim of the Spanish Serial Killer was Ramón Estrada Saldrich, a 68-year-old furniture dealer from Barcelona who often hired Manuel’s services for 300 pesetas. That day, Manuel asked for 1000 pesetas (about $10) and Ramón agreed. But after the sexual encounter ended, Ramón paid his usual 300 pesetas fees.

Full of anger, Manuel attacked him with the “legionnaire’s blow” leaving him unconscious. He woke up and began insulting Manuel until he tore the leg of a chair and began to hit him with it, later breaking his neck. In other versions it is said that the next morning some cleaners found the body still alive, dying shortly after in the hospital.

  • Out of the seven proven victims of El Arropiero, the fifth one was perhaps the one that shocked public opinion the most. Her name was Anastasia Borella Moreno and she was a 68-year-old woman that worked as a cook in the city of Mataró.

On November 23, 1969, Manuel woke up wanting to have sex with a woman. When he came across Anastasia, he asked her if she wanted to sleep with him, to which the indignant woman threatened to notify the police. Her response filled Manuel with anger and he killed her by hitting her on the head with a brick. He threw the body into a stream near the Riera Sirena tunnel, but when he observed from above that the body could be seen, he went down to hide it better.

Once down, he felt excited and practised necrophilia with the corpse.  He repeated the same act every night for four straight nights until the lifeless body of the old woman was found by some children. Later, after his arrest, he confessed that he saw the woman as “a 19-year-old girl.”

In September 1970 he moved to Puerto de Santa María to help his father sell arropes in the streets, there he established a relationship with Antonia Rodriguez Relinque “Toñi”, a 38-year-old mentally handicapped woman with a reputation for having a great sexual appetite.

  • The sixth victim of The Vagabond of Death was Francisco Marín Ramírez, a 28-year-old electrician and close friend of Manuel.

On December 3, 1970, they were riding a motorcycle when the young man caressed Manuel in a way he didn’t like, making him so angry that he stopped the motorcycle and punched him with the infamous ‘legionnaire blow’. Francisco was breathless and asked him to take him to a nearby river to recover, once there he hinted again. Manuel hit him again and threw him face down and motionless into the mud. The body was located in Guadalete, 12 kilometres from the scene of the crime.

It is at this point in the story that Detective Salvador Ortega appears. He was part of the Criminal Brigade of El Puerto de Santa María and was investigating the case of Francisco Marín. Initially, the coroner determined that Marín’s death had been caused by suffocation, but Ortega was not convinced and ended up proving that it was a crime. A murderer was in the area.

On January 14, 1971, he went out with his girlfriend Antonia Rodriguez Relinque “Toñi“ and after an argument, while they were having sex, he killed her. Manuel hid her body in some bushes, returning the following days to rape her corpse.

We did it, as always, in many ways, but she asked me for one thing that disgusted me. When I refused, she insulted me and told me that I was not a man, because others had done it to her.

Then I hit her, and since she wouldn’t shut up and kept insulting me, I put the leotards she had taken off around her neck and squeezed until she died, while I made love to her.

I was with her again on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and I would have returned today if they had not arrested me. She was so pretty! I loved her so much! Wasn’t she my girlfriend? So why couldn’t I make love to her the same as before?

Manuel Delgado Villegas – Spanish Serial Killer

The Arrest

The arrest of ‘El Arropiero’ was practically accidental. The Criminal Brigade of El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz) in which Salvador Ortega worked, was investigating the case of a disappearance, that of young Francisco Marín. After several days without news, the police found his body in Guadalete. The coroner concluded in the autopsy that he had died of suffocation. But Ortega did not believe it.

On January 18, 1971, Manuel Delgado Villegas was arrested as the main culprit in the murder of Francisco Marín and his girlfriend. At first, denied the accusations but the great role of Salvador Ortega in the interrogations, gaining his trust, made him admit to the murders. With time, he not only recounted all the crimes he had been accused of, but confessed to a total of 48 murders.

'The Vagabond of Death' Arrest in 1971
‘The Vagabond of Death’ Arrest in 1971

For Salvador Ortega, criminologist and Police Inspector who managed to catch Manuel Delgado Villegas, it was not easy for him to forge a “friendship” with this murderer. It was an “interested friendship” as he came to recognize it on occasion. It was necessary to “establish these ties to clarify the crimes.”

That adventure to discover the corpses of the victims of the Arropiero, made Ortega meet a specialist in killing, a true psychopath. However, it is striking how Manuel himself handled the situation when faced with uncomfortable questions about his terrible misdeeds.

Manuel was flown around the country by the police to the scenes where he had committed murder. On one occasion, while travelling in a police car, he heard on the radio that 80 bodies had been found buried in a man’s garden in Mexico; he immediately asked the police to be freed for 24 hours, promising not to escape, “so this guy doesn’t beat me.”

Manuel Delgado Villegas Being Flown Around the Coutry with the Police to Uncover Crime Scenes
Manuel Delgado Villegas Being Flown Around the Country with the Police to Uncover Crime Scenes

During a TV interview when he had already been arrested and taken to a psychiatric centre, Manuel admits to the journalist that when he kills women he doesn’t like it and that he prefers men for these cases.

Spanish Killer Manuel Delgado Villegas alias ‘El Arropiero’

Some of the crimes the Spanish Serial admitted to were that of a woman in San Feliu de Guixols, another woman he had knifed in Alicante, a homosexual man in Barcelona, and a homosexual client he threw off a cliff in Garraf after the victim said “Such beauty! Such a view! I wouldn’t mind dying right in this place!” To which Delgado replied “Die then” and pushed him.

Manuel also confessed to having drowned a woman in a barrel in Valencia. In Rome, he said, he had killed her employed because she was fat and he could not put his arms around her. In Paris he claimed, he killed a gang of robbers after they didn’t allow him to join the gang, using the machine gun of one of the members. In the same French capital, he killed a woman because she was a ‘snitch’.

The police lowered the figure of 48 murders to a mere 22, although they could only verify the seven mentioned above. The complexity of the cases, lack of evidence, of witnesses and the necessary collaboration of the police at a European level were the causes for such a low number despite the confessions.

Manuel Delgado Villegas did not have a defence attorney until six and a half years after his arrest, holding the record for preventive arrest without legal protection. He was never tried since he was diagnosed with a mental illness and in 1978 the National High Court ordered his internment in a specialized centre.

The Evil Chromosome XYY

Manuel was admitted to the Carabanchel (Madrid) Psychiatric Centre. Experts quickly noticed that Manuel’s general demeanour was very child-like and he had a slow developmental process compared to the average population.

The medical tests carried out on him revealed that he had sexual trisomy XYY (instead of the common endowment of a man, XY), known as Jacob’s Syndrome. Jacob’s Syndrome was said to be characterized by mental retardation, longer-than-usual extremities, acne, a higher risk of developing certain diseases such as asthma, speech difficulties such in the case of Manuel’s stuttering, ADHD, Autism, and increased testosterone levels correlated with aggressive and criminal behaviour.

Current medical studies refute a lot of these theories. But it is worth noting that during the 1960s and 1970s this was a widely accepted theory within the medical community. Modern studies confirm some of the above-mentioned traits while denying others.

Manuel spent the following years in various psychiatric facilities across Spain (Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid, etc.) During his internment his attitude changed, he stopped bragging about his murders and getting into trouble with other inmates. He managed to get permission to go out for a walk even though he suffered from schizophrenia, megalomaniac delusion and space-time disorientation with a strong tendency to autism.

Original Article Clipping Detailing the 7 Known Victims of 'El Arropiero' Manuel Delgado Villegas AKA The Vagabond of Death
Original Article Clipping Detailing the 7 Known Victims of ‘El Arropiero’ Manuel Delgado Villegas AKA The Vagabond of Death

The Bitter End

Manuel Delgado Villegas, el Arropiero, 55, considered the greatest criminal in the history of Spain, died on February 2, 1998, at the Can Ruti Hospital in Badalona, suffering from a lung condition, according believed to have been caused by his smoking addiction.

El Arropiero was blamed for having committed at least 22 murders. He was imprisoned for 26 years without ever being tried for any of the crimes he was accused of, and technically speaking, he had a clean criminal record because any other time he had been arrested in the past, he was always committed to psychiatric wards due to his faking epilepsy attacks.

When he was arrested on January 18, 1971, in EI Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz), accused of having murdered Antonia Rodríguez Relinque, with whom he had an affair, El Arropiero confessed to being the author of numerous crimes during interrogations.

So many, that the Police came to suspect that he attributed many of them out of a desire for prominence. But they ended up believing him because of the details he gave about them.

Remaining Questions

Was Manuel a Psychopath or simply a mentally disabled individual? Would he have turned out differently if he had a different upbringing without beatings and with a supporting family that cared about his developmental abilities and speech impediment?

How much did aspermatism and his lack of reaching climax play a part in his aggressiveness and pent-up energy?

Was his murderous streak simply down to his Sexual Trisomy XYY or were there any other factors at play?

Was Manuel really evil, or simply a combination of his genetic makeup and socio-environmental situations that led him to act up such dark desires?

If you made it this far and would like to see a full interview of the Spanish Killer Manuel Delgado Villegas alias ‘El Arropiero’, this is the video for you.

6 thoughts on “‘El Arropiero’: The Vagabond of Death – 1964-1971

  1. This is such an interesting article, I had no idea about the vagabond of death’s full story. I had heard about his case once, but it is even worse than it seemed! What an awful criminal. I am glad he got arrested at some point, at least. Really horrible crimes!

  2. interesting article, this individual seems to have had many problems in his childhood added to the mental disorder he suffered from, beyond that I think his ability to reason could have contained him to a certain degree from committing these atrocities

  3. I had no idea about the complete history of the vagabond of death until I read this article. I’d heard of his situation before, but it’s even worse than I thought! What a horrible felon. I’m delighted he was eventually taken into custody. I believe that his capacity for reason may have prevented him from doing these atrocities to some extent.

  4. It is amazing how detailed this story is, all information is provided. He had a really bad childhood, which was not his fault at all but what he became was no doubt monsterous. I’m glad he got to pay for all his sins at last.

  5. This information is top notch and very exciting. I didn’t understand why people would do that. Despite being a criminal, he was a human being deserving of more respect. It disgusts me, therefore. There was no reason for this. Thanks for the interesting article.

  6. I heard that In the process of investigating the veracity of his claims the investigating magistrate of El Puerto de Santa María, Conrado Gallardo Ros, along with detectives involved in the cases, accompanied Delgado to the scenes of the crimes where he re-enacted and explained the crimes. On a side note, he became the first serial killer to travel the scenes of his crimes by airplane.

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