A Haunting on Fuencarral Street

Torres

Diego de Torres Villarroel

It would probably be easier to tell you what the 18th century Spanish writer Diego de Torres Villarroel didn’t do. According to his highly picaresque autobiography, Torres did all sorts of different jobs, including working as a bullfighter, dancer, soldier, lock picker, astrologer, and math professor. He was also said to be a prophet, although his apparent predictions of the death of the Spanish King Louis I and the French Revolution were more vague coincidences than actual prophecies.

In 1723, after moving to Madrid, a poverty-stricken Torres was forced to work as a smuggler to get by. One day, Torres’ fortunes changed when a messenger from Josepha de Figueroa, the Countess of Arcos, paid him a visit. The messenger looked pale and sick, and explained that the Countess wanted Torres to come stay at her house. For the past three nights, the Countess’ home had been knocked by loud, unexplained noises.

The Countess was afraid that her house, which was located on Fuencarral Street, was being haunted by a duende. In Spanish folklore, duendes are creatures similar to goblins, tricksters who come into people’s homes to harass them and drive them crazy with loud noises. (Our demented friends from The House of the Lions, the follets, are technically a Catalan variety of duende.)

Torres was skeptical about the story, but agreed to investigate the haunting. When he arrived at the Countess’ house, he found the servants pale and quiet, and the Countess terrified. That night, they all banded together and slept in the same bedroom, Torres included.

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How Gnomes Drove an Artist to Kill Herself

GhostTower

The Castle of La Boca, named after the neighborhood in Buenos Aires where it stands, is a big and beautiful representation of Catalan modernism. It’s also supposedly haunted, which is why many people call the building’s tower “The Ghost Tower.” The eponymous ghost of the tower is said to haunt the top floor, where people have heard anguished shouts and disembodied footsteps.

According to legend, the ghost is a painter named Clementina, a young art student who lived there a century ago. The story behind Clementina’s demise involves a nostalgic rancher, a noisy reporter, and a bunch of mischievous follets, a creature in Catalan folklore similar to gnomes.

The story begins with the estanciera (rancher) Maria Luisa Auvert Arnaud. Auvert owned a very profitable estancia, a rural estate like a ranch, making her one of the wealthiest people in Buenos Aires. In the early 20th century, Argentina was experiencing a great boom in immigration from Europe. Hoping to make some money off these new Argentinians, Auvert bought a plot of land in La Boca and planned to get into real estate.

Despite her French-sounding name, Auvert’s family had roots in Catalonia. On her new land, Auvert hired the Catalan architect Guillermo Alvarez to build a house that would remind her of her family’s homeland. To maximize the Catalan flavor, Auvert imported furniture and plants from the old country, including some mushrooms she put on the balconies.

When the construction was completed in 1908, Auvert was so happy with the final product that she dropped the idea of renting the building and took the house for herself. The Castle should have been her dream home, but Auvert quietly packed her bags after living there for only a year. Nobody knew why she moved so suddenly, though neighbors said they sometimes heard her and her servants yelling at something at night.

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The Gandillon Werewolf Family

boguet

Painting of Henri Boguet, the French judge who recorded the Gandillons’ story and took part in their trial.

One werewolf is incredulous enough, but a whole family of werewolves? Such a story happened in the Jura region of eastern France in 1598. In the spring of that year, a boy named Benoit Bidel and his sister were picking strawberries near the village of St. Claude. While Benoit was climbing a tree, a wolf with human hands emerged from the forest and lunged at his sister. Benoit hopped down and tried to stab the wolf with a knife. The wolf tossed his knife away though, and it then bit his neck and ran back off into the trees.

Some near-by peasants who heard the scuffle rushed to the scene. They found Benoit badly bleeding, although his sister was unharmed. Before dying on the spot, Benoit gave a description of the strange wolf he saw. The angry peasants immediately set off looking for the wolf in the forest, but instead they stumbled on a local girl named Pernette Gandillon. The furious mob noticed that Pernette’s dress was covered in blood, so they grabbed her and tore her apart.

Regardless of whether Pernette confessed to being the wolf or not, as some accounts claim, Pernette was a pretty unpopular person to begin with. She and her family lived in the forest, isolated from the rest of St. Claude. They were rumored to be Satanists and witches, so it wasn’t that big of a leap to suspect her of being a werewolf either.

Following Pernette’s murder,  her brother Pierre and sister Antoinette were also accused of being werewolves. They were both accused of attending sabbaths, as well as summoning hailstorms and having sex with demons. (In Antoinette’s case, her sexual partner was a goat, who was actually the Devil in disguise.) After being tortured, surely the most reliable method of truth inducement, Pierre cracked and confessed that the accusations were true.

He admitted that the Devil gave his family magical wolf-skins, which had the power to turn the Gandillons into werewolves. Wearing the skins, they couldn’t help but run across the land on all fours, devouring animals and humans alike. Pierre’s son, Georges, also confessed to having an ointment that had the same magical power. With the help of his aunts, he said that he killed two goats while in the form of a wolf.

Unluckily for the Gandillons, the infamous judge Henri Boguet was put in charge of their case. Belief in werewolves might have been widespread during the time, but educated people were generally more skeptical. They thought werewolves were mentally ill, or suffering from delusions caused by the Devil. (Hey, they were close.)

Boguet, on the other hand, took werewolves seriously. He was the author of a best-selling book about witchcraft, and claimed to have sentenced over 600 werewolves to death during his long and, shall we say, distinguished career. While visiting the Gandillons in jail, he noted that Antoinette, Georges, and Pierre walked on all fours and howled. Their faces, hands, and legs were marked with scratches. Pierre was so badly disfigured, in fact, “that he bore hardly any resemblance to a man and struck all those who looked at him with horror.” 

The Gandillons never transformed into wolves during their captivity, but Boguet attributed this to a lack of magical ointment. The Gandillons’ behavior in their cells was proof enough for Boguet, and he sentenced all three family members to be burnt at the stake.

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The Legend of Count Estruch, Europe’s First Vampire Story

llers

Ruins of Castle Llers, the castle where Count Estruch was said to live.

The legend of Count Estruch is thought to be one of the first European vampire stories, if not the earliest that we know of. The story takes place in the 12th century, during the time of Muslim rule in southern Spain. King Alfonso II,  the king of Aragon in northeast Spain, was worried that pagans in the region of Emporda might ally themselves with his Muslim enemies. The King decided to send a war hero, a count named Guifredo Estruch, to christianize the region.

After being placed in local Llers Castle, Count Estruch set to work christianizing the pagans. Unfortunately, the Count was a very vicious man, and his method of “converting” consisted of murder, torture, and witch-hunts. The Count went on his blood-spree for quite some time, until he was assassinated by one of his own soldiers in 1173. The man, a captain named Benach, poisoned the Count and his daughter Nuria. Benach had wanted to marry Nuria, so his motivation presumably came from rejection, not any disgust with the Count’s hobby of killing pagans.

Still, others say that the Count died after being cursed by one of the many witches he ordered burnt to death. The day after the witch’s execution, Count Estruch found himself so sick that he couldn’t even get out of bed. He died a short time later, and his body went missing from the castle before it could be buried.

estruch

A picture of “Estruch,” a 1991 novel about the legend of Count Estruch. That note card over the book says, “The first vampire was Spanish, and he “lived” in a castle in the Pyrenees. Before Dracula, the Count Estruch terrorized the Iberians of the 12th century.”

After the Count’s death, dead cows started turning up around the castle, mutilated and drained of all their blood. The castle’s servants reported seeing their old master walking through the halls and rooms again, looking just as he was when he was a young man. Count Estruch had come back from the dead, and he haunted the people of Emporda, drinking their blood and stealing their women.

Whenever these abducted women would return, they’d come back pregnant. Nine months would pass, just like in a normal pregnancy, but their children would always come out as hideous monsters. These babies would never survive long, and most of them were born stillborn. Eventually, depending on who you ask, either an old nun or a Jewish hermit put an end to the Count’s terror by finding his hidden coffin and driving a stake into the vampire’s heart.

While Count Estruch might have died there, his story was passed down for hundreds of years among the people. Peasants warned their children of the Count, and women who delivered stillborn babies were said to have been seduced by him. Count Estruch terrified generations, but we can’t be sure how exactly true the story is. Nobody knows whether the Count was a real person, or whether he was just a legend. Unfortunately, Llers Castle was reduced to ruins during the Spanish Civil War, and all the historical documents about Count Estruch were destroyed or lost.

Some suggest that the story of Count Estruch might have originated with the persecution of the Cathars, a group of Gnostic Christians that were popular in southern France during medieval times. The Cathars were considered heretics, and were even burnt at the stake and massacred. Some of the Cathars fled for Spain, and “Estruch” might have come from the Occitan surname “Astruc.” I suppose we’ll never know for certain, but you’ve got to wonder how this story came from Spain of all places, a country not particularly known for its vampire lore.

 

 

The Gnome of Girona: A Real-life Smurf Hoax

The preserved remains of the Gnome of Girona. (Image credit/source here.)

The preserved remains of the Gnome of Girona. (Image credit/source here.)

Sometime in September 1989, two couples named Añaños and Pujals went camping in a forest near the Spanish city of Girona. While the four friends were barbecuing and listening to music on a cassette player, a strange creature suddenly walked out of the bushes. The “Gnome of Girona”, as it was later called in Spanish media, was a small rabbit-like creature that had glowing red eyes and bluish skin. Apparently attracted by the music, the Gnome walked up to the cassette player and stood as the campers watched.

When one of the men turned the music up, the creature let out a loud laugh like an old man’s, and tried to run away. To prevent its escape, the campers threw a blanket over it and placed the Gnome in a birdcage. It smelled like sarsaparilla and had very soft skin. Aside from three pieces of hair found on the back of its neck, the Gnome was hairless. Its height was measured at 12 centimeters (4.7 inches). It made no protest about being captured, but refused to eat. After four days in captivity, the creature died.

Drawing of the Gnome of Girona. (Image credit/source here.)

Drawing of the Gnome of Girona. (Image credit/source here.)

The campers decided to save the creature’s remains in a coffee jar filled with formaldehyde, and it was later sold to Angel Gordon, a Spanish parapsychologist. Gordon paraded the remains around the media, appearing on the Spanish TV shows Otra Dimensión (“Another Dimension”) and En los Límites de la Realidad (“In the Twilight Zone”). Some speculated that the creature was an alien, but Gordon himself said that it was an elf, the same sort from German folklore which inspired The Smurfs.

Gordon’s bizarre story attracted growing skepticism after he gave conflicting accounts of how the Gnome was found. He couldn’t specify where in the forest the campers saw the Gnome, and nobody could locate the campers either. (He could assumedly neither explain why anybody would go camping with a birdcage.) In 1991, pictures taken of the Gnome were examined by Dr. John Altschuler, an American pathologist interested in UFOs and cattle mutilations. Altschuler was not convinced that the remains were of an extraterrestrial origin, dismissing it as an animal fetus, possibly a cow or pig.

Angel Gordon displaying pictures of the Gnome of Gerona remains. (Image credit/source here.)

Angel Gordon displaying pictures of the Gnome of Gerona remains. (Image credit/source here.)

In a move to defend the Gnome, Gordon appeared on a Spanish TV show along with Dr. Luis Linares de Mula, a medical doctor and fellow parapsychologist. Mula claimed that the Gnome of Girona was an abnormal animal unknown to science. The campers who caught the Gnome, the Añaños and Pujals, also appeared on the show and gave a first-person account of the story.

Biologists from the Barcelona Zoo later investigated the Gnome and came to the conclusion that there was nothing extraordinary about it. Its legs, they noted, were underdeveloped and couldn’t possibly have been able to walk. The “Gnome”, in fact, was very likely a deformed three-month-old calf fetus.

Pictures of the Gnome of Gerona. (Image credit/source here.)

Pictures of the Gnome of Gerona. The remains have become yellowish over time. (Image credit/source here.)

Any hope that the Gnome of Girona really was a blue little elf was extinguished when a man named Manuel Tello came forward and told a different story about how the Gnome was found. According to Tello, one of his neighbors had found the Gnome dead while walking in the countryside. He thought it was a rabbit fetus, or possibly some rare animal. After Tello took some pictures of the thing, Angel showed up and bought it. Tello began to see Angel touring the media circuit with the camper story a few weeks later.

As another skeptic would later uncover, the Añaños and Pujals turned out to be actors hired to promote Gordon’s camper story. There are, of course, some believers who still insist that the Gnome of Girona is either an extraterrestrial/real-life Smurf/elf corpse or the fetus of an unidentified animal, but this story has been thoroughly debunked as a hoax.

The Wildman of China

A costume of the Yeren featured in the movie Big Trouble in Little China. (Image source credit here.)

A costume of the Yeren featured in the movie Big Trouble in Little China. (Image source/credit here.)

Accounts of Bigfoot-like creatures in China date back nearly 3,000 years. One of the best-known of these creatures in modern times is the yeren, or “Wildman”, in the central province of Hubei. The earliest report of a Wildman appears in a local chronicle of Hubei’s Fang County in the 17th century, where the author claimed that a large number of them could be found on Mt. Fang. There were hundreds of sightings of Wildmen in the 20th century, and people still report seeing them today.

The typical Wildman is described as being about 6 between 8 feet tall, and covered in long red hair, although Wildmen with black or white hair have also been reported. They stand upright like humans and have long, powerful limbs. They communicate by grunting, but are also capable of laughing and crying. There are records of encounters with male, female, and children Wildmen.

While the Wildman had long been known by peasants, scientists only began to take an interest in the creature’s existence in the latter half of the 20th century. In 1940, while traveling on a bus through the province of Gansu, a biologist named Wang Zelin found a group of “Wildman hunters” who had shot and killed a female Wildman and planned to take it to the county government. Wang described the corpse as being about 2 meters (6.5 feet) and covered in thick grayish-brown hair. The locals had said this Wildman had been living in the area the past month.

Drawing of a Yeren. (Picture source credit here.)

Drawing of a Yeren. (Picture source/credit here.)

In the early 1950s, a geologist named Fan Jingquan claimed to have seen two Wildmen in the province of Shanxi. Over a period of three days, Fan and a local guide twice observed a mother and baby Wildman in a forest outside of Baoji City. While the mother was cautious, the child was more than happy to interact with the two men, and it even took chestnuts from them. Fan’s guide told him that the Wildmen lived in a near-by cave, and often came to the forest during the autumn and winter seasons to pick chestnuts.

The first serious effort by scientists to investigate the Wildman occurred in Yunnan province in 1961, after a group of construction workers claimed to have found and shot one. China’s official Academy of Sciences could find nothing to corroborate the workers’ claims, and although there were more investigations over the next dozen years, nobody paid much attention again until a series of Wildman sightings in Hubei in 1976.

On May 14th of that year, six government officials were driving through the border area between Fang County and Shennongjia when they noticed an ape-like creature about 5 feet tall standing on the road. After almost running the creature over, five of the men got out of the car to take a better look at it. The creature did nothing but stare, and it walked back into the forest after one of the men threw a stone at its hip.

A hair sample allegedly from a Yeren. (Image source credit here.)

A hair sample allegedly from a Yeren. (Image source/credit here.)

Several weeks later, a peasant woman and her four-year-old son were walking up a mountain ridge when they saw a Wildman rubbing its back against a tree. Once the creature realized the woman was watching it, it took off chasing her. The woman ran for more than a mile before she looked back and saw that the creature was no longer on her trail. When the Chinese Academy of Sciences investigated the encounter a month later, they found primate-like hair in two different spots on the alleged tree where the creature was rubbing its back.

A third sighting had happened on October 18th. A schoolteacher and some of her students were picking fruit on a mountain when they saw a Wildman walk past them and up a hill. Several large-scale investigations were then launched in Hubei over the next couple of years, but none of the investigators found anything more than samples of hair, feces, and 18-inch footprints.

In January 1999, after decades of searching, the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced that the Wildman didn’t exist. Some scientists have suggested that reports of the creature are just confused sightings of primates like the golden monkey or the gibbon. Cryptozoologists, however, believe the Wildman could be a descendent of the Gigantopithecus, a sort of 10 foot ape that lived in Asia and went extinct more than 100,000 years ago.

The 6 Foot Tall Monkey on a Skateboard that Terrorized New Delhi in the Summer of 2001

Sketches of the monkey-man. Source: cryptomundo.com.

Sketches of the monkey-man. Source: cryptomundo.com.

In April 2001, three men in the Indian city of Ghaziabad reported being attacked by a monkey while they were asleep. While the first two attacks had happened while the victims were laying on their terraces outside, the third attack occurred in the inside of a building. As the attacks increased, the monkey took on a stranger appearance, with one woman claiming he had glowing light bulbs on his back. Panic broke out across the city, and when rumors began to spread that police had arrested a “monkey man” on April 10th, a crowd gathered in front of the police station and demanded to see it.

After only a month passed, sightings of the monkey-man spilled over into the near-by city of New Delhi. The creature seemed to prey entirely on the poor, visiting their neighborhoods late at night and mauling people who happened to be sleeping on their rooftops. Eyewitness descriptions varied widely, with some claiming that the monster was a four foot tall monkey covered in black fur, while others said it was a six foot tall monkey-like creature that wore clothing and had the face of a man. He had everything from an astronaut helmet to a skateboard to the ability to jump from roof to roof without leaving a single footprint behind.

Source: tribuneindia.com.

Source: tribuneindia.com.

Hysteria erupted whenever somebody shouted out that they saw the monkey-man. Three people, including a pregnant woman, died while attempting to escape him, and there were two other incidents in which angry mobs almost killed men suspected of being the monkey-man because one was four foot tall and the other carried a motorcycle helmet. Vigilante groups, feeling the police weren’t doing enough, patrolled the streets themselves.

The police, however, treated the existence of the monkey-man seriously, even releasing sketches of eyewitness reports. 3,000 officers were dispatched to the case, instructed to shoot-on-sight. A special task force was assembled and given special vehicles to pursue a monster that could allegedly run and jump at top speed. A reward of the equivalent of $1,000 was even offered to anybody who could help catch the monkey-man.

A Japanese monkey-man toy. Image source: mediacomtoytv.com.

A Japanese monkey-man toy. Image source: mediacomtoytv.com.

Meanwhile, Sanal Edamaruku of the Indian Rationalist Association began to investigate and interview witnesses. He found that many of the sightings were inconsistent, some portraying the monkey-man as a phantom monster, others as a sci-fi robot. The scratches and wounds on victims touted around the media as proof turned out to be small and non-serious, caused by mosquito bites and laying on traditional Indian beds. The victims he interviewed didn’t show signs of trauma, but of excitement. The monkey-man, as it soon emerged, was nothing more than mass hysteria.

The reports of sightings and attacks stopped as quickly as they started, and life in the city returned to normal by the end of the summer. A movie inspired by the incident, Delhi-6, was released in February 2009.

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