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.

Photos:
the drawing is a version of Goya’s ‘2 May
1808’
celebrating the people of Madrid’s resistance to the Napoleonic
invasion, slightly amended to suggest Lorca’s facial features in the figure of the
martyr. The painting is in the Prado of course and I think I got the drawing
from an article about Lorca in the ABC newspaper, twenty years ago.

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