The true story of ‘The Beasts: this was the sinister rural crime that shook Galicia

The premiere of ‘The Beasts’ has consecrated Rodrigo Sorogoyen as one of the strongest narrators in current cinema, picking up the baton from Carlos Saura, Pedro Olea, Mario Camus and Jose Luis Borau to make a portrait of black Spain that also is capable of analyzing the rural situation of a country that has abandoned those who have decided not to leave it abandoned.

The film has been an international success and is now in Spanish theaters, but it has not been spared from some controversy in the networks, around the description of the inhabitants of small towns in Galicia as opposed to a glorification of a “cultured” foreigner. A sterile debate since all the script does is fairly faithfully recreate the development behind a fairly recent true crime , with practically identical subjects.

The setting is the Galician parish of Santa Eulalia, known as Santoalla, it is located in the municipality of Petin, which has around 1,000 people in its approximately 30 square kilometers. There he recruited Margo Verfondern, a Dutch woman who moved to the town with her boyfriend, Martin , in the late 1990s after growing tired of city life near Amsterdam.

A dream of self-management truncated

Margo and Martin were something of the epitome of modern naturalistic hippies, idealists seeking to live off the land in a direct and natural way, and who embarked on a two-year journey across Europe in search of an unspoilt place to carry out his dream. In the year 2000 they found that place in an abandoned ruin that they rebuilt and where they began to cultivate the land and raise cattle. The first two years were very happy. His only neighbors were members of the Rodriguez family.

The family had lived there all their lives and they did not like their new neighbors, preventing them from building in 2002. The relationship turned cold and unpleasant in 2008, due to a conflict related to the money from a logging project in the communal pine forest that issued the council. When Martin took his neighbors to court to get paid, they stopped talking. The Rodriguez family wants to maintain their isolationist status quo.

The patriarch, Manolo, is 80 years old and spends most of his time in the family home just above the Verfondern property, but his wife, Jovita, is still directly involved in cultivating the land, which is in charge of his son, Julio. The fear and anger that the Rodriguez feel is increasing after reaching a critical point when the conflict worsened when they learned that there was a project to install a wind farm on the mountain , with 25 wind turbines that would bring benefits of 6,000 euros each.

Chronicle of a threatened death

For the Rodriguez it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and in December 2009 the Court of Ourense confirmed the rights for which the Dutch neighbor was fighting, but he never ceased to be aware that, with this claim, he was putting himself at risk his existence. Martin Verfondern had also denounced his neighbors several times in court and in the Civil Guard for threats , he had recorded them on video and published them on the internet. In one of the last he even said: ” If they kill me, it will have been Juan Carlos .”

Tragedy strikes in January 2010, when Martin goes into town for supplies and neither he nor his car turn up again. The police conduct a negligent search and investigation and speak only briefly with the logical suspects until Verfondern’s remains were found, in the middle of a bonfire, in As Touzas da Azoreira. The vermin had devoured the thorax and no ribs or vertebrae were found to reveal to the coroner the type of ammunition used. The corpse spent four and a half years, out in the open , and in June 2014 only 13% of its skeleton remained.

At that time, Julio was the real suspect, but it was the youngest of the family who inadvertently gave himself away . Carlos, in a relaxed chat, told two plainclothes civil guards, laughing, that he came from home with a hot head and his chip was turned on by a silly discussion of traffic, avoiding the idea of ​​an ambush that appears in the film:

“I have 500 cartridges in the bush. I didn’t fail with the automatic. The Dutchman came in the car like a madman. I took the shotgun. Boom, boom! I hid. And let them look for me.”

The confession of the Rodriguez

This happened on January 19, 2010, while Jovita Gonzalez was busy at home with the slaughter, Juan Carlos stopped tying the chorizos, and went for a walk in the frosty morning with his shotgun, and at noon he met Verfondern on the road, who He was in his old Chevrolet Blazer running errands in big towns. Julio Rodriguez arrived at the village with his tractor loaded with grass. The Dutchman’s car was found turned on and with the driver’s window down , with the victim on the seats.

He understood that his family had a problem, and instead of calling the ambulance, he decided to make the evidence of the crime disappear, taking the car and the body 19 kilometers away, to the loneliest place he knew. There he climbed up a firebreak and pushed the 95 kilogram body of his neighbor onto a sloping lot filled with young pine trees. The prosecutor reduced Carlos’s crime from murder to homicide because his “slight mental retardation” did not prevent him from having “malice” and distinguishing “good from evil”, but it incapacitates him to premeditate.

The hatred instilled by the Galician family, day after day, year after year, in the defendant. ” They heated his head so much that he shot the Dutchman to please his father and his brother ” according to the order, for which he was sentenced to ten years and six months in prison, and to compensate the widow of his victim with 50,000 euros . The popular jury determined that Julio had acted as a cover-up, but his relationship saved him from a criminal conviction.

The widow returned to Santoalla do Monte, where she continued to live alone, with her dogs, cats, and goats. Her animals live with those of Julio Rodriguez , with whom she maintains a respectful relationship, on the mountain that started the hatred of the family, whose two patriarchs have died. The murderer left with permits after five years in jail. There is a documentary on the case called ‘Santoalla’ (2016) that includes the recordings of Verfondern and all the details about the disappearance.