The garotte.


The garotte (or garrotte) was the standard civilian method of execution in Spain. It was introduced in 1812/13, at the beginning of the reign of Ferdinand VII, to replace the crude form of hanging previously used. At least 736 people, including 16 women, were executed in Spain in the 19th century.  It is not clear how complete earlier records are and even modern ones are somewhat patchy.

Some 96 people, including two women, were garotted between 1900 and 1935 with a further 110 men and three women being put to death in the post Civil War period.  Executions also took place by shooting during this period and Spain’s last executions were by firing squad.  Shooting was more commonly handed down by military tribunals, however, it is unclear why people were shot for civilian murders.  Most 20th century executions were for murder or terrorist related crimes, although banditry remained a capital crime, certainly into the 1950’s.

Sixty five men and two women were executed by garotte between 1950 and 1974 in various parts of Spain, including one man in Las Palmas on Grand Canaria.  All of these suffered either for murder, banditry or major acts of terrorism.  Eleven men were executed by firing squad in the same period.

Garotting appears to have developed from the early Chinese form of execution known as the bow-string. The criminal was tied to an upright post with two holes bored in it through which the ends of a cord from a long bow were passed and pulled tight round the neck by the executioner until the condemned strangled.  In the Spanish version, the prisoner was seated on top of a short post with his back to the main post and a rope loop was placed round his neck and around the post. The executioner twisted a stick inserted in the loop to tighten the rope and strangle the prisoner.
As in most countries, a more humane method of execution was sought and various improvements to the garotte were made.
The next form of garotte comprised a wooden stool on which the prisoner sat with his back to the post (pictured). In some later instances a strong wooden chair was used.  The condemned was strapped at the wrists, arms, waist and legs and the hinged iron collar closed around their neck. A heavy screw operated by a handle or a weighted lever connected to a spike or a small star shaped blade ran through the post. When the screw/lever mechanism was operated, the blade entered the criminal's neck and severed the spinal column, in an attempt to ensure that the prisoner did not strangle to death.

In some versions, two brass collars were used. One collar was attached to the lever whilst the other was fixed to the post. Both collars were hinged to admit the prisoner's neck. When all preparations were complete, the executioner operated the mechanism forcing one collar outwards whilst the other remained stationary thus, if correctly adjusted, dislocating the prisoner's neck and causing immediate unconsciousness followed by death. (As in modern hanging). Click here for a photo of a 20th century garrotting in

An execution by garotting of a robber named Jose de Roxas in Mexico in the early 1800's was witnessed and described by journalist, Richard Ford, as follows: The condemned man mounted the platform and was seated on a short post with his back to a strong upright post. The executioner fastened the iron collar round his neck. When all was ready, he took the lever in both hands and at the pre-arranged signal, turned the lever so drawing the collar tight whilst his assistant threw a black cloth over Roxas's face.
A convulsive pressure of the hands and a heaving of the chest were the only visible signs of the passing of the robber's spirit. After a pause of a few seconds, the executioner peeped behind the cloth and after giving another turn to the screw, removed the cloth. The dead man was slightly convulsed, the mouth open and the eyeballs were turned into their sockets.
This description is very similar to those of executions carried out by hanging at the same period.  In most cases, the prisoner lost consciousness quite quickly and was dead after a few minutes. Garotting, even in its later forms, could never guarantee an instant loss of consciousness and was never considered to be as quick or humane as hanging.

The first woman to be garotted was Juana Rivero in Madrid on the 3rd of November 1824 for robbery.  Twenty seven year old Mariana Pineda became the first woman to suffer for treason when she was executed on the 26th of May 1831 in Andalusia. Mariana had embroidered a flag with the words, "Equality, Liberty, Law." The flag was burned in front of her while she was being executed. It was reported that the spike of the garotte pierced her neck and protruded through her mouth. Afterwards, as customary, her body was taken away, stripped naked (the clothes went to charity), wrapped in a bedsheet, and placed in a cheap pine coffin for burial.  Twenty eight year old Higinia Balaguer, a Spanish maid, became the last woman to suffer public garrotting when she was executed on July the 19th, 1890 at 4.00 a.m., for her part in a robbery murder.  Her execution took place before several thousand spectators at the “Field of the Guards” in Madrid.  The actual garotte was mounted on the platform of scaffold about five feet high, reached by seven steps.  Public execution ended in Spain with the garrotting of Lluis Más and three others, on the 4th of May 1897 in Barcelona.  Silvestre Lluis became the first to suffer in private when he was garotted in Barcelona for a murder on the 15th of June 1897.
The last female garrotting took place on
May the 19th, 1959, that of 28 year old Pilar Prades Expósito Santamaria, who was executed in Valencia for the murder by poisoning, of her employer, Doña Adela Pascual Camps, on the 18th of May 1955.  She was put to death by Snr. A. López Guerra. All three female post Civil War executions were for poisoning, the other two being 23 year old María Domínguez Martínez, who had also poisoned her employer and was executed on the 23rd of May 1949 in Huelva and Teresa Gómez Rubio who suffered on the 16th of February 1954 in Valencia for three murders committed in 1940/1.

Garotting was last used on the 2nd of March 1974, when two men were executed on the same day. Salvador Puig Antich was put to death in Barcelona, by A. López Guerra, for the shooting of a police officer during a robbery the previous year and Heinz Chez suffered in Tarragona, at the hands of J. Monero Renomo, for the terrorist murder of a Civil Guard Lieutenant.  The garotte used for Antich’s execution is now on display in the Fundación Camilo José Cela, in Iria Flavia.
I am told that the last Spanish executions (in 1975) could not use this method because of a bureaucratic problem. At this time in
Spain, there was only one executioner, and the condemned were in three different cities, Madrid, Barcelona and Burgos. Thus they were carried out by firing squad on the 27th of September 1975 when five men were shot for terrorist related murders (two female accomplices were reprieved).  Three of the men were shot in Madrid: they were 24 year old José Humberto Francisco Baena Alonso, 27 year old Ramón García Sanz and 21 year old José Luis Sánchez-Bravo Sollas, all of whom had murdered policemen in 1975.  Twenty one year old Juan Paredes Manotas was shot in Barcelona for a similar crime, while 33 year old Angel Otaegui Echevarría was executed in Burgos. Capital punishment was effectively abolished in 1978.
The garotte was used in Spanish colonies, e.g.
Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. It also was the official method for ordinary criminals in Portugal up to abolition in 1867.

With special thanks to my friend Christian Schrepper for allowing me to publish the results of his research into Spanish executions.

Click here for a unique listing of Spanish executions since 1812.

Back to Contents page Listing of Spanish executions from 1812.