Final hours of Spanish poet Federico García Lorca revealed

Historian claims to know who made up Franco's execution squad and where they buried the poet during Spain's civil war

One of the great mysteries of Spain's recent history may have been solved by a local historian from the southern city of Granada, who claims to have found the real grave of the executed playwright and poet Federico García Lorca.

Miguel Caballero Pérez spent three years sifting through police and military archives to piece together the last 13 hours of the life of the author of Blood Wedding, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba, who was shot by a right-wing firing squad early in the Spanish civil war.

He now claims to have identified the half-dozen career policemen and volunteers who formed the firing squad that shot Lorca and three other prisoners, as well as the burial site. And he blames Lorca's death on the long-running political and business rivalry between some of Granada's wealthiest families – including his father's own García clan.

"I decided to research archive material rather than gather more oral testimony because that is where the existing confusion comes from – with so many supposed witnesses inventing things," explained Caballero, who has published his results in a Spanish book called The Last 13 Hours of García Lorca.

Caballero said his original intention had been to verify information gathered in the 1960s by a Spanish journalist, Eduardo Molina Fajardo, who was also a member of the far-right Falange organisation that supported the dictator General Francisco Franco.

"Because of his own political stance, Molina Fajardo had access to people who were happy to tell him the truth," said Caballero. "The archives bear out most of what he said, so it is reasonable to suppose he was also right about the place Lorca was buried."

That spot was said to be a trench dug by someone seeking water in an area of open countryside near a farm called Cortijo de Gazpacho, between the villages of Viznar and Alfacar. The zone is only half a kilometre from the spot identified by historian Ian Gibson in 1971 – which was controversially dug up in 2009, but where no bones were found.

"The new place makes sense because it is far enough from the villages to be out of eyesight and earshot, but you can also get there by car – as they would have needed headlights to shoot people at night," said Caballero. Caballero took a water diviner to the area, who employed the same divining technique using a twig that was common in Lorca's time. He detected a possible underwater stream. "It is reasonable, then, to suppose that someone might have dug a trench here looking for streams just below the surface," said Caballero.

An archaeologist, Javier Navarro, has identified a dip in the ground that could indicate a grave. "It is by no means unreasonable to think there is a grave there," said Navarro, who has found half a dozen civil war mass graves in other parts of Spain. "It would be very easy to find out. You only have to scrape away about 40cm of topsoil for an experienced archaeologist to say if the earth has been dug up before."

The half dozen men who formed the firing squad shot hundreds of suspected leftwingers in the summer of 1936, with Lorca just one of them. They were given a bonus of 500 pesetas and promoted as a reward for carrying out the dirty work of the nationalist forces of the future dictator, Franco. "I call them the 'executioners' rather than the 'murderers' because, while some were volunteers, others were career policemen who risked being shot themselves if they refused," said Caballero. One was said to have complained that the job "was driving him mad". Some of the squad probably did not even know who Lorca was. "These were not the sort of people who read poetry. Lorca's work was largely read by the elites," he said. "They would have been more interested in the two anarchists shot with him, who had a reputation for being very dangerous." But both the firing squad commander, a stern 53-year-old policeman called Mariano Ajenjo, and a volunteer member called Antonio Benavides – who was a relative of the first wife of Lorca's father – would have known who he was. "I gave that fat-head a shot in the head," Benavides reportedly boasted later.

The rightwing Roldán family, political rivals of Lorca's father, had persuaded the city's pro-Franco authorities to arrest and shoot the poet. A member of the Roldán clan, Benavides, formed part of the firing squad. One of his cousins was the model for a rogue character in The House of Bernardo Alba, finished a few months earlier, in which Lorca deliberately took aim at the rival Alba family. "They were angry with the father and took their revenge on the son," said Caballero.

Apart from Benavides, none of the firing squad seemed proud of what they had done. "They didn't speak to their families about all this. They are remembered as loving grandfathers who were silent about the civil war," said Caballero.

Contributor

Giles Tremlett in Madrid

The GuardianTramp

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