In 1889 two Spanish maids, Higinia
Balaguer and her accomplice
Dolores Avila were condemned of
robbery and murder. Dolores
became desparate when she
received her 18 years of prison, but
Higinia seemed calm when she was
sentenced to die in the garrote.
Higinia was 28 years old, quite tall
and despite her somewhat hard
features, she had a savage
attractiveness about her.
Higinia had a prominent chin, thin
lips and expressive eyes.
According to Spanish custom
Higinia spend the last 24 hours of
her life in a chapel. There she was
received by a score of monks who
wore the black cowl and white
cross of the Hermandad de Puzy
Caridad Brotherhood. This
brotherhood had ever since the
middle age softened the final hours.
The night before Higinia's execution it was necessarely to give her a tranquelizer. When she was calm, she
was offered a last meal. Higinia chose vermicelli soup (a pasta soup), hake (fish) and sour cherries in
syrup. After dinner she tried to sleep, but she couldn't.
On july 19, 1890 at 4.00 a.m. it was time for Higinia to "go to the pole". The scaffold had been prepared
the night before and was already waiting for her.
Higinia seemed already half dead when the executioner presented himself to claim his victim. According to
the ritual the executioner Francisco Zamora knelt before Higinia to request her forgiveness: "Pardon me so
that God pardons you". Higinia granted his request crying bitterly.
He then proceeded to pinion her arms and legs with fine whip cord and slipped over her head the sinister
black cloth robe and a hood worn by the condemned criminal on the way to the scaffold. Two monks
thereupon led Higinia out of the chapel, and supported her across a large courtyard and up the steps of the
platform where the garrote stood.
The wast yard was crowded by 10,000 spectators in gay-holiday attire who whiled away the interval
before the execution by hurling curses at the executioner. Although neither strange nor unprecedented this
occurence almost paralyzed the man while preparing for his disagreeable task. The unfortunate woman
took her place in the seat of the horrible machine of death, and immediately the iron collar was adjusted
around her neck.
Higinia shouted her last words: "Dolores, 14.000 duros" (1 duro = 5 pasetas).
The executioner gave three rapid turns to the lever, and his official act was completed. Among those
nearest to the scaffold the sound emitted by the lips of the woman were plainly heard. Higinia's head
moved from side to side, and a well-defined movement of every part of her body was observed. In about
a minute the motion of the head had ceased, but the tremor-like movement of the body continued for a
short time afterward. Then the head fell slightly to one side and was still.
The horrible death of the murderer did not seem to produce any revulsion of feeling in the hearts of the
spectators, but when the handkerchief covering her face was removed a cry of horror and disgust arose
from the crowd. Women fainted away, children screamed, and men started aghast. Higinia's face was
hideously distorted by strangulation in it's most awful form, and her tongue protruded from her purple
lips. Yet during the ten hours for which the body remained exposed to the public, almost every inhabitant
of this city came to have a look at it - and it was a bright summer's day in Madrid.
In the dead of the night the monks of Hermandad carried away the body, which, clothed in a nun's garb,
was interred in a corner of the cementary devoted to the burial of criminals. On the next day a mass was
celebrated for the repose of her soul, at which the judges who had pronounced her death sentence, the
prison officials and the executioner were present.
The editor of El País described Higinia: "She has a delicate
complexion, graceful stature, fine complexion, beautiful hands,
small feet, pale white skin and black hair."