Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public.
”Francisco drives over his wife of 26 years five times.”
Name: Encarnación Rubio Molinero
Murdered: Aged 46
It is a quiet morning in the residential area of Cúllar Vega on the outskirts of Granada. At just after ten o’clock, 46-year-old Encarnación Rubio Molinero opens the iron gate which separates her small courtyard from the street and steps out onto the pavement to begin the day’s cleaning. She is still wearing her wedding ring.
Encarnación likes her work. She loves just having a job. When she has finished cleaning the street she will need to hurry back to her two-storey house and sit down in the room upstairs. Her sewing machine is in the bay window, and waiting on the table is a flamenco dress which she is making for a customer but which she still has to finish.
At the moment she is working more hours than ever. Her daughters are used to their mother always being busy with her hands. They have grown up with the clattering of the sewing machines, which can sometimes be heard all through the night, but for the last few months their mother’s working hours have been even longer than usual and they know the reason why: it is all the grief. First their brother’s death in a road accident. Then the time when their father actually tried to kill her for real, by running her over. That’s when her daughters managed to persuade her, they begged her to report it to the police, and the judge issued a protection order.
Just over two months have passed since then. Her daughters have already started worrying that their mother will find being on her own difficult. That she will regret her decision. Encarnación herself says nothing, she just keeps working. She is efficient. Soon she is several blocks away from her home and sweeping a street that goes up a hill, dressed in her working clothes of dark blue trousers and a grey sweater. She is standing at a corner with her back to the road when an Opel Corsa appears over the brow of the hill and drives straight at her.
Encarnación started working when she was fourteen, and met her husband, Francisco Jimenez Ucida, who was the same age, when she was eighteen. They were introduced by friends. The couple had three children. The oldest daughter, Sonia, recalls that violence was always present at home. She was five years old when her father lifted her up with his hands round her neck and held her outside the window on the third floor. She remembers the fear, and the entire episode, but not the reason.
“But there didn’t actually have to be a reason. Our father was never a father-figure, he was just a violent man who was in our home, but who never showed us any love.”
The violence was an everyday occurrence, it was ‘normal’, but at the same time it was secret and invisible.
As a girl, Sonia never spoke to her mother about her father’s violence. The violence was an everyday occurrence, it was ‘normal’, but at the same time it was secret and invisible. Sonia and her younger sister Sandra saw how their mother shut herself in her room sometimes; they could hear her crying through the door, but they never heard her complain. They rarely saw any sign of injury. He usually beat her on her arms and legs.
“But my mother never confided in anyone and the question is, who would have helped her? I don’t think the family would have wanted to get involved.”
She knew very little about how her mother felt, virtually nothing. She did not know that on one occasion, Encarnación wanted to go away by herself, just for a day or two, and asked some other women for advice. Encarnación had grown up at a time when a woman could be charged by the police for leaving the home without her husband’s permission, so that was a hard thing for her to do. The trip never took place.
It’s wrong for women to think they have to put up with this because of their children.
When Sonia was older she tried to get Encarnación to react. She nagged, pleaded. It’s wrong for women to think they have to put up with this because of their children, was one of the arguments she used on her mother. No child wants that. A mother must keep well herself if the children are to be well.
But Encarnación still would not say anything.
Once Sonia persuaded her to go to a psychologist, who asked questions. Sonia answered for her mother. It was as if Encarnación would not allow herself to have her own feelings, as if she had shut herself off, a stranger to her inner landscape.
“She didn’t dare to live,” says Sonia. “She never wanted to do anything fun, and she hardly ever went out to a restaurant. She just wanted to work.”
She never wanted to do anything fun, and she hardly ever went out to a restaurant. She just wanted to work.
When Encarnación was sewing, she was passionate. When it came to flamenco dresses, she was both brave and hard-working. Her customers were loyal; they knew they could trust Encarnación, she had ideas for styles and about what colours to choose and she always finished her dresses on time. She even opened her own shop, and for the money she made she bought a pretty little house on a pleasant street.
She lived there for just over a year.
Encarnación worked harder than ever during the last year of her life. She had four sewing machines set up in the workroom overlooking the road and there were nights when she did not sleep. This meant she had very little contact with Francisco, who had developed MS and spent most of his time lying on the sofa.
Life had become even harder for Encarnación, who in the autumn had lost her only son in a road accident. The traffic police came round with the gold chain the boy wore round his neck. Encarnación wanted to keep it as a memory, but it disappeared from the house. One day she saw the chain gleaming round her husband’s neck, and she tried to take it, but he beat her off with his stick.
And she was scared, this time for real.
One day in January 2004 when Encarnación came home from work, she could not get into the house. The lock had been filled with glue. Standing on the street outside, she only saw the car driving straight at her at high speed at the last minute, and only just managed to get out of the way by the skin of her teeth. She recognised the car and saw who was sitting behind the wheel.
And she was scared, this time for real.
She told Sonia, who, with the help of a neighbour who was a police officer, tried to persuade Encarnación to make a police report. Enough was enough! Now did she understand how dangerous he was? The judge imposed a protection order. Francisco was not allowed to come within 100 metres of his wife, she was granted custody of their younger daughter Sandra and a court order forcing her husband to move out.
Encarnación returned to her home accompanied by a police officer and checked that he really had moved out and that he was not there. But they saw a large dog waiting in the courtyard. There was a pair of binoculars there too. And a gun.
She had two months left to live.
She had two months left to live.
No-one knows if Encarnación saw the TV programme about Ana Orantes, but she almost certainly knew her story. There was a huge scandal in Spain in 1997 when 60-year-old Ana spoke on Spanish television about how she had been trying for years to get the authorities to protect her from against her ex-husband’s violence. The court refused to grant her a protection order.
Some weeks later, Ana Orantes’ husband beat her for the last time, before he pushed her over the balcony, poured petrol over her body and set it alight. The news shocked the country, there were public protests and the law was tightened up.
You could say that Encarnación benefited from what happened to Ana Orantes, because people listened to her, and she was granted a protection order. But no-one believes that she ever felt safe during the last two months of her life.
One night, just ten days after the court ruling on the protection order, Francisco managed to get into the house in Cúllar Vega, using builders’ scaffolding. The local police who took him away stated in their report that he was under the influence of drugs and lying on one of the sofas.
Under the law, a court can imprison a man temporarily if the breach of a protection order is confirmed by two sources (in this case the police and Encarnación herself), but this did not happen. Encarnación refused. She told her lawyer that she did not want to see the father of her children sent to prison.
My aunt saw my father driving round the house, and she called the police but they said they couldn’t do anything. They said no blood had been shed.
The court maintains they could have given Encarnación better protection if they had had more information from the police. The police, in turn, say that if the court had informed them of the danger Encarnación was deemed to be in, they would have been able to do something.
“But the question is what would have helped,” says Sonia. “My aunt saw my father driving round the house, and she called the police but they said they couldn’t do anything. They said no blood had been shed.”
As lunchtime approaches, it starts to get hot even though it’s only March. Encarnación is not alone on the street as she sweeps. An elderly man on his way to Granada is waiting at the bus stop a little way up the road and two men are sitting in a van, and they all see the Opel drive straight at the woman on the corner of the road. They see how the woman’s body is thrown against the stone wall and lands in a sitting position, and the elderly man hurries across the road to try and help her to her feet.
Then Francisco puts the car into reverse and drives over her again. And again. The elderly man who is helping her is also struck hard. A lorry appears. The driver realises what is happening and tries to block the road, but his vehicle is heavy and awkward and the small car light and easy to manoeuvre. Francisco drives over his wife of 26 years five times.
At the same time, 31 March 2004, their daughter Sonia is expecting her first child, and is ten weeks into her pregnancy. Like most first-time mothers she is anxious, and on this particular morning she has borrowed her mother’s car to go to the doctor for reassurance.
She is surprised when a relative knocks on the door and says there has been an accident at her mother’s. Sonia is in the bathroom. But how can something have happened to her mother, she’s just been there to return the car?
On the way to her mother’s house for the second time that morning Sonia begins to realise that it is not an accident she is going to be met by. It is only a short journey, they live close to each other and just seconds later she sees the place and the commotion on the hill and she knows what has happened even before she hears the screams of the neighbours: He’s killed her, he’s killed her.
Just over an hour after the murder, Francisco went to the police station and told them that he had run over his wife. That evening he tells a doctor that he has run over his wife and feels ill. Two days later in court he is unable to remember anything that happened all that day, except that he was driving his car and the windscreen shattered.
The terrible thing is that no-one in the village wants to talk about the murder.
Francisco was sentenced to six years imprisonment for the attempted murder of his neighbour, five years for possession of a firearm, and eighteen years for murder. After two years in prison he died from complications after a urine infection.
“The terrible thing is that no-one in the village wants to talk about the murder,” says Maria Asuncion Perez Cotarelo, a left-wing politician who works with gender equality questions in the municipality, when we meet seven years later on a hot afternoon at one of the town’s pretty, small cafés.
She knew Encarnación slightly, through a neighbour who is Maria’s friend. Once she received a hint of what was happening; the neighbour asked her advice about a woman who had a problem with a violent husband; what rights would she have if she had to leave him?
Maria did not hear any more about Encarnación until the 31st of March 2004. She was on her way to the post office when she received a call on her mobile phone to say that a woman had been killed. She drove to the scene and saw a man who had to be pulled away by the police when he refused to give up his futile attempts at resuscitation. The young psychologist who was already on the scene was unable to deal with the grief of the relatives, and Maria decided she was needed.
“And Sonia and I became friends,” she says, “although in the village, they say I’m just looking for an opportunity to get noticed as a politician!”
In the last few years she has seen the change in the small town of Cúllar Vega with its seven thousand inhabitants, where twenty years ago no-one talked about violence in the home. It was normal.
“At the same time, it’s a sensitive question, no-one wants the village to be known as a place where women are murdered. Talking about violence against women in such a small community also means delving into people’s consciences.”
She says that they are trying to work in the schools to talk about gender roles and discuss what being a man means. They discuss the media, how women are portrayed, and how they can be given an active role in news events, not as now mostly being described as the passive victim.
We see that women who are murdered have never previously reported violence.
So is the situation for women in Spain getting better?
“No,” answers Maria quickly. “Yes, some good things are being done, but the statistics tell a different story. We see that women who are murdered have never previously reported violence. We don’t have equality, but when more women go out to work and dare to get a divorce, the men lose their power. That’s when the frustration starts.”
Encarnación was the first woman to be murdered in Spain after her husband had been served with a protection order. That suggests flaws in the judicial system. But there is another problem, which Sonia has begun to discuss in public, and that is the way the families of the victims have been let down. She now has huge debts because, as a result of a lawyer’s negligence, she has inherited the debts of her brother, mother and father. She also had to take over the debt for damages to the man who was run over when he tried to help Encarnación. In addtion, Sonia inherited the debts for the murder weapon, her father’s Opel Corsa. And on top of that, his relatives are demanding money from her for her father’s funeral.
She knew he was dangerous, that she had to leave him, but she didn’t have time to get ready.
The total debt, including legal fees, comes to 180,000 euros. She shows us a thick file containing bills she will never be able to pay. Sonia also shows us a hidden secret. In a drawer in the guest room is her mother’s handbag. No-one knows that she has kept it, and that she takes it out to look at the lipsticks. Encarnación was a beautiful woman, perhaps she did not realise it herself, and she would never have admitted it. But Sonia likes to look at the colours and remember her mother’s mouth. Encarnación liked wearing lipstick.
“I think my mother was in love with my father until the day she died,” says Sonia. “She knew he was dangerous, that she had to leave him, but she didn’t have time to get ready. She died wearing her wedding ring.”
Maternal deaths: 6 deaths per 100,000 births.
Number of children/woman: 1.47
Abortion legislation: Right to abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy
Law against rape within marriage: Yes
Violence against women in close relationships: 400 incidents of violence against women are reported each day. 73 women were killed by their partner/husband during 2010.