Now, the events: On April 18, 1922, near midnight, Mr. Mateo Banks reports something terrible at the police station of Azul: that day, in both estancias, he had witnessed scenes that shocked him. He had found his siblings Miguel, Dionisio, and María Ana dead-shot; his sister-in-law Julia Dillon and his niece Cecilia. Sara, his other niece, was missing and his niece Ana and María Ercilia Gaitán, the daughter of a worker, had survived but were intoxicated. He had miraculously survived as, being attacked, he killed Gaitán and wounded another worker, Loiza. Banks accused Gaitán and Loiza of being the murderers.

The Chief of police Luis Bidonde arrested Banks preventively, even when at first he was no suspect. Everybody in the village knew him as a serious and right man. Banks told the judge, Gualberto Illescas, his version. He said that, after having lunch with his brother Dionisio at "La Buena Suerte," he went to their other property. On arriving, his sister had told him they had not been able to eat as the meal tasted oddly and children had an awful stomach ache. He went back to the other estancia and found a similar problem. So he suspected of Gaitán, who had been dismissed that day. He thought the worker had taken revenge. Banks then put the blame on Gaitán for trying to poison his family helped by Loiza. Banks also claimed that Loiza fired at his left foot. Then, Banks said, he found the dead and the intoxicated girls.

The police found evidence against Banks sayings. According to inquiries, Mr. Mateo Banks had bought strychnine at Rettes' pharmacy on April 1. The following 12 he bought a rifle and a week before the slaughtering he registered, in the municipality of Azul, several sale certificates in his favor with his brother Dionisio's forged signature. Almost 1,500 heads of cattle would be Mateo's. The police also got his confession, but before the judge Banks declared himself innocent and said no word. He was found guilty because, among other reasons, the shot that perforated his boot never wounded his foot.

The following is the police's version. Mr. Mateo Banks, who run the two estancias, had many debts because his property "Los Pinos" had financial difficulties. So he tried to pay them off with the family's cattle. When one of his brothers discovered this, he tried to explained that he was looking for a better selling price. But the whole family still suspected. Then Banks decided to poison everybody. But they realized that there was something wrong and, except for some intoxication cases, they had survived. Therefore, Banks decided to kill all possible witnesses in case they met and discover him.

The trial was long. The first sentence was appealed. Finally, on June 14, 1924, the Excelentísima Cámara de Apelaciones (an Appellate Court) of the province of Buenos Aires sentenced him to life imprisonment. From then on, he lived in the prisons of La Plata, Ushuaia, and that on La Heras St. He was known as the "lonely old man" as he did not make friends with other convicts whom he looked down on. On June 10, 1944, after a report from the director of the prison, he was set free on parole. A few days later, he died in a bath tub in a boarding house in the Federal Capital. The reporter Aníbal del Rié mentions Banks in his book about the prison of Ushuaia, which he visited in 1932. He says Banks was 1.80 in height and weighted about 100 kilograms. "His face is impassive. Emotion, sorrow and interior uneasiness he does not show." As Banks was 60, he was not allowed to work, so he spent most of his time knelt down praying in a loud voice as if in ecstasy. He had made a rosary with buttons that he always carried. Below is the dialogue that the journalist had with Banks in 1932.

"I'm innocent," he says, "I was unfairly sentenced; I haven't killed. Judges don't know what they have done. I've said it a thousand times, but they paid no attention. Now -says Banks- I have fulfilled my obligation to the Creator and myself. I pray and the Creator knows I'm innocent, and I've written my memories so that mankind will know after my death that I was unfairly sentenced. They are written in one thousand and two hundred pages. -One thousand and two hundred pages? -Yes. The whole background and circumstances of what the world considers my crime are there. -Do you keep them in your cell? -No. They are in the prisoners works' file. They will be read after my death. -But you are healthy, strong; you have many years ahead. -Yes, fortunately. Sometimes I think that the Argentine Zolá will appear and convince judges so that I'm released. I'm as innocent as Dreyfus was. God knows it's true. I will have had my own Devil's Island. For Aníbal del Rié, "Banks' cynicism causes sickness. It is innate.

As you must remember, when arrested, a few days after the crime, he pretended so skillfully to be innocent that for a long time his guiltiness was in doubt. Anyway, he sentenced himself." "When inquired for the last time he tried to convince the indictor that he was wrong and that the murder had been carried out by a murderers' gang by pointing at his left foot and saying: -Here is the proof of my risking my life in saving my family's. I kept it for the last moment. I didn't want people to say I was boasting about having defended them." "In the boot a whole as one produced by a shot could be seen. While he cried tearfully, he took off his boot and it became clear that the boot was perforated on both sides... but his foot had not been wounded at all."

(Extracted from the book "El Presidio de Ushuaia", Lic. Carlos Pedro Vairo. Pág. 138)

 

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