La Quintrala: Flaming Redhead Serial Killer Evaded Capture
In the world’s history of aristocracy, abuse of power was always a distinct possibility, and quite a few female landowners built up a macabre reputation based on torture, imprisonment, and abuse. In Imperial Russia there was Darya Saltykova. In Hungary, the notorious Countess Báthory. In North America, there was Madame Blanque. And a woman of equally ill repute left her own mark on Chile - Catalina de los Ríos y Lisperguer – better known as La Quintrala.
The infamous La Quintrala (who received the nickname for her flaming red hair) was an aristocrat in colonial Chile whose deeds instilled terror and obedience among her servants. Widely recognized as one of the earliest documented female serial killers, her name is still a synonym for cruelty and abuse.
17th century depiction of La Quintrala. Catalina de Los Ríos y Lisperguer. (Public Domain)
A Macabre Prelude: The Origins of La Quintrala - Catalina de los Ríos y Lisperguer
The story of one of the most enigmatic and notorious figures of Chilean history, Catalina de los Ríos y Lisperguer, takes us back to the 1600’s in Chile – the territory of the then Spanish Empire - a turbulent time full of inter-ethnic conflicts and the Spaniards’ struggle for influence.
Catalina de los Ríos y Lisperguer, as was her full name, was born in 1604 in Santiago. She was the daughter of a wealthy, land owning family. Both her parents were influential Chilean nobles of the time, but drawing diverse lineages, which was common for such a multiethnic country.
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Her father was Gonzalo de los Ríos y Encio – a Spanish nobleman and a wealthy landowner in the fertile La Ligua valley. He was also a ranking general – maestre de campo – and three time mayor of Santiago.
Her mother was Catalina Lisperguer y Flores, the daughter of a German nobleman from Wurttemberg, cited as Pedro Lisperguer (possibly Peter Lissperg). She also traced her lineage to Bartholomeus Blumenthal Welzer, the first German in Chile. But more importantly, La Quintrala had Inca heritage on her mother’s side.
As she was of mixed descent herself – a descendant of Germans, Spaniards, and the Incas – La Quintrala symbolized the future identity of Chile. But what made her so infamous? To understand her actions, we must mention the deeds of the women in her family that came before her. In fact, the Lisperguer name has had quite a turbulent history and a strong link to murder.
The first such occurrence relates to her mother and her aunt, the two sisters Catalina and María. In 1601, just a few years before the birth of La Quintrala, they would jointly attempt to poison the Governor Alonso de Riberia. The man survived this attempt and María Lisperguer was charged with attempted murder – and subsequently exiled to Peru.
La Quintrala’s mother and aunt attempted to poison Governor Alonso de Riberia. (Public Domain)
But La Quintrala’s mother didn’t stop there. She went on to marry the rich heir to La Ligua and Longotoma - Gonzalo de los Ríos – and promptly murdered his first daughter in secrecy. She also murdered an indigenous person who uncovered her attempt to poison Gonzalo with various herbs.
This short history gives us some insight into the nature of the Lisperguer family and tells us that La Quintrala may have had a “natural” tendency towards murder – it flowed through her veins.
The Earliest Victims
And in that very same way, Catalina – La Quintrala – entered into the pages of history. The first mention of her relates to the murder of her father Gonzalo de los Ríos in 1622. Only 18 years old at the time, the young Catalina de los Ríos y Lisperguer was accused by her aunt of having poisoned a meal of chicken which she then gave to her father, murdering him.
Subsequently the charges were dropped, most likely through familial ties or a lack of evidence. But this grim occurrence suggests that murder for La Quintrala was more than a result of circumstance – it was inherited and compulsive.
With her parents dead, La Quintrala was left in the charge of her grandmother, who promptly went on to arrange a suitable marriage for the girl, in a futile attempt to change her cruel nature. Four years later, Catalina was married to a wealthy Spanish colonel and landowner. Together they had a son, Gonzalo, but the child died eight years later.
Interestingly enough, La Quintrala doesn’t seem to have hated her husband, even though he obviously knew about her macabre tendencies, and perhaps even joined in. In fact, the historian Mackenna reports that she held her husband in high regard, though she never loved him.
A 1942 illustration by Quemch of La Quintrala abusing a slave. (Public Domain)
As time progressed, La Quintrala’s murderous urges came to the surface. Several grim accounts are attributed in various sources to Catalina, some dating even before her marriage. The first is the murder of a prominent Santiago nobleman, whom she stabbed to death in her own bed after a short affair. The murder was blamed on a slave from her plantation and the innocent man was executed in Santiago’s main square.
Another tale relates to Enrique Enríquez de Guzmán, a knight of the Maltese Order, who survived a murder attempt by La Quintrala and told his story to a friar. The vicious woman stabbed him with deadly intent over some petty argument, but the man managed to flee.
Similar cases are also reported, mostly relating to La Quintrala’s lovers. But some are unrelated, such as the attempted murder of Don Juan de la Fuente Loarte, a respected vicar.
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La Quintrala tried to kill Don Juan de la Fuente Loarte, a respected vicar. (Public Domain)
Her Blood Calls for Murder
Catalina’s husband died in 1650, and in the years before that they managed to acquire a good deal of land, owning several sprawling plantations and increasing their wealth considerably. They lived mostly at their plantation in La Ligua, where most of La Quintrala’s crimes are reported to have occurred.
In fact, she reportedly openly tormented and murdered the slaves on her plantation – they were whipped often and severely, persecuted, and even killed. She is confirmed to have killed a black slave named Ñatucón Jetón, whose body was then exposed for two whole weeks. Officials that came to inquire about this were openly attacked or bribed.
The situation became so dire that the slaves revolted, escaping into the mountains to avoid further torment. But due to Catalina’s influence and wealth, she organized a pursuit that successfully captured the escapees. Once returned they were tried by La Quintrala herself, and received cruel and unusual punishments.
In 1634, after numerous and repeated accusations against her cruelty, the Bishop Salcedo requested a full investigation be carried out. The Royal Court sent Francisco Millán to question the slaves of the plantation in private, without the presence of Catalina de los Ríos and those close to her. Once the accusations proved to be wholly true and substantiated, the judge Juan de la Peña Salazar ordered the arrest of La Quintrala, and she was moved to Santiago to be tried.
17th century depiction of La Quintrala. Catalina de Los Ríos y Lisperguer. (Public Domain)
The entire process was thoroughly slowed by several officials involved, all of whom were bribed by Catalina. Still, an accusation surfaced which had 40 murders attributed to Catalina de los Ríos y Lisperguer, plus the numerous torments and scourges, all of which had been proven.
But even so, no official sentence was given - due to her influence, wealth, and rampant bribery, La Quintrala was released.
The Last Years and Penitence of Catalina de los Ríos
A new trial emerged decades after, in 1662, at the insistence of officials who demanded to know the extent of the crimes she committed. Catalina de los Ríos was getting old by that time, and her health began deteriorating rapidly. She died in 1665. Whether or not La Quintrala showed any repentance for her deeds we will never know.
But in her will and testament from 1662 she bequeathed large sums of money to ensure masses for both her soul and the souls of people who were close to her. Perhaps that was her attempt to save her soul from purgatory, which was a common belief at the time.
Allegedly, she invested 20,000 pesos for 20,000 masses to be sung. She also bequeathed 6,000 pesos to the figure of the Lord of Agony, also known as the Christ of May, whose figure can still be seen in the San Augustin church in Santiago. She was 61 at the time of her death, which was quite old for 1600’s, and her funeral was lavish and full of pomp and ceremony.
The Cristo de Mayo in the San Agustín Church. (Kallme/CC BY SA 3.0)
The macabre and grim story of Catalina de los Ríos y Lisperguer remains to date an enigmatic subject in Chile and the rest of the world. Her life and her infamous deeds have been adapted into numerous novels, movies, TV shows, and theater plays.
But it also gives us a glimpse into the history of Chile in the 17th century and consolidates many established facts. In that era, Chile was considered a relatively poor and dangerous distant corner of the Spanish Empire, and this was not too far from truth. It contained several distinct ethnicities: the Criollos, those of near-full Spanish heritage, the Mestizos, of combined indigenous and European heritage, the indigenous people, the Africans, and the Peninsulars, a.k.a. the Spanish people.
These ethnicities were not equal and the Spaniards ruled over everyone else. It was also an unstable time of war between Spain and the Mapuches.
With all this considered, and with the largely Spanish-German heritage of Catalina de los Ríos, we can paint a picture of how possible it was for her to mistreat, torment, and outright murder her slaves, who were all black or indigenous. And it was wealth that protected her and those like her.
The plantations were crucial for the economy of the Governorate of Chile and La Quintrala’s plantations were many and prosperous. And that may explain why her crimes were never truly brought to justice. Simply because her wealth and her plantations were too important for the coffers of the Spanish Empire.
La Quintrala’s Infamy
La Quintrala, even though she was born only a few years before the death of Countess Bathory, and half a world away, still shared a lot of traits with her. Their cruelty, the inherent urge to kill and torment, and the magnanimity of their rule over those of lesser status, all show us glimpses into the minds of people born with the desire to kill.
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Her crimes never fully brought to light, and her victims never properly named, but Catalina de los Ríos y Lisperguer will go down in history as one of the cruelest female murderers, and one of the earliest serial killers.
Her cold-blooded and often unwarranted murders hint at a pathological urge, which provides much insight into the workings of a killer’s mind. But the signs of remorse and fear she showed before her death, with a sudden adherence to the church and the Order of St. Augustine and large sums donated to the church, do not wash away the awfulness of her crimes.
And it is these very crimes that place La Quintrala shoulder to shoulder with some of the world’s deadliest women.
Top Image: La Quintrala serial killer evades capture Source: kharchenkoirina / Adobe Stock
Carpenter V. 2007. A World Torn Apart: Representations of Violence in Latin American Narrative. Peter Lang AG.
Collier S.; Sater F. W. 2004. A History of Chile, 1808-2002. Cambridge University Press.
MacKenna, V. B. 1877. Los Lisperguer y La Quintrala. Valparaiso, Columbia University Library.
Unknown author. 2007. Catalina de los Ríos y Lisperguer: 1604-1665. Enciclopedia Escolar Icarito. [Online] Available at: https://web.archive.org/web/20070116173227/http://icarito.aconcagua1.copesa.cl/biografias/1600-1810/bios/riosylisperguer.htm
Unknown Author. Historia de Chile: Biografías. Catalina de los Ríos y Lisperguer: 1604-1665. Biografía de Chile. [Online] Available at: http://www.biografiadechile.cl/detalle.php?IdContenido=82&IdCategoria=8&IdArea=28&status=&TituloPagina=Historia%20de%20Chile