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Magnetised: A Conversation with Ricardo Melogno

The following text is the condensed result of over ninety hours of dialogue with Ricardo Melogno, recorded between November 2014 and December 2015. The conversations were much longer and more disparate, and the topics were covered with less continuity and greater chaos than in the current text. My edits respect the words of the interviewee while compressing, grouping and organising them chronologically and thematically, with the goal of providing structure to his story. I believe I have respected the concepts expounded by Ricardo, but I take full responsibility for any differences or mistakes arising from the editing process. C. B.

 

TURNING TOWARDS THE DARKNESS

 

‘I was told that someone saw you levitate.’

 

[Melogno furrows his brow, smiles with amusement.]

 

‘Who?’

 

‘Someone who knew you from Unit 20 and was convicted again. They brought him here and when he saw you, he asked to be kept as far away from you as possible. He said that you were evil, and that he had seen you levitate.’

 

‘Oh, I know who that is, ha ha… Well, you see, that kid’s real impressionable. Among other major issues he has.

 

Here’s the thing with me. Inside the prison, things pass from mouth to mouth and they start adding up. Over the years it’s sort of snowballed. Even now, when they send in the search parties (they’re not guards from here, but from the ‘regular’ prison, and they come every two or three months) they find the shrine in my cell with all the offerings and the candles, they say: ‘Old man, what are you into here? What’s all this strange stuff?’ But these guys are more modern these days, they ask more out of curiosity, not out of fear.

 

[On his left arm he has a tattoo with three symbols on top of each other: at the top is a 666, in the middle an inverted crucifix and on the bottom a reversed swastika. The line of symbols is flanked by two snakes writhing rampantly from left to right.]

 

‘Why the reversed swastika?’

 

‘The regular swastika, the one used by the Nazis, represents turning towards the sun, towards the light. So I got mine tattooed like this, turning towards the darkness.’

 

‘Who gave you this tattoo?’

 

‘I did it myself, watching my arm in a mirror.’

 

‘Why do you pray to the devil?’

 

‘Because I feel him.’

 

‘Doesn’t the devil inspire evil deeds?’

 

‘If that’s what I thought, I’d be a Christian. Evil comes from within
a person, not from religion. Just because someone has a dark side doesn’t necessarily mean they’re evil in their life. The idea that because I worship Satan, I must be a son of a bitch, is a Christian idea. It’s like saying that the youth has turned to shit because they listen to rock and roll. Youth turns to shit for a thousand other reasons, but not because of rock and roll.’

 

YOUTH TURNED TO SHIT

 

In September 1982, a series of brief, strange and almost restrained murders took place in the city of Buenos Aires. Over the course of one week, in an area spanning no more than a few blocks in the neighbourhood of Mataderos, the lifeless bodies of four taxi drivers were found. Each of the corpses appeared in the early hours of the morning, slumped forward in the front seats of their taxis, with a .22 calibre bullet hole in the right temple. The taxis were parked on dark corners, with their interior lights and engines switched off, and their headlights ablaze. There was no sign of robbery, although registration documents for the vehicles and ID for the victims were missing. Except for the last incident, the taxi meters all read zero.

 

Only three of the four murders made the news: on 24 September,
the La Razón, Crónica, La Prensa and Clarín newspapers laid out the discovery of the body of A. R. on the corner of Pola and Basualdo Streets in a few lines. Four days later, slightly more space was dedicated to the discovery of C. C., on the 1800 block of Oliden Street. The individual in question was not yet dead, but he was dying. He had a hole in his skull that was bleeding profusely, and in the end, he died on the way to the hospital. Following this second incident, the 42nd Precinct organised a sweeping operation, swarming Mataderos with their own officers as well as reinforcements from the Robbery and Assault, Crime Prevention and Investigations Units. Despite all this deployment, on 28 September the body of J. G. was found on the corner of Basualdo and Tapalqué streets, only 400 metres from the other bodies. Later, two more incidents (thwarted holdups of taxis) took place in the same area, in which the drivers received wounds from blunt objects but emerged relatively unscathed. One of the drivers gave a description of his attacker, which was mocked up into an identikit and disseminated through the newspapers and television.

 

Police were unable to shed light on the crimes. The only certainties gathered by the agents of order? That all the crimes were the work of a single individual, and that during the attacks, the perpetrator had not moved from the rear seat of the taxi.

 

The void left by the lack of progress in the investigation was filled, in the Buenos Aires media, with hypotheses of varying degrees of craziness: ‘We cannot rule out the possibility that this psychopath is a woman in disguise, with very short hair’; ‘The murderer might be a student attending night school who is mentally unstable and attacks taxi drivers after class’; ‘The maniac called the 42nd Precinct and vowed to attack again, insisting that nobody could stop him’; ‘The murderer is a psychopath with a complex personality, it is thought that he kills only on the corners of streets whose names have an even number of letters in them.’ Taxi drivers began attacking passengers they thought resembled the identikit. In several sweeps, the police detained over twenty ‘persons of interest’ who turned out to have nothing to do with the crimes.

 

On the morning of 15 October, a man presented himself at the Palace of Tribunals in the Federal Capital and asked to speak with the judge presiding over the case. He said he was coming to ‘clear his name’. The taxi murderer was his brother, who at that very moment was with their father, having breakfast in an apartment in Caballito. He offered to take the police there. He assured the judge that his brother was unarmed and that they would be able to arrest him without incident.

 

The mysterious murderer turned out to be twenty years old, and he looked completely different to the identikit. His name was Ricardo Luis Melogno.

 

During the judicial interrogation, the young man admitted to the three murders, but denied having committed the two attacks without fatalities. The surviving taxi drivers did not identify him as the culprit.

 

He confessed to another murder in Lomas del Mirador, close to Mataderos but on the other side of General Paz Avenue, outside the city limits of Buenos Aires. When the police from the Province of Buenos Aires were consulted, they confirmed that a taxi driver, with a surname of T—, had recently been found murdered in identical conditions to the previous three. In fact, those three weren’t previous but subsequent murders. Chronologically, that fourth crime was actually the first.

 

He confessed to another murder in Lomas del Mirador, close to Mataderos but on the other side of General Paz Avenue, outside the city limits of Buenos Aires. When the police from the Province of Buenos Aires were consulted, they confirmed that a taxi driver, with a surname of T—, had recently been found murdered in identical conditions to the previous three. In fact, those three weren’t previous but subsequent murders. Chronologically, that fourth crime was actually the first.

 

 

A PROBLEM INSIDE

 

Apparently, the suspect’s father was the first to find evidence, when he discovered the victims’ identity documents, which his son guarded jealously. While many minor details remain unknown, it’s clear that the anguished father asked for advice from his other son, and together they arrived at the conclusion that they should deliver Ricardo Luis to justice.

 

In the paternal home, a .22 calibre pistol was found.

 

Ricardo Luis Melogno was interrogated for six hours, during which time he readily confessed to the crimes and was examined by forensic doctors. Throughout the investigation he was observed to be calm, without ever showing signs of nerves. When he was asked why he committed the crimes, he refused to answer.

 

Neighbours in the area agreed on a description of the young man
as timid and withdrawn, who clearly concealed a horrifying tangle of feelings and impulses beneath a calm surface. They also said that Ricardo sometimes left the house in his military service uniform. He was discharged from the military, but had extra time added to his service as a punishment for having lost or stolen weapons of war on the grounds of the Villa Martelli Army Barracks, located on Avenida General Paz, between Tejar and Constituyentes Streets.

 

‘His father was well regarded in the neighbourhood, and concerning his mother, it was said that she lived at a different abode, apparently in a shantytown.

 

One neighbour, who did not wish to give his name, said that on occasions he had come across Ricardo acting strangely, standing still in one place, lost in his thoughts, his eyes fixed to the ground.’

 

Clarín, 17 October 1982

 

‘According to statements gathered, he is a strange young man, with obvious psychological problems. He was described as very shy and withdrawn, with few links to his neighbours, whom he mostly ignored, along with other young people of his own age. ‘He’s very taciturn, not the type to strike up conversation.’ For the last few months he had been living in a room at the back of his father’s house, detached from the main building.

 

His strange personality moved the magistrate assigned to the case to call for psychiatric and psychological examinations to be undertaken in the coming hours, to determine if Melogno’s mental characteristics are normal.’

 

La Razón, 18 October 1982

 

‘Throughout the interrogation Melogno responded in detail to questions asked by the judge, but he remained consistently mute whenever he was asked why he had committed the crimes. He never stole a dime. So what was the motive for the chilling executions? Silence was the only answer. There seem to be few concrete facts about his life. No one knows where to find his father or brother. It is as if the ground has swallowed them up. No relatives have come forward, nor anyone who can provide a photograph of Ricardo Luis Melogno. Where is the mother? That remains unknown. Just one more unanswered question to add to the many others that have prevented us from reconstructing the life of a murderer who is barely twenty years old.’

 

Revista Gente, the week after the arrest

 

‘Without admitting to friendship or regular contact, a neighbour indicated that he regularly spoke with Melogno, and that he didn’t seem like an imbalanced individual. “The only time I saw him looking strange was Wednesday, when we passed each other on the street. When I saw the desperate look on his face, I asked him what was wrong, and he said ‘I have a problem inside.’ But I have no idea what he meant by the word ‘inside.’”’

 

La Prensa, 18 October 1982

 

BAPTISED IN BLOOD

 

I had a dog, a Pomeranian crossed with something else, that I found in the street. I wanted to call her Benji (it was around the time the film Benji came out) but in the end she was called Juana, because my mother said: ‘She’s going to be called Juana.’ She used to call me ‘Juana’ as well. She called the three of us brothers ‘girls’. She accepted my bringing the dog home, but she treated her very poorly. She would beat the dog with the same stick she used to beat us. And that thing I told you about how all men are botched abortions? That came from one time when my mother was beating the dog and my eldest brother tried to defend her. That’s when my mother came out with it: all men are botched abortions.

 

Later, there was a cat, the poor thing… I was pretty nasty to that cat.

 

Because of all the problems I got into at school, at one point my mother sent me to live with this sort of boyfriend she had, who was a doorman at the Hotel Rawson. That’s the hotel I told you about where I went to see about jumping off the roof. That all happened when I was living there.

 

Why did she do that?

 

What?

 

Send you to live with someone else?

 

Because of all the shit around sending me to school. I think they knew each other through religion, the guy was a spiritualist too, someone from the same part of the countryside as her. Opposite the hotel there was a Catholic school, and the boyfriend sent me there during the week and I went home to my mother’s place on the weekends.

 

So, my mother brought this cat home. Then the cat began to take
my place. My mother had it castrated. The cat took my spot, the son of a bitch. So, whenever I went home, I would torture the cat as much as I could. I’d put it in the freezer. Or I’d grab it by the scruff of the neck, its legs dangling in the air, and then I’d pull its tongue while I yanked its head the other way. Things like that. The poor cat was terrified of me.

 

As soon as he saw me he’d dash off to hide on the roof. Afterwards he couldn’t get down, he’d climb the walls and stay up there mewling, and then the only way to get him down was with a ladder, a real fucking mess.

 

That’s when my mother put a collar on him, along with a leash, and at the end of the leash she attached a roller-bearing this big (Melogno makes a circle 20cm in diameter with his hands) so that he couldn’t get away. The cat spent his life dragging that heavy roller-bearing around. You’d know the cat was nearby from the sound of the roller-bearing being dragged along, or because he got tangled around the legs of the furniture. And imagine that, from all that time dragging the bearing along, the cat’s legs grew massive. He looked like some kind of beast.

 

I don’t know what happened afterwards to the cat. When I left home my mother gave the dog away. I know she went to a good home. But I don’t know what happened to the cat.

 

And where did that cat come from? Did she find it?

 

No, she bought it.

 

So, what you’re saying is, as soon as you left home, your mother bought a cat, had it castrated and then tied it to a roller-bearing that weighed two kilos?

 

Yeah. You see my mother had this sort of perverse obsession with ownership and control.

 

I wasn’t allowed to have friends, and no one could come and visit me either, because according to her, anyone from outside could hurt me. As I got a little older, I began to see a future where she was grooming me to be the submissive son who cares for her in her old age.

 

Once we were at my godmother’s place, an apartment in the city centre. She was a nurse at the Borda Hospital and she was a spiritualist too. The two old ladies went out, who knows what they were up to, and I was left with my godmother’s son, who must have been, let’s say, twenty-five years old. After a while a girl he works with came over, because they had something they had to do, a work thing, nothing strange. I just sat there in silence, without interfering, while they chatted. A few hours went by and the old ladies came back, and my godmother started asking her son who this girl was, why she was there. So he started explaining and then the old lady cut him off and said ‘I told you never to bring anyone here!’ Then she slapped him across the face. Right in front of the girl. This was a defining moment in my adolescence. I saw that and my immediate thought was: if this sucker is still getting slapped around at twenty-five years of age, what’s going to happen to me? And I said to myself: I’m getting out of here, no matter what.

 

To get free of my mother, I began to study Santería.

 

The thing is, when it came to my mother, apart from physical fear,
I also had this religious fear. I tried to gain knowledge in spiritualism to get one over on my mother. But even my mother’s spiritualist friends told me: ‘You’re crazy, you’ll never get anywhere like this.’ But there were others who had the clarity to tell me: ‘Look, we’ll set you on this other path and you’ll be fine.’ So, they sent me to Brazil and I entered into Santería. But I never did it because of faith, I did it as a tool to fight my mother. I needed strength to confront her.

 

How old were you around this time?

 

Thirteen, fourteen years old.

 

And how were these people connected to your mother?

 

They were friends through her religion, other spiritualists. There was some contact between spiritualism and Santería, they were two sides of the same coin, in certain respects.

 

Why did you have to go to Brazil?

 

Because there’s no Santería in Argentina. I spent nearly a month in Buzios. I went to meetings, I joined the cult. I was baptised in blood. I made ground.

 

What does ‘make ground’ mean?

 

Santería is not like those evangelical churches where you rock up, you say ‘I accept Jesus Christ’ and right there and then they dip you in the water to baptise you and it’s all done. With Santería, I spent several days in a completely dark room, spread out on the floor, to purify myself. In the initiation process for Santería it’s not the group of people who have to accept you. The spirits have to accept you: you are presented before them, and just as easily as they can accept you, they can also reject you, and bounce you off the walls. I was baptised in blood. They gave me my patron saints, the ones who would guide me and give me strength.

 

What type of blood was it?

 

Blood from a black rooster. They hold it above your head when they kill it, so the blood runs over you.

 

Do they give you a new name during the initiation?

 

No. They give you your patron saints. A spirit can accept you and help you, but if not, it can treat you really bad.

 

And who speaks to you?

 

The spirits take control of the pai, a kind of priest, and speak to you.

 

Did the spirits speak to you?

 

Yes. But I couldn’t understand a thing, it was some ancient language.

 

Does the trance produce any physical changes in a person?

 

Yes, that’s the most notable thing. The transformation is very obvious.

 

You see it and you realise that there’s something else right in front of you, the person being initiated is no longer the same. It’s very dramatic.

 

And how did you deal with all this? You were quite young.

 

The need and longing I felt was stronger than any fear. You do things for a reason. You don’t think about what you’re doing, you think about the end goal.

 

Santería, Umbanda, Voodoo and other religions were brought by slaves from Africa, and these slaves were depressed, they lived in captivity. So, you can guess they didn’t use their religion to bless the master’s crops. Religion was for self-defence and revenge.
For me it was quite special, because at that moment it gave me the strength to face up to my greatest fear. When I came back from Brazil, I was full of strength and it was just the little shove I needed to go to my mother and say: ‘That’s enough.’ I got home and the next day I told her. And then I left. Without any explanation, I told her I was leaving, and that was it.

 

And then afterwards, how did religion continue to affect your life?

 

It didn’t. I achieved my goal and I didn’t mess with religion again for a long time after that. I took it up again when I went to jail, more as a way of defending myself, of surviving.

 

Other people have said they saw darkness inside you. What did your mother think of that?

 

Nothing at all. To her I was a cockroach, a piece of garbage. But she saw nothing dark or negative in me.

 

One of the theories from the forensic medical team was that if I’d killed my mother, I never would have committed the crimes.

 

Do you think that’s true?

 

I don’t think so.

 

Did you ever fantasise about killing your mother?

 

No. Never.

 

When did you see her last?

 

When I was twenty years old. For some strange reason I went over to her house, and when I got there, she was with a boyfriend. She had started going out with an evangelical and they were going to get married. In a very formal manner, the guy asked me for my mother’s hand in marriage. A crazy idea like that could only have come from her. When I was arrested, my mother was on her honeymoon in Mar del Plata.

 

Do you ever wonder if she’s still alive today?

 

No. I don’t care. If one day I can have a life again, I want to start over, I don’t want to have anything to do with any of that. I don’t want family, I don’t want anything. I just want to be left alone.

 

KILLING CATS ON FRIDAYS

 

Very few people know about my history with religion. Well, those who’ve known me a long time know it all, but apart from that I keep quiet about the whole thing. I’m used to talking with psychiatrists and psychologists who see my beliefs as ‘strange religious ideations’. It’s just another thing they use to classify me, but still they classify me wrong. That’s why I try not to talk about it too much. Many of the employees of the Federal Penitentiary Service are Christians – most of them are evangelicals. So, when it comes to religion, they’re very firm about rejecting anything that’s not Christianity. Sometimes the evangelicals get to a terrifying level of evangelism. Those people are scary. Truly scary.

 

Religion here in prison? In the beginning I realised it could be used
as a defence, and I fooled around with it for a long time. It started out as a prison joke. In Caseros, I was the crazy kid, the joker of the cell block. One day another inmate came up to me with a tiny coffin, a pretty little thing, painted black. The guy had a hobby, he made little boats out of balsa wood. He came up to me with this coffin and said: ‘Look what I made for you, blah blah blah, this, that, the other thing… You wouldn’t have a pill, would you?’ That’s what we call a ‘prison rope:’ ‘You’re such a great guy, so smart, you’re the best, blah blah blah… You wouldn’t have some tomato sauce to cook with, would you?’ It’s a classic way to swipe things. And, well, I ended up with the coffin in my cell and I said to myself: I’m going to put a doll in it. So I made a little doll and put it in the coffin.

 

What did you make the doll out of?

 

Bread crumbs, toilet paper, and blood.

 

Whose blood?

 

Mine. I asked the guy to make me three more coffins, and in each of them I put a little doll with the name of my victims. In the cell there was a kind of metal shelf, so I put them all up there and made an altar. And that’s how I came up with something that helped protect me. I got lucky stumbling across these things, you know, like when you think school is just a pain in the arse and then all of a sudden the moment comes where you think: ‘Fuck, all that shit I learned and couldn’t care less about, now it’s become useful.’ If I, the evil maniac, make a little doll, execute it and hang it from the bars on the cell, then the doll protects me. At the very least, it scares or worries any guy who sees me do it. In Santería, altars and objects are often arranged so that they protect a doorway. Even people with garden gnomes know this. If you look, you’ll see garden gnomes are always guarding doors.

 

It’s survival.

 

Over time, this took off. First it was a couple of inmates who came along with little bits of paper: ‘Ricardo, can I leave this with your things, for a little favour I want to ask?’ One day we were in the prison yard at Caseros, the big yard. There were some windows that looked out onto the street, and we’d made some holes in the windows so you could pop your head out and speak with visitors, out there in the street. Someone said: ‘Che, a guy down there is asking for you,’ so I went down and there was another inmate, one who had left a little bit of paper in my cell and had then been released. He’d come to thank me, as if it was partly due to the paper on my altar that he’d got out. Two hours later, even the guards were leaving little papers on my altar.

 

There’s a lot of superstition in prison. One guy gets released, and straight away another guy wants to sleep in the bed the other guy just left behind. Because that guy got out.

 

What were the favours the guards asked for?

 

Mostly they had to do with love or relationships, and lots of favours relating to work: transfers, things like that. At that time the prison guards were savage people, from the interior of the country. There was a joke going around that said that to recruit guards, the Prison Service went out to the mountains in the Chaco, laid ten pairs of boots at the foot of a tree and shook it. Those who fell into the boots became officers, and those who didn’t, NCOs.

 

Perhaps I didn’t have that evil streak, or all that prison knowledge, but my cellmates certainly did. ‘Oh, the guards don’t go into the maniac’s cell, they’re afraid,’ they’d say. ‘Let’s leave our things in here…’ And the guys began to buy into that too, because it served them as well.

 

In the end there was a consensus that I truly was making these things happen. The inmates, and even the guards too, began to avoid coming into my cell. It was all nonsense, but during shakedowns they went through my altar without touching a thing. The guards had their own mean streak with each other. They’d always send the dumbest one to shakedown my cell: ‘Go to the maniac’s cell. Touch his things and your hands will fall off.’ That’s how the legend really took off: ‘Maniac, I had to touch your things, it’s my job, I did it respectfully, I didn’t break anything…’
People say that when I get angry I transform, the look on my face changes, my whole way of being changes. Mystics say I have a force that surrounds me, and they can see it.

 

Because they’re mystics?

 

Because they’re believers. Christians, or believers in some other faith. Believers I came across.

 

Once, a group of guys got together and began to prepare an escape. They had a gun smuggled in, a small 6.35 calibre pistol with ammunition, as well as a switchblade, and they were waiting for a few more things to arrive. During a routine inspection the bullets were discovered. The guards got nervous, and they began to search through the whole unit looking for the gun. They never found the gun, but they found the switchblade in my cell. There were five of us in the cell, and they put a lot of physical pressure on us during the interrogation, lots of abuse. When it was my turn, I decided on the fly to take responsibility for the switchblade. I said it was mine. They asked me why I had it and I said it was for religious use. ‘I use it on Fridays, to kill cats. In my religion we make blood sacrifices.’ Besides all that, it wasn’t a shiv made in prison, it was a real switchblade brought from the outside. It’s very difficult to get
a thing like that through security, so they asked me how I got it. ‘One of the guards got it for me. He was having trouble with his wife, and I did some couple’s therapy for him. In exchange I asked for the knife, because I needed it for the ceremony.’ ‘What’s the guard’s name?’ ‘I’m no snitch, why would I tell you his name?’ And so they confiscated the switchblade, but that was the end of the matter.

 

At that moment, when I made that declaration about the cats and
the sacrifices, it was to cover up something bigger, so the guards would leave it there and not delve any further. But there were consequences: the statement was passed up the chain and it ended up in my file. From then on, years would go by and forensic specialists would meet with me and say things like ‘How’s it going, Melogno, how’s the cat hunting going? Any sacrifices lately? Aren’t your buddies worried you’ll run out of cats one day?’ They’ve never forgotten about that.

 

Things went along like that until this one time, when I must have been thirty-two or thirty-three years old, and I had been sent to solitary in Unit 20. I had a massive religious experience there, in the sense that I realised that there really was something inside me, in a religious sense. It was something natural, that no one else had taught me…

 

Like what, for example?

 

Certain prayers that were deeply ingrained inside me. Or rituals, certain things that I would do at a given time. Little dolls, things that I would make and that worked… On a functional level, the defences I made worked very well in those spaces… So then the big question is WHY do they work…

 

And then I realised that there were things inside me that led me towards religion. Things like… well, they were already there. My mother never did Voodoo rituals, but I knew how to make Voodoo dolls. I said to myself: shit, how did I do that? Where did I get that from? It wasn’t something I’d learned.

 

I believe that with every reincarnation the soul takes a path that is either purifying or initiatory. I believe that my religious knowledge does not come from this life. I figure my life comes from beforehand, it’s a path I’ve been forging from previous lives, and that the soul preserves any knowledge you acquire. Some things are natural… My understanding, or my madness, makes me believe this.

 

So, at thirty-two or thirty-three years old, locked away in solitary
in Unit 20, I said to myself: I’ve been fooling and messing around with this stuff for so long. Either I embrace it, accept it and live it seriously, or I let it go. What I mean is it seemed like what I’d been doing up to that point was just deceiving myself through faith and deceiving faith itself. I decided to respect faith, and take it seriously.

 

Religion isn’t about a person who has some kind of existential desire. It’s something you already have, something you carry inside you from before. Not because you search for it, but because you’ve already found it.

 

KING IN HELL

 

When did the Devil come into your religious practice?

 

Santería is difficult to explain. It involves earth spirits and light spirits. The earth spirits are what in Christianity you’d call devils, many of them lived on Earth at one time, and so their evil is of this world, the deceit of this world. There are candomblés (songs) from the Quimbanda religion that name Pomba Gira as Lucifer’s wife. Pomba Gira has seven personalities, as does Tranca Rua. Pomba Gira is a spirit commonly used for protection by those involved in prostitution, and by transvestites, the same way that criminals have Saint Death or Tranca Rua, the spirit who opens pathways. Tranca Rua is the lord of all roads, he is always in cemeteries, he handles souls. Just like Saint Death, they are pagan saints who intermediate between the living and the spirits.

 

Well, for me… I never sought intermediaries, I don’t have a spirit who connects me to something higher. I would go straight to the source. With my beliefs I didn’t want to fall into the sort of mysticism my mother practised at the time.

 

I don’t see the devil as an evil being. I would say that the word ‘devil’ has been demonised. I see the devil more as a powerful being who helps those who believe in him.

 

Christianity is a religion driven by fear. I accept Lucifer because
he preferred to be a king in hell rather than a slave in heaven. Perhaps though… in my day-to-day, my normal behaviour, my way of thinking… Perhaps I’m more of a Christian than anything else. But that doesn’t mean that Lucifer rejects me. Your own faith is one thing, and what others expect from you is quite another. For me religion is one thing, and my behaviour is another. I don’t mix them.

 

In fact, in all these years, I’ve had lots of dealings with Christians. I had a Christian sponsor, a sponsor from Cáritas who came especially to see me. The people from Cáritas who came to Unit 20 brought alfajores, cigarettes, yerba maté, cakes, soda, soap… They knew that everyone in Unit 20 was considered a pariah, and that a lot of us went hungry, and so they tried to improve that. When we were moved here they stopped coming, because the guards steal everything: the food, the nice soda.

 

Thanks to this sponsor from Cáritas I have a very special trophy. In my religious ceremonies I use a cup for certain things, for certain offerings. For the ceremony, it’s important that the cup be made of metal.

 

And for the very last Mass they held in Unit 20, before they closed it, Cáritas brought along Cardinal Bergoglio [now Pope Francis]. Several TV channels came too. My sponsor introduced me to Bergoglio, we spoke for a while, and then he gave me the chalice he had used to celebrate Mass.

 

He gave it to you for your ceremonies? I mean, did he know what you were going to use it for?

 

Yeah, he gave it to me so I could use it in my ceremonies. My sponsor had told him what I used to get up to, I don’t know… but Bergoglio gave it to me all the same.

 

So what you’re saying is, you have the Pope’s chalice and you use it to praise Lucifer and other spirits?

 

Yeah. It’s a cup in the form of a chalice, very simple, unornamented.

 

Can you describe the look on Bergoglio’s face while you were chatting and he started to realise that you prayed to the Devil?
Oh, it wasn’t like that at all, he was very chilled… He’s from the Franciscan order, he’s not a regular priest. It’s a different way of thinking. I respect him because he’s very respectful in the way he treats others. And there’s that time he washed the feet of all the nutcases. He picked out the worst nutcases we had, people who were completely destroyed. It’s not like they rounded up the best ones for a little ceremony. The guy went and found the worst of them.

 

When I pray, more than anything I give thanks. It’s like going to a psychologist, you get a problem out in the open to work on it better. Although I live here in this shit, I have an anchor that helps me with the day-to-day, that gives me strength, peace and serenity to go on, and I’m thankful for that.

 

I’m not one for invocations, because I don’t think that prison is the place for that. It’s a very dark place. All of the energy in this place is evil; it’s a place of madness, pain and suffering. If you invoke something here, you’ll only bring suffering, the darkest thing in these surroundings. So I make no invocations. I give thanks and I pray, but I don’t make invocations. I’ve had many cellmates who fool around in here: ‘Hey, let’s play the game with the cup…’ And things like that. No. Not even as a joke in here.

 

Outside, in a temple, I’d celebrate the proper days, I’d make the proper offerings of drinks, with the correct mix. In here, because I don’t have the right things nor the opportunity to go to the right place to do it, I offer what I have and what I can. And perhaps my offerings are more impassioned and truer than those I could make on the outside. If I spend a week without smoking so that I can offer cigarettes, or I give up eating something that is very important to me, like a chocolate that is very difficult
to get hold of, it’s an offering of my sacrifice. I’m giving something that is very difficult to obtain, because in here whatever I offer has great value.

 

I offer up something that it hurts to be without. What’s more, it’s something I see the whole time, because it’s sitting there on the altar all day, right in front of me.

 

What happens to the offerings? Do they stay there on the altar?

 

The altar gets cleaned once a month. When I was in Unit 20 I could burn the offerings, that was possible. Here, unfortunately, there’s nowhere to burn anything, so I throw them away. Anyway, I use lots of packaged things, because the altar is in my cell, next to my bed, and it’d be crawling with bugs… In the outside world, offerings are left in town squares, on the ground, beneath trees.

 

Speaking of your altar… What about using documents to protect against the souls of your victims? Do you still do that?

 

No, I don’t do that anymore. I can’t remember the photos of the people I killed. I don’t recall ever having seen their faces. Their spirits never came to bother me or demand anything from me.
At this stage, there’s only one thing I’m going to try to take care of. Not in terms of my thoughts, but… well, the thing is, to try… not to hurt anyone with my memories.

 

What do you mean by that?

 

[Melogno reflects for a few seconds]

 

The victims had families. You understand what I’m saying, right? I don’t want to offend those people.

 

Did you ever hear anything from any of the families?

 

No. But just in case, I want to be very clear. Beyond all the excuses, all the… not excuses, the mitigating factors that there might be in my case… I did commit those murders.

 

Are you making a sort of moral evaluation about it all?

 

There’s no evaluation, these are facts.

 

In terms of reincarnation, have you ever thought you might come across those taxi drivers? Have you ever fantasised about that?

 

We will all meet again at some point. So the answer is yes. It’s not something I fantasise about, it’s something that is definitely going to happen. But I also believe that there will be no judgement on the other side, because those men are already living other lives. And that goes for me too – after I die, I’ll be someone else. In every reincarnation you come across the same people… that’s why when you have a strange affinity with someone, often it’s because… The thing is, the person who is your lover today, in the next reincarnation, they could be your brother. Or your butcher.

 

STATISTICALLY UNUSUAL

 

[M.R. is a psychiatrist. She treated Ricardo for seven years in Unit 20 of the Borda Hospital.]

 

Weird how?

 

He doesn’t seem like a serial killer.

 

Were you expecting someone in a leather mask, carrying a chainsaw?

 

Maybe not that exactly, but… he seems more like a pencil pusher than a serial killer.

 

Haha, it’s not a bad image, the poor guy…

 

Is he, in fact, a serial killer?

 

Considering there were four murders, that the victims and methodology follow a specific pattern, and that there is a certain spacing between incidents… You could say the answer is yes. But, going by what Ricardo has said, one important element that defines a serial killer is missing, and that’s the period where the homicidal impulse between crimes recedes. He speaks of an inertia, a slightly more continuous impulse.

 

Apart from that, with serial killings, generally there are elements that evolve from murder to murder. ‘Series’ means a succession of terms that vary from a fixed base. There’s a fixed element, but this element evolves in some aspects. In this case, rather than a series, it’s more like the same crime repeated four times, almost identically.

 

For me, this almost falls outside the existing classifications for multiple homicides. Of course, these definitions are poor as well, because the studies are made from a very small sample space. Very strange people, very unusual in statistical terms. In a normal distribution of the total population, murderers we might deem ‘irrational’, those who don’t kill for pedestrian reasons like jealousy or money, are right at the end of the curve. It’s a tiny population in numerical terms. And Ricardo… Well, I’d say if you put together a Gaussian distribution that only featured irrational murderers, Ricardo would be on the extreme of that curve too. He’s a very unusual person, even when considered within a population of unusual people.

 

What makes him so unusual?

 

First, there’s the series of contradictory diagnoses across the years. They’ve been contradictory and they’ve never quite described him fully. Second, there’s the lack of motive for his actions, and the impossibility

 

of inferring them. His lack of deterioration is also noteworthy. Nearly every diagnosis he’s been given implies functional deterioration over time, which he doesn’t show. Every diagnosis except psychopathy.

 

Is he a psychopath?

 

Personally, having treated him for several years, I don’t think so.
In terms of concrete behaviour, he’s not a predator, he’s not a parasite.

 

He has a certain degree of empathy – I’ve seen him become upset hearing about the circumstances of others, I’ve seen him help out. If a psychopath talks to you, it’s to use you, or because they want to enjoy something they’re about to do to you. That’s not the case with Ricardo. He’s not manipulative, he’s not a liar. He tells you what’s going on, and often he’ll tell you things that don’t work in his favour. My interpretation of this is that he’s on the autism spectrum. He responds in concrete terms. You ask him something and he answers. He understands things literally, and he kind of responds literally to whatever you ask him. In fact, he makes an effort to find an answer.

 

So why is there this diagnosis of psychopathy?

 

When they found no delirious responses, when they failed to see him in a psychotic state (he doesn’t rant or rave, or speak incoherently) some medical professionals took this to mean he was a psychopath. He’s intelligent, if that’s something that can be associated with psychopaths. And that’s where the fact that he’s respectful and on good terms with prison staff comes in. Sometimes psychiatrists see this as a sign of psychopathic adaptation, but that’s a very weak argument.

 

The last time he was diagnosed with psychopathy in the courts in the Province of Buenos Aires was relatively recently, just when the courts in the City of Buenos Aires lifted their safety restrictions on him and he could begin to ask for supervised excursions. Then the Province declared he had a contracted illness. For them Ricardo had been normal all this time, conscious and responsible for his actions.

 

An illness contracted from what?

 

From his time in prison. An illness he theoretically contracted in prison, and which prevents him from leaving. In other words, according to them, he recently acquired, as an adult, an illness (psychopathy), which in fact is not an illness, it’s a stable condition that doesn’t change. They diagnosed him with it out of fear, because they were going to have to let him out, and they were too afraid to sign off on his release.

 

There is one very notable thing, no small matter, which is his lack of injuries in prison. It’s very strange, and I must stress VERY strange, for an individual to have suffered no wounds from fighting with other inmates in over thirty-five years of jail time.

 

What is the likelihood that he would have continued killing if he hadn’t been arrested?

 

That’s controversial… There are people who say he’d already stopped, that it had been over two weeks since his last murder when they locked him up. I have my reservations about that. If someone has a psychotic break, it’s difficult for them to come back without medication, without confinement. There’s a common saying in psychiatry: walls (of the hospital, or the prison) hold things in. They hold in everything a patient’s head can’t. A psychiatrist and a psychologist are also a kind of confinement,
a dike for the mental structures that are falling down, that become blurred and confuse reality with fantasy.

 

Is he still dangerous?

 

He’s stable. He’s not a violent person and he hasn’t shown any predatory behaviour in over thirty years. I don’t think he’d do what he did again, given the same circumstances. Of course, he is still capable of killing, but by now the probability that he would kill would be about the same as for you or me. Have you ever seriously fantasised about killing someone?

 

Of course.

 

Good. Me too. And I’ll tell you something else: when I say I fantasise about killing, I’m talking about killing a specific, actual person. A person with a first and last name. Someone I know very well. Twice a month I go to a shooting range. I’m no crack shot, but I make do, I can group my shots together tightly. Every time I go, I use up two boxes of bullets. And each time I pull the trigger, I’m thinking of that person. Now, I’m not actually planning to physically kill them when I do this. But each time I shoot at a target, in my mind I’m shooting that person right in the head. Four boxes of .22 calibre bullets every month. If we look at the facts, Ricardo committed four murders, and I’ve committed none. But in the current situation, it’s possible I’m more dangerous than he is. And yet here we are, chatting away.

 

ELECTRICITY AND MAGNETISM

 

September 1982. The dead of night, at a dark crossroads in Lomas del Mirador. On one of the four corners, there’s a taxi parked a few centimetres away from the sidewalk. Inside the car, for a brief moment, the passage of time has somehow come to a halt.

 

The taxi driver is dead. There’s a bullet in his head and his body
is slumped in the front seat, leaning towards the passenger side. At the edge of the scene, in the back seat, a young man around twenty years old holds a .22 calibre pistol that’s still smoking. He’s paralysed with terror: he has just discovered that he is being observed. From the rear-view mirror, strange eyes stare at him intensely.

 

While this instant remains frozen in time, a correspondence is produced between these two gazes. On the watery film covering the eyes watching him from the mirror, he is reflected dark and convex
in the interior of the taxi. In miniature, above the centre of the pupils, you can see the face of the young passenger who stares on, hypnotised, at the rear-view mirror, like a deer caught in headlights that shatter the darkness of the night. If you could zoom into the pupils on his face, once more you would see the reflection of those eyes watching him from the rear-view mirror. Inside the eyes, the young man’s face again, and so on: one image inside another image, a series of reflections opposing one another. Reality itself shrivelling away.


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ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

was born in Presidencia Roque Sáenz Peña, Chaco, Argentina, in 1970 and lives in Buenos Aires. His first novel, Under This Terrible Sun, was a finalist for the 2008 Herralde Prize and later adapted for film (El Otro Hermano, Adrian Caetano, 2017).

SAMUEL RUTTER is a writer and translator from Melbourne, Australia. He has translated several works of fiction from authors including Selva Almada, Hernán Ronsino, and Sònia Hernández.

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