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On the 22nd of February 1979, residents of an apartment building in Monserrat, Buenos Aires, noticed a putrid smell coming from Lelia Formisano de Ayala’s apartment. She was a widow in her late forties who lived alone. Neighbours knocked on the door, but no one answered, so they called the police.
When the officers arrived, they recognised the unmistakable smell of death. They couldn’t get in through the front door, so made their way inside via her balcony instead. The apartment was quiet, and nothing looked out of place. Lelia’s body was seated in a chair facing the television, that was on. On a side table were a cup with some left-over tea and a plate with morsels of fish. In her fridge, police officers found a container of petit fours, a tea-time favourite among the socialite set of the time.
Lelia had died three days before, and the funeral home’s doctor declared that the cause of death was a heart attack. It was a sad and tragic event, Lelia dying alone in front of her TV and waiting to be discovered for days…
Her friends felt terrible – they were still in shock about losing another friend, Nilda Gamba – who had strangely also suffered a heart attack ten days before. Like Lelia, Nilda also died in her home, alone. What were the odds…
When a third woman from the same circle of friends collapsed on the stairwell of her apartment building – police could no longer ignore the possibility that the three deaths were connected. They uncovered a crime that caused ripples in Buenos Aires’ high society and remained one of the country’s most talked-about cases. This is the story of the Poisoner of Monserrat.
Bernardina Maria Mercedes Aponte Murano Bolla, known as Yiya, was born on the 20th of May 1930 in Corrientes. Corrientes is a city north of Buenos Aires, on the banks of the Paraná River. Yiya’s mother, Candela, was a housewife, and her father, Camilo Bolla Aponte, was a lieutenant colonel in Uriburu’s army during the 1930 coup d’état. Yiya had a brother who eventually followed in their father’s military footsteps. They grew up in a time of change and power-shift and with her father in the heart of the action, the family was well-known.
From a young age, it was evident that Yiya loved the finer things in life and valued her family’s position in society. When the Bola family relocated to Buenos Aires, she fell in love with the hustle and bustle of the city. She adored the imposing buildings and the European feeling of the city centre, and the variety it offered. From a young age, she loved walking along Avenida Corrientes and soaking up everything that was trending at the time.
After high school, Yiya went to college and qualified as a teacher, but she had no intention of ever doing a day’s work. Instead, she dated one eligible bachelor after the next, typically men from good stock who had fat wallets. Yiya always looked her best: before she entered a room, one would hear her coming by her bangles’ clanging. For exercise, she swam – ensuring her tall figure was always slim and toned. She was charming and charismatic, and when she spoke, people believed every word she said.
When Yiya married civil lawyer Antonio Murano, she discarded her maiden name, as is customary in Argentina. People speculated if she chose to do this because she did not want to be associated with her brother, a well-known General at the time. Antonio insisted his wife didn’t have to work and that he would take care of her. That is precisely what Yiya wanted to hear: her dreams had come true – she was going to be a lady of leisure, living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. However, behind closed doors, the couple did not have a very glamorous life. They lived in a musty two-bedroom apartment with rising damp and old furniture.
Yiya’s home was in stark contrast to her appearance. She always presented herself well and looked like a million dollars. To achieve this, the lawyer’s wife lived well above her means, always spending money she didn’t have on jewelry and imported clothing. She boasted that – at one point – she owned 110 pairs of shoes.
Her husband Antonio was retired, but Yiya did not spend a lot of time with him. The tall, striking fashionista preferred to be out and about, having tea with friends, and going to the movies or attending shows at the theatre. She was popular with her friends because they could always rely on her. If they needed anything – Yiya was always only a phone call away.
But she was more than just a good friend – she was quite an industrious lover too. Throughout her marriage, Yiya had multiple extra-marital affairs. She later claimed that she was involved with ‘the richest man in Argentina’ who bought her two apartments: one on Avenida Independencia and the other on Luis Saenz Peña. These were located in the heart of Buenos Aires, within walking distance to shops, restaurants and patisseries.
Yiya proudly admitted that she had an affair with a high-ranking police officer too. She also had alleged dalliances with a well-known trade union leader and a presidential candidate. She eventually said that she slept with more than 200 men in her lifetime. It was clear that Yiya loved power, sex and money. None of which she found in her husband, Antonio Murano. Whether he was unaware of her infidelity or if he chose to turn a blind eye is not clear.
Antonio and Yiya had one son together, Martín. He had a nanny that was a mother figure to him, and he never quite felt a connection to his own mother. And because of Yiya’s indiscretions between the sheets, many people questioned whether Antonio was Martín’s father. Martín did not have a happy childhood, to say the least. His mother was absent most of the time, and when she was home, she was always hyper-critical of him. The narcissistic Yiya repeatedly told her son that he should be ‘more alive’.
What he lacked in daring, his mother made up for. Martín recalled Yiya taking him along to her clandestine encounters, saying that they were meeting a ‘distant uncle’. She would say to him:
“Martincito, treat your uncle well, so he gives me nice gifts.”
Martín was also told to keep his mouth shut about his mother’s so-called ‘friends’. As a little boy, he didn’t question his mother. As a grown man, looking back, he realised she only took him with her as a cover. She told Antonio she was taking Martín to the park, so she had an excuse to leave the house and hook up with who-ever her beau was at the time.
When Martín graduated from high school, Yiya told Antonio to stay home, as she was concerned about his well-being. She feared that all the emotion of seeing his only son graduate would damage his heart. Meanwhile, it was a ploy so Yiya could take one of her lovers along as her date. Although this kind of behaviour was normal to Martín, it broke his heart that she kept his father away from his graduation.
By this time, Antonio knew that his marriage was over. The couple divorced, and Yiya was free to do as she pleased. Although Antonio paid a handsome sum in alimony, Yiya could never have enough. She refused to drop her standard of living but also did not want to find a job. She had to come up with another scheme…
The 40-something single socialite needed to reinvent herself: she hinted to her friends that she uncovered a way of investing money and receiving returns far more attractive than any bank offered. Yiya discreetly approached some of her wealthier friends and promised they could get high returns for their investments. Of course, it was all bogus, but the silver-tongued Yiya could sell sand in the desert. She had a way of expressing herself that pulled people in and made them believe her. Three of her closest friends withdrew their life savings and entrusted it to Yiya. As a surety, Yiya wrote ‘promissory notes’.
It was 1979, and Argentina was still under the rule of dictator Jorge Rafael Videla. With the so-called Dirty War raging, crime was not uncommon in Buenos Aires. The military junta committed widespread terror to eradicate their political opponents. It is believed that close to 30,000 people died or disappeared at the hands of the junta. People had to watch their backs, and if one were considered sympathetic to the notion of socialism or left-wing Peronism, your life was in danger.
So, with all of that going on in the background, no one ever suspected that Yiya Murano, a well-dressed mother from a respectable neighbourhood, was swindling wealthy widows and divorcées out of their life savings.
1979 was a tumultuous year, and before February was done, Yiya had lost two close friends. Nilda Gamba and Lelia Formisano de Ayala had both suffered heart attacks. With the stress of everything going on in the country, no one was surprised that it all got too much for them.
Then, on the 24th of March, Yiya’s second cousin, a close friend, also died of a heart attack. Carmen Zulema del Giorgio de Venturini, or Mema, felt unwell in her apartment and went out to get help. She lost her balance at the top of a flight of stairs, and neighbours rushed to help as she tumbled all the way down. A neighbour who was a doctor tried to revive her but couldn’t. As they were waiting for the ambulance to arrive, Mema’s cousin Yiya went into her apartment. She told the doorman, José Gonzales, that she needed access to her cousin’s apartment to get her address book and call the family to inform them of the accident.
Yiya came out after a short while and accompanied her cousin in the ambulance. Sadly, Mema never regained consciousness. She died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, with Yiya by her side.
Mema’s grown daughter, Diana María Venturini, lived with her mother in an apartment block on Hipolíto Yrigoyen Street. Mema’s late husband was a well-to-do businessman who left her with a large inheritance. Mema and Diana lived comfortably and did not want for anything. Diana was devasted after losing her mother. She could not understand how her mother could be happy and healthy the one day and dead the next. She never had any heart problems, yet she died of a heart attack.
Diana thought about her mom’s last months alive and wondered if there had been any red flags they had missed. Mema’s second cousin, Yiya Murano, was a regular visitor in their home. Mema always gave Yiya plants, and Yiya spoiled Mema with pastries. Not that she was a keen baker, but she had a knack for finding the best patisseries in town. If there was anything Yiya could do well, it was shopping!
When Yiya approached Mema about investing her savings, Mema did not have too many reservations. She asked Yiya for some facts and then, cautiously invested a small amount, to begin with. In a matter of weeks, Yiya returned the money, along with interest accrued. Mema was sold: Yiya and her lawyer-friend evidently had a good instinct for investment, and she agreed to hand over a cheque for 20 Million pesos. This was a big decision, seeing as Mema always relied on her husband to handle their finances. Yiya gave her as many facts and assurances as she could find and left her with a promissory note as collateral for the deposit.
Yiya was transparent about the next steps too. She said that she would go to Mar del Plata straight away, to give Mema’s cheque to her lawyer-friend. Well, friend-and-lover according to Yiya’s close friends. Either way, together with this man, she would deposit Mema’s cheque into the investment account and return the entire amount, plus interest, to Mema on the 27th of March.
When Yiya returned from Mar del Plata, she paid Mema a visit and assured her that everything had gone according to plan and that Mema would have her money back soon. Yiya often visited in the following days and weeks, which made Mema relax about her money. Diana noticed, however, that her mom was very protective of the promissory note. The only proof she had that the 20 Million Pesos entrusted to Yiya came from her.
But when Diana sorted through her mother’s belongings after her untimely death, she could not find the note anywhere. The only other person who knew where Mema kept the note was Diana’s aunt, Yiya Murano. Diana replayed Yiya’s actions on the day of her mother’s death and realised how bizarre it was.
Firstly, Yiya had been to see Mema earlier. According to doorman, José Gonzales, she arrived with a small package; he assumed it was a box of tea-time treats. He never saw her leave, but when Carmen came out of her apartment, looking for help, Yiya wasn’t there anymore. While Mema’s doctor-neighbour tried to resuscitate her, Yiya returned and told José she needed access to her cousin’s apartment. She wanted to get her address book to call the family and inform them of the accident. The doorman didn’t think it was strange in the chaos of the situation and didn’t stand in her way.
Yiya was only inside for a short while before coming back out. With her, she had some papers and a small bottle. As she left, she made a peculiar remark, she said:
“Oh my God, this is the third friend of mine dying in a short time.”
This is quite a chilling statement, seeing as Mema had not yet died when Yiya made this statement. At Mema’s funeral, Yiya wailed with sorrow. She made a big scene of crying, but no tears ever came out of her eyes. Diana couldn’t help but wonder if the crocodile tears were part of an act. Then again, Yiya was very self-involved and made everything about herself, so it wasn’t entirely out of character.
Diana could still not shake the feeling that her aunt was hiding something. She asked the doorman, if anyone had been in the apartment on the day Mema died. He told her Yiya went inside to grab Carmen’s phone book because she wanted to call the family. It didn’t take Diana long to find the phone book untouched. And, after speaking with friends and family, she confirmed that Yiya never called anyone. Diana suspected that Yiya went inside that day with the sole purpose of confiscating the promissory note, to erase any evidence of her debt to Mema.
Convinced that her aunt had caused her mother’s demise to avoid paying back her money, Diana, alerted police. She told her about the sketchy investment scheme and about the strange circumstances surrounding Mema’s death. She also mentioned that Yiya was supposed to repay her mother on the 27th of March, three days after she died. To Diana, this was a clear motive for murder.
A second autopsy revealed a large amount of cyanide in Mema’s system. It was later said she had enough cyanide in her system to kill an elephant. A small amount, about 150-200mg will kill an adult in less than an hour. Mema’s sudden death was not due to a heart attack; she was poisoned.
Investigators suspected that Yiya had cyanide in the small bottle the doorman saw her holding when she left Mema’s apartment that day. She had tea and cakes with her cousin one last time, giving her a golden opportunity to slip the poison into something.
Police grew concerned when they learnt about the other two sudden deaths in Yiya Murano’s circle of friends. With evidence gathered regarding Mema’s death, investigators convinced a judge to order the exhumation of both Nilda Gamba’s and Lelia Formisano de Ayala’s remains. Both tested positive for traces of cyanide. However, the amounts were small and could also have been hydrogen cyanide. This could have occurred because of smoke inhalation, or it could have formed in the natural process of decay. The poison in Mema’s body was potassium cyanide – which can be found in substances like rat poison, insecticide and silver polish.
According to an article released by Sam Houston State University, cyanide poison detection in 2012 looked something like this:
“Due to the relatively short half-life of cyanide (from minutes to hours depending on the matrix), toxicological detection of cyanide to confirm cyanide poisoning may only be feasible within the first few hours following exposure… Cyanide levels in blood samples taken at autopsy the next day, have been reported to decrease by approximately 79 percent. Postmortem formation of cyanide may also occur and complicate the interpretation of cyanide results.”
In 1979, Nilda and Lelia’s remains were exhumed more than a month after they died. Any test for cyanide would have been inconclusive. Still, investigators at the time were not deterred. They knew there was a lot of circumstantial evidence linking the deaths.
Nilda Gamba lived alone in apartment no.20, next door to Yiya Murano. On Friday night, 10 February, Nilda went over to Yiya’s for dinner. They had a lovely evening, and Nilda stayed until 1am. The next morning, the doorman noticed something strange. Nilda had the habit of waiting for the newspaper every morning. As soon as it was delivered, she’d open her door and pick it up. On that Saturday morning, she didn’t. When the newspaper was still laying on her doormat by mid-morning, the doorman grew concerned.
He asked Jesús García, another resident in the building, to enter Nilda’s apartment with him. They struggled to open the door and called police to come and assist them. When police officers broke down the door, they found Nilda’s body, lying face-down on the living room floor, clutching her stomach with her left hand.
Nilda complained of sharp stomach aches and nausea when her doctor visited her the night before. Nilda told the doctor that she had dinner with her neighbour and close friend. She said Yiya bought some delicious petit fours for dessert. The doctor called Yiya who came over straight away to take care of her ailing friend. Once Nilda had settled down, Yiya went back to her own apartment. Sometime during the night, Nilda fell into a coma and never woke up again. She died in the early morning hours of Sunday 11 February.
Yiya contacted Dr Drenner, whom Nilda had seen the previous afternoon and asked if he could provide a death certificate, saying it was a heart attack. The doctor refused, saying that he was not the last person to treat her, and that he was not certain of what caused her death. Yiya eventually found another doctor to issue the death certificate – at a price. And Yiya happily bribed him. The cause of Nilda’s death was stated to be ‘non-traumatic cardiac arrest’. No autopsy was performed.
A month before Nilda’s death, neighbours realised that they had not seen her in three days. They informed police who forced their way into Nilda’s home – and found her unconscious on the floor. Fortunately, they were able to revive her and took her to hospital. Medical staff concluded that Nilda had experienced a diabetic coma. But when she died under similar circumstances, police wondered if this was a failed poisoning attempt, courtesy of Yiya).
Lelia Formisano de Ayala was another close friend of Yiya Murano’s. The two ladies took frequent trips to the coastal resort town of Mar del Plata together and were the best of friends.
On the 19th of February, a distressed Yiya went to Leila’s apartment, looking for her. The doorman wasn’t there, so she found his wife. Yiya told the woman she was desperately looking for Lelia, who went home while they were out on the town, because she wasn’t feeling very well. The doorman’s wife suggested they checked in on her, but Yiya said that, if Lelia as home and simply ignored her buzzing, she didn’t want to disturb her any further. If Lelia had a stomach bug, it was imported that she rested. The doorman’s wife found this encounter rather strange, but then again, it was Yiya Murano – wherever she went, there was always a fuss and a flutter.
The next night, Yiya and a group of friends arrived at Lelia’s place to pick her up for a movie, but again, she didn’t answer the door. Because Yiya had told their friends about Lelia’s stomach bug, no one pushed and assumed she did feel like seeing anyone.
On the 22nd of February, Lelia’s neighbours called police to express their concern about Lelia. No one had seen her for three days and there was a foul odour coming from her apartment. Police entered Lelia’s place via the balcony and found a deceased Lelia in a chair facing the television. On a side table next to her was a teacup and a plate with some food scraps. In her fridge, police officers found petit fours.
This time, it was the funeral home’s doctor who issued the death certificate. Without conducting a post-mortem examination, the doctor stated that the cause of death was ‘non-traumatic myocardial infarction’ – that is: a heart attack.
Investigators dissected the three separate friendships. What did they have in common besides being 40-something socialites with money to burn and time to waste? It did not take long to establish that, like Mema, Nilda and Lelia also gave Yiya Murano their money to invest. And, like Mema, both died before Yiya could return their investments with the
promised interest. It was a large amount of money, close to 300,000 dollars.
Like Mema, Nilda and Lelia let Yiya talk them into investing a small amount of money, so she could show them how reliable the scheme was. Yiya used the money from other investors to add fake interest, taking the gamble that her friends would invest with her again. And it paid off. After Nilda, Lelia and Mema received a handsome return, they were all eager to use Yiya’s invest services again. Yiya gracefully accepted and assured them they were making a good decision. After relieving them of their money, Yiya went out of her way to assure her investors their money was in good hands. She put a lot of effort into their friendships, they spent a lot of time together, enjoying afternoon tea or going to the movies. Yiya called often and took a great interest in their lives.
Days after Nilda’s death, on the 19th of February, Yiya was supposed to reimburse her friend, Lelia. On the 22nd of February, Lelia’s body was found. Investigators were more certain than ever that Yiya had murdered her neighbour, her friend and her cousin.
Looking at the circumstances of Mema’s death, they found it to be a carbon copy of the other two. Mema was expecting to get her money back on the 27th of March. On the 24th, she was feeling extremely unwell: she was nauseous and dizzy. She crawled out of her apartment to call for help. She stood up, but experienced a bout of vertigo and collapsed, falling down the stairs. Her neighbours heard the commotion and rushed to her aid. At that very moment, Yiya Murano arrived. She eagerly asked the neighbours if Mema had said anything before she lost consciousness.
Then Yiya disappeared into Mema’s apartment, to steal the promissory note and remove evidence of her earlier visit. She was by Mema’s side in the ambulance when Mema passed away. Investigators talked to the ambulance workers who responded to the call, and they told a chilling story. Apparently, as soon as they told Yiya that Mema was gone and that there was nothing they could do, she wanted to know if they thought there would be an autopsy. It was a peculiar question to ask for someone who had just lost a family member.
But how did she poison them? Police found petit fours in Lelia’s fridge, as well as in Mema’s apartment. When Nilda called the doctor, she told him about her dinner with Yiya the evening before – and that they had petit fours for dessert. Because the cake is moist and cyanide smells like bitter almond, no one would have suspected the delicacies were laced with poison. Investigators believed that Yiya had obtained cyanide from one of her lovers, an unnamed doctor. Of course, for a resourceful woman like Yiya, getting her hands on cyanide would not have been a problem. Chances are she used rat poison or insecticide.
So, not only did Yiya con her closest friends, but she also took their lives. Her investment scheme was a sham Yiya had invented to line her own pockets. And by the time police caught up with her, she did not have the money anymore. She had spent every last penny, paying out fake interest to secure future investments. She also used it to fund her lavish lifestyle, draping herself in expensive clothing and jewellery.
Yiya Murano was arrested at her home on Mexico Street on the 27th of April 1979. She was dubbed ‘The Poisoner of Monserrat’ by the media, after the urban neighbourhood where she lived and killed. Yiya was always photographed wearing over-sized sunglasses, making her appear glamourous. Even later on during studio interviews, she always wore sunglasses – it became her signature. When police took her in, she did not resist arrest, but denied all charges against her. She pleaded:
“Please, if I don’t know how to cook, how am I going to prepare poisoned pastries?”
When asked about the money her friends invested through her, Yiya denied that she had stolen it from them. She insisted that all three of her friends had given her their money. She also believed that they had died from natural causes. Her statements were vague and somewhat philosophical, saying things like:
“The only thing left to do is to die from one day to the next. And there is nothing we can do – just bury them and mourn them.”
But during the hours of interviews, one statement gave a brief flicker into the mind of Yiya Murano. Addressing her interviewer, she let slip:
“Darling, you have to understand one thing: murderers never tell the truth.”
In 1980, while on remand at Ezeiza prison, the notorious Yiya was found unconscious on the floor of her cell. She had suffered an aneurysm but survived. After receiving treatment, she returned to the prison, awaiting trial. But that day didn’t come. After three years in prison, her lawyers managed to get her acquitted. The judge ruled that there was not enough physical evidence to charge her with her friends’ murders.
Yiya spent three years outside of prison and warmed to her celebrity status. She was often seen around town, sporting her signature over-sized sunglasses, and charming everyone she met. But her days of freedom were numbers. In July 1985, the court went back on its earlier decision and annulled Yiya’s acquittal. Her retrial ran at the same time as the Trial of the Juntas – one of the most prominent cases in Argentinian history – so no one took much note of Yiya’s story. This time, she was convicted of three murders and this time, she was sentenced to life in prison.
During this time, Yiya told anyone who would listen that hers was a case of miscarriage of justice. She insisted that she was innocent, and as soon as she got a 24-hour pass, she went on national TV, pleading her case.
Eventually, the notorious poisoner got a lucky break, when the controversial ‘2-for1’ law worked in her favour. This law determined that no one should be on remand for longer than two years. If they were (as was the case with Yiya), every extra day they spent in precautionary detention, would count for two. This drastically reduced many prison sentences. In Yiya’s case, the judge took into account the time she spent in prison between 1978 and 1982, while waiting for a trial date. In the end, she only served two-thirds of her life sentence.
On Yiya’s release, in November 1995, she sent each of the judges who signed her release form a box of chocolates, thanking him for their leniency. Apparently, no one dared to eat the chocolates, as no one felt inclined to sample The Poisoner of Monserrat’s culinary treats. When asked why people didn’t want to eat her food, Yiya always shrugged it off and insisted she was innocent, saying:
“I never forced anyone to eat my pastries.”
Free in Buenos Aires once more, the ever-glamorous Yiya resumed her celebrity status. And the media cashed in: she was employed to write a column in a fashion magazine, and readers lapped up her advice. She made sure she stayed in the limelight too, always agreeing to talk about her life and the crimes she had been accused of.
In 1998 she appeared on a popular daytime talk show, hosted by Mirtha Legrand, and dropped a bombshell. She said that she found love again and got married. The next day, the supposed ‘husband’ sheepishly appeared on the same show, saying that he wanted to annul the marriage. They had only spent one night together, and she threatened him never to reveal the truth of their sham of a marriage. Yet he did, on national TV, claiming when she said her name was Mercedes Bolla (which is her actual birth name), he never thought he had agreed to marry Yiya Murano.
Many years later, Yiya returned to Mirtha Legrand’s table, and brought some baked treats. She taunted the host, insisting she tried one. Towards the end of the show, Mirtha braved a bite, while the nation held their breaths… Fortunately for her, nothing happened. The scene delighted Yiya, who laughed at her own expense.
People on the street approached her and asked for her autograph. She always enjoyed joking with them, offering cakes or sweets, suggesting it was laced with poison. She was amicably known as the well-kempt grandmother with a dark past and a wicked sense of humour. There has even been a critically acclaimed theatre production, called: Yiya the Musical – a comedic look at the circumstances of Yiya’s heartless murders.
She married her third and last husband, retired journalist Julio Banin in 2001. The couple met on a bus tour and Yiya made sure he didn’t forget her. Julio was blind and on one occasion said he only married her, because he needed someone to buy his medicine. Even though she claimed the marriage was a happy one, Julio’s children said that he threw her out a couple of times. But Yiya always found her way back.
The family was less than charmed with her and she caused a lot of trouble. Once, she bribed a taxi driver 100 pesos to call Julio’s daughter to tell her that her boyfriend was cheating on her. This wasn’t true, and even though the taxi driver confessed, Yiya denied that she was behind it.
On another occasion, Yiya stole a family heirloom (a priceless golden headpiece) from Julio’s collection of valuables. Julio was furious and didn’t believe her when she tried to blame the concierge. During this time, Yiya began cooking for Julio and his family. This was unusual, seeing as Yiya was known to be a terrible cook. Julio’s daughter said:
“Since my stepmother started cooking for us, I spent a week suffering from stomach pain, dizziness, vomiting and I also fainted. She usually cooked noodles and made us some tea. My dad got pneumonia soon after.”
The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Julio’s daughter discovered that her dad’s life savings of 30,000 pesos was gone. In the money box were pieces of newspaper, folded like bank notes. Remember, Julio was blind, so clearly Yiya replaced the cash with the newspaper-pieces to deceive him. Julio asked her to leave and made it clear she was not welcome in his home ever again.
From Julio’s home, the once unsinkable Yiya Murano went into a nursing home, where she eventually passed away, all alone, on the 26th of April 2014, at the age of 83. She is buried in Buenos Aires’ Chacarita cemetery, the same cemetery where Nilda, Lelia and Mema were buried – a grim afterlife reunion of sorts. Her name does not appear on her headstone. Her family did not want her to be remembered as The Poisoner of Monserrat. Instead, it memorialises Mercedes Bolla.
Yiya’s son Martín Murano wrote a book, called My Mother, Yiya Murano. He describes a loveless childhood with a self-obsessed mother. He recalled a chilling incident when he was 10 years old: She had bought pastries at a local bakery and offered him some. She sliced it in half and watched as he aimed to take his first bite. Just before the cake reached his lips, his mother grabbed it and threw it into the household incinerator. In hindsight, Martín believed she tried to poison him, but could not go through with it.
In the book, Martín also claims that his mother had confessed to him. She allegedly said that she had laced the teabags with poison, not the pastries. It was her best-kept secret.
The book was published when Yiya was still alive. She publicly said how hurt she was when she read it. In an interview with an Argentinian newspaper, she said that Martín had been to visit her from New York, where he lived, and that they had buried the hatchet. Martín claimed this never happened. He was estranged from her and only heard about her death, three days after the fact, on TV.
At the time of her arrest in 1978, the media speculated that she had killed before, and that there was an estimated, 10 victims. Especially, two friends of her cousins, in a time when she wasn’t broke. This has never been proven. To this day, Yiya’s case remains one of the most iconic cases in Argentinian criminal history. She revelled in her infamy and claimed that there was no evidence that she had killed her friends, insisting that they all died of natural causes. If that were the case, it was the coincidence of the century: she owed three friends money, and all three of them perished soon after having tea with Yiya. Most people feel that she denied her guilt, while holding the proverbial smoking gun – it could only have been Yiya, the infamous Poisoner of Monserrat.
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