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Galicia, Spain is known as the ‘land of a thousand rivers’. Apart from rustic coastal fishing towns, you’ll find the haunting villages in the hills. The hills are adorned with pine and eucalyptus trees. The view from the top looks down at rivers snaking through the valleys rushing and sparkling.

 

Summer days are long and warm, whereas winters can be somewhat unpredictable. Rain, snow, sunshine, that’s Galicia for you. The morning of 19 January 2019, it was icy cold. Dutch farmer, Martin Verfondern [FUR-FON-DUHR-UHN] decided to take the nine-mile journey to O Barco de Valdeorras, where he did his weekly shopping.  

 

Volunteers staying on his organic farm handed him their lists, and he said he would be home in the early afternoon. They watched him drive off into the fog, in his green Chevrolet Blazer, past the house of his neighbours.

 

To say Martin and his neighbours did not see eye to eye, would be an understatement. The Rodríguez family had been living in Santaolla [Santa-ooh-ayla] for generations. Then Martin and his wife Margo moved in with new ideas and farming methods. They were at each other’s throats about anything and everything. Martin even went so far as to call it ‘rural terrorism’.

 

Martin usually recorded his interactions with his rivals, but on that day, he didn’t run into them. He just drove past and kept on going down the meandering mountain road in the mist. Afternoon came and went, and there was still no sign of Martin. The guests on his farm raised the alarm at nightfall.

 

Police searched for months on end, but it seemed the earth swallowed Martin whole. His wife Margo suspected that something sinister was behind her husband’s disappearance. If only the hills could talk… It would be four years before she found out what happened to Martin on that cold and misty morning in Galicia.

>> Intro Music

German-born Martin Verfondern was a naturalized Dutch citizen. He moved to The Netherlands at the age of 17, to avoid having to do compulsory military service and trained as an electrician in Amsterdam.

 

Martin was an eccentric who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. He was a passionate environmentalist as well as a member of Amnesty International. Amnesty International’s website, states that their members are volunteers who are called on whenever human rights are threatened. It reads further:

 

“Their actions, big and small, put pressure on governments, institutions and decision-makers to do the right thing.”

 

Martin met his wife, Margo Pool, at a protest rally against a local council in Amsterdam. The council wanted to develop a new neighbourhood and protestors fought to preserve historical buildings in the area. Martin and Margo had the same outlook on life and before long, they decided to get married.

 

Margo quit her office job and the couple set off in their campervan, travelling  through Europe. They hoped to find a spot where they could settle down, ideally a piece of land where they could enjoy a self-sustainable living. They wanted to live off the grid – somewhere they could do as the pleased, without anyone telling them what to do.

 

In 1997, two years into their trip, Martin and Margo decided to explore Galicia, the mostly uninhabitable northwest of Spain. Most people had moved away from the small hamlet, because of a lack of work and resources. Close to 300 villages were left abandoned as their inhabitants swapped the waning farming industry for better opportunities in Spain’s cities or abroad in Cuba and Argentina.

 

The charm of the Galician hills lured Martin and Margo to the deserted village of Santoalla. It was somewhat of a ghost town, with about 60 empty and crumbling stone homes. Martin was convinced that this village, immortalized in the film Semper Xonxa, [Shawn-Sha] was the best place to set up camp after tasting the water.

 

After a couple of days they knew that they had found their home. The little town in the valley was romantic, filled with potential, perfect. The peace and quiet of the town were Martin and Margo’s idea of heaven on earth.

 

The Dutch couple befriended the only permanent inhabitants of the village, the Rodríguez family. The Rodríguez family had lived in Santoalla for generations, on the same property at the entrance to the village.

 

The patriarch of the family, Manuel, or Manolo, was in his eighties and people from the region referred to him as O Gafas, or ‘The One with the Glasses’, because of his signature bottle-bottom eyeglasses. Manolo was married to the jovial Javita and they had four grown sons. Two of the Rodríguez sons had moved away from the area, but came to visit often. Then there was Julio, who lived in the nearby town of Petín, but worked on the farm, so he was in Santoalla every day. 30-year-old Juan Carlos lived and worked on the farm. When Carlos was a child, he fell off a horse and suffered a head injury, which caused a mental disability. He had the intellectual and emotional maturity of a seven to ten-year-old boy.

 

When Martin and Margo arrived in Santoalla, Manolo advised them as to which property was the best one to buy. It was on the other side of the one-street village, only a short distance from the Rodríguezes home.

 

They bought the property with the main homestead in ruins. Martin and Margo rolled up their sleeves and started renovations themselves. They learnt Spanish and to more colloquial Galician and learnt a lot about local customs from rebuilding their home. But the house wasn’t their primary focus, they researched how to survive from the land and how to grow organic crops from scratch. They had no experience but were up for the challenge. And so, their organic farm called Centro Ammehula, came to fruition.

 

Julio Rodríguez helped them to get their crops going by supplying sheep fertilizer. He was somewhat amused at their way of doing things, with their focus on sustainability, but he said that as long as they didn’t bother him, he didn’t mind them. The Rodriguez family was happy that there was some life in the town again. It was nice having people close-by.

 

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~ Now, back to today’s episode ~

 

Martin Verfondern soon made waves in the local community with his ambitions to create an organic farm in Galicia. He said in an interview with a local TV show that he envisioned his farm to be an ecological centre that resembled Noah’s Ark, with a wide variety of species as well as plants. And it went well – they grew beautiful, organic vegetables – everything was going according to plan. Martin and Margo spent their days working their fingers to the bone. At night, they sat by a campfire, playing the guitar, sometimes it was Martin who played, other times Margo. They were at peace, happy. When they needed money, Martin (electrician) would go to The Netherlands to do a couple of jobs and make some money, while Margo stayed behind and tended to the animals and crops.

 

During summer months, the Dutch couple welcomed volunteers to their farm who were looking for a farm experience. They taught the visitors organic growing methods and before long Centro Ammehula had a good reputation in the international organic farming community. People took sabbaticals from their office jobs to visit and work on the farm. Martin and Margo welcomed it because keeping a farm is hard work.

 

Martin saw the potential for tourism because of the natural beauty of the area. They were inspired by the town of Santoalla that bore ghostly reminders of all its residents long gone. Every single building was in ruins, with rubble crumbling onto the main street. Martin and Margo tried to clear up the roads and re-purpose the rubble, by building stone walls and such. But Manolo stepped in, reminding them that they did not own the buildings, therefore they did not own the stones. They couldn’t understand why he would oppose their efforts, seeing as they were cleaning up the town. But Manolo didn’t want it to be cleaned up, because that meant that tourists would come, tourists could decide to stay and then his peace would be disturbed.

 

Manolo was very clear about the fact that his foreign neighbours were newcomers and they should know their place. Martin struggled to understand Manolo’s mentality, as his intention was to restore the town within keeping of its history. He was respectful of the place and truly loved it.

 

It seemed like the initial harmony between the sole inhabitants of Santoalla was over. The neighbours no longer shared food and meals, as their differences became too troublesome for them to pursue a friendship. The Dutch couple’s peaceful life in rural Spain was about to come to a crashing halt.

 

Tensions built slowly but surely over time. At first, the conflict was about boorish annoyances, perhaps something that could be attributed to cultural differences. But over the years the situation had become hostile. Manolo was set in his ways, and Martin was an outspoken environmentalist, so the two of them were like fuel and flame. Martin called the octogenarian a fascist or ‘Little Sadam of Santoalla’.

 

Martin claimed that his neighbours had stolen from him: a butane cylinder as well as 25 litres of diesel. This incident led to Martin installing security cameras all around his property. He said that ‘an invisible hand’ would release their rabbits, or push a mule into their corn and potato fields – destroying three months’ worth of food. Martin reported incidents to police, and the feuding neighbours became regulars in the local courthouse, airing their grievances. During one hearing, Martin said:

 

“This is also my town, and I am not leaving for a little Saddam.”

 

Manolo and his family were also not happy with the influx of tourists his farm brought to the area. In a year, about 30 volunteers came to Centro Ammehula. It maybe doesn’t seem like a lot, but to someone like Manolo Rodríguez, every new person posed a threat to his way of living. They disrupted the peace, peace he had BEFORE the Dutch couple moved into town. He said that they were ‘Wild People’ and disapproved of their farming methods.

 

The conflict between the Rodríguez family and their Dutch neighbours came to a head towards the end of 2008. It all started with a disagreement about a 355-hectare piece of land. The hillside that overlooked the village had always been communal space, owned by the town of Santoalla but Manolo had claimed it as his own. But it wasn’t as simple as that. A local mill felled mature trees in the wood and had to pay a percentage of their income to the village. The bylaws of the town state that this money should be shared by residents or used to maintain and improve the village of Santoalla. The land provided an income of about 72,000 Euro annually.

 

This was a lucrative source of income for both families, something worth fighting over. Manolo felt that because Martin and Margo were foreigners, they had no right to the money. Manolo proclaimed himself president of the village, but Martin wouldn’t have it. He said Manolo could take whatever title he chose, even Sun King, but with that came responsibilities. Like improving the town and sharing the money as was the law. This quote from Martin stating his case:

 

“[Manolo] believed himself to be lord of the mountain and tried to impose his law of ‘terror’ sitting with his staff at the door of the house.”

 

The Dutch couple knew their rights and went to court to fight their neighbours. The matter went to court in 2008. Martin and Margo pointed out that the law was on their side. According to the Law of Monte Vecinal en Mano Común de Galicia, to be a resident of Santoalla, property owners must work in agriculture. They must have had a liveable home on their property for at least ten months and have lived there for a year. At the time of the court case, Martin and Margo had lived in the home they renovated for eleven years. They won the case, and Manolo Rodríguez was ordered to pay them what was due to them. Needless to say, the Rodriguez family was not happy and appealed the court’s decision, but their appeal was turned down.

 

Another dispute was between Martin and the mayor of the region, Miguel Bautista. Martin was unhappy with the lack of amenities in the town of Santoalla. Due to the bad state of the rural roads, garbage collection trucks didn’t even bother making the rounds to some properties, including his. Martin insisted on an infrastructure that would be deemed ‘basic’ by European standards: asphalting of roads, garbage removal, clean water… He said that if his requests weren’t answered, he would take it further, even write the King of Spain a letter if needs be. His biggest complaint was the open-air refuse site that polluted the stream from which his goats and sheep had their water. Seeing as the only other residents were the Rodríguezes, his complaint was obviously about the way they disposed of their garbage.

 

Martin felt it would be prudent to make video recordings of his neighbours. He filmed their efforts to sabotage him and Margo. One instance was when Javita and Carlos were caught on film spraying pesticide on Martin’s crops, the crops that he took every measure possible to grow organically.

 

Before long, confrontations grew physical. Martin reported the family for attacking him with sticks, sickles and an axe handle. He said that Carlos, whenever they fought got worked up and yelled:

 

“I’m going to get the rifle.”

 

When confronted by these allegations in court, the Rodríguez family claimed that Martin once punched Javita and had attacked and injured the elderly Manolo on another occasion. They had no proof of this, whereas Martin had photographs of injuries inflicted on him by his neighbours.

 

The Rodriguez family had 14 firearms in their home, and Carlos was rarely seen without a weapon. He even slept with his favourite shotgun on his nightstand, even though he did not have a firearm license.

 

Mayor Bautista, aware of the conflict, but unwilling to intervene, jokingly said to El País newspaper:

 

“I hope that the blood does not reach the river.”

 

A couple of weeks later, tragedy struck. On Tuesday, the 19th of January 2010, days before Martin Verfondern’s 53rd birthday, he disappeared into thin air. He left home between 9 and 10am, in his rickety old US military-issued green Chevrolet Blazer to do his weekly shop in a nearby village.

 

After shopping at Lidl supermarket in O Barco de Valdeorras, he loaded his groceries in the truck and headed to a local bar, that doubled up as an internet café around 12:30pm. He emailed someone who had applied to visit the farm as a volunteer and confirmed that it was okay. He logged off, got back into his truck and headed back home, via the town of Petín. His green Blazer was seen at the traffic circle, turning onto the meandering road leading up the hills in the direction of Santoalla.

 

Margo was visiting family in Germany at the time, helping ageing uncles to transition into assisted living. So when Martin didn’t make it home by nightfall, guests staying at their farm in Santoalla called Margo. From Germany, Margo contacted local police and reported Martin’s disappearance. She drove back home and arrived two days after Martin was last seen.

 

A search team scoured the entire area: helicopters and police divers were brought in, but there was no sign of Martin. Police had to consider the possibility that Martin had reached a breaking point and that he left of his own volition. Margo drove around the windy mountain roads for hours on end, looking for him. Her first instinct was that he had had an accident and that his car had rolled down one of the steep roadside cliffs. But she could not see any sign of Martin or his recognisable vehicle anywhere.

 

People around Petín speculated that Martin left while Margo was away, so she wouldn’t know where to find him. They said this because his car was missing too, so it looked like he drove off somewhere. Margo had her moments, wondering if he would leave her like that. But in her heart of hearts, she knew that their marriage had a solid foundation, they were happy. They loved their life together, and if he wanted to end things, the always outspoken Martin would have said so. There is no way he would have stolen away and left her wondering what happened to him.

 

Julio Rodríguez regretfully told Margo that he saw Martin with a blonde woman. He was sure the Dutchman had run off with this mystery woman. Another theory put forward by the Rodríguez clan was that something more sinister was at play. Drug traffickers were rumoured to use the passage of abandoned villages like Santoalla on their route through northern Spain. Javita speculated that Martin was either involved with a drug-smuggling ring OR that he had come into the crossfire somehow. The Rodríguez family did, however, pay Margo 10,000 Euro after Martin disappeared. This was part of the money that was due to her from the communal land.

 

A reward of 50,000 Euro was offered for any information that would lead to finding Martin. The Civil Guard provided Interpol with Martin’s information, but that didn’t yield any results.

 

Police searched for three months, but with no clues as to the Dutch farmer’s whereabouts, they had to call it off. A memorial was held for Martin a year after his disappearance, on 19 January 2011, in Petín. Margo bravely recited the eulogy in Galician:

 

“My husband, my friend, my partner… A stubborn man, who always wanted to do things his own way, but also a man with a big heart. I hope the day comes when we’ll know what happened, as not knowing is the hardest part. Martin, I don’t know where your body is, but your spirit is here with me.”

 

From the start, it played on her mind that their only neighbours had something to do with his disappearance. But then again, would they actually have harmed him, killed him? Margo didn’t know but chose to keep her distance. The homesteads were in close proximity to each other and she planted hedges to try and keep her privacy. She didn’t want to have anything to do with them.

 

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~ Now, back to today’s episode ~

 

In the weeks after Martin went missing, an insurance broker friend of the Dutch couple, María Jesús, told police an interesting story. She said that, in the days leading up to his disappearance, Martin paid her a visit. He had sold some goats and wanted to use the money towards a life insurance policy. According to María, Martin said:

 

“I am afraid that my neighbours will do something to me.” 

 

Before she could process his application, Martin vanished.

 

Margo also knew that Martin genuinely feared for his safety. He had asked Margo to move back to The Netherlands if anything should ever happen to him. He said:

 

“Just bury me in the earth with a sign reading ‘Here grows Martin, the Dutchman from Petín.'”

 

However, after his disappearance, Margo stayed on in Galicia, running the farm they had started together. She was hoping that maybe someday, he’d come back. Or that she would at least find out what had happened to him.

 

It wasn’t only Margo and her friends who suspected the Rodríguez family. To investigators, Martin’s neighbours were suspects from the beginning. But, other than the fact that they didn’t get along, there was no evidence linking the family to Martin’s disappearance. When questioned, they simply shrugged their shoulders and said they’d assumed he’d gone back to The Netherlands. Javita even said that the feud wasn’t as bad as everyone made it out to be. In fact, she rather liked Martin.

 

If that was true, the feeling was not mutual. During legal procedures before his disappearance, Martin described his relationship with his neighbours as ‘rural terrorism’. He complained that his neighbours often threatened him. They also provoked him.

 

For four years Martin’s absence cast a shadow of doubt over the hamlet of Santoalla. It was an unsolved mystery, but life had to go on. Margo welcomed volunteers and kept the farm running. Locals purchased her produce, and she did what she could to stay afloat. Then, in June of 2014, the case broke wide open.

 

A Civil Guard helicopter patrolling the area looking for bush fires in the pine forest below experienced technical problems and landed in a clearing in the woods. Once on the ground, they spotted a glint. It was unusual, as there were no other signs of civilisation anywhere close to them. The location was only accessible using fire breaks and meandering mountain roads. The crew went closer to inspect and discovered a burnt-out green Chevrolet Blazer, with its number plates removed.

 

Inside they found a laptop and a cell phone and then… A couple of yards away from the car they found a human skull. The Civil Guard was called to the scene, and as soon as they saw the car, they knew… They had been looking for the green Blazer and its owner for years. At the site, investigators found the remnants of a campfire. It was clear that the perpetrator had set his victim’s body alight, most likely to erase the evidence. It was impossible to tell if Martin was murdered at the scene, or if he was already dead when his body was dumped there. Only some parts of a skeleton were recovered, reasonable after being exposed to the elements for so long.

 

In 2010, shortly after Martin’s disappearance, Margo provided police with a toothbrush and a piece of used dental floss from which police were able to extract a DNA profile of her husband. They were able to get DNA from the femur at the scene in the woods which gave them a match: they had finally found Martin Verfondern.

 

This was a homicide investigation. Police looked at their prime persons of interest, the Rodriguez family, for answers. Margo was open with the media and told them about Martin’s ongoing dispute with the neighbours. She also said that the location where Martin’s body was found was not a place that they had ever been to. She did not think that he went there and met with some kind of accident. In a statement to the press, police echoed this when they said:

 

“This is the perfect spot to make a car disappear. Hunters never go there.”

 

Javita Rodríguez spoke on behalf of her family, but just kept on saying:

 

“I saw nothing, I know nothing, that’s all.”

 

Police didn’t buy it. They firmly believed that the dispute with the Rodriguez family was the motive behind Martin’s murder. The challenge was to establish: what was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. And which member of the Rodríguez family pulled the trigger?

 

They had a lot of evidence, showing the toxic relationship between the neighbours. Martin always had either a camera or his cell phone on him, incessantly filming his daily rounds. He essentially documented his entire feud with the Rodríguez family. Martin wasn’t the kind of person that would back down from a fight. Margo was concerned about her husband’s emotional well-being. She said:

 

“Before, he was cheerful and joking, and over time, especially in the end, he was always worried, dedicated only to fight for his rights and for what he considered to be fair. Martin was not obsessive, but he could not live with injustice.”

 

She tried to persuade him to keep his distance from the neighbours, but she knew he would never give up. For a while, Martin channelled his anger into a creative enterprise. He started writing an online comic strip, that a friend was going to illustrate. It was a humorous take on the ‘rural terrorism’ he experienced. His characters were based on himself and Margo and their neighbours.

 

He continued recording every encounter with Manolo, Javita and their sons. The footage, some of which can be seen in the documentary film ‘Santoalla’ is rather disturbing. Martin asks Manolo what he’s up to, then Manolo starts hitting him with a stick. The camera distorts as Martin falls to the ground, then the screen fades to black.

 

Four months before he disappeared, Martin reached out to El País newspaper. He relayed the story of the open-air refuse site and said that despite his efforts to clean the place up, no one was listening. On the contrary, he faced serious resistance regarding the issue. To support his story, he sent a video to a journalist, in which, the intellectually challenged Carlos can be heard saying:

 

“I’m going after you. You’re nice and fat now and ready for killing.”

 

Carlos had a rifle with him at the time, carrying it in a sling over his shoulder. The question that caused this response came from Martin, who asked if he was ‘going after boar’. Martin was genuinely scared of the slow-witted Carlos. He told the journalist:

 

“They’ve already attacked me with the axe, with sticks, with sickles… Any day now Carlos will shoot me. He’s got the brains of a 10-year-old boy, and when he gets nervous he yells: ‘I’m going to get my rifle!’”

 

Other videos also reveal how the Rodríguez family ran their farm. Disturbing footage of animal cruelty, showing sick or dying animals on their property. Once animals died, rotting corpses were simply left out in the open or dumped in the water. The yard was strewn with old broken down kitchen appliances, a rusty car and other trash.

 

Police watched the videos and saw how tensions between the neighbours increased. It was a volcano of anger, waiting to erupt. Plainclothes detectives decided to spend some time in Santoalla to keep an eye on Margo’s neighbours. They spoke to Julio, Carlos, Javita    and sometimes Manolo, but tried to keep it casual and win their trust.

 

On the 8th of October, four months after Martin’s remains were found, investigators bumped into Carlos in the rubbled-up street of Santoalla. They started talking with him about everyday things like the weather and the farm. Then they touched on the topic of firearms, seeing as Carlos had his rifle with him at the time. He boasted how his shotgun didn’t fail him when he needed it. He said:

 

“He came with the car like a tolo… I took the shotgun. Boom, boom! I hid. And they look for me.”

 

Carlos spoke incoherently, he sometimes referred to himself in the third person, other times in the first, which made it hard to understand whom he was talking about. Investigators were stunned, was it Martin Carlos referred to as the man driving like a tolo, a madman?

 

Up to this point, the Civil Guard were investigating Julio Rodríguez and their other brother Jesús. They had tapped the family’s phones and hid recording devices in their cars. A phone call made from Julio’s house by his wife revealed that Julio wasn’t himself since Martin’s car was discovered. Another conversation between Julio and Carlos proved that Julio was preparing Carlos, coaching him in what to say to the police.

 

Investigators never suspected Carlos, but now it seemed that he knew more than they thought. When police returned a week after his statement about shooting the driver of a car to question Carlos again, his mother Javita refused. She said that he was tired and he had to help his brother in the afternoon, and told the officers to go away.

 

They did but returned with a warrant for his arrest. On Saturday 29 November 2014, six months after Martin’s remains were found, police arrested 47-year-old, Juan Carlos Rodríguez González. He confessed to killing his neighbour the following day, while under house arrest. His brother Julio, 51, was also arrested and admitted to his role in the murder.

 

After years of wondering how Martin’s life ended, Margo finally heard the whole story. The brothers both said that Martin died on the day he disappeared, Tuesday the 19th of January 2010. It was a cold and foggy day in the Galician hills. Carlos spent most of the morning with his mother, slaughtering a pig and making sausages. After lunch, he went for a walk in Santaolla and, as always, flung his shotgun over his shoulder. He saw Martin’s green Chevrolet Blazer darting into the valley and flagged him down. Martin made the fatal decision to stop and hear him out. He rolled his window down and asked what was wrong. Carlos exploded, scolding him for driving recklessly. The argument spiralled out of control, and Carlos shot Martin in the chest with his 12 calibre hunting rifle. Then he went to hide so no one could find him.

 

Carlos said that he shot Martin because he wanted to be a hero, to show his family that he could save them from the man who had been causing them so many problems.

 

Julio said that, on the afternoon of the murder, he was driving his tractor (loaded with grass for his cows) through town when he found Martin’s body, slumped in the driver’s seat of his car, the engine still running. Out of fear that people would think he was the one who killed his neighbour, Julio decided to hide Martin’s car and body. Carlos came along, and Julio asked him to help move Martin’s body to the passenger seat. Then Julio drove the Chevrolet Blazer to Touzas da Azoreira, the pine grove, 11 miles from Santaolla, where Martin’s remains were eventually found.

 

Julio claimed that ‘smoke began to come out of the car’ and the car caught on fire. He got out, pulled Martin’s body out, covered it with pine branches and set it alight. He removed the license plates from the burning car, to hinder identification. This was quite a futile exercise, seeing as Martin’s car was very unique. Julio then walked all the way back to his family’s farm, through the mist and snow. He never said a word about it for four years. According to Julio, the matter was never discussed in their home. He said:

 

“If I had known that [Martin] was dead, I wouldn’t have gone up to the village… I could see that [his death] was going to happen to him at any time because he picked on people even if they hadn’t done anything to him.”

 

Forensic test results confirmed that Martin’s cause of death was most likely a gunshot wound. Only 13% of his skeleton was ever recovered from the scene in the pine forest. The prosecutor said: the answer to how he died, could be found in the other 87%. A gunshot wound presumably shattered his chest bone, which would explain why that was never found. But then again, the area was crawling with wolves and wild boars, who could have taken the remains.

 

The prosecutor pointed out that, if the bullet fired from Carlos’s rifle hit Martin in the shoulder, he could have been alive but unconscious when Julio found him. So if Julio had called an ambulance or taken him to hospital, who knows, perhaps he could have been saved. That is something we’ll never know.

 

A psychological profile concluded that Juan Carlos’s mental disability was of such, that he didn’t realise the consequences of his actions. He was, however, fit to stand trial. The case was brought to court in June 2018, four years after his arrest. In the dock, Carlos cried like a child. He also sucked his thumb whenever he became overwhelmed. But there was no one to comfort him. While he was on remand, both Manolo and Javita had passed away.

 

Because of his disability, prosecutor Miguel Ruiz agreed to reduce the charges against Carlos to second-degree murder. He argued that although Carlos was able to tell right from wrong, good from evil, he was not capable of planning the murder. It was not a premeditated incident, rather a confrontation gone horribly wrong. In the end, Carlos Rodríguez was sentenced to ten and a half years in prison. He was also ordered to pay 50,000 Euro to Martin’s widow, Margo.

 

Julio was released and given a restraining order, prohibiting him from going anywhere near the village where he was born and raised and lived all his life, Santoalla, for 25 years. His cattle remained, and Margo took them in.

 

Margo said she would never have thought that the mentally disabled Carlos was the one who had killed Martin. She always thought of him as a child, disturbed, but harmless. She believed that he hated Martin because of the stories his family told about him. They essentially loaded the gun, and he pulled the trigger.

 

The case has garnered some international attention. When Martin first went missing, renowned Dutch crime reporter, Peter R De Vries, travelled to Santoalla to interview Margo, hoping to find answers. New York Times reporter, Geoffrey Gray, who is known for investigating and sometimes solving cold cases, also visited Santoalla to do a story. First-time filmmakers, Andrew Becker and Daniel Mehrer made the documentary film ‘Santoalla’ – a gripping insight into the relationship between the Rodríguez family and Martin, as told by Margo and Javita. You can find it on Amazon Prime. Interestingly, Mehrer’s brother arrived to volunteer on the farm, the very same day Martin went missing in 2010.

 

Today, Margo lives in the village by herself. She has no intention of leaving, as her farm is where she feels closest to Martin. Volunteers still make the pilgrimage to Centro Ammehula, to learn from her and find inspiration in her way of living: completely organic, off the land. But when volunteers go back home, Margo is all alone again. For the most part, she is surrounded by nothing by solitude, goats and memories of a life that could have been.

 

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