Luiza de Jesus, born in 1750, was a Portuguese “baby farmer.” She would take abandoned babies from the municipal foundling institution and receive a fee 600 reis plus clothes for the child and afterwards would murder them so that she could keep the expense money for herself. She operated in Coimbra (200 km north of Lisbon). Caught in her crimes, she was arrested and confessed to killing 28 of the 34 children she had taken in. She was executed on July 3, 1772, at the age of 22 years. She was sentenced to death and carried through the streets of Lisbon, whipped, hanged and then publicly burnt. Luiza de Jesus was, reputedly, the last woman to be executed was in Portugal.
Luiza, the evidence suggests, was a recovela, that is, a carrier of parcels from the city to Gavinhos, a village of millers and farmers, or to the entire parish of Figueira do Lorvão.
After Luiza picked up a baby from the Real Casa dos Expostos (Royal Foundling Home) in Coimbra she would walk a few meters, strangle it and bury the child at the top of Monte-Arroio. Sometime she would take the infant to her hovel, where she would dismember it, put the pieces in a pot and place the vessel beneath straw or in holes in the ground.
~ Foundling Home ~
The foundling home made use of an anonymous baby-depositing mechanism, the roda (“baby hatch,” “foundling wheel”). It was a cylindrical wooden device, divided in half and rotating, placed on the wall of a public building, where babies were placed. When an infant was deposited a bell was sounded by the person placing the child to warn whoever was on the other side. This device was first used in Italy in the 1300s and was later employed in Portugal with the intention of preventing infanticide. The first roda was installed in Lisbon in the 17th century, on the wall of the Hospital de Todos os Santos, located in Rossio (today in the Praça da Figueira area), until it was destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. It was in charge of the Friars of the Misericórdia and the municipal Chamber.
For each foundling Luiza De Jesus took from the Coimbra Misericórdia’s Casa da Roda, she pocketed 600 réis, a crib and a cubit of baeta, that is, 66 centimeters of shaggy woolen cloth. In total, she collected about 20,000 thousand réis, the equivalent of six months' wages of a cook or one year for a kitchen girl at Hospital Real das Caldas. The proceeds from the theft of "public benefits" may, however, have been shared with an accomplice.
~ Discovery of the Crimes ~
Luiza was a known intermediary for the woman who runs the casa da roda and the official nurse. No one suspected her of wrongdoing. She had already taken 32 children before that day when she made her unusual request.
One day Luiza asked the staff at the Casa da Roda to give her two babies instead of one. She told them she would take them to third parties who would take care of them. Here request was granted. After all, more than 200 boys and girls are left there every year, half died in a short time in the institution, and few of the rest would benefit from the affection of a family. Luiza was arrested and accomplices Margarida Joaquina and Leocádia Maria da Conceição were arrested five days later. The charge against them was equivalent to today’s “criminal negligence,” since the belief was that Liza has given infants who was going to pick them up on behalf of others, without a Roda staffer monitoring the children's fate, as required.
It was on the morning of April 1, 1772 that Luiza’s wicked racket began to unravel. Angélica Maria, perhaps a member of the Roda staff, discovered among the olive trees at Monte-Arroio, near the Roda, the corpse of a child still with the strip of cloth used to strangling it around its neck. The dead child was recognized as one Luiza de Jesus had taken the child, whose body had just been discovered. The judge in charge of the investigation sent for her. Luiza confessed to having killed the two children she had recently received. The second body was unearthed. The investigators then contacted all people known to care after foundlings. The names, many of them, Luiza had given were discovered to be invented. The records clerk, Pascoal Luís Ferreira da Silva, had issued 34 certificates falsely attesting the veracity of the data provided. He was arrested.
Under the olive trees on Monte-Arroio, 13 more "innocents" are discovered who, like the first two, "had been violently killed and garroted." On April 18, Luiza confessed to killing nine children. Altogether, in this “idyllic place,” the “Belezas de Coimbra”, 15 bodies were dug up, four of which the murderer did not consider “hers.” With this evidence at hand, the judge ordered a search of Luiza's house. In it, several pieces of decaying corpses were found in a clay pot and stinking, the only way to ascertain the number of victims was the presence of three skulls inside. Under a bit of straw, four skulls were found with the flesh eaten away – and a complete, yet decaying, baby’s body.
Luisa was again questioned again – on May 12, Luísa admitted to six more killings, “executed with the same violence." Days later, the investigators found buried in the hovel, whose ground is as usual, "ten skulls of innocent heads without the slightest trace of any other bone.” In all, Luiza confessed to asphyxiating 28 children, but investigators found 33 bodies of the 34 that records showed were missing.
~ Prosecution and Punishment ~
Although Luiza de Jesus was 23 years old, the sentencing document gave her age as 22. This is because her lawyer had tried to manipulated her purported age in order to annul the confession, since a woman under 25 was under law still a minor. The stratagem failed. The judges of the Casa da Suplicação ruled “that she was of competent age to be punished, according to the gravity of her crimes.” Luiza was found guilty on July 1, and was sentenced to a punishment that was to match the barbarity of her crimes. The judge stated, as extant records show, he intended to “impose penalties on the Defendant that had some proportion to the cruelty of such atrocious crimes (of which no special Law has so far considered) and the scandal that resulted from them.”
One the sentence was confirmed on July 3, as Portuguese law, required Luisa was ordered to pay 50,000 réis for court costs. The young woman was condemned to walk the streets bound with rope time while her crimes were proclaimed to the public, during which she was struck with red-hot tongs. “Then she taken to the place of the gallows, where her hands are cut off. She died from loss of blood. Following, her body was burned and reduced to ashes. The sentencing order said this was done “so that there will never be a memory of such a Monster again.”
[This text is based on: Anabela Natário, “Luiza de Jesus confessed to murdering 28 children. Perhaps it is the only Portuguese “serial killer” (Luísa de Jesus confessou ter assassinado 28 crianças. Talvez seja a única “serial killer” portuguesa), Expresso (Lisbon), Sep. 19, 2016]
Dec. 10, 1748 – Luiza Rodrigues; born to “Manoel Roiz and his wife Mariana Roiz, from Gavinhos (…) ”; Roiz is the abbreviation for Rodrigues. She later to the name de Jesus.
April 1, 1772 – Angélica Maria, discovers among the olive trees, the corpse of a child still with the strangling cloth around its neck.
Apr. 1772 – Luiza brought to court for questioning. confesses to 2 killings.
Apr. 1772 – Second corpse discovered.
Apr. 1772 – However, under the olive trees, at the top of Monte-Arroio, 13 more "innocents" are discovered who, like the first two, "showed to have been violently killed and garroted.” Belezas de Coimbra.
Apr. 18, 1772 – Luiza confessed to killing 9 children. Confesses in increments to 28 murders.
May 12, 1772 – Luiza admitted to six more killings.
Jul. 1, 1772 – Luiza de Jesus condemned to death, Figueira de Lorvão, Coimbra, Portugal.
Jul. 3, 1772 – sentence confirmed. Luiza de Jesus executed, Figueira de Lorvão, Coimbra, Portugal.
Oct. 7, 1772 – Margarida Joaquina and Leocádia Maria da Conceição released.
[Anabela Natário, “Luísa de Jesus confessed to murdering 28 children. Perhaps it is the only Portuguese “serial killer” (Luísa de Jesus confessou ter assassinado 28 crianças. Talvez seja a única “serial killer” portuguesa), Expresso (Lisbon), Sep. 19, 2016]
[António Braz de, Oliveira, (presentation and notes from), Capital executions in Portugal in a curious 1844 manuscript, Reprint of the Revista da Biblioteca Nacional, nº1, 1982, p. 116.]
[Violenza Donne, Centro documentazione]
[Diccionario Bibliographico Portuguez, Estudos De Innocencio Da Silva, Applicaves A Portugal E Ao Brasil, Volumes 7, 1862, Lisbon, p. 237]
[Johnann Peter Frank, A Complete System of Medical Police, Johns Hopkins UP, 1976, p. 120 (footnote citing Meissner)]
[Sentenca Proferida Na Casa Da Supplicao Contra Are Luiza De Jesus. Lisboa. Na Officina de Antonio Rodrigues Galhardo. 1772.]
[Rita Peixeiro Lopes Esteves, Crime no feminine Caso de Luiza de Jesus, dissertation, Universidade de Lisboa, 2018.]
More cases: Female Serial Killers Executed
More cases: Female Serial Killers Executed