Over the course of one ghastly week in September 1982, the bodies of four taxi drivers were found in Buenos Aires, each murder carried out with the same cold precision. The assailant: a nineteen-year-old boy, odd and taciturn, who gave the impression of being completely sane. But the crimes themselves were not: four murders, as exact as they were senseless.
More than thirty years later, Argentine author Carlos Busqued began visiting Ricardo Melogno, the serial killer, in prison. Their conversations return to the nebulous era of the crimes and a story full of missing pieces.
In the following excerpt (translated from the Spanish by Samuel Rutter), Busqued asks Melogno about the first killing.
How much time passed between you going to live in the streets and the first murder?
A week, I think. Maybe two.
How did it happen?
I’d spent the whole afternoon dozing in the Grand Liniers Cinema, which had two screens split over two floors, right next to Avenida General Paz. I left the cinema and stood outside on the corner of the street that continues down onto Avenida Rivadavia. I must have stood there for a couple of hours, like someone waiting for a bus, watching people walk by, lost in my world, until an internal desire said to me, “the next taxi.” And so I flagged down the next taxi to pass by. I gave the driver a random address, and when we arrived I didn’t know where he had ended up; it was the last place I would have expected, near the San Pantaleón church in Lomas del Mirador.
He was a patron saint of the sick. How did you remember it was the San Pantaleón church?
Because as we drove by I saw the church in the dark. I was chatting away calmly with the guy, no problems.
Talking about what?
Just chitchat. The weather, the night. You get the picture; I was just a kid with a dopey-looking face.
When you gave him the address, did you know you were going to kill him?
In the meantime, what were you thinking about? Do you remember anything about how you were feeling in that moment?
No. I don’t think I could say that I had any type of feeling in the moment. I remember that to get from Liniers to where we were, the guy took the highway and then Avenida General Paz to get to La Tablada, and he was supposed to take the first exit, but instead he stayed on and took the second exit, which made the trip longer. He told me he wasn’t taking the long way to try to rip me off, it was because at the first exit there was a military roadblock where they were checking vehicles, so he took the second exit so they wouldn’t bust his balls.
We got to our destination, he stopped the car and turned around to tell me how much I owed, and that’s when I shot him. I closed my eyes when I pulled the trigger. I never wanted to see the man’s face. When I opened my eyes again, he’d already fallen down. I reached over the seat and pulled him up, because he’d slumped over to the passenger side. I always let the person slump over, I never looked at their face, never looked at their eyes. That was the only time I was afraid. After I pulled the body back up, there was a moment of fear, of . . . terror. Suddenly I looked up and I saw that I was being watched. I didn’t see a person, or a face. I saw two eyes that were watching me. I was paralyzed with fear until a few moments went by and I realized what was happening: it was the rearview mirror. They were my own eyes, in the rearview mirror. My own face, reflected. I didn’t recognize myself. My eyes, my face. It was like there was a complete stranger right in front of me.
And your own eyes were watching you.
Yes. But just because when I looked up the mirror was right there, that doesn’t mean this was some kind of mystical moment. The mirror just happened to be there. It’s just that I couldn’t recognize my own face, I didn’t know my own reflection.
What was it about seeing your own eyes that startled you?
I was frightened by that staring, right in front of me. Yes, that’s it . . . well, yes: I was frightened by the staring, right there in front of me. Suddenly discovering that I was being watched. You can’t look too deeply into it for an explanation, because once I realized it was the mirror, I said to myself, “You’re an idiot.” That was the end of it; it’s not like I spent time afterward thinking about it. Later on, psychiatrists told me that it’s very common during psychotic episodes. No matter how physically present you are, you simply aren’t living the moment. That’s all it was. I didn’t recognize my own reflection.
Then I looked at the guy again. I checked his pockets, I saw there was blood coming from his ears and nose, and then I realized he was dead. I remember thinking, “Is that it? Something as stupid as that?”
(. . .)
How stupid killing seemed.
How did you arrive at those thoughts?
Because of how easy it was. How simple the act itself was. There are also these societal expectations, what you see in movies, that if you shoot someone and kill them, you’ll feel bad, you’ll vomit, you’ll have this huge oh-no-what-have-I-done moment. I felt none of that; I didn’t feel any of those things that you’re supposed to feel, I just thought, “Is that it?” There was no special feeling of pleasure, or fear . . . nothing. I don’t remember feeling anything.
After that, I turned off the engine, leaned back and got comfortable in the seat, then I lit a cigarette. I sat in the car for ten, fifteen minutes, to take in the safety of death, smoking. Smoking without inhaling.
What do you mean by the safety of death?
Ah, how can I explain it? In some sense, that’s where my mind went.
What time was this?
Around eleven at night. Thirty meters away there was a kiosk, people were standing there buying things.
And you just stayed there for a while, with the car switched off.
Was the radio in the taxi switched on?
No, there was total silence.
And while you were you sitting there, what were you thinking about?
I don’t know. When I say “I felt nothing” I should clarify: maybe I did feel something, but I have no reliable memory of it to tell you. I can tell you about the thing with the eyes in the rearview mirror because it’s burned into my memory. But there’s no record of feelings; I don’t remember having felt anything. Perhaps staying in the car for fifteen minutes was a moment of peace, you could say. A calm after the explosion. But in any case, I have no memory of that. I just thought of that now.
You got into the taxi knowing you were going to kill the driver. Did the fact that he told you he was taking the long way to avoid a military checkpoint change your thought process at all? Did it impact your decision?
No, on the contrary, it made me feel even more sure, because—well, the guy could have taken a route where they checked the car. They would have found the gun and arrested me. But then he took a route to charge me more money, and he told me that right to my face. You say to yourself, “Shit, this guy deserves to die.” That’s where this theory I had for a while comes from, this idea that everything happens for a reason, that there had to be a “why.”
And what would that reason be?
Fate. I thought it was fated that those people would die.
Is that what you thought in the moment?
No. I thought of it afterward. I thought it and said it later, when people asked me about it. While it was happening, I wasn’t thinking anything.
What did you do afterward?
I got out of the car and went to Mataderos. I figure I must have walked about fifty blocks, to the bar where I would eat at night.
And what was that walk like?
I was like a robot, the same as always. I wasn’t thinking about what had happened. I walked all the way to the Los Dos Hermanos bar, which was on the corner of Directorio and Larrazábal Streets. At that bar they’ve known me since I was a kid because I lived two blocks away. I went there all the time. I went there and ordered a suprema napolitana [chicken cutlet with cheese and marinara sauce on top] and fries, and then for dessert I had a Balcarce chocolate mousse. Chocolate mousse is one of the desserts I like the most. Chocolate is my real favorite, or dulce de leche eaten by the spoonful, but it has to be heavy dulce de leche, the type you use for baking.
So anyway, I ate there and watched some TV. By then it was almost midnight, and back then they stopped transmitting at midnight, or one at the very latest. The programs they put on at that time were pretty boring. Then I left the bar, walked for a while longer, and went to the Alberdi Park to sleep.
The first killing was an isolated act, so it kind of went by unnoticed. When I committed my killings in Mataderos things blew up, because it was three acts in a short space of time in a small area.
Before that first act, did you ever have the impulse to kill?
And when you say, “It must have occurred to me earlier?”
I’m looking for . . . I’m also trying to find an explanation that seems satisfactory and reasonable. So when I say it must have occurred to me earlier, I say that because it’s not possible that it came to me in the previous five seconds. I figure there must have been something beforehand that led me to what I did. Some sign, some warning. I don’t want . . . I can’t find . . . this isn’t . . . in all these years, I haven’t been able to find where the idea came from, where the need came from. I can’t tell you how or when it occurred to me. Some of the experts thought it might have come from all the movies I had watched, or one of the movies I put together in my own head.
Do you remember what movie you watched that evening?
It was a movie with Franco Nero in it, Hitch-Hike. But I don’t think—I don’t think the idea came to me on the evening itself. I believe it must have come beforehand.
You didn’t get the idea while you were watching the movie?
No, something is telling me that the answer here is no. At the same time, though, I didn’t fantasize about killing. I don’t know how to explain it. But it was already there, somehow. The idea was already there.
Did you have the gun on you when you left the cinema?
Yes, but I always had it with me. I carried it in a kind of leather bag like an envelope that was popular at the time. The pistol was the only thing I took with me when I left the house. I carried it around in the bag, and when I slept in the street, I used the bag as a pillow. The pistol was locked and loaded.