This article relies largely or entirely on a single source. (September 2015)
The crime of Cuenca consisted of a series of judicial miscarriages and police misconduct that involved torture and prison sentences for the accused, for a crime that never existed. The alleged crime related to the disappearance of a shepherd in the province of Cuenca, Spain in 1910.
The facts of the case
José María Grimaldos López, a young 28-year-old shepherd from Tresjuncos, went missing. He was nicknamed El Cepa (the stump), apparently due to his low height and lack of intelligence. He worked at the farm of Francisco Antonio Ruiz, and was constantly mocked by the farm manager, León Sánchez, and also by the security guard Gregorio Valero. On August 20, 1910, José María sold a number of sheep belonging to him and after that he disappeared. Subsequently, it was found that he had gone to bathe at "La Celadilla", a shallow lagoon where bathers covered themselves in mud reputed to have curative properties. La Celadilla is located in the municipality of El Pedernoso about 4 km from the town.
After several weeks of José's disappearance, rumours started to spread around the village about his possible murder with the assumption that he was murdered by someone who wanted to steal the money he had earned from the sheep sale. His family knew about the taunts that José María received —as he always talked about them at home— therefore they decided to file a complaint over the disappearance in the court of Belmonte, accusing León and Gregorio of being the suspected perpetrators of the alleged crime, so they were arrested to be presented in a trial. In September 1911 the case was dismissed. After the interrogation of the detainees, the summary of evidence was heard and the judge released the accused due to the lack of evidence.
New prosecution and imprisonment
After a couple of years, in 1913, at the insistence of the Grimaldos' relatives, the case was reopened. With the arrival in town of a new judge, Emilio Isasa Echenique, José Maria's family reported the case again. Once again an arrest warrant was served on the same suspects thus beginning a long ordeal for them.
The Civil Guard began torturing and mistreating the detainees to obtain confessions from the accused about their culpability in the death of José María crime and to discover what they had done with the missing corpse. And so it continued November 11, 1913 when following the judge of Belmonte's order, the judge of Osa de la Vega certified the death stating that José María Grimaldos López, native of Tresjuncos, died on August 21, 1910 between 8.30 pm and 9.00 pm as a result of having been murdered by Gregorio Valero and León Sánchez. The record reflects note in the margin: "The body could not be identified because it has not been found".
In 1918 after being in prison for four and a half years, the trial began against the accused with a summary riddled with contradictions and unclarified aspects. The trial ended with a sentence that condemned the accused to 18 years of prison by order of the Provincial Court.
The court who sentenced the accused hardly deliberated for thirty minutes, and the twelve members composing the jury judged them responsible for the death of José María. The work of the defense was to restrict themselves to the avoidance of capital punishment, as the garrote was then still being used. Gregorio served time in the prison of San Miguel de los Reyes in Valencia, whereas León served time in the prison of Cartagena.
On July 4, 1925, they left jail regaining freedom after serving 12 years and two months of their sentence, as a consequence of two decrees of pardon.
The reappearance of José María Grimaldos
On February 8, 1926, the priest of Tresjuncos received a mail from the priest of the municipality of Mira, who requested the baptism certificate of José María Grimaldos in order to celebrate his marriage. The priest of Tresjuncos, astonished by the news, decided not to respond to the priest of Mira. Meanwhile, as time went by, José María Grimaldos became impatient with the delay to his marriage and set off for Tresjuncos. When he showed up in the village, the villagers could not believe what they saw, and the whole village and surrounding area were shocked with the news; then the judge of Belmonte interceded and ordered the arrest of the so-called José María Grimaldos. Within hours, the press got hold of the news and it had a huge impact on public opinion.
After the indisputable identification of Grimaldos, the Minister of Grace and Justice ordered the retrial of the case and ordered the prosecutor of the Supreme Court to appeal for revision against the sentence of the hearing of Cuenca. On the aforementioned order it is noted that "there are reasonable grounds to believe that the confession of Valero and Sánchez, essential basis of their convictions, were extracted under exceptional continuous violence". (...)
The Supreme Court declared the ruling issued in Cuenca in 1918 void.[a] As well as establishing Sánchez and Valero's innocence, the supreme court established the nullity of José María Grimaldos' death certificate, and established the corresponding compensations that the State had to pay to the prisoners in such cases.
A trial was held of those held responsible for the miscarriage of justice.
In literature and theater
The writer Alicio Garcitoral, Cuenca's Civil Governor at the time these true events occurred, wrote the social novel El Crimen de Cuenca (1932) reprinted with prologue and edition by José Esteban in 1981. Some time later, the well-known writer Ramón J. Sender wrote the novel El lugar de un hombre (1939). The writer Luis Esteso y López de Haro, native of San Clemente, Cuenca, wrote some four-lined stanzas with the name El Crimen de Cuenca, which were edited in one of his numerous collections (Madrid, G. Hernández and Galo Sáez, 1927).
Pilar Miró, the producer, made a film in 1979 entitled The Crime of Cuenca; it was scripted by Lola Salvador Maldonado, who also narrates the facts in a book published with the same name by the editorial Argos Vergara. The film makes a strong plea against torture and it is perfectly understood that the crime the title refers to is the one committed by the Civil Guard when torturing the suspects. The mathematician Carlos Maza Gómez also studies the case in his book Crímenes in 1926.
- Forced disappearance
- List of solved missing persons cases
- Miscarriage of justice
- Perverting the course of justice
- Presumption of innocence
- Supreme Court judgement: "given the error of fact that motivated the sentence, it is declared void, for it punished a crime that was not committed, thus confirming the innocence of Gregorio Valero and León Sánchez". Sentence from the retrial. July 10, 1926.
- Pérez Bustamante, Rogelio.  "El crimen de Cuenca" Retrieved on January 13, 2009. (in Spanish)
- Ángel Luis López Villaverde, El crimen de Cuenca en treinta artículos: antología periodística del error judicial. University of Castilla–La Mancha, 2010.