Go back to the early 1800s and it would seem like everything was trying to kill you – disease, famine, war – and as it turns out, even men of the cloth. This is the story of the serial killer priest.

Roughly 85 percent of people in the Philippines are catholic, and there’s a good reason for that. For more than 300 years it was part of the Spanish empire, which even among other empires was known for it’s proselytism. In fact, one of the titles held by the kings of Spain was “His Most Catholic Majesty”. But it still took a long time to convert native Filipinos to the faith.

Centuries went by, and countless priests and missionaries flowed into the islands. Going into the 19th century, the work was almost done. Much of it by this point was being done by native priests – and I’m sure most of them were good old fashioned people doing good old fashioned things – but not all of them.

Serial Killer Priest

Our story begins in 1816. The small peaceful town of Magalang had never seen much controversy at all, hence it being small and peaceful. Then one morning a body was found. Little detail is available to us, but there were signs of a violent death – and it was just the first corpse of many. As the murders stretched on, local authorities were literally clueless. And so more and more corpses stacked up. For ten years they were regularly discovered in the streets, cut down like animals.

Panic swept through the town and neighbours turned on each other. No one had any idea who was behind the slaughter, effectively making anyone a suspect. But despite this vigilance, the murders continued – and eventually the body count surpassed 50.

An Inhuman Killer

Some even believed it was not the work of a human killer – instead they blamed beings from folklore – specifically the Manananggal. Part vampire, part Harpy, it is unique among monsters for it’s ability to seperate it’s upper body from the lower half. Then on dark nights she flies through the air, hunting for vulnerable humans to prey on. Like all vampiric beings, she feeds on blood – specifically targeting pregnant women. Once having found one, the creature’s long tongue pierces her victim’s belly and feasts on their unborn child.

Lacking it’s legs, the creature leaves a trail of blood as it flies. Sometimes it’s intestines can even be seen dangling. But by day it is not so hideous. Each morning it merges back into one body, taking on the form of a beautiful young woman. Not only does this help it evade detection, it made sure she never went long without drinking blood. Pregnant women are not always available – especially as they were often aware of Manananggal. So by day she would lure unsuspecting men to their doom. Drawn in by her beauty, blood loss caused their death by the next morning.

The Man Himself

These were superstitious times, and many Filipinos genuinely blamed the Manananggal for the mountain of corpses in Magalang… but no, it turned out a priest was behind it. A serial killer priest.

That priest was Juan Severino Mallari. Ordained in 1809, he would not be made a parish priest for many years after. Countless times he applied for a position, but for some reason Mallari was always rejected. Then finally in 1816 he was made parish priest of Magalang. In many ways he was a trailblazer, being the first non Spanish priest of Magalang, and he started off his time in town in the best possible way – by scaring everybody.

It was obvious to all that this new priest was mentally unstable – but with him being in a position of authority, most people looked past it. Strange as he was, nobody saw him as violent. And so, his arrival coinciding with the murders was seen as just that. With him was his equally strange mother, who he came to believe was cursed. In his warped mind there was only one way to lift the curse… murder.

A Sick Man

When taking one life did not change her condition, he took another, and then another. From the year of his arrival until 1826 Mallari murdered dozens of people. I’m not sure how he got away with it for so long. It’s a shame we know so little about the case – but in rural Asia so much of history has not been recorded by historians. We also know very little about the nature of his madness – whether he was born mad or if something happened. What we do know is how he was caught. In 1826 Mallari became seriously ill.

It was so bad another priest had to come to give him round the clock care. Strangely, no body turned up while Mallari was ill – and one morning, his caretaker discovered that many of his belongings were covered in blood. Among them were bladed weapons. Less deferent to Mallari than his parishoners, he soon called investigators – and to the shock of all, the monster of Magalang was revealed. While still sick, Mallari was taken to the capital Manilla, put on trial, and put on trial.

A Fitting End

Even in those ignorant days, some called for him to be held at a lunatic asylum, rather than a prison. But considering how brutal asylums were in the 1800s, prison might have been preferable. For 14 years he was locked away in prison – and then finally in 1840 he was executed by hanging. That is the story og how Juan Severino Mallari – the serial killer priest, became the first serial murder in the history of the Philippines.

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