Over 177 years after his execution, serial killer Diogo Alves still frightens unsuspecting passersby who meet his cold gaze. His perfectly preserved head sits in a glass jar a the University of Lisbon’s Faculty of Medicine.
Born in Galicia in 1810, Alves worked from a young age as a servant in the homes of wealthy citizens in the capital. At age 26, he began working in homes along the Aqueduct of Free Waters, a giant waterway that not only carried water into the city, but also acted as a bridge and roadway for farmers and merchants entering to trade. This is where Alves began his string of murders.
Alves would wait on the bridge for people returning with the money they had sold their goods for. After robbing his victims, he pushed them off the 213-foot tall aqueduct. At first, police thought it was merely a series of copycat suicides, but local residents soon began whispering of an aqueduct killer. Over the next three years, Alves sent 70 people to their doom, and police eventually shut the bridge down. Alves wasn’t done, however, he formed a gang to murder and rob the wealthy residences he had worked in but was eventually caught.
The Aqueduct Killer was executed by means of hanging, but his story didn’t end there. At this time, an era of enlightenment fueled many people’s curiosity about what could be learned scientifically about the workings of the mind. Many felt they could explain what made Alves evil by pursuing phrenology—a study of the bumps on one’s head. After Alves was dead, doctors severed his head and preserved it for study.
Though the secret to evil wasn’t discovered in the preserved head of Diogo Alves, the specimen itself has become a curiosity at the college.
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