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Netflix’s latest true-crime documentary tells the story of a horrific murder and an unjust conviction spurred on by homophobic attitudes.
Arriving on the streaming service on Wednesday (23 June), Murder by the Coast is a Spanish-language documentary looking into the shocking miscarriage of justice in which a woman was wrongly imprisoned for the murder of a 19-year-old girl.
The events began in 1999 in Mijas, a town in the Costa del Sol, following the death of 19-year-old Rocío Wanninkhof.
Wanninkhof, who was a local resident of the Malaga town, travelled on foot from her family home on the afternoon of 9 October and to visit her boyfriend, who lived half a kilometre away. She set off to return with the intention of showering before rejoining her partner and friends at a fair later that night. However, she was never seen again.
The next day, Wanninkhof’s mother Alicia Hornos went out looking for her daughter, when they located a pair of Wanninkhof’s running shoes and a blood trail. They alerted police, who deduced by dragging marks she had been murdered, with the body having been dragged by at least two people.
About a month later, Wanninkhof’s naked body was found 30km down the coast, having been disfigured, stabbed and in a state of decomposition.
The initial suspect in the case was Dolores “Loli” Vázquez, a cleaner who had previously had a relationship with Wanninkhof’s mother Hornos.
The pair had been together from 1982 to 1988, during which Vázquez raised Hornos’s children as the couple’s own, with the kids telling their school that they had two mothers. The pair continued to live together for years post split, but the friendship eventually soured.
However, the story was spun by the media to paint Vázquez as a scorned lover who killed Wanninkhof as an act of revenge. They sold the story that she was a “dominant” and “predatory” lesbian – Hornos also turned on Vázquez.
As Murder by the Beach recounts, Vázquez’s sexuality was used as a means to “attack” her, with her alibi all but ignored. Public pressure took her to trial for the crime, where, despite there being virtually no evidence connecting her, she was found guilty by a jury and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Vázquez appealed the sentence and while awaiting her new trial from behind bars, a new seemingly linked murder case emerged. Sonia Carabantes, a 17-year-old girl, had gone missing in August 2003, with DNA matching that found at the scene of Wanninkhof’s murder.
The chief suspect was English expat Tony Alexander King, a sex offender whose wife reported him to the police. He had served six years in prison in the UK in the 1980s for sexually assaulting and strangling five women, but had been released in 1993. King later changed his name and fled to Spain after being identified from a case on Crimewatch in which he was seen violently threatening a student.
Overwhelming DNA evidence linked King to the murders of both Wanninkhof and Carabantes and he was eventually convicted of both crimes and given a 55-year sentence.
While Vázquez was formally acquitted of the crime and released from jail, she was never compensated by the Spanish government for her wrongful conviction.
Murder by the Beach comes to Netflix on Wednesday 23 June.