IT’S no surprise the death of Rocio Wanninkhof in 1999 is still fascinating armchair sleuths, writes Olive Press editor Jon Clarke, who wrote a book on the case.
Mention the Rocio Wanninkhof case around Spain and expect plenty of raised eyebrows. Everyone has an opinion on the murder of the attractive half-Spanish, half-Dutch teenager on the Costa del Sol in 1999.
But while it is still transfixing the nation two decades on, today it has gone stratospheric, after the launch of two high-profile documentaries in recent months.
Both Netflix and HBO have released programmes on the case, in particular focusing on the involvement of the former lesbian lover of Rocio’s mother.
It makes for gripping TV, studying Dolores Vazquez’ alleged motives and alibis, as well as her potential links to the eventual convicted murderer, a British barman called Tony King.
The HBO series ‘Dolores. The truth about the Wanninkhof case’, in particular, goes deep in a six-parter, which sets up as being a study of one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in Spanish history.
But is it really? And what exactly were Dolores’ connections to Tony King and his sidekick, timeshare tout Robbie Graham, who has literally vanished into thin air?
I spent a year studying the case, before publishing a book on it in 2004 called Costa Killer.
My interest began after another teenage girl, Sonia Carabantes, was murdered during a feria in Coin, inland Malaga, in 2003.
There were definite similarities between the killing and that of Rocio’s, in Mijas, four years earlier, and for a month that summer it was hardly out of the news in Spain.
But when the DNA of a British expat, working in nearby Alhaurin, was found to have been at both crime scenes, it was like dynamite. Bang. Suddenly the story went global.
I had only just moved to Spain from the UK and found myself working around the clock to track down and speak to all the key players.
I started with King’s acquaintances in Alhaurin (among them his former workmates at the Bowers Arms as well as an ex-flatmate, a Danish girl) and eventually ended up interviewing his wife and family back home.
The fact he had moved to Spain having changed his name by deed poll from Tony Bromwich – aka the Holloway Strangler, in the UK, for half a dozen vicious attacks on women – only made the case more supercharged.
Incredibly, he had easily immersed himself into a new life on the Costa del Sol, despite actually appearing on UK TV programme Crimewatch on a separate rape case the week he left for Spain, in 1997.
The British authorities had even tracked him down and warned the Spanish counterparts of his past, but inexplicably he was never extradited home to face other charges.
The Wanninkhof case had begun on October 9, 1999, in La Cala de Mijas, when 19-year-old Rocio had been slayed on her way home.
She had vanished some 500 metres from her boyfriend’s house, at around 10pm, her violent stabbing leaving an ominous series of blood stains on waste ground, as well as drag marks and nearby tyre tracks.
It led to one of the biggest public searches in Spain’s history, until her body turned up, apparently sexually assaulted, on waste ground in Los Rodeos, between Puerto Banus and San Pedro, on November 2.
But it wasn’t just any bit of overgrown land. Just 100 metres from the busy N-340 motorway, it was beside a tennis club, which two of Rocio’s uncles, Juan and Serafin Hornos, had been set to rent, potentially to run as a brothel, a source told me.
Next to her body were several rubbish bags with her personal belongings, clothes and oddly, a flyer handed out in a previous search for the body. There was also a cigarette butt, while fingerprints on one of the bags allegedly matched those of Serafin Hornos, although this is much contested.
Either way, surely it was no coincidence that a random sex attacker would have driven her body 33kms up the motorway to this specific spot, when he could have headed a few kilometres inland to mountains in Mijas.
The police however, did not know of this connection and initially interrogated Rocio’s boyfriend Toni, before focusing their attention on the former lesbian lover of her mother Alicia Hornos. You couldn’t make it up.
Enter Maria Dolores Vazquez Mosquera. Born in Galicia but raised in England, she managed the Sultan Hotel, in Marbella, and allegedly had a ‘short temper’ and ‘practiced martial arts’.
She became the prime suspect, largely due to the claims of Rocio’s mother, who has always insisted she had threatened her family in the weeks leading up to her death and claimed she had concrete motives to kill her daughter.
She told police (and the media) their split had been very acrimonious leading to Dolores calling her late at night and her daughter even hiding when she saw her car or heard her talking.
Rocio’s younger sister Rosa Blanca, added that Dolores was ‘a compulsive liar’ and ‘full of contradictions’. “In the last year before Rocio’s death she also became very aggressive,” she said in one interview. “All the evidence points to her,” she added.
The Guardia Civil followed suit and tapped her phone as well as sending a female agent to get close to her friends and acquaintances, building up a picture of her as being ‘cold, calculating and aggressive’.
In the end detectives had around 30 separate bits of evidence pointing at Dolores, who insisted she had not gone out that night and had been looking after her mother and her niece’s daughter.
She also insisted she had made some calls from her home, which were proven by her phone bill, although they were at 8.30pm and later after 10pm, leaving a window to have committed the crime.
And there were numerous other discrepancies, which the HBO documentary did not ignore.
These include her later admittance that she might have, after all, gone out that evening to buy cigarettes… and her inability to explain how a car, a red Celica, identical to hers, was seen with two men inside it very close to the murder location.
Despite the lack of concrete evidence, specifically the murder weapon or DNA, public opinion, fuelled by the press and, in particular, TV, was already condemning her as guilty.
When her cleaner, an expat Russian called Tatiana, came forward to say she had stabbed a poster of Rocio with a knife in her kitchen, shouting ‘problem, problem’ the die was seemingly cast.
The jury certainly agreed, with six out of nine condemning her, although a retrial was later ordered.
Dolores and her lawyer claimed it was a ‘biased, popular jury’ with the prosecution merely focusing on deconstructing her as a person without providing evidence to incriminate her.
The prosecution insisted she had stabbed Rocio after an ‘uncontrollable burst of anger’ when she met her out while having an evening stroll. It was claimed she had been carrying a knife and stabbed her, after firstly slapping or punching her in the face, giving her a nosebleed.
Later, with the help of others, she returned to the scene at around 2am to pick up the body, put it in the car, and, after several days, subsequently moved it to Marbella.
But police could match none of the fingerprints at the crime scene to her and various fibres found on the body did not match her clothing.
While she was sentenced to 15 years for the murder in 2001, she was let out of prison when police discovered that biological remains under the fingernails of Sonia matched the cigarette butt found next to Rocio’s body.
I have no doubt that Tony King was involved in the murder, after his estranged wife Cecilia went to the police in 2003 recalling the night Rocio had died and how he had acted strangely.
She told me in an exclusive interview, how he had come in late at night, had a shower, and gone out again, taking his old clothes with him.
And again when Sonia died, she and her new partner David Cooze, had seen Tony with scratches on his hand and a broken car light.
Police acquired his DNA from a glass and eventually confessed to the crimes in addition to other assaults committed around Malaga and even as far away as Granada (in particular in Motril).
But King – who had been imprisoned in the UK for five vicious sex attacks by strangulation in 1986 – always insisted that Rocio was killed alongside his friend (and boss) Robbie Graham and Dolores.
He claimed Dolores was an acquaintance of Graham, a timeshare salesman with previous convictions in the UK.
He said Rocio had been seized by the trio and was to be ‘given a warning’ over her relationship with Dolores, which ended up going too far.
It might explain why a blood-stained tissue was found near the scene of her death, suggesting she had been given it to dab her nosebleed by someone who knew her well.
While a jury unanimously found King guilty of the murders in 2006, they ruled definitely that he ‘did not act alone’ and ‘must have had’ the help of accomplices.
There are questions, in particular, over Graham, who was brought in for questioning, but eventually let out to vanish and never to resurface again. He had been King’s boss at the timeshare company Lubina Sol, in Riviera, where coincidentally Rocio’s mother Alicia cleaned.
Many people told me that King was Graham’s ‘clumper’ or hired heavy and he had a very strong spell over him. The pair had met in prison in the UK, I believe, and Graham had an unhealthy relationship with women.
The pair got up to a lot of bad things together, King’s ex-wife Cecilia told me.
The HBO documentary briefly dwells on this and wonders whether all three could have been involved.
While Dolores completely denies it and she has since been exonerated by the state, her ex-lover Alicia is still convinced she was involved.
In one dramatic part of the documentary Rocio’s mother tells how Dolores had a very bad temper and even saw her throw her own mother to the floor and ‘dragged her by the hair’. To which Dolores replies: “If Alicia says I hit my mother that is totally unforgivable. I would have hit Alicia if she had touched my mother.”
Such violent dialogue, but as Alicia later points out, King was a strangler of women, not a knifeman.
For me, it definitely doesn’t quite add up. The body being taken 33 kilometres up the motorway, the links to the Hornos family, the many contradictions of Dolores.
It is one of the reasons the Rocio case and that of the Costa Killer will certainly never be forgotten.