Diogo Alves: The Portuguese Serial Killer Whose Head Is Still On Display In a Glass Jar Today

Despite being executed in 1841, the head of Portugal's serial killer Diogo Alves is still perfectly preserved and kept on display at University of Lisbon's Faculty of Medicine.

Diogo Alves Head
The perfectly preserved head of Diogo Alves is still on display at the University of Lisbon's Faculty of Medicine.

Diogo Alves spent years terrorising the people of Lisbon, Portugal, he would steal and kill as he pleased. After being finally caught for his heinous crimes he was executed in 1841, however, in a somewhat unusual way he still "lives" on. We might be 180 years on from his death but you can still see his head, perfectly preserved in a glass jar at the University of Lisbon's Faculty of Medicine.

Considered by many to be Portugal's first serial killer, Diogo Alves was born in Galicia, Spain, in 1810 before moving to Lisbon as a child to work in affluent homes as a servant.

Alves quickly came to the understanding that he could make much more money by turning to a life of crime and in 1836 he had himself transferred to work in a home situated on the Aqueduto das Áquas Livres, the Aqueduct of the Free Waters. The waterway which was less than half a mile long allowed those from the suburbs and rural farmers to traverse the rural landscape from above on their way into Lisbon city centre, it was here these unfortunate commuters would come to meet Diogo Alves.

Aqueduct of the Free Waters
Aqueduct of the Free Waters in Lisbon where Diogo Alves would throw his victims from

The majority of Alves victims that would use this route were humble farmers who travelled a long distance to reach Lisbon in a hope of selling their harvests. Diogo Alves would not attack them on their way into Lisbon, he would wait until they were returning and carrying the money they had made selling their goods and crops. Alves would rob them at nightfall and then he would throw them over the 213-foot tall bridge, sending them plummeting down to their deaths, it is believed that between 1836 and 1839 he did this to more than 70 victims.

Initially the local authorities put the deaths down to copycat suicides, which led to the bridge being closed temporarily. Although the bridge closure put a stop to the deaths on the aqueduct, burglaries began increasing within private homes in the area, Alves had formed a gang of violent robbers to target the wealthiest residents in Lisbon.

The group eventually got caught whilst murdering four people inside the home of a local doctor, leading to Alves being arrested and sentenced to death by hanging.

Diogo Alves Hanging
Diogo Alves was responsible for approximately 70 murders in Lisbon before his arrest

Many people claim that Diogo Alves was Portugal's first convicted serial killer, however, this is not actually true. A woman by the name of Luisa de Jesus, admitted to poisoning 28 children and is the first recorded serial killer in the country, she was whipped, hanged and burned in the streets of Lisbon in 1772 as punishment for her crimes.

If you are asking yourself why the head of Alves was kept preserved all this time, well the answer lies with scientists of the times, at the time that Alves was executed there was a belief that certain character traits or mental differences were determined by the shape of a persons skull. Researchers wanted to preserve the head so that they could investigate and better understand what could make a person such as Diogo Alves so evil.

With this belief in place at the time, Diogo Alves's head was removed from his dead body and placed into the glass jar that it can still be found in today, perfectly preserved for you all to see.

No information is known about the results that came from the study on Diogo Alves's severed head, if anything came from it at all.

The following year, in 1842 a second skull that belonged to a man by the name of Francisco Mattos Lobo, who was convicted of murdering a family of four and throwing their dog from a window, was also examined, his preserved head can be found just down the corridor from that of Diogo Alves.

Now you have read the story of Diogo Alves, take a look at the story of Sooraj Kumar, the Cobra Killer.


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