Of the 600 inmates in Ushuaia Prison in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, there was now one less housed in the 380 cells. The officer’s boots echoed off the stone floor as they came running, the heavy wooden cell door creaking open to reveal inmate Cayetano Santos Godino lying dead in his cell. It was November 15, 1944. Inmates and staff alike probably were uttering “Good riddance,” throughout the prison. Godino was a pyromaniac, animal and child abuser, and considered Argentina’s first serial killer. “El Petiso Orejudo” (“The Big-Eared Midget”) was dead, and Buenos Aires could breathe a collective sigh of relief. This horrific chapter in criminal history was over.
Cayetano Santos Godino was Buenos Aires’ native son, born 1896 into an Italian immigrant family of eight boys and abusive alcoholic parents. The family was destitute. Santos, as he was known, suffered poor health due to his father’s syphilis. From the moment he was old enough to step into a school classroom, documentation began, revealing how Santos started exhibiting some early warning signs of predatory and homicidal behavior.
Santos bounced from school to school. No one – teachers, staff, and his parents – could manage his behavior, his total disinterest in education. So he wandered the streets, escaping the doldrums of school and the poverty and abuse at home. The boy was torturing and killing small animals, cats and birds; his father found dead birds in his son’s shoes and under the boy’s bed. Santos began setting fires whenever he could lay hands on a match. Furthermore, he was a mean little boy. Not just a bully, but frightfully mean.
|Cayetano Santos Godino demonstrating to |
police how he tied knots to bind his victim
A seven-year-old Santos severely beat a two-year-old boy and was tossing the body into a ditch of thorny bushes when a witness caught them; they were both taken to a police station, where dutiful parents picked them up. By now, Santos’ family was privy to his behavior. Not even police intervention helped because at eight years old, officers stopped Santos from pounding rocks into the body of a little girl, a much younger child. Again, because of his age, the family was called, and Santos went home. Santos did not stop; he was holding a lit cigarette to the eyelids of a two-year-old when the baby’s mother heard the screams of anguish and came running; Santos escaped. Then Santos was arrested when trying to drown a two-year-old in a horse trough. Again, his age prevented him from being kept behind bars.
Santos finally did spend time behind bars. His parents, always catching him masturbating, turned him over to the cops. Masturbation was an illegal act: “Offending good manners with impudent exhibitions, obscene acts or gestures, attentive to modesty, practiced in public or attended by the public, and which, without offense to individual honesty, insult and scandalize society” (Article 282, Penal Code of the United States of Brazil, October 11, 1890). Booking photos were taken of the nude boy, from front and side. Santos was ten.
Santos’ parents would retrieve him and, hoping that the juvenile institution had reformed him, announced they had found him a factory job. It lasted a few months. Santos took to the streets, now fueled by alcohol, picking up where he left off.
A 13-year-old naked child’s corpse was found in an abandoned house in 1912. The victim, severely beaten, had a rope tied around the throat. It remains a cold case. Santos is suspected.
Santos’ love affair with fire never ended. Something about the red and yellow flames licking and shooting into the air fascinated him. While his fascination led to charges of arson it also resulted in one known death. In March 1912, a five-year-old girl died as the result of the burns she suffered when Santos purposely set fire to her dress. He tried to burn down a train station but the flames were extinguished before much damage was done, much to his chagrin. In January 1912 at the age of sixteen, he was arrested for burning down a warehouse. “I like to see firemen working,” he admitted to the arresting officers. “It’s nice to see how they fall into the fire” (Cabezas). There were two more fires in late September, and both extinguished before severe damage could be done. In between fiery endeavors, there was murder.
Cayetano Santos Godino’s first arrest for attempted murder was on November 8, 1912. He was caught trying to choke an eight-year-old boy to death. Santos was released and awaiting trial when he was again caught beating a child, this time a three-year-old, eight days later. On the 20th, a neighbor stopped Santos from kidnapping a two-year-old girl.
As November 1912 turned to December, Santos was spending his last days of freedom. Jesualdo Giordano was not yet two when Santos found him playing outside the Giordano home. Santos offered the baby some candy, and little Jesualdo happily obliged. Using the temptation of more candy, Santos led the little one to an empty building away from the area. Once inside, Santos shoved the baby to the floor and tried unsuccessfully to choke him with Santos’ belt. He then used the belt to bind Jesualdo’s limbs. That’s when the beating began. Later, he would admit it was at this time he began thinking of driving a nail into the boy’s skull.
Santos left the crumbling building to find a nail, and instead found Mr. Giordano. “I can’t find Jesualdo!” The panicked father told Santos. “Have you seen him!” To which a cool Santos replied in the negative.
Santos returned to the crime scene with a nail and brick to hammer it into Jesualdo Giordano’s skull. Satisfied, he tried to hide the dead body and departed. However, Mr. Giordano had not given up his
search and the father located the son in less than fifteen minutes.
|Cayetano Santos Godino |
mug shot in Ushuaia Prison
A wake was held in the family home per tradition, the body on display. Cayetano Santos Godino attended, touching the hole where the nail had been imbedded in the corpse.
Santos was arrested the following day and readily admitted to the horrific crime. He also admitted to something else: when he was ten, Santos had abducted “Maria Rosa Face, only three, whom he tried to strangle and then not succeeding he buried her alive on March 29, 1906” (Lilith).
He earned the moniker “El Petiso Orejudo” (“The Big-Eared Midget”) due to his protruding ears and small stature. He was declared “mentally disabled … unaware of his actions” and sent to a mental health facility (“asylum”) in January 1913. He was interviewed by doctors and declared legally insane (Lots of Breeze).
“The Big-Eared Midget” proved he could not stay out of trouble, even in a reformatory. He picked up an attempted murder charge when he tried killing fellow patients. Still, a judge ruled Santos was unable to understand his actions. The Chamber of Appeals overturned the ruling in 1915 and sentenced Cayetano Santos Godino to life in prison.
In March of 1923, the courts had Santos transferred to Ushuaia Prison. Still, Santos’ bloodlust and penchant for fire were unabated.
The inmates kept two pet cats behind bars, taking care of the animals, feeding, and caring for the cats. The felines were considered mascots of sorts. In 1933 Santos beat the cats to death and tossed the carcasses into a fire. His fellow inmates were outraged, and this time Santos was locked in with at least 599 disgusted individuals seeking revenge. Officers found Santos beaten close to death.
Most of 1933 found Santos in the prison hospital, and once released, he remained ill. His death in 1944 was considered “mysterious circumstances” (possibly a long-lasting result of the beating inmates gave him) but legally listed as internal bleeding due to gastritis.
Cabezas López, Carlos (September 16, 2007). "Cayetano Santos Godino, la historia del Petiso Orejudo". Caso Abierto (in Spanish). Archived from the original on August 1, 2008. Retrieved through https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cayetano_Santos_Godino on May 8, 2020.
Cayetano Santos Godino: the first serial killer in Argentina. (April 10, 2017). Lots of Breeze. Mutabrisa. https://muitabrisa.com.br/cayetano-santos-godino-o-primeiro-assassino-em-serie-da-argentina/.
Lilith. (September 30, 2015). Cayetano Santos Godino – the child who killed children. Emadion. https://emadion.it/en/homicides/serial-killers/serial-killer-kids/cayetano-santos-godino-the-child-who-killed-children/
"Penal Code of the United States of Brazil". Article 282, Decree No. 847 of 11 October 1890.
Santos child photo is public domain
Santos mug shot courtesy: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1750619
Serial killer “big-eared midget” dies in prison cell.” (November 15, 2017) Horror History. https://horrorhistory.net/2017/11/15/serial-killer-big-eared-midget-dies-in-prison-cell/
Ushuaia Prison, World Monuments Fund. https://www.wmf.org/project/ushuaia-prison