bloody knife

Diogo Alves: The serial-killing bandit whose head has been preserved in a jar since 1841

Between 1836 and 1839, Diogo Alves lived as a thief and murderer. This man is famous for murdering 70 people in and around the Aqueduto das Águas Livres (Aqueduct of Free Waters) in Lisbon Portugal. This made him one of the country’s first serial killers. What’s even more interesting is that his head can be found, perfectly preserved, in a jar by the entrance of the medical faculty of the Lisbon University. 

Diogo Alves - extraído de uma gravura da época (1840).png
Depiction of Diogo Alves. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Diogo Was Not Portugal’s First Serial Killer

Many believe that Diogo Alves was Portugal’s first serial killer, but this isn’t true. While his crimes were surely murderous and gruesome, he was not the first serial killer to wreak havoc on Portugal. Luisa De Jesus is a woman who, in 1772, admitted to poisoning 28 children. This woman was reprimanded violently for her crimes, being whipped, hanged, and burned as punishment.

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Diogo Alves Explained

Diogo was born in 1810 in Galicia, a northern region in Portugal. Intending to work as a servant for the richer families, Diogo moved to Lisbon. He was only a young boy at the time. When he was a grown man, he lived to terrorize the locals in the city. 

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He lived off robbing some people and murdering others as this was much more lucrative than being a servant. Diogo asked to be transferred to a position that was close to the aqueduct, knowing that farmers would have to pass by on their way home from the market. He would attack them, and steal the money they had earned from selling their crops at the market. Once he had their earnings, he would throw them off the edge of the aqueduct, and they would fall to their deaths. This was a procedure that he repeated over 70 times with different people. 

The authorities thought that people were committing suicide by jumping off the aqueduct. This was understandable, seeing as the Great Liberal Revolution was well underway and many had lost their jobs. To prevent more deaths, they closed off the bridge. This allowed some relief from the deaths at the aqueduct. After a while, many robberies were reported in the wealthier parts of town. Diogo had formed a gang of other robbers, and they were stealing from the rich. 

One night, they were busy trying to kill off about four people in a doctor’s home, and the gang was caught. Diogo’s life came to an abrupt end when he was executed for his many crimes in 1841. He was sentenced to hang, but his head was placed in a jar and managed to remain intact, perfectly preserved.

Read: Bizarre ‘Road to Atlantis’ Discovered In Unexplored Part of Pacific Ocean  

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A Preserved Head

Diogo may not have been very famous for his crimes, but his preserved head sure has made his face scarily recognizable. But, why was his head put into the jar in the first place? 

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Head of Diogo Alves in jar
Rafaela Ferraz

After Diogo had successfully scared the locals of Lisbon with his thievery and murderous rampage, doctors and psychologists at the time wanted to understand his reasonings. During this time, “phrenology” was quite popular. This was a pseudoscientific belief that the shape of your skull on the inside, could have something to do with a person’s personality and character traits. The researchers at the time were very excited to use Diogo’s head as a research tool, so it was placed in a jar with formaldehyde to preserve it. The hope was to be able to discover how a person, like Diogo, could become evil through phrenologic study. Ultimately phrenology was deemed unscientific and is now considered pseudoscience.  

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The decapitated head in a jar has caught the attention of some visitors at the university. Many had described how it looks to them, with the most common comparison being a potato. Another head can be found just down the corridor of Diogo’s jar. This is the head of Francisco Mattos Lobo, a man convicted of murdering his whole family and throwing their dog out of a window. 

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Sources:

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  1. Why Portugal Has Preserved The Centuries-Old Head Of Serial Killer Diogo Alves.” All Thats Interesting. Krissy howard. May 19, 2022.
  2. Why Was the Head of a Portugal Serial Killer Preserved in a Jar Until Now?Medium. Lioness Rue. October 11, 2021
  3. Preserved Head of Diogo Alves.” Atlas Obscura. lostlara & shaneleftridge. June 9, 2017.
Jade Small
Freelance Writer
Jade is a freelance writer and content creator from South Africa with over 7 years experience writing and creating. She's also a proud single mom to a super 13 year old boy.
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