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Monday June 11, 2012

Dead to the world

A man found dead in the hallway of his home in the tiny village of Cañizal in western Spain had apparently lain undiscovered for more than 15 years. Disturbing stories like this often pop up in the world’s media but there’s something particularly shocking about this one.

Last year the documentary Dreams of a Life, explored the sad circumstances surrounding the death of Joyce Vincent, discovered in her North London bedsit in 2006. The thirty-eight-year old had lain dead for nearly three years while the television still flickered and a small pile of Christmas presents lay unwrapped at her side. One can try to make sense of how in a large and impersonal city like London this might happen-that someone could simply go missing and unnoticed for years. But it’s still hard to imagine that not one concerned neighbour, friend or family member discovered Joyce Vincent in her flat or even sought to find out what had become of her. Where were they all? Why did such an attractive and by all accounts personable and intelligent young woman end her days in such grim solitude?

In the Spanish village of Cañizal, it appears that not one of its 500 inhabitants deemed it odd that Vicente Benito suddenly disappeared one day leaving his dog tied to railings in the garden and the redecoration of the front of his home unfinished. A neighbour eventually untied and adopted the dog and life continued as before. The dead man’s body was only found when a nephew who actually lived in the same village decided to force entry to the house.

He and other villagers claimed that they had assumed that Vicente Benito had gone away. He was a shepherd and many thought that he had set off to new pastures perhaps in Portugal. He no longer spoke to his siblings and was divorced from his wife who in 1992 reported his disappearance. All the same no one visited his home: not his former wife, family, friends, neighbours or even the authorities. The village mayor, Miguel Angel Herrero, admitted that none of the villagers had seen the familiar figure for many years and this was poignantly endorsed by the fact that pesetas-withdrawn in 2002 when the euro was introduced-were found in his jacket pockets.

It’s hard to imagine that such a shocking scenario could ever happen in a small and cosy Spanish village full of nosy neighbours, cheery gossips and lively bars. And yet, as the sad demise of Vicente Benito has proven, it’s perfectly possible to leave this world –seemingly without a trace.

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