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Only the lonely: bank robbery with a political conscience

The autobiography of Jaime Giménez is a tale of Corsican gangs, dodgy disguises and a strange notion of revenge.


Despite the fact he was Spain’s most-wanted man for 13 years, there has been relatively little media coverage of the recently published autobiography of Jaime Giménez Arce, aka El Solitario (the loner). The 54-year-old former bank robber is serving a 47-year sentence for the murder of two civil guards in 2000, so he won’t be doing the rounds of the chat shows any time soon to promote Me llaman El Solitario: autobiografía de un expropriador de bancos (They call me the Loner: autobiography of an expropriator of banks).

So what does El Solitario, who was arrested in Portugal in 2007 as he plotted his next heist, tell us about those 13 years of bank jobs, what motivated him to take up a life of crime, and why did he choose to tell his story?

The picture that emerges is, surprisingly, of an intelligent man with a keen sense of humour who was marked by harsh treatment as a youth in the final years of the Franco regime, and who was disappointed by the Spain that emerged afterward. This may have come in part from his left-leaning family: his mother was a Communist Party councilor in Madrid, and his father a Basque nationalist who had fought against Franco.

Giménez dropped out of a private school in Madrid in the final years of the Franco regime, and spent time in the notorious Carabanchel jail when he was just 16 after a bungled attempt to steal musical instruments from a shop in Madrid to form a band. After his release, in 1976 he went to Finland, where he was briefly married, moving on to work as an air-conditioning engineer on and off for several years, travelling to Algeria, Libya, and even the United States. At one point he was convicted of a minor drug offense and jailed in the United Kingdom. Later on, he recounts, he fell in with some Corsican anarchists and committed his first robbery on the French island.

The Corsicans are soon captured, but El Solitario escapes back to Spain, where he decides to use his recently acquired skills “expropriating” from Spanish banks, on his own. And thus the legend of El Solitario was born, ”he says.

A bank vigilante

“Banks treat their customers like idiots. They are latter-day vampires, and not content with sucking their blood, leaving them to revive, they want to empty them completely. They are actually more like parasites, predators. In my opinion something needs to be done about it,” argues Giménez.

El Solitario: exacting revenge on banking "vampires"

And he did do something about it. He is credited with more than 30 armed robberies, but largely avoids giving any details of them, saying: “I don’t want to help the police with their investigations.”

His modus operandi is well known, and until he was blamed for killing two Civil Guards in 2000, El Solitario was regarded as something of a folk hero by many people.

He would disguise himself with a preposterous false beard and moustache, don a bullet-proof vest hidden by a bulky jacket, and armed with a machine gun and a pistol hit banks in small, out of the way towns just before closing time on a Friday, when the takings would be largest. He took to using a metal crutch so as to foil banks’’ metal detectors.

El Solitario explains that he was able to get away with his no-nonsense approach to bank robberies for so long because of the long-standing rivalry between the Civil Guard and the National Police. The different police forces have the habit of not working together,” he notes.

What also emerges from the book is a man leading a not very glamorous double life, taking extreme risks, and not making much money in the process. The police estimate that he stole just under €700,000 in total. That’s around €53,000 a year. This image is bolstered by the famous police photograph of Giménez, a gormless-looking middle-aged man gurning at the camera with his thumbs up.

By the time he committed his first robbery, in 1994, he had been living with British language teacher Anita Sharrock, with whom he had two children, for almost a decade in the middle class Madrid suburb of Las Rozas. His two boys are now in their early 20s, and live with their mother in the United Kingdom. Sharrock has avoided talking to the British press about her former partner, but she did talk to right-wing daily ABC in December 2008, saying that she knew nothing about his activities, nor where the money came from. Sharrock left Giménez in 2005, taking their two sons with her.

The Spanish police seem to believe her story, and after checking her bank accounts, have never pressed charges against her.

The book is also an opportunity for Giménez to refute the two murders he was found guilty of. At the book’s presentation, his parents and youngest son David insisted that despite his impressive arsenal of weapons, and having already been involved in a shoot-out in which a police officer died, admittedly from a stray bullet fired by his companion, “Giménez wouldn’t shoot a bird.”

Blame the Corsicans

Giménez has always insisted that the two Civil Guards were killed by one of the Corsican anarchists he knew back in the 1970s, and who was subsequently killed in a shoot out. El Solitario’s explanation of why he believes he was framed is complex, but plausible, and involves several high-ranking government figures.

Obviously, Giménez’s only hope of his sentence being reduced is for a retrial. This book is unlikely to prompt a new look at his case. In its absence, perhaps his only consolation, and one that is perfectly in keeping with his worldview, is that like that 16-year-old boy locked up for stealing a guitar, he is once again a victim of the state, albeit this time at the highest level.

That said, journalist Iñaki Errazkin, who helped Giménez write the book, pointed out at its launch in December: “He is not some character from the margins of society. He is a cultivated man, and when I read his notes, I got a very different impression from them than the media coverage during his trial.”

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Published: Mar 4 2010
Category: Culture
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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