A murdering tango, “Don Maté8”
s many Todo Tango readers know, for many years I have been swapping my domicile between the cities of Buenos Aires and Azul. In the former I carry out professional activities and my tango devotion, in the latter, the rural producing tasks which are my way of living.
Since my first visit to Azul, back in the late 1960, on several occasions I have been hearing the story of Mateo Banks (1872-1949), a landowner of Irish origin who shot to death eight people. Among them there were his three siblings, a sister-in-law and two nieces. That happened in Parish, a location very near Azul. But the subject was too gruesome to attract my attention then.
On a trip to Tierra del Fuego I made with my wife some years ago, we visited the old prison in Ushuaia which now is a museum. There we saw a wax replica of Mateo Banks making his bed. Not even on that opportunity did I find anything which was interesting to me but, all the same, I took a picture of his cell.
But recently, at the beginning of 2011, I got an original sheet music (2nd. edition) of a tango for piano with a rare title: “Don Maté8” —it was written that way—, «Dedicated to the people of Azul», with music by Domingo Cristino and lyrics by José Ponzio. (Translator’s note: “Don Maté8” means Mr. Killed8). The person who sent it to me knew about my trips to those places in the central area of the province of Buenos Aires.
As from that time I began to research about that macabre story that happened in 1922 when Banks, a man with social prestige, member of the Jockey Club and the Rural Society, former vice-consul of Great Britain and agent of the automobile enterprise Studebaker, committed a multiple murder in cold blood and premeditation with a malice which was rigorously planned.
The details of the murder, thoroughly described by the good writing of Álvaro Abós, were published in the La Nación newspaper on January 29, 2006. However, I want to state that the Banks’ liking for gambling drove him to a very bad financial situation, near bankruptcy. And this was the reason that led him to kill with his shotgun his family and two farm workers whom he tried to blame for the murder.
But it is worthwhile to say that the episode not only shocked the society of Azul but also the whole country. People, despite the difficulties in communication common at that time, followed step by step the stages of the trial held at that city which condemned Banks with the full rigor of the law. But later, due to procedural reasons the trial was declared null and void and was again brought to the La Plata city courts where finally the accused man was sentenced to life imprisonment.
There is another tango connected to the murder which is entitled “Doctor Carús”, name of the local lawyer who did not accept to defend the landowner, and which was written by Martín Montes de Oca. But I failed to get this piece.
It is quite interesting the front cover of the sheet music of “Don Maté8”, with an illustration which shows, to the left, the cathedral of Azul —in a neo gothic style—, beside it we see the bishop and in the center, surrounded by people, Mateo Banks is bearing a banner with the legend «Jesus-Hail Mary» and at his right a priest with a cane. Below the drawing we read: «Draw. by Tovella.», surely, the draftsman’s surname.
As it is usual in these cases we shall have to go on researching to find some details about the lives of its authors: the musician Domingo Cristino and the lyricist José Ponzio.
The end of this story was unexpected because in 1949, due to good behavior, Mateo Banks was released on probation. He tried to return to Azul but he was strongly rejected, so he traveled to the Capital. The same day he rented a room at a hotel in the neighborhood of Flores, under the false name of Eduardo Morgan, he slipped in the bathtub and broke his neck.
I suggest, for those who want to know the details of the case, to read the article by Alvaro Abós, above mentioned: http://www.lanacion.com.ar/775177-ocho-ataudes-para-mateo-banks