Billy the Kid, the torturer who retired with a golden handshake

The former Spanish police office, who was never held to account for his crimes, has died

Luis Antonio González Pacheco, 'billy el niño'. / EFE

Less than two years ago former Spanish police officer Juan Antonio González Pacheco, better known by his nickname “Billy el Niño” (Billy the Kid), was invited to drinks at Madrid’s Ciudad Lineal precinct to celebrate National Police Day. You could argue that this torturer, one of the names of the Franco-era repression that used to send shivers down the spine of the opponents of the Spanish dictator, enjoyed a blissful retirement. He was a National Police officer with the Franco regime and stayed in the force after the advent of democracy. He was decorated during Felipe González’s socialist administration and, when he retired from law enforcement, he made a pretty penny working as a private security contractor. He was physically fit and, in fact, he went on to run several marathons after retiring.

Juan Antonio González enjoyed a quiet life following his retirement and his passing was equally discreet. Billy the Kid died in a Madrid hospital on Thursday this week, a victim of COVID-19, without ever having to face his victims or answer for his crimes, something which many had looked forward to for a long time. The former policeman had a long history as a torturer, but his case was hardly exceptional. According to historian David Ballester, who wrote Corre, democràcia, corre (“ Run, Democracy, Run”), “there are too many cases of police officers, mostly from the so-called Political and Social Squad, who stayed in the force when the Franco regime came to an end and never abandoned the ‘tools of the trade’ they had resorted to for decades”. No action was taken when the political system transitioned to democracy between 1978 and 1982. Ballester says that “[at the time] many chose to look the other way because the National Police was a force to be reckoned with that carried a lot of clout”. Nevertheless, no action was taken in the ensuing forty years. In fact, Billy the Kid died before his service record was ever disclosed. After some controversy and protests, in February the Spanish parliament agreed to publish a report listing the honours, decorations and awards given to the Francoist torturer, but they refused to disclose Billy’s full service record claiming that this would constitute a breach of the data protection law because Juan Antonio González Pacheco used to be a civil servant, a decision that was endorsed by the chamber’s legal service. Billy didn’t return his medals, either. to The former cop was awarded his first decoration in 1972 and he received the last one in 1982. These awards meant that his retirement pension was bumped up by 50 per cent.

Born in 1948, José María Galante (aka Chato) was one of Billy the Kid’s victims who fought until the end to see him prosecuted. Chato, who passed away in March this year, kept bumping into his torturer because they were neighbours and he was convinced that González Pacheco would be held to account sooner or later. Spain’s Audiencia Nacional court also refused to hear complaints against Billy the Kid filed abroad (for instance, in Argentina) and turned down several extradition requests against him. The justification for refusing to try the crimes of the Franco regime is always the same one: Spain’s 1977 Amnesty Law does not allow the justice system to probe older crimes. Javier Tébar, a history professor at the University of Barcelona, believes that “if we can change the Constitution, we should also be able to change the Amnesty Law. There were many policemen like Billy the Kid because torture and repression were part and parcel of the dictatorship”.

Many have complained on social media that Billy the Kid has died without ever facing any charges. Yet for many years it was only his victims, aided by support groups, who fought to see that one day he would be tried for his crimes. Íñigo Errejón is one of the people who have voiced their disappointment on social media.

Billy the Kid was one of the most notorious faces of Spain’s Political and Social Squad, the regime’s repressive machinery. Many of his victims have provided accounts of the former cop’s cruel methods. He would systematically torture prisoners kept in the holding cells of Madrid’s General Security Directorate. He often used a range of techniques, such as having the detainee run between two rows of officers who would hit him with all sorts of blunt objects, including police batons, as he was punched and kicked. Billy the Kid also used to tie his victims to a bar and beat them up. Ballester claims that “he was sadistic bordering on psychopathic. Many eyewitnesses have confirmed that he clearly enjoyed torturing his victims” and they recall how smug he used to be.

When Spain’s Political and Social Squad was disbanded, Billy the Kid joined the Intelligence Department of the National Police. Ballester believes that “he was involved with far-right groups that plotted violent attacks during the political transition”.

Billy the Kid’s career in the police force began in 1969 and he received many citations, especially in the latter years of the Franco regime. His service record, which eldiario.es published in December 2018, is impressive: on September 25, 1975 he was awarded 500 merit points, shooting up the promotion ladder. Among his achievements were baton-charging students and arresting members of the Spanish Communist Party. Many of his victims experienced nightmares and mental and physical issues for the rest of their lives.