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Juan Luna’s crime of passion

/ 04:20 AM October 16, 2020

Thirty-two years ago, I published an interview with then Social Welfare Secretary Mita Pardo de Tavera, who recounted how Juan Luna murdered her grand-aunt and great-grandmother in 1892. That story demolished the yarn that Luna “accidentally” killed the women when he shot at a door lock supposedly to open it. From then on, Luna became fodder for classroom debates: Should he be remembered as a hero or a murderer?

Skipping sightseeing in Paris for a day in a library, I was surprised at all the newspaper reports from that time that sensationalized the case as “The Drama of Pergolese Street.” Why wasn’t this huge news referenced in biographies of Luna? Was it too inconvenient and best hidden under the rug? When I perused the papers of the 1957 Luna Centennial Commission, I found a note from Luna’s daughter-in-law for them to “kindly omit The Tragedy for all occasions.”

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Two weeks ago, while trawling the internet for Filipiniana, I was surprised to find the Luna murder mentioned in newspapers as far as the United States and Argentina. The New York Herald of Sept. 25, 1892, carried this story:

“Mme. Luna one of the three victims of the rue Pergolese tragedy, was still in a comatose condition yesterday evening. Her brother, however, M. Felix Pardo de Tavera, manifested symptoms of improvement, which tend to the belief that in his case all danger is past.

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“The identity of the M.D., whom Juan Luna suspected of a too close intimacy with his wife, is now disclosed. He is M. Dussaq, forty-five years of age, President of the Havana Chamber of Commerce and Knight of the Legion of Honor. He was found at his residence, 88 avenue Kleber, yesterday afternoon, and spoke as follows:

“‘I made the acquaintance of Mme. de Luna at Mont-Dore in July last. Our relations were of the most ordinary kind. On my return to Paris I called upon Mme. Luna on one of her reception days, and was introduced to M. Luna, who received me with cordiality.

“‘A fortnight ago, as I was going to see a friend of mine, M. Paul Fremy, who has a bachelor’s apartment at 25 rue du Mont-Thabor, I met M. Luna under the porte-cochere. He was pale, haggard and breathless. I shook hands with him, asking by what accident I met him there, and he replied that he had been following his wife and had thought she had gone in there, but that he had not been able to find her. I don’t know whether or not Mme. Luna had entered the house, but I give you my word I did not see her there.

“‘Six days elapsed before I heard anything more of M. Luna, and then I was called upon by M. Luna’s brothers-in-law, Drs. Felix and Trinidad de Tavera, who informed me that they came on behalf of M. Luna, who accused me of guilty relations with his wife and demanded reparation.

“‘Though the affair was incomprehensible, I named MM. Fremy and Closgenson as my friends; and they, in accordance with my instructions, informed M. Luna’s seconds that I totally denied having had with Mme. Luna any relations other than social, and I defied them to prove the contrary. M. Luna’s seconds not being able to furnish any proof, my friends refused to act as my seconds in a duel arranged under such conditions. I consented to sign a declaration on my honor that I had never corresponded or had a rendezvous with Mme. Luna. From that time I heard nothing more about the matter till the newspapers published reports of the horrible tragedy with which I am grieved that my name should have been linked in any way.’

“M. Dussaq’s statements are fully confirmed by M. Fremy, who volunteered a further curious bit of information.

“‘After the meeting of the seconds,’ he said, ‘I met one of M. Luna’s brothers-in-law, who told me that, after receiving the anonymous letter charging his wife with adultery, M. Luna plied his wife with questions, and that she acknowledged having meetings with M. Dussaq in a fourth-floor apartment in the rue du Mont-Thabor. Now this strikes me as a most extraordinary story, as my apartment, where M. Dussaq used to call upon me occasionally, is on the ground floor.’”

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Contrary to what Mita Pardo de Tavera told me, Mrs. Luna did have an affair with Dussaq. On that day, Luna followed her to the apartment of Mr. Fremy; she was smuggled out, hidden in a carriage, through a back exit.

Luna was acquitted on grounds that his was a crime of passion. Even as straight history, this story is compelling material for a novel or a movie.

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Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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