Netflix’s ever-growing roster of true crime programming expands to include one of the most notorious missing person cases of the century. Directed by Paula Cons, Where is Marta? is a three-part series docuseries focusing on the disappearance and presumed murder of a young woman, a case mired in mistruths and endlessly recanted confessions.
Marta Del Castillo Casanueva was a high school student living in Seville, Spain, when she went missing on January 24, 2009. Her last known worlds to the world were in a group chat to a friend, declaring that her ex-boyfriend, Miguel Carcaño Delgado, was downstairs and wanted to speak to her. When she never called home after going out to see friends that night, her parents grew suspicious. The blame quickly fell upon Delgado, who Marta’s mother believed to be bad news. Carcaño attracted further suspicions from Del Castillo’s family and friends when he moved immediately to nearby Camas with his new 14-year-old girlfriend, rather than joining the search for Del Castillo.
As the case became a nationwide cause and the police’s handling of the investigation came under scrutiny, Carcaño confessed to murder. But things didn’t end there. Carcaño changed his story, recanting his initial testimony to blame the murder on Francisco Javier García Marín, a friend known as ‘El Cuco.’ Once more, Carcaño changed his story, this time claiming that he and El Cuco murdered Del Castillo after sexually assaulting her. El Cuco denied all charges following a series of confessions wherein he said he helped his friend to dispose of Del Castillo’s body. He was later found guilty of the charge of concealment and was sentenced to three years in a juvenile detention center and one month of supervised freedom. He was released less than a year after the trial and found not guilty of charges of rape and murder. Carcaño was sentenced to 20 years in prison and to compensate Del Castillo’s family to the sum of 340,000 euros. To this day, Marta Del Castillo’s body has not been found.
There’s something almost relieving about the straightforward nature of Where is Marta, a docuseries that seems to have been made with a local audience already familiar with the case in mind. There are no drawn-out speculations over Del Castillo’s fate or diversions into the conspiratorial, something that’s now dishearteningly common among the Netflix true crime glut. The title of the show is, alas, a question without an answer, one the show cannot and really doesn’t try to give. The tragedy of this tale is the abhorrent loss of life and the tangle of lies keeping a family from being able to put their child to rest. As Cons and her team are keen to stress, the Del Castillo case was often overshadowed by meddling press, police ineptitude, and a rush for justice devoid of deftness or rigor.
Del Castillo’s family are present for sit-down interviews, as are several investigators, lawyers, and other such experts, all of whom hope to offer something that will cut through the noise. We see news reporting where Marta’s distraught father is asked extremely ill-timed questions about the investigation, including details he had not known about until an opportunistic interviewer sprung it upon him. Carcaño’s half-brother, Francisco Javier Delgado Moreno, who faced charges of concealment and desecration of a corpse, is interviewed, his face away from the camera, maintaining his innocence. As with all too many true crime cases, the scrutiny falls upon the police for its seeming lack of care and expertise in bringing Del Castillo’s potential killers to justice. Upon receiving the report of a missing person, officers said they would wait until the weekend was over to fully begin an investigation. Crucial cell phone data that could have helped to place Del Castillo was never used, despite it being available technology in 2009. The documentary’s discovery of such details has allowed the Seville courts the opportunity to examine the raw data of the phones of those involved.
The evidently gendered nature of the case - Del Castillo was attacked by either one or several men, one of whom was her ex - doesn’t seem to dawn on the authorities. The police hold press conferences in full formal uniform while talking of ‘irrefutable scientific evidence’ they didn’t actually have. Male talking heads on the many shows obsessing over the case seem skeptical that it could be classified as domestic violence. A 17-year-old victim was sneered at as ‘easy’ or ‘stupid’ for going to a friend’s house full of men she knew and trusted. Yet the vase seems to have been an easy and highly emotional moment for politicians to conveniently hijack.
Where is Marta? is a painfully familiar tale, because decades pass and the authorities still remain depressingly ill-equipped to tackle the abuses of women, and the violence inflicted upon them will be hijacked for reasons other than justice. The focus may be local but the truth is horribly universal.
(For those wondering how the dubbing is, it’s yet another weirdly inept job on the part of Netflix, with the English voices sounding curiously bored or disconnected to those they’re meant to be translating. Given the supposedly international power of the streaming service, one would think this is an area they’d be keen to invest some funds in.)
Where is Marta? is streaming on Netflix.
Header Image Source: Netflix