When Carlos Perry called his father’s cellphone at around 4pm one day earlier this month, a policeman answered and suggested he come along to the police station in Leganés, Madrid.
Believing his father was in some kind of trouble, Carlos informed his aunt, Fany Judith, the family matriarch who has been in charge of the extended Perry family since they settled in Madrid 20 years ago after moving to Spain from their native Peru.
She stormed out of the house grumpily, imagining that she was being called upon to extricate her younger brother from some kind of scrape. When she arrived at the police station, however, officers told her that her brother had died in an accident. It wasn’t easy to explain how it happened, but several police officers patrolling the area had spotted his legs protruding from a storm drain in the early hours of the morning, as if someone had planted a man in the tarmac.
The police officers surmised that Carlos Perry, 54, had died trying to rescue a set of keys that had fallen down the sewer grate. After pulling his body out of the hole, they used a magnet to retrieve them. When Fany Judith turned up, they handed over all the items the victim was carrying at the time, including two cellphones, 16 expired lottery tickets as well as €308 in cash that was concealed inside a double lining in his wallet.
Reconstructing the events leading to Perry’s death, the police believe he was looking for a parking spot near his home at around 2.30am on a Monday. Hours earlier he had gone to his sister’s home for a drink after a day working his market stall with his son Carlos. At a certain point, he stopped the vehicle and got out holding the car keys, which must have slipped from his grip down the storm drain. In a bid to retrieve them, he removed the 20-kilogram lid and put his hand down the hole. Against all odds, he then plunged head first into the abyss, leaving only his legs above ground.
An autopsy performed on his body will determine the exact cause of death. In the meantime, the judge in charge of the case has allowed the family to cremate the body because he considers it an accident. However, prior to cremating the victim, the family discovered that he had received a strong blow to the head. Other theories that have been mooted include a possible heart attack or the inhalation of toxic gas.
According to José Manuel Suárez, a member of the Association of Public Works Engineers, this last theory is highly improbable. He explains that the storm drain where Perry was found collects water from the roads. “It’s open air and there are no gases,” he says. Suárez maintains that in all his 50 years on the job, he has never seen a case like this one.
Before meeting his untimely end, Perry had worked in the merchant marine as a young man. It was then that he got married and had three children; he was out at sea often and returned to his family in Lima every three months. After 18 years together Perry and his wife split up, and he moved to Bermeo in Spain’s Basque Country to find work. When things did not work out there, he moved to Madrid where his sister took him in. He became a plasterer, though later he would become a fruit vendor.
At the local bar in Leganés where he used to spend time, Perry was apparently something of a character. “He argued with the Gypsies, the Romanians and with little old men over soccer,” says his son. “People loved him there.”
In a nod to his allegiance to the Barça team, his family tried to cremate him in a team shirt, but it was against the crematorium rules.
Perry’s daughter, Angelita, who lives in Lima, caught a plane to Madrid as soon as she was informed of the tragedy. Since her arrival, she has been ferrying documents between the police station, the courts and the crematorium. Once she has everything in order, she will take her father’s ashes back to Peru.
English version by Heather Galloway.