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The assassination of the pilgrim which mobilised the FBI

for the crimes of violent robbery and assassination of Denise. More than 200 pilgrims from 20 nationalities were questioned as the presumed assassin in September 2015.

One fingernail, a cap and 1,132 dollars changed at a local branch – these were the three clues which opened a ‘complex’ and ‘complicated’ police investigation for the assassin of the US resident Denise Pikka Thiem, on 5 April 2015 close to the pilgrimage route (León) where she had been walking alone on the Camino de Santiago from Pamplona.


Denise Thiem – Achive photo

The 41 year old single woman had the bad luck to run into Miguel Ángel Muñoz, confessed assassin, from a distant clue found after searching 14 kilometres on the stage which runs between Astorga and the hamlet of El Ganso, just 50 residents.

It was at a crossroads, at an undetermined hour, when Denise fell into the trap of Miguel Ángel, 39 at the time. Confusing signs at the crossroads were used by the suspect to trap his prey.
His neighbours described him as aloof, shy and complicated to deal with, and he was living in wooden prefabricated home near to the place where the last clue was found.

Miguel Ángel’s criminal record of causing ‘problems and abuse’ reported by other pilgrims, made him the prime suspect for the Guardia Civil. A specialist canine team expert in finding clues marked the wooden house of the accused 23 after her disappearance. However, the local policemen were then replaced by the National Police, whose station in Astorga was competent for the area, according to the compliant from the Guardia Civil Unified Association: ‘we had to withdraw from the crime-scene to avoid a larger conflict’.

This jealousness over the competence delayed the investigation by as much as five months. The was by then attracting massive media attention for the missing Denise, when US diplomats made concerns about the safety of the pilgrims on the famous walk, which resulted in the military and more police resources being dedicated and the UME military from León, to join the search.

The lack of news and the pressure from her family in the US, with letters from senators and congress members and even Barack Obama had echo. Republican Senator John McCain offered Mariano Rajoy a letter of collaboration with the FMI agents in Spain to make the investigation more agile. More than 200 people from 20 nationalities were questioned.

‘It was me, I killed her’
Miguel Ángel Muñoz was detained on 14 Sept 1015 in Grandas de Salime (Asturias) and on the same day he drove the Police to the landscape near his house, and showed where he had buried the body of Denise. ‘It was me, I killed her. I didn’t want to….but I punched her and then again. I didn’t want to kill her’ he told the agents.

He recognised he had moved her body ‘wary of the FBI’ according to the forensics who labelled him as under investigation as top suspect, and then he remembered exactly what had happened.

‘We were chatting and Denise told me she had got lost. I offered to help her, but she seemed suspicious and started to beat me. I picked up a stick and hit her right side of her head. She fell, her head hit a stone and she went into convulsions. I realised I was committing something barbaric, but there was no turning back. I decided to slit her throat to stop her suffering. I was really scared. I took off all her clothes to remove any trace of me, cut her hands and buried the body elsewhere. I was fatal; I vomited for three days’.

The prosecutor requests 20 years in prison and five more for violent theft in the cause which opened today in the León Provincial Court. Today the jury will be chosen, and tomorrow the accused will make his first testimony under oath. The oral hearing, which has echoes across the USA, will prolong until April 4 as some 100 witnesses have to be called.