ON 21 SEPTEMBER 1925, Fotis Yagoulas, a fiery brigand that had abducted
and was holding cousins Nikolaos Raptis, a medical student, and the much
younger Dimitris, was persecuted by a group of gendarmes and killed along with
his accomplices after a fight that allegedly lasted more than five hours.
There was a time in Greek history, during the establishment of the modern
Greek state between the late 1920s and early 30s, known as listokratia,
or the rule of banditry. The rule of law was weak in rural areas, and the
gendarmes, often autarchic and brutal, were few and far between, allowing
bandit bands to flourish and often - because of their heavy-handedness -
instigating their formation. At the same time, the bandits' exploits, often
over-romanticised, were stock and fuel for newspapers and novels that captured
the imaginations of Greeks in the same way that the exploits of western
"heroes" mesmerised audiences across the Atlantic and in Europe.
Yagoulas was born in the village of Metaxas, or Livadero by other accounts,
near the town of Servia around 1900. His childhood was harsh and deprived, and
his first criminal endeavours involved the petty theft of poultry, which
earned him the nickname "chicken thief" among his enemies. The area at the
time was under Ottoman rule, but the poverty and harshness of the land meant
that Turkish troops rarely ventured into the region. Yagoulas grew up hiding
in the mountains, which he came to know like the back of his hand. His step-up
from petty theft to banditry came at the age of 16.
It was during the First World War that Yagoulas was accused by his fellow
villagers of stealing two horses. He pleaded his innocence but was taken to
Larissa prison. He spent four months there, but was released after bribing an
official. He never returned to his village.
About a year later, one of his friends became smitten by a girl from
Polyracho, but her father denied him her hand. Yagoulas decided to take
matters into his own hands and one night decapitated the old man in his sleep.
It was not long before someone fingered him to the police, who sought him out
and a month later lay siege to his hideout. Once again, he was captured and
this time taken to a prison on Aegina. He was deemed too dangerous for that
specific prison two years later and, under heavy guard and chain-bound, was
taken aboard the train destined for the infamous Yedi Koule prison in
Thessaloniki. A little before Larissa, at the Baba bridge, the train slowed
down, and the fearless bandit jumped off the train with his heavy chains. The
gendarmes just watched, whether dumbstruck by Yagoulas' audacity or paid off,
we'll never know. Yagoulas trudged all the way to Servia with his hands and
feet in chains, where he had the heavy irons removed by the local blacksmith.
His next move was to abduct a childhood sweetheart from his home village of
Metaxas. He lived with her in a cave, holding up travellers and robbing local
farmers for sustenance. His occasional forays into Servia for purchases
brought him face-to-face one day with the gendarme Soulios, whom he recognised
as the man who had arrested him three years earlier. He greeted the man,
unsheathed his knife, cut the man's throat and then severed his head. He
placed the head at the cross-roads in the middle of town with a note
explaining why he took the gendarme's life. According to another version, he
killed Soulios defending his cousin Maria's honour.
Whatever the cause, the gendarmes boosted the reward for his capture from
20,000 to 600,000 drachmas, a huge sum for those times. Local legend has it
that before he left town for his hideout, he gave the priest at Metaxas 6,000
drachmas in the presence of the mayor and three village notables so that they
could build a chapel in his name. A year later, when the chapel had still not
been built, Yagoulas found out that the five had split the sum between them.
One night he visited the village and beheaded all of them.
Yagoulas plied his trade on Mount Olympus and the surrounding countryside.
There he made opportunistic alliances with others of his kind, like the
brigands Tzamitras, Panos and Leonidas Babanis, and divided Thessaly with the
infamous bandit Mitros Tzatzas. During his reign as "King of the Mountains"
(as the press at the time was fond of calling many of these legendary
bandits), he killed more than 20 people.
When he carried out his last exploit, abducting the two cousins, his hideout
was betrayed by another bandit, Agriokotsos, and a detail of 30 gendarmes
surrounded his mountain hideout.
During the fight that ensued, he was wounded by gendarme Kaliogouras.
Kaliogouras yelled out, "I got him!" But the stubborn Yagoulas still had
enough wind in him to yell back, "You farted on my balls!" However,
Kaliogouras rushed the hideout and finished him off with two more shots to the
abdomen. Tzamitras and Panos Babanis were also killed, and Leonidas Babanis
surrendered (he later escaped and returned to banditry). Their heads were
taken to Katerini and hung on the railings at the railroad station there.
Later they were removed, embalmed and exhibited at the Museum of Forensics,
where I had the "pleasure" of seeing them as a child.
The cache: Small tupperware with some small items for trade and a TB