In a picturesque city in the northwest of Spain, a young Chinese girl is enjoying a second chance at life. Then, one evening, she disappears. Hours later, two friends on their way to a brothel spot her body lying at the side of the road. But who killed Asunta Basterra Porto? It’s a mystery that will haunt this corner of Europe for the next two years.
In June 2001 Spanish couple Rosario Porto and Alfonso Basterra decided to adopt a child. However, with their home country’s low birthrate, there were surprisingly few local children looking for new homes. Luckily for Porto and Basterra, though, they had the money to look elsewhere.
Not only were Porto’s parents influential local citizens, but she also worked as a lawyer for her father’s firm. The couple were both in their mid-30s and lived in a vast apartment in an upmarket area of Santiago de Compostela – the capital of Galicia in northwest Spain.
Now although Basterra, a journalist, didn’t have such a large income, he seemed to benefit from his wife’s finances and social standing. Together, then, they had no problem finding the money to adopt from abroad. Moreover, local authorities were quick to approve their cultured, wealthy lifestyle as perfect for an adopted child.
And so Porto and Basterra flew to China, where they met a nine-month-old girl named Asunta Fong Yang. Born in Hunan Province, Asunta was below the ideal weight and size for a child of her age. Nevertheless, after two weeks of red tape, she was whisked away to begin a new life thousands of miles away.
Life in Santiago couldn’t have been more different to Asunta’s impoverished upbringing in China. Now bearing Spanish documents in the name Asunta Fong Yang Basterro Porto, the little girl saw a dramatic improvement to her health. And although Asunta still suffered from typical childhood illnesses, her new parents were quick to secure her any treatment that she required.
Moreover, as Asunta got older, she began to shine. She soon proved herself to be academically gifted, and her parents encouraged her to make the most of her abilities. In fact, outside of her regular schooling, Asunta was signed up for additional classes in languages, violin, piano and ballet.
Yet although it might have seemed as if Asunta’s parents were trying to shape her into a prodigy, by all accounts she seemed to be a relatively happy child. And despite acting shy around strangers, she was said to be exuberant behind closed doors. “To me they seemed an idyllic family,” Carmen Gonzalez, the family’s nanny, told The Guardian in 2016.
Things were not quite as perfect as they seemed, however. In 2009 Porto checked in to a psychiatric hospital, claiming to be suffering from suicidal thoughts. And somewhat concerningly, a psychologist noted that Asunta was a source of frustration for her mother.
But although Porto left the facility after just two days, it was far from the end of the family’s problems. Sadly, Porto’s mother died towards the beginning of 2012, while her father passed away just seven months later. Beset by grief, Porto started to struggle with day-to-day life, and her marriage subsequently broke down.
Seemingly tired of her husband, Porto began a relationship with another man and was then granted a divorce early in 2013. When she had a breakdown in June of that year, however, Basterra rushed to her side. In return for his care during her time of need, he made Porto promise that she would end her affair.
And for a while it looked as if Porto, Basterra and Asunta might return to normal family life. That summer, Asunta enjoyed a happy vacation, spending time on the coast with her godmother and visiting nanny Gonzalez. Then in September 2013, Asunta returned to school, and to all intents and purposes she was a normal – if gifted – 12-year-old girl.
Tragically, though, Asunta would never get to fulfill her potential at school. At 10:17 a.m. on September 21 Porto and Basterra arrived at a police station in Santiago to make a troubling report. Apparently, Asunta had gone missing from Porto’s home.
According to Porto, the girl had been left alone for a few hours while her mother went to her family’s house in the country, a 20-minute drive away. When Porto returned, however, Asunta was nowhere to be seen. Subsequently, she called Basterra, and when they realized that the girl was missing they decided to contact the police.
A few hours later, though, a local man, Alfredo Balsa, and a friend were driving to a legal brothel near Teo – where Porto’s family’s country house was located – when he suddenly spotted something strange at the side of the road. There, just a few feet from the track, was Asunta’s dead body.
Two days later, Asunta was cremated. But as her parents grieved, an unexpected development took place. To the shock of the local community, Porto was arrested on suspicion of murdering her own daughter. According to police, CCTV footage had captured Asunta in her mother’s car at a time when Porto had insisted that the girl was home alone.
Although Porto claimed that stress had affected her memory, police were still suspicious. Then, the next day, they arrested Basterro as well. And as the investigation continued, the popular Santiago couple were painted in a new and terrifying light.
For the next two years the Spanish media was full of speculation about Porto and Basterra’s guilt. Finally, on October 1, 2015, the case was presented to a jury. On the day that she died, Asunta had allegedly been forced to swallow a massive dose of Orfidal – a drug that Basterra had previously acquired large quantities of.
Even more damning was the testimony of a 15-year-old witness, who said that she had seen Basterra and Asunta together on the day of the murder – although he claimed to have been home alone. Eventually, the jury concluded that Porto and Basterra had drugged the girl before smothering her and then dumping her lifeless body on a country road. They were both subsequently sentenced to 18 years in prison.
But why the couple go to the trouble and expense of adopting a girl from China, only to murder her as an adolescent? The question has baffled investigators. Some have suggested that the girl was seen as a commodity to be bought – then simply disposed of once her appeal had faded. Whatever the reason, though, Asunta’s tragic and untimely death will long cast a shadow over Santiago and the Galician community.