Confession to 'playing-card killings' eases reign of fear

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A man has surrendered to police and confessed to the so-called "playing-card killings" of six people that had thrown the Spanish capital into a state of fear since January.

The suspect, a former Spanish army corporal from the area, walked into a police station in Puertollano, some 100 miles south of Madrid, late on Thursday. He gave vital details of the shooting deaths that were not released to the press at the time.

The case, which stoked fears of rising crime in the capital ahead of the municipal elections in May this year, centered on the killings of six people in separate shooting incidents between 24 January and 18 March.

The killer, who selected victims apparently at random across the capital, walked up behind them and blasted them in the back of the head at point-blank range with a pistol. He left either one or two playing cards from the traditional Spanish suit known as cups next to the body.

The suit, known in Spanish as copas, dates back several centuries, and has a simple outline design reminiscent of tarot cards. The detail lent the case occult overtones in fevered local press coverage during recent months.

Police said that the suspect, who was reported to have served with Spanish forces in Bosnia before being expelled from the army, revealed that he had marked the back of each playing card with a ballpoint pen, a detail that had not been released before.

The suspect also fits the description given to police by an Ecuadorean student who was gunned down by the killer in March but survived. He told police that his assailant was Spanish and aged about 25.