Killing Eve: The real-life ‘psychopath’ who murdered 23 people and inspired Villanelle character

Idoia López Riaño was ‘completely without empathy’, said author Luke Jennings

Ellie Harrison
Thursday 14 May 2020 11:50
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Killing Eve’s Villanelle has terrified and fascinated fans of the series with her extraordinary brutality, lack of empathy and vanity – and the writer of the original books has now revealed his female assassin was inspired by a real-life “psychopath”.

Luke Jennings, who wrote the novels behind the hit BBC television series, based Jodie Comer’s villain on Idoia López Riaño, a Spanish ETA hitwoman also known as La Tigresa.

In an online interview for the new literary festival Lyme Crime, Jennings said that when he came up with the idea for Villanelle, he had been reading about Riaño, who was jailed in the 1990s for murders she committed for the Basque terrorist group.

“She killed 23 people, and she was clearly a psychopath and completely, completely without empathy,” said Jennings.

In Killing Eve, Villanelle can often be seen admiring herself in the mirror and treating herself to beautiful designer clothes. Riaño, explained Jennings, is similarly vain.

Discussing a moment Riaño went to kill a police officer, Jennings said: “At the key moment, Idoia, who was supposed to be doing the killings, didn’t actually see him because she was so entranced with the window of a fashionable store and her own reflection in it.”

Juan Manuel Soares Gamboa, another former terrorist, once said Riaño was more obsessed with her appearance than murder.

Killing Eve follows the game of cat-and-mouse between Villanelle and intelligence agent Eve (Sandra Oh), who develop a sexual fascination with each other as the series goes on.

Riaño is believed to have had sex with police officers before killing their colleagues. She was nicknamed The Tigress for her "legendary sexual prowess".

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The former hitwoman, who is now 55, was released from jail in 2017 after serving a 23-year sentence.

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