ONE of the most memorable characters to hit our television screens in many a year has been Villanelle, the psychopathic hitwoman who is the real star of Killing Eve. Yes, Sandra Oh is brilliant as Eve but many, if not most, fans tune in to the series to follow the adventures, if you can call them that, of Villanelle.

Played superbly by the award-winning Jodie Comer, Villanelle has despatched men and women by various methods – including shooting, stabbing, poisoning, breaking necks and gassing – and all done with aplomb and no little charisma. It has now been revealed that author Luke Jennings, who created Villanelle in a series of e-book novellas from 2015 onwards, based the character of Villanelle on a real-life assassin, Idoia López Riaño, otherwise known as La Tigresa, who killed 23 people in a killing spree in Spain in the 1980s.


IDOIA López Riaño was born in San Sebastian in the Basque country of northern Spain in March, 1964. Unlike Villanelle she had a normal upbringing and education, but like many young Basques she became politicised as a teenager in a time of growing Basque nationalism. She joined her first boyfriend, José Ángel Aguirre Aguirre, in the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna or ETA, the main Basque nationalist group, which became increasingly violent as the centralised Spanish authorities cracked down on Basque independence campaigners.

At the age of 20, La Tigresa committed her first political murder. At the time, ETA was involved in a so-called dirty war against the GAL, the secret Spanish state anti-terrorist groups who had been given licence by Spain’s Ministry of the Interior to seek out and kill members of ETA. On Novmber 16, 1984, Aguirre Aguirre, his fellow ETA officer Ramón Zapirain and “Margarita” as López Riaño was known, confronted French citizen Joseph Couchot in the Basque town of Irun and accused him of being a member of GAL before killing him in a hail of bullets.


THERE are obviously major differences between Villanelle and La Tigresa. The latter is not known to have had an adversary such as Eve, and her killings were all done for ETA rather than the shadowy group known as The Twelve.

Like Villanelle, however, López Riaño was quite prepared to use her striking beauty and sexual allure to get to her targets. She would go after police officers and members of the Civil Guard and seduce them, gaining lots of information through “pillow talk” which enabled ETA to plan its raids. She allegedly once said she would be lying in bed with policemen and thinking how good it would be to shoot them.

In total, she was charged with the murders of 23 people between 1984 and 1986. Half them came in one of Spain’s most infamous terrorist acts, the Plaza República Dominicana car bombing in July 1986 which killed 12 Civil Guards and injured 32 others. La Tigresa was charged with being involved in the attack as intelligence gatherer.

Earlier in 1986, she took part in the assassination of army commander Ricardo Saenz de Ynestrillas Martinez, whose official car was machine-gunned by several members of ETA . Two other soldiers died.


JENNINGS revealed the link to La Tigresa in an online chat for the new Lyme Crime literary festival. He said: “She was clearly a psychopath and completely, completely without empathy.”

Like his character, La Tigresa was obsessed with her appearance and adored fashion. Jennings told how one attack on a police officer nearly didn’t happen. Jennings said: “At the key moment, Idoia, who was supposed to be doing the killing, didn’t actually see him because she was so entranced by the window of a fashionable store and her own reflection in it.”

According to Jennings, La Tigresa’s “legendary sexual prowess” earned her her nickname.


LÓPEZ Riaño was effectively sent into exile in France by her ETA colleagues. She was arrested in 1994 and spent five years in prison before being extradited to Spain where she was convicted of the 23 murders. She married twice in prison and signed the “nanclares” declaration renouncing violence and apologising to her victims, a move that saw her expelled from ETA but which enabled her release 2017. She is now at liberty at the age of 56.