Adela Sánchez (her middle name may have been María; she used it in more than one alias) was born in Madrid on Dec. 14 — possibly in 1928, although her death certificate said 1923. As New York magazine reported in 1989, her father, Felipe, was an engineer, and not a rich industrialist as she had told her new American friends. Her mother, Beatriz, was not a member of the Guinness brewing family as Ms. Holzer had sometimes claimed.
Ms. Holzer always said that she arrived in the United States in 1954, alone and pregnant, escaping an early marriage, and that was true. Even the details, about having arrived on the Cunard ocean liner Queen Elizabeth and traveling first class, are documented. (According to Cunard’s records, she was born in 1926.) The part she didn’t mention was that the marriage — to Juan Castresana, an insurance company executive — had already lasted nine years, and she was leaving her first three sons behind.
The story she told journalists about her early years in New York was that she had worked as an interpreter at the United Nations and taught Spanish literature at Columbia University, but no records of those jobs could be found. She later began dabbling in commodities — or so she said.
In 1955, according to The Washington Post, she was charged with grand larceny for forging a Spanish notary stamp on a $3,000 note. In 1963, according to Vanity Fair, she was arrested after offering sex to an undercover police officer for $25. In both cases, the charges were dismissed.
That was after her second marriage (believed to have begun in 1957), to Walter Jan Duschinsky, a Czech physicist, with whom she had a son. She was widowed in 1961, when he died in an automobile accident. In 1968 she married Peter A. Holzer, president of his family’s shipping business. They divorced in 1979, the year of her first trial.
In addition to her son Mr. Castresana, her survivors include another son, Arnim Holzer.
“I think people care more for me than I care for them,” Ms. Holzer said matter-of-factly during the Vanity Fair interview. “People say I’m cold. I don’t think I’m cold.” She just didn’t let herself “get too close to people,” she added.
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