Did Vandals in Spain Call a Nobel Prize Winner a ‘Killer’?

Claim

Someone spray-painted the word "killer" on a statue of Sir Alexander Fleming in Madrid, Spain.

Rating

Decontextualized

Reporting

A Spanish culture and history website’s anger over alleged vandalism at the country’s biggest bullfighting stadium gained attention on Twitter in June 2020, but its concern appears to be years too late.

The site, Darío Madrid, claimed on Twitter that someone had spray-painted the word “asesino” (Spanish for “murderer”) on the statue of Nobel Prize-winner Sir Alexander Fleming outside the Plaza de Toros de las Ventas (often called Las Ventas for short). The post read:

Parece ser que un imbécil ha escrito la palabra “asesino” en la estatua que está en la plaza de toros de las Ventas del Dr. Fleming, descubridor de la penicilina. ¿Sabrá este imbécil que gracias a Fleming se salvaron millones de vidas? ¿Pensará que fue un torero?

Translated into English, the post says:

It looks like some imbecile wrote the word “murderer” on the statue at the Las Ventas Plaza de Toros of Dr. Fleming, who discovered penicilin. Does this imbecile know that millions of lives were saved thanks to Fleming? Do they think he was a bullfighter?

The post was shared thousands of times on the platform, before another user posted another photo of the same statue, with two crucial differences: the spray-painted insult actually read the plural, “asesinos,” not the singular, “asesino”  — making it more likely that it was intended toward bullfighters — and a timestamp dating it sometime during September 2015:

The same photograph, showing the statue of Fleming from the side, appears in a post to a bullfighting-related blog called Ambitotoros the same month; that post also showed several instances of anti-bullfighting graffiti spray-painted around Las Ventas, calling toreros “torturers,” and a “shame” to the country:

More than a year later, a separate photograph taken from the front and matching the one posted by Darío Madrid appeared on a different blog in November 2016:

Fleming, alongside Sir Howard Walter Florey and Ernst Boris Chain, won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945 for their discovery of penicillin. Fleming died in 1955.

According to Himetop, a site covering historical landmarks devoted to medicine, the memorial to Fleming by sculptor Emilio Laiz Campos was erected outside Las Ventas in May 1964; the inscription, “In gratitude from the bullfighters,” makes reference to the effects that penicillin had in helping bullfighters treat infections and wounds that would have killed them prior to the drug’s development.

A full view of the tribute shows a separate statue placed in front of the bust of Fleming shows a separate, smaller statue of a bullfighter doffing his hat (or a montera, as it is traditionally called) to the Scottish native in tribute:

We contacted both Darío Madrid asking about the apparent similarity between their post and the older photographs apparently showing the same graffiti and Las Ventas asking if there had been any recent reports of vandalism at the stadium, but we have not yet heard back.

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