Murder Made in Italy: Homicide, Media, and Contemporary Italian Culture

Murder Made in Italy: Homicide, Media, and Contemporary Italian Culture

by Ellen Nerenberg


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Looking at media coverage of three very prominent murder cases, Murder Made in Italy explores the cultural issues raised by the murders and how they reflect developments in Italian civil society over the past 20 years. Providing detailed descriptions of each murder, investigation, and court case, Ellen Nerenberg addresses the perception of lawlessness in Italy, the country's geography of crime, and the generalized fear for public safety among the Italian population. Nerenberg examines the fictional and nonfictional representations of these crimes through the lenses of moral panic, media spectacle, true crime writing, and the abject body. The worldwide publicity given the recent case of Amanda Knox, the American student tried for murder in a Perugia court, once more drew attention to crime and punishment in Italy and is the subject of the epilogue.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253223098
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 03/29/2012
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Ellen Nerenberg is Hollis Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Wesleyan University. She is author of Prison Terms: Representing Confinement During and After Italian Fascism and translator and editor of (with Nicoletta Marini-Maio and Thomas Simpson), Body of State: The Moro Affair, a Nation Divided.

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The "Monster" of Florence

Serial Murders and Investigation

IN THE ELEVEN-YEAR PERIOD from September 1974 to September 1985, seven couples were killed in Florence and the surrounding countryside. Once the seriality of the murders was established, panic and hysteria ensued. The victims were Stefania Pettini and Pasquale Gentilcore, murdered the night of September 14, 1974, in a rural lane in Borgo San Lorenzo; Carmela De Nuccio and Giovanni Foggi, whose bodies were discovered on June 7, 1981, near Scandicci; Susanna Cambi and Stefano Baldi, found on October 23 of the same year, in a park near Calenzano; Antonella Migliorini and Paolo Mainardi, murdered the night of June 19, 1982, on a country road near Montespertoli; Horst Meyer and Uwe Rusch, whose bodies were discovered on September 10, 1983, in Galluzzo; Pia Rontini and Claudio Stefanacci, killed the night of July 29, 1984, in the woods near Vicchio di Mugello; and Nadine Mauriot and Jean-Michel Kraveichili, found murdered on September 9, 1985, in the woods near San Casciano.

The "monster event" in Florence generates two stories that, although by now inextricably connected by historical circumstance, must be considered as discrete narratives. The first story unfolds from the series of seven double homicides. The second concerns the investigation of the crimes, in particular the investigation of Pietro Pacciani, an agricultural worker who had been in and out of prison for violent crimes and who became the state's prime "monstrous" suspect. Although very few people doubt that the fourteen grisly homicides constitute a series, dispute erupted surrounding the killer's identity.

The "Monster's" crimes have excited a great deal of speculation about the identity of the perpetrator (or perpetrators) and possible motivations for the murders. The controversy that emerged concerned whether the crimes could likely have been done by one individual and whether more than one actor was involved. While many unsolved aspects of the murders exist, to say, as Douglas Preston does at the outset of the 2008 expose The Monster of Florence (written with journalist Mario Spezi), that "despite the longest manhunt in modern Italian history, the Monster of Florence has never been found" and that "in the year 2000 the case was still unsolved, the Monster presumably still on the loose" is an exaggeration.

If one believes in the theory of a lone killer, then it is true that no such individual has been brought to justice for the homicides. Pietro Pacciani, a farmer from Mercatale, was convicted for the murders in 1994, but his conviction was overturned two years later on the basis of poor evidence. At that point, the handling of the case descended into chaos. It was widely believed that Pacciani was the killer, and the public outcry was so great that the Supreme Court quickly scheduled a second trial. Meanwhile, on the day before Pacciani was released in 1996, two of his compagni di merenda, or picnicking pals — Mario Vanni and Gianfranco Lotti — were arrested. The state's new theory was that these two men were part of a rural gang of voyeurs that was responsible for the serial murders. Two years later, they were convicted of conspiracy in the serial murders. That same year, Pacciani died at home of cardiac arrest brought on by an overdose of heart medication. In 2001, it mounted a third theory that a doctor, who had died in 1985, was the center of a group of wealthy Satanists that killed at his bidding and brought him body parts as human fetishes. However, after an extensive investigation, no arrest was made. Although the last of the murders took place in 1984, the state has still not solved the mystery; many believe that Pacciani was the killer, but the state has not proved any of the three theories — lone serial killer, gang of voyeurs-turned-murderers, or Satanic group seeking fetishes — conclusively.

The bodies in the serial homicides outside Florence act as a colophon, or an indicator, of the abject. A frequent presence in horror films, among other cultural expressions, the abject pressures boundaries between discrete spheres of order and disorder, between inside and outside, between the imaginary and the symbolic. Used as coordinates for mapping the murders, the victims' abject bodies trace an open circle around greater Florence. Those who subscribe to the more esoteric theory of the murders — the gang of Satanists as the perpetrators — point to the geographical locations of the murders as support for their theory. The seven murder sites form a rough sickle shape constellated around Florence and opening to the east. (See Map 1.) To the proponents of this theory, the open-jawed map inscribed around Florence appears "unfinished" or somehow incomplete, awaiting the final sacrifice to "close" the sacrilegious circle. The sexed and nationalized bodies of the murdered visitors threatened the city's cachet as a destination, long celebrated by non-Italian participants on the Grand Tour. Further, the rough circle inscribed by the victims' bodies reveals a city that can be breached. The city seems assailable, its abilities to defend itself (and its residents and visitors) from menaces threatening from outside the city impaired. The imperfect circle created by the linked murder sites marks the arrival of a criminal problem of the magnitude of serial killing, once associated with metropolitan centers in foreign lands, to Italian soil, setting upon Italian cities and outlying areas that had previously been considered secure, even bucolic.

The murders shared significant traits that helped draw them together in a series and, consequently, shape the view that a serial killer had murdered "by numbers," as serial killing is sometimes known. The victims died from gunshot wounds, they died out of doors in remote areas, they died in their cars, they died in a condition of partial undress, they died at either the beginning or the end of sexual activity, and they died in a state of complete surprise. In each case, the couple was killed with a .22 caliber Beretta handgun that fired a Winchester Long Rifle series H bullet, and in a significant number of cases, each victim was also stabbed. In a significant number of cases, the car's glove compartment was left open and the female victim's purse, which was left at the scene, had been searched. All the DNA evidence recovered at the scene from semen or blood belonged to one of the victims and thus could not be attributed to the killer. In a significant number of cases, the flesh of the female victim's pubic area had been sheared off with what looked like a hunting knife or some kind of surgical instrument. As well, in a significant number of cases, the female victim's left breast had been removed, using what was apparently a similar instrument.

The police did not immediately link the first two double murders, which took place in 1974 and 1981, respectively. In Spezi's narrative, a young journalist on staff at the Florentine daily La Nazione was credited with recalling the Borgo San Lorenzo murders seven years earlier. Once ballistic analysis certified that the same weapon had been used in both crimes, "the idea that a crazed voyeur had committed the crimes became the preferred theory."

One year later, after two more couples had been murdered, a carabiniere stationed in Florence remembered a double murder from 1968 that had occurred near Signa, some 15 kilometers west of Florence. A couple, surprised during a sexual encounter in their car, had been shot to death at close range. One fact different from all subsequent homicides ascribed to the "Monster" was that the car contained an additional passenger, a 6-year-old boy, Natalino Mele, the female victim's son. The victim's husband, Stefano Mele, confessed to the crime, which he committed, he said, out of his injured honor: Barbara had taken many lovers since their marriage. He said that he had thrown the pistol away after the crime. This assertion later proved significant in efforts to track the killer. Mele was sentenced to sixteen years in prison for the double murder. As Carlo Lucarelli, author of detective stories and host of the popular television series Blu Notte, explains, the case had been closed; therefore, the case file should not have contained any evidence. Nevertheless, the file housed bullet casings that demonstrated the weapon used in 1968 in Signa to murder Barbara Locci and Antonio Lo Bianco was used subsequently in the crimes attributed to the "Monster." But the incongruities between the evidence and Stefano Mele's story did not stop there. When he was unable to allocute to the crime, Mele's story was revealed as false. The fact came to light that another Sardinian man, Francesco Vinci, another of Locci's lovers, had given Mele the gun with the instructions that Mele should kill his wife for her betrayal of Vinci. Vinci told Mele that if he failed to act accordingly, he would expose Mele's homosexual activities.

We arrive at the theories proposing a gang as the murderer. Proponents of the pista sarda, the so-called Sardinian trail, theorized that a known group of criminals comprising Sardinian immigrants, the anonima sarda (band of criminals), was the "Monster." This group had been responsible for high-profile kidnappings in Tuscany in the 1970s, and investigators pointed to the criminality of the group and the perceived prurience of the sexual proclivities of its members (e.g., voyeurism, homosexuality, group sex). The chief proponents of the pista sarda are Preston and Spezi, who believe they know who committed the "Monster's" murders. A second theory, the pista perugina, the Perugia trail, argues that a group of wealthy Satanists murdered couples in order to obtain fetishes from the bodies of the female victims for Black Masses. This trail leads to Dr. Francesco Narducci, the scion of a wealthy Umbrian family, who supposedly safeguarded these trophies. (Narducci lived in Perugia, thus the name for this "trail.") However, Narducci died in 1985, and no member of the supposed Satanist group has been arrested. Inspector Michele Giuttari, the chief of Florence's Squadra mobile (Criminal Investigations) from 1995 to 2003 and the director of GIDES, the Gruppo investigativo dei delitti seriali (Serial Crimes Investigation Squad), is the chief proponent of group-of-Satanists theory, or pista perugina.

The groups at the terminal points of both trails differ in a great many respects: in terms of motive, geographic location, socioeconomic class, and ethnic subculture. What they share is their status as a group, making plausible the theory of mandanti (masterminds), those who sent the murderers toward specific victims and may (or may not) have hired the murderers. But the motive each group could have had in commissioning the crimes differs substantially. The band of delinquents at the end of the pista sarda had varied motives, some of which concerned omertà, or honor killings. The leaders of the Satanic group believed to lie at the endpoint of the pista perugina were thought to have commissioned the killings in order to secure the human fetishes for Satanic worship.

Yet not everyone believed that a group was responsible for the series of homicides. The bodies of the serially murdered point also to the developments in information and forensic technology brought to bear on the investigation of the "Monster's" crimes. In the opinion of Francesco De Fazio, a forensic anthropologist who headed an institute for criminal investigation in Modena, the "Monster's" acts were carried out rigorosamente da solo (rigorously on his own). In collaboration with De Fazio and his team and profilers at the FBI, Deputy Chief of Police Ruggero Perugini began assembling a computer-assisted screening, or profiling, program. Perugini had been named the head of the Squadra Anti-Mostro (SAM, the Anti-Monster Team) in 1985. To the position of director of the joint task force of local and national police Perugini brought an arsenal of sophisticated forensic tools that he had been introduced to at the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit in Quantico. Perugini trained his team of acchiappamostri (monster snatchers) in the latest techniques for the collection of forensic data and its analysis, especially in sophisticated computer programming aimed at "reconstruct(ing) the personality of the killer by individuating physical characteristics, race, presumed age, profession, social status, sexual tendencies, IQ, education, religion, and so forth."

But the use of FBI software was marred from the start. For reasons not explained, and contrary to the advice of the FBI, one of the limiting principles for the profile included subjects who had been in prison. The list did not include any names of individuals who had not served time in jail. The profile also posited limits to age and time frame as well: the parameters for the perpetrator's age were set at 30 and 60 years of age, and the time frame ended in 1989. The first screening produced sixty names. This list was reduced to twenty-six suspects for reasons that have not been established. Francesco Ferri, who presided over the appellate section of the Court of Assizes where Pacciani was absolved, later wrote that Pacciani's name probably should never have appeared on the list of suspects. Despite the fact that he was 64 years old at the time and thus outside the criteria Perugini had set, the computerized analysis identified him as the chief suspect. Pacciani, who had earlier been convicted and done time for murdering his fiancée's lover, had been out of prison for a number of years before the series of murders began in 1974 and for eighteen months after it was believed to have concluded in 1985. How could a serial killer with the compulsion to "murder by numbers" have displayed such restraint?

A second screening again produced Pacciani's name among a field of eighty-two others. Ferri supposes that Pacciani emerged as the prime suspect because his name appeared on both lists. An avviso di garanzia, or the notice that the state considers an individual a person of considerable interest in a crime, was issued to Pacciani on June 11, 1990, while he was still serving a sentence for the sexual abuse of his daughters, informing him that he would be investigated for possession of firearms, presumably the .22 Beretta used in the "Monster's" crimes. Seventeen months later, on October 29, 1991, a second avviso di garanzia was issued, this time for the murders themselves. In January 1993, Pacciani was taken into custody.

Although the logarithms used in the screenings should not have produced Pacciani's name, the less-scientific — perhaps "old school" — investigative technique of canvassing a suspect's neighbors revealed little surprise that Pacciani had become a suspect in the "Monster's" crimes. But however awful a person he was — and his repeated physical abuse of his wife and sexual abuse of his daughters supply ample evidence for his monstrousness — the state's case against Pacciani for the series of murders attributed to the "Monster" was riddled with gaps, some that were not so serious, others that assailed the integral logic of the prosecution.

The bleed between the categories of the real and the imagined troubled the Pacciani case and characterizes the relationship of actual serial violence to its representation. Real and material issues vexing to the Pacciani affair include some of the following questions: Where was the murder weapon? The maxiperquisizione (search and seizure) of Pacciani's property, which was legendarily long and thorough, did not produce the Beretta used in the crimes. Pacciani would have had to have foreseen that his property would be searched and to have hidden the revolver before the start of his jail sentence for sexual abuse, a time frame when he had not yet been accused of being the serial killer; the police were not convinced of this possibility. The handle of a revolver, wrapped in rags, was recovered in a building on Pacciani's property, but its origin mystified investigators. If Pacciani was a sexual deviant who abused his daughters, why was the display of sexual violence in the serial murders not greater, including signs of rape? No one claimed that Pacciani was brilliant: could he have engineered a series of crimes as sophisticated and organized as these? Did the slip of paper with coppia (couple) and a license plate number written on it found at Pacciani's point to a wider circuit of voyeurs who traded information along with pornography, and is it possible this circle was involved? Who wrote and sent a letter to the carabinieri implicating Pacciani? Could it have been his own daughters as retribution for the abuse they sustained, a vendetta in famiglia (a family vendetta)? The search of his property had yielded no evidence directly connected to the serial killings. However, police found a blank notebook that had been manufactured in Germany and was unavailable in Italy and theorized that it could have belonged to Horst Meyer or Uwe Rusch, the male tourists killed in Galluzzo in 1983.


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Table of Contents

Introduction: Making a Killing

Part I: Serial Killing
1. The "Monster" of Florence: Serial Murders and investigation
2. Monstrous Murder: Serial Killers and Detectives in Contemporary Italian Literature
3. Penile Procedure: The Pleasures and Dangers of Looking in Dario Argento's Cinema
Part II: Matricide and Fratricide Erika, Omar, and Violent Youth in Italy
4. "Sono stati loro:" Erika, Omar, and the Double Homicide of Susy Cassini and Gianluca De Nardo in Novi Ligure
5. The Raw and the Cooked: Transnational Media and Violence in Italy's "Cannibal" Pulp Fiction of the 1990s
Part III: Filicide The Bad/Mad Mother of Cogne and Violence Against Children
6. The Yellow and the Black: Cogne or, Crime of the Century
7. Spectacular Grief and Public Mourning
8. Unspeakable Crimes: Children as Witnesses, Victims, and Perpetrators
Epilogue: Kiss Me Deadly

What People are Saying About This

University of Bristol - Ruth Glynn

Original, engaging, and thought-provoking . . . quite unlike any other existing book in Italian cultural and media studies.

Catholic University of America - Stefania Lucamante

A fantastic array of literary, cinematic, and oral narratives.

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