With Mario Spezi
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In 2000, Douglas Preston fulfilled a dream to move his family to Italy. Then he discovered that the olive grove in front of their 14th century farmhouse had been the scene of the most infamous double-murders in Italian history, committed by a serial killer known as the Monster of Florence. Preston, intrigued, meets Italian investigative journalist Mario Spezi to learn more.
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
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|1951||Pietro Pacciani murders his fiancée's seducer|
|1961||January 14. Salvatore Vinci's wife, Barbarina, found dead|
|1968||August 21. Barbara Locci and Antonio Lo Bianco murdered|
|1974||September 14. Borgo San Lorenzo killings|
|1981||June 6. Via dell'Arrigo killings|
|October 22. Bartoline Fields killings|
|1982||June 19. Montespertoli killings|
|August 17. Francesco Vinci arrested for being the Monster|
|1983||September 10. Giogoli killings|
|September 19. Antonio Vinci arrested for illegal possession of firearms|
|1984||January 24. Piero Mucciarini and Giovanni Mele arrested for being the Monster|
|July 29. Vicchio killings|
|August 19. Prince Roberto Corsini murdered|
|September 22. Mucciarini and Mele released from prison|
|November 10. Francesco Vinci released from prison|
|1985||September 7. Scopeti killings|
|October 8. Francesco Narducci drowns in Lake Trasimeno|
|1986||June 11. Salvatore Vinci arrested for the murder of his wife, Barbarina, in 1961|
|1988||April 12. Trial of Salvatore Vinci begins|
|April 19. Salvatore Vinci acquitted, disappears|
|1989||August 2. Date of FBI psychological profile of the Monster of Florence|
|1992||April 27–May 8. Search of Pacciani's house and grounds|
|1993||January 16. Pacciani arrested as the Monster of Florence|
|1994||April 14. Pacciani's trial begins|
|November 1. Pacciani convicted|
|1995||October. Chief Inspector Michele Giuttari takes over the Monster investigation|
|1996||February 12. Pacciani acquitted on appeal|
|February 13. Vanni arrested for being Pacciani's accomplice|
|1997||May 20. Trial begins for Lotti and Vanni, accused as the Monster's accomplices|
|1998||March 24. Lotti and Vanni convicted|
|2000||August 1. Douglas Preston arrives in Florence|
|2002||April 6. Narducci's body exhumed|
|2004||May 14. Chi L'ha Visto? program aired on Italian television|
|June 25. Preston leaves Florence|
|November 18. Spezi's home searched by police|
|2005||January 24. Second police search of Spezi's home|
|2006||February 22. Interrogation of Preston|
|April 7. Spezi arrested|
|April 19. Publication date of Dolci Colline di Sangue|
|April 29. Spezi released from prison|
|September/October. Preston returns to Italy with Dateline NBC|
|2007||June 20. Dateline NBC program on the Monster of Florence|
|September 27. Trial of Francesco Calamandrei as the Monster of Florence begins|
|2008||January 16. First hearing in trial of Giuttari and Mignini for abuse of office|
CAST OF SECONDARY CHARACTERS,
IN APPROXIMATE ORDER OF APPEARANCE
Chief Inspector Maurizio Cimmino, head of the Florentine police's mobile squad.
Chief Inspector Sandro Federico, police homicide detective.
Adolfo Izzo, prosecutor.
Carmela De Nuccio and Giovanni Foggi, killed on Via dell'Arrigo, June 6, 1981.
Dr. Mauro Maurri, chief medical examiner.
Fosco, his assistant.
Stefania Pettini and Pasquale Gentilcore, killed near Borgo San Lorenzo, September 13, 1974.
Enzo Spalletti, Peeping Tom arrested as the Monster, released when the Monster struck again while he was in jail.
Fabbri, another Peeping Tom questioned in the case.
Stefano Baldi and Susanna Cambi, killed in the Bartoline Fields, October 22, 1981.
Prof. Garimeta Gentile, gynecologist rumored to be the Monster.
"Dr." Carlo Santangelo, phony medical examiner who haunted cemeteries at night.
Brother Galileo Babbini, Franciscan monk and psychoanalyst who helped Spezi deal with the horror of the case.
Antonella Migliorini and Paolo Mainardi, killed in Montespertoli near Poppiano Castle on June 19, 1982.
Silvia Della Monica, prosecutor in the case, who received in the mail a piece of the Monster's last victim.
Stefano Mele, immigrant from Sardinia, who confessed to murdering his wife and her lover on August 21, 1968, and was sentenced to fourteen years in prison.
Barbara Locci, wife of Stefano Mele, murdered near Signa with her lover on August 21, 1968.
Antonio Lo Bianco, Sicilian bricklayer, murdered with Barbara Locci.
Natalino Mele, son of Stefano Mele and Barbara Locci, who was sleeping in the backseat of the car and who witnessed his mother's murder at age six.
Barbarina Vinci, wife of Salvatore Vinci back in Sardinia, probably murdered by him on January 14, 1961.
Giovanni Vinci, one of the Vinci brothers, who raped his sister back in Sardinia, and was a lover of Barbara Locci.
Salvatore Vinci, the ringleader of the 1968 double homicide, lover of Barbara Locci, who probably owned the Monster's gun and bullets, which may have been stolen from him in 1974, four months before the Monster's murders began. Arrested for being the Monster.
Francesco Vinci, youngest of the Vinci clan, lover of Barbara Locci, uncle of Antonio Vinci. Arrested for being the Monster.
Antonio Vinci, son of Salvatore Vinci, nephew of Francesco Vinci, arrested for illegal possession of firearms after the Monster's killings in Giogoli.
Cinzia Torrini, filmmaker who produced a film on the Monster of Florence case.
Horst Meyer and Uwe Rüsch, both twenty-four years old, killed in Giogoli, September 10, 1983.
Piero Luigi Vigna, lead prosecutor in the Monster case in the 1980s, responsible for the arrest of Pacciani. Vigna went on to head Italy's powerful antimafia unit.
Mario Rotella, examining magistrate in the Monster case in the 1980s, who was convinced the Monster was a member of a clan of Sardinians—the so-called "Sardinian Trail" leg of the investigation.
Giovanni Mele and Piero Mucciarini, the brother and brother-in-law of Stefano Mele, arrested for being the two Monsters of Florence.
Paolo Canessa, prosecutor in the Monster case in the 1980s, who is today the public minister (equivalent to a U.S. attorney) of Florence.
Pia Rontini and Claudio Stefanacci, killed at La Boschetta, near Vicchio, July 29, 1984.
Prince Roberto Corsini, murdered on his estate by a poacher, August 19, 1984, the subject of rumors that he was the Monster.
Nadine Mauriot, thirty-six years old, and Jean-Michel Kraveichvili, twenty-five years old, killed by the Monster in the Scopeti clearing, Saturday, September 7, 1985.
Sabrina Carmignani, who came across the Scopeti clearing on Sunday, September 8, 1985, the day of her nineteenth birthday, and encountered the aftermath of the murder of the French tourists.
Ruggero Perugini, the chief inspector who took over the Squadra Anti-Mostro and prosecuted Pietro Pacciani. He was the model for Rinaldo Pazzi, the fictional chief inspector in Thomas Harris's book (and movie) Hannibal.
Pietro Pacciani, Tuscan farmer who was convicted of being the Monster, acquitted on appeal, and then ordered to restand trial. He was the alleged leader of the so-called compagni di merende, the "picnicking friends."
Aldo Fezzi, the last cantastorie, or story singer, in Tuscany, who composed a song about Pietro Pacciani.
Arturo Minoliti, carabinieri marshal, who believed that the bullet found in Pacciani's garden, used to convict Pacciani as the Monster, might have been planted by investigators.
Mario Vanni, nicknamed il Torsolo (Apple Core), the former postman of San Casciano, convicted of being Pacciani's accomplice in the Monster killings. During Pacciani's trial, Vanni uttered the phrase that became immortalized in Italian, "We were picnicking friends."
Michele Giuttari, who took over the Monster investigation after Chief Inspector Perugini was promoted to Washington. He formed the Gruppo Investigativo Delitti Seriali, the Serial Killings Investigative Group, also known as GIDES. He engineered Spezi's arrest and Preston's interrogation.
Alpha, the first "secret witness," whose name was actually Pucci, a mentally retarded man who falsely confessed to having witnessed Pacciani commit one of the Monster's killings.
Beta, the second secret witness, Giancarlo Lotti, who was nicknamed Katanga (Jungle Bunny). Lotti falsely confessed having helped Pacciani with several of the Monster's killings.
Gamma, the third secret witness, named Ghiribelli, an aging prostitute and alcoholic who allegedly would turn a trick for a twenty-five-cent glass of wine.
Delta, the fourth secret witness, named Galli, a pimp by profession.
Lorenzo Nesi, the "serial witness" who suddenly and repeatedly remembered events going back decades, the star witness in the first trial against Pacciani.
Francesco Ferri, president of the Court of Appeals, who presided over Pacciani's appeals trial and declared him innocent. He later wrote a book about the case.
Prof. Francesco Introna, the forensic entomologist who examined photographs of the French tourists and stated that it was scientifically impossible for them to have been murdered Sunday night, as investigators insist.
Gabriella Carlizzi, who ran a conspiracy website that identified the Order of the Red Rose as the satanic sect behind the Monster killings (as well as the entity responsible for 9/11) and who accused Mario Spezi of being the Monster of Florence.
Francesco Narducci, the Perugian doctor whose body was found floating in Lake Trasimeno in October 1985, subject to rumors he had been the Monster of Florence. His apparent suicide was later ruled a murder and Spezi was accused of having participated in it.
Ugo Narducci, Francesco's father, a wealthy Perugian and an important member of the Freemasons—cause for official suspicion.
Francesca Narducci, the dead doctor's wife, heir to the Luisa Spagnoli fashion house fortune.
Francesco Calamandrei, ex-pharmacist of San Casciano, accused of being the mastermind behind five of the Monster's double homicides. His trial began on September 27, 2007.
Fernando Zaccaria, ex–police detective who introduced Spezi to Luigi Ruocco and who accompanied Spezi and Preston to the Villa Bibbiani.
Luigi Ruocco, small-time crook and ex-con who told Spezi he knew Antonio Vinci and who gave Spezi directions to Vinci's alleged safe house on the grounds of the Villa Bibbiani.
Ignazio, alleged friend of Ruocco who had supposedly been to Antonio's safe house and seen six iron boxes and possibly a .22 Beretta.
Inspector Castelli, detective with GIDES who served Preston with papers and was present at his interrogation.
Captain Mora, police captain present at the interrogation of Preston.
Giuliano Mignini, the public minister of Perugia, a public prosecutor in Italy analogous to a U.S attorney or a district attorney.
Marina De Robertis, the examining magistrate in the Spezi case, who invoked the antiterrorist law against Spezi, preventing him from meeting with his lawyers following his arrest.
Alessandro Traversi, one of Mario Spezi's lawyers.
Nino Filastò, one of Mario Spezi's lawyers.
Winnie Rontini, mother of Pia Rontini, one of the Monster's victims.
Renzo Rontini, father of Pia Rontini.
In 1969, the year men landed on the moon, I spent an unforgettable summer in Italy. I was thirteen. Our family rented a villa on the Tuscan coast, perched on a limestone promontory above the Mediterranean. My two brothers and I spent the summer hanging around an archaeological dig and swimming at a little beach in the shadow of a fifteenth-century castle called Puccini's Tower, where the composer wrote Turandot. We cooked octopus on the beach, snorkeled among the reefs, and collected ancient Roman tesserae from the eroding shoreline. In a nearby chicken coop I found the rim of a Roman amphora, two thousand years old, stamped with an "SES" and a picture of a trident, which the archaeologists told me had been manufactured by the Sestius family, one of the richest mercantile families of the early Roman republic. In a stinking bar, to the flickering glow of an old black-and-white television set, we watched Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon while the place erupted in pandemonium, the longshoremen and fishermen hugging and kissing each other, tears streaming down their rough faces, crying, "Viva l'America! Viva l'America!"
From that summer on, I knew that I wanted to live in Italy.
I grew up to become a journalist and writer of murder mysteries. In 1999, I returned to Italy on assignment for The New Yorker magazine, writing an article about the mysterious artist Masaccio, who launched the Renaissance with his commanding frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel in Florence and then died at twenty-six, allegedly poisoned. One cold February night, in my hotel room in Florence overlooking the Arno River, I called my wife, Christine, and asked her what she thought of the idea of moving to Florence. She said yes. The next morning I called a real estate agency and began looking at apartments, and in two days I had rented the top floor of a fifteenth-century palazzo and put down a deposit. As a writer, I could live anywhere—why not Florence?
As I wandered around Florence that cold week in February, I started to plot the murder mystery I would write when we moved there. It would be set in Florence and involve a lost painting of Masaccio.
We moved to Italy. We arrived on August 1, 2000, Christine and I, with our two children, Isaac and Aletheia, aged five and six. We first lived in the apartment I had rented overlooking Piazza Santo Spirito and then we moved into the country, to a tiny town called Giogoli in the hills just south of Florence. There we rented a stone farmhouse tucked into the side of a hill at the end of a dirt lane, surrounded by olive groves.
I began researching my novel. Since it was to be a murder mystery, I had to learn all I could about Italian police procedure and murder investigation. An Italian friend gave me the name of a legendary Tuscan crime reporter named Mario Spezi, who for more than twenty years had worked the cronaca nera desk ("black story," or crime beat) at La Nazione, the daily paper of Tuscany and central Italy. "He knows more about the police than the police themselves," I was told.
And so it was that I found myself in the windowless back room of Caffè Ricchi, on Piazza Santo Spirito, sitting across from Mario Spezi himself.
Spezi was a journalist of the old school, dry, witty, and cynical, with a highly developed sense of the absurd. There was absolutely nothing a human being could do, no matter how depraved, that would surprise him. A shock of thick gray hair surmounted a wry, fine-looking leathery face, with a pair of canny brown eyes lurking behind gold-rimmed spectacles. He went about in a trench coat and a Bogart fedora, like a character out of Raymond Chandler, and he was a great fan of American blues, film noir, and Philip Marlowe.
The waitress brought in a tray with two black espressos and two glasses of mineral water. Spezi exhaled a stream of smoke, held his cigarette to one side, downed the espresso with one sharp movement, ordered another, and placed the cigarette back on his lip.
We began chatting, Spezi speaking slowly for the benefit of my execrable Italian. I described to him the plot of my book. One of the main characters was to be a carabinieri officer, and I asked him to tell me how the carabinieri operated. Spezi described the structure of the carabinieri, how they differed from the police, and how they conducted investigations, while I took notes. He promised to introduce me to a colonel in the carabinieri who was an old friend. Finally we fell to chatting about Italy and he asked me where I lived.
"A tiny town called Giogoli."
Spezi's eyebrows shot up. "Giogoli? I know it well. Where?"
I gave him the address.
"Giogoli… a lovely, historic town. It has three famous landmarks. Perhaps you already know of them?"
I did not.
With a faint smile of amusement, he began. The first was Villa Sfacciata, where one of his very own ancestors, Amerigo Vespucci, had lived. Vespucci was the Florentine navigator, mapmaker, and explorer who was the first to realize that his friend Christopher Columbus had discovered a brand-new continent, not some unknown shore of India, and who lent his name Amerigo (Americus in Latin) to this New World. The second landmark, Spezi went on, was another villa, called I Collazzi, with a façade said to be designed by Michelangelo, where Prince Charles stayed with Diana and where the prince painted many of his famous watercolors of the Tuscan landscape.
"And the third landmark?"
Spezi's smile widened. "The most interesting of all. It's just outside your door."
"There's nothing outside our door but an olive grove."
"Precisely. And in that grove one of the most horrific murders in Italian history took place. A double homicide committed by our very own Jack the Ripper."
As a writer of murder mysteries, I was more intrigued than dismayed.
"I named him," Spezi said. "I christened him il Mostro di Firenze, the Monster of Florence. I covered the case from the beginning. At La Nazione the other reporters called me the paper's 'Monstrologer.' " He laughed, a sudden irreverent cackle, hissing smoke out from between his teeth.
"Tell me about this Monster of Florence."
"You've never heard of him?"
"Isn't the story famous in America?"
"It's completely unknown."
"That surprises me. It seems… an almost American story. And your own FBI was involved—that group Thomas Harris made so famous, the Behavioral Science Unit. I saw Thomas Harris at one of the trials, taking notes on a yellow legal pad. They say he based Hannibal Lecter on the Monster of Florence."
Now I was really interested. "Tell me the story."
Spezi downed his second espresso, lit another Gauloise, and began to talk through the smoke. As his story gathered steam, he slipped a notebook and a well-worn gold pencil from his pocket and began to diagram the narrative. The pencil cut and darted across the paper, making arrows and circles and boxes and dotted lines, illustrating the intricate connections among the suspects, the killings, the arrests, the trials, and the many failed lines of investigation. It was a long story, and he spoke quietly, the blank page of his notebook gradually filling.
I listened, amazed at first, then astonished. As a crime novelist, I fancied myself a connoisseur of dark stories. I had certainly heard a lot of them. But as the story of the Monster of Florence unfolded, I realized it was something special. A story in a category all its own. I do not exaggerate when I say the case of the Monster of Florence may be—just may be—the most extraordinary story of crime and investigation the world has ever heard.
Between 1974 and 1985, seven couples—fourteen people in all—were murdered while making love in parked cars in the beautiful hills surrounding Florence. The case had become the longest and most expensive criminal investigation in Italian history. Close to a hundred thousand men were investigated and more than a dozen arrested, many of whom had to be released when the Monster struck again. Scores of lives were ruined by rumor and false accusations. The generation of Florentines who came of age during the killings say that it changed the city and their lives. There have been suicides, exhumations, alleged poisonings, body parts sent by post, séances in graveyards, lawsuits, planting of false evidence, and vicious prosecutorial vendettas. The investigation has been like a malignancy, spreading backward in time and outward in space, metastasizing to different cities and swelling into new investigations, with new judges, police, and prosecutors, more suspects, more arrests, and many more lives ruined.
Despite the longest manhunt in modern Italian history, the Monster of Florence has never been found. When I arrived in Italy in the year 2000 the case was still unsolved, the Monster presumably still on the loose.
Spezi and I became fast friends after that first meeting, and I soon shared his fascination with the case. In the spring of 2001, Spezi and I set out to find the truth and track down the real killer. This book is the story of that search and our eventual meeting with the man we believe may be the Monster of Florence.
Along the way, Spezi and I fell into the story. I was accused of being an accessory to murder, planting false evidence, perjury and obstruction of justice, and threatened with arrest if I ever set foot on Italian soil again. Spezi fared worse: he was accused of being the Monster of Florence himself.
This is the story that Spezi told.
The Story of Mario Spezi
The morning of June 7, 1981, dawned brilliantly clear over Florence, Italy. It was a quiet Sunday with blue skies and a light breeze out of the hills, which carried into the city the fragrance of sun-warmed cypress trees. Mario Spezi was at his desk at La Nazione
- Named by USA Today as a Top True-Crime Book of All Time
- "A dark and fascinating descent into a landscape of horror that deserves to be shelved between In Cold Blood and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."—Brad Thomas Parsons, Amazon's Best of the Month-June 2008
- "This bit of real-life Florence bloodletting makes you sweat and think, and presses relentlessly on the nerves."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
- "The co-authors expertly and entertainingly guide the reader though an epic, colorful cast of characters and the stranger-than-fiction machinations of a Byzantine Italian judicial system."—Washington Post
- "Preston's account of the crimes is lucid and mesmerizing."—TIME Magazine
- "Remarkable true-crime story...passionately describes the investigations gone wrong....Preston knows how to load his storytelling with intriguing evidence and damning details. His feverish style keeps the reader turning with the hope of uncovering the killer's identity. In the book's most chilling moment, Preston and Spezi come face-to-face with their most likely suspect."—USA Today
- "As taut and tense as any of the author's bestselling thrillers...fascinating, stomach-churning...nerve-tingling action and vivid writing...The Monster of Florence is a gripping tale, filled with shocking crimes, boldly drawn characters, and the careening suspense of the ultimate whodunit."—Dallas Morning News
- "An exquisite nonfiction page-turner."—Time Out New York
- "One of the most fascinating criminal cases in recent memo—New Orleans Times-Picayune
- "A dark and fascinating landscape of horror that deserves to the shelved between In Cold Blood and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."—Bookviews101
- "The writing is evocative, and the two collaborators skillfully weave the narratives back and forth to create, at times, a razor's edge of tension."—Chicago Tribune
- "A gripping tale."—Denver Post
- "One of the best true-crime mysteries I've ever read... Nonfiction doesn't get any better than this."—Kansas City Star
- "A most unconventional thriller, a real life murder mystery in which the authors become the suspects... Fascinating."—Associated Press
- "A riveting true story involving murder, suicide, rumor, poisoning, body parts sent by mail, prosecutorial vendettas, and even satanic sects."—Tucson Citizen
- "Tightly calibrated suspense."—Entertainment Weekly
- "A propulsive account."—Los Angeles Times
- On Sale
- Jun 10, 2008
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Grand Central Publishing