This post originally appeared on I Read Everything
Book: The Monster of Florence: A True Story
Authors: Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi
Why Did I Read This Book: I have a deep love of the true crime genre. The Monster of Florence serial killings were unknown to me before this book and Amazon also had a copy on sale. So, how could I resist.
Availability: Published in 2008 by Hachette Book Group, you can get a copy here:
Comments: Like I said above, I love accounts of true crime. I also love accounts of miscarriages of justice combined with a healthy dose of vindication. I knew this book was the former when I ordered it but had no idea it was the latter. This book proved an absorbing, infuriating read, all the more because I am a person who takes a keen interest in topics like the belief systems that cause Satanic Panics as well as conspiracies. Most books on those topics get reviewed over on my other site but this book was not an odd book, despite the presence of a decades-long Satanic Panic combined with a pretty profound judicial conspiracy. The line between odd and non-odd is completely arbitrary, I think, but I review this book here mostly because I can see the average person reading this book and finding it very interesting.
There is much to discuss in this book, and strangely, the actual killings, for me, took backseat to the drama that unfolds as Douglas Preston gets sucked not only into telling the tale of the Monster of Florence, but into suspicion of having a role in the supposed conspiracy of Satanists who killed couples along the Florence countryside. The eight killings began in 1968 and ended in 1985. They all involved the killings of couples, most of whom had gone to a wood-like area to park and have sex. The male was generally shot first and the woman shot and/or stabbed, and in five cases, the woman was also mutilated sexually. The cases bear a superficial similarity to the Son of Sam killings in the US, and to my admittedly unexpert eye, the first incident and the last seem very much like they were not done by the same person who committed the other murders because they deviated in some manner from the killer’s MO.
In the course of investigating and then prosecuting men for this crime, the authorities could not have done a worse job had they tried. The first man convicted of the killings, a thoroughly unpleasant man to be sure, eventually had the case against him overturned and was set free by the Italian courts. One Italian police officer even believes evidence was planted to try to prove the case against the innocent man. Though all evidence seems to point to a Sardinian man, whose wife was one of the first victims, the Florence police decided to dive head first off the deep end.
Enter Douglas Preston, American author of popular thrillers, who arrived in Italy to write a book and ended up friends with journalist Mario Spezi, a man with a great interest in the Monster of Florence case. Investigating, they came across all sorts of shocking examples of police failure, investigative misconduct and judicial wrong doing, as well as flat out whacked thinking on the part of Chief Inspector Michele Giuttari, who evidently has a firm belief in the fantastic, and Judge Giuliano Mignini, whose continued presence in the Italian court system after his antics in the Monster of Florence case is baffling.
Investigating the Monster of Florence murders, Preston and and Spezi uncovered all kinds of bizarre information. For example, a lone doctor’s suicide was seen by investigators to be a lynch pin in proving a Satanic cult was behind the murders (the doctor fit several different theories – rich Italians killing for a Satanic sect, a doctor has to be the killer). That theory involved the doctor’s body being fished out of the water, taken to the morgue, swapped with another body, and the fake body was then buried under the doctor’s name.
On April 6, 2002, with the press standing by, the coffin of Francesco Narducci was exhumed and opened. His body was inside, instantly recognizable after seventeen years. A DNA test confirmed it.
This blow to their theories did not stop… Giuttari and the public minister of Perugia. Even in the lack of a substantiated corpse they found evidence. The body was too recognizable for someone who had spent five days in the water and then another seventeen (sic) in a coffin. Giuttari and Mignini promptly concluded that the real body had been substituted again. That’s right –Narducci’s real body, hidden for seventeen years, had been put back in the coffin and the other body removed because the conspirators knew ahead of time that the exhumation was coming.
Then comes Gabriella Carlizzi, a conspiratologist whose ravings make my local hero Alex Jones seem like a rational person of restraint in comparison (a search for Carlizzi’s pro-Satanic Panic blog was of little help but I did find an Italian page that claims she died on August 11, 2010 – I have no idea if this is true). Carlizzi’s theories of Satanic murder, the swapping of the doctor’s body and even more insane theories influenced Giuttari and Mignini, eventually leading to Preston and Spezi finding themselves suspects in the decades-long murders. People warned Preston that Carlizzi was a dangerous person but to those who have dealt with people who are true believers in conspiracy, just the time suck alone of dealing with such people is enough to cause us to want to avoid them. Preston exchanged many e-mails with Carlizzi until he realized his folly and even when he was finished with her, his e-mail box remained clogged by her raving missives. Carlizzi’s theories, crackpot though they seem to us, were taken very seriously by some Italian authorities. In fact, she provided many “links” in the case.
…The investigators also had to show that Narducci had a connection to Pacciani [the man inititally convicted as the Monster who was later released]… and the village of San Casciano, where the satanic cult seemed to be centered.
They succeeded in this as well. Gabriella Carlizzi made a statement to the police asserting that Francesco Narducci had been intiated into the Order of the Red Rose by his father, who was trying to resolve certain sexual problems in his son – the same diabolical sect, Carlizzi claimed, active for centuries in Florence and its environs. Police and prosecutors seemed to accept Carlizzi’s statements as solid, actionable evidence.
Giuttari had no problem rounding up the town drunks and prostitutes and even a man described as a village idiot and having them recite patently untrue information in order to seek convictions. He never seemed at a loss to find people willing to say whatever it was he needed to be said, using the same people over and over, each time molding their testimony to his ends.
As if on cue, Giuttari and his GIDES squad produced witnesses swearing to have seen Francesco Narducci hanging around San Casciano… It took a while for the identities of these new witnesses to come out. When Spezi first heard the names, he thought it was a bad joke: they were the same… witnesses who had been the surprise witnesses at Pacciani’s appeal so many years before…
The three witnesses had earth-shaking new information to impart, which all of them had forgotten to mention eight years earlier when they had first stunned Italy with their extraordinary testimony.
Giuttari was quite unorthodox in his approach to using evidence to solve crimes. In his eyes, a simple doorstop became “an esoteric object used to communicate between this world and the infernal regions.” He fully embraced the theory that powerful people were behind the Satanic conspiracy to kill. Why would these people kill couples and mutilate dying women? Giuttari’s theory was that a
shadowy cabal of wealthy and powerful people, seemingly beyond reproach, who occupied the highest positions in society, business, law and medicine, had hired Pacciani, Vanni and Lotti to kill people in order to obtain the sex organs of girls for use as the obscene, blasphemous “wafer” in their Black Masses.
How all of this came to pass, all this blaming innocent citizens, so many trials and retrials, the willingness to believe in the unbelievable was summed up by an Italian nobleman who was at one point himself accused by some of being the killer:
“In Italy, the hatred of your enemy is such that he has to be built up, made into the ultimate adversary, responsible for all evil. The investigators in the Monster case know that behind the simple facts hides a satanic cult, its tentacles reaching into the highest levels of society. This is what they will prove, no matter what. Woe to the person… who disputes their theory because that makes him an accomplice. The more vehemently he denies being involved, the stronger is the proof.”
And this is exactly what happened. Preston himself has what is essentially a warrant for his arrest should he ever reenter Italy and Spezi himself was arrested and held without communication for days until saner heads prevailed and he was released. Spezi’s appearance on television and numerous articles he wrote examining the deficiencies of the investigation put him squarely in Giuttari’s cross-hairs. In a search of Spezi’s home, Spezi became angry and mocked the police, showing them his own doorstop, identical to the one that Giuttari had considered an occult object. That doorstop gave Giuttari what he considered physical evidence to link Spezi to one of the murder scenes, resulting eventually in Spezi’s arrest. Judges reviewed the evidence and eventually released Spezi but not before his life was completely upturned.
The final trial in this book ended after the book was published, but Giuttari and Mignini’s Satanic killer was acquitted. And so much of this stemmed from the outrageous claims of a demented woman running a website (her claims about the 9/11 attacks are… interesting.)
If that seems like a hopelessly backward idea, us Yanks need to recall that the Satanic Panic plagued us for years and in some places never went away. The trial of the West Memphis Three was no less filled with lies, misinformation and desperate attempts by law enforcement and the judiciary to spin a wild tale of Satanism to solve a case when the real murderer was far more prosaic, far more familiar. Crazy ideas are never far from hand and books like this serve as a sober reminded that there is no idea outrageous enough that some police, judges, or jurors will not believe it.
For those who followed the Amanda Knox travesty in Italy, it will come as no surprise that mad theories again tainted the court system – Gabriella Carlizzi thinks there was some sort of Satanic, Masonic ritual the girl was supposedly involved in that led to the sexual murder of her roommate. Worse, Judge Mignini presided over her joke of a trial.
In November 2007, Mignini became involved on another sensational case, that of the brutal murder of a British student, Meredith Kercher, in Perugia. Mignini quickly ordered the arrest of American student, Amanda Knox, whom he suspected of involvement in the murder… It appears from press leaks that Mignini is spinning an improbable theory about Knox and two alleged co-conspirators in a dark plan of extreme sex, violence and rape.
Knox was convicted and is in an Italian prison now.
But the Monster of Florence remains unidentified and only innocent people have been harmed in the bizarre quest for justice.
Though it may seem as if I have spoiled this book, believe me, there is so much more -so very much more – than what I chose to excerpt here. This case is a skein of tangled yarn. And even if you know how it ends, the many knots along the way make for fascinating reading. I highly recommend it. Fans of true crime will love the investigation and those of us who like a conspiracy theory will realize that America is not the only country where people believe truly bizarre things.