In Italy, young adults tend to marry later in life, living at home with their parents and family until wed. As a result, young couples take automobiles to rural areas of the country to engage in sexual activity. In the hills surrounding Florence, this practice is so well-known and so much a part of local tradition, that it has spawned another practice — Peeping Toms — who stake out known “hot spots” waiting to observe couples in the act of intercourse. This subculture is accepted and highly developed. There are several layers of activity and even commerce that take place. Peepers stake claim to the “hot spots” and sometimes sell their right to view this activity when a known “good car” is in the vicinity.
Between 1974 and 1985, seven couples were victims of a brutal and depraved murderer, who lurked in the hillsides bordering the town of Florence waiting to attack his prey of unsuspecting lovers. Most often, the young men were shot first and the young women fired upon, killed and then dragged out of the cars and violated with what coroners suspected was a scuba knife. There was no indication of sexual activity, but in each case, the woman’s vagina had been removed. One couple that was attacked took the assailant by surprise — instead of killing a young man and woman, the killer had attacked a gay couple. One of the men sported long hair, which likely led the murderer to believe he had interrupted a heterosexual couple.
The investigation and legal proceedings of these murders lasted over 25 years, making it the longest and most expensive crime investigation in Italian history.
Journalist and author of murder mysteries, Douglas Preston arrived in Tuscany with his young family in late 2000, intent on writing a mystery featuring the artist Masaccio, who started the Renaissance in Florence.
Not long after arriving, Preston is introduced to journalist and crime reporter for La Nazione, Mario Spezi. Spezi regaled him with the history of the serial killer that he dubbed The Monster of Florence. Mario, the first journalist on the scene of the initial killing, tells his new acquaintance that one of the murders happened within sight of the rented Tuscan farmhouse Preston occupies. The mystery author’s interest is piqued and the Masaccio mystery story is put aside in favor of trying to solve the mystery of the Monster’s crimes.
The two journalists research the cold case crimes and become so involved in the investigation that their own liberty is at stake. The reporters soon find that the investigation of the murders is riddled with botched police work, personal vendettas, multiple characters and suspects, conspiracy theories, rumors of Satanic cults, a Sardinian clan connection, arrests, trials, convictions and reversals.
Vital information is suppressed or ignored, gossip and falsehoods are believed as truth, and reputations and lives are lost due to the incompetence of the Italian criminal investigation and legal system.
One of the first head prosecutors, Piero Tony of the Corte d’Assise d’Appello (Appellate Court) declares, “This investigation … if it weren’t so tragic, would put one in mind of the Pink Panther.”
Spezi had gained access to an FBI Psychological Profile of the suspect drafted in 1989 at the request of the Italians. He compared the information in the profile with his own research and arrived at a convincing conclusion about the identity of the Monster of Florence. He shares his thoughts with Preston, and the two talk to the suspect in an attempt to gain a confession or an admission of guilt. yourstruly will not disclose what happens next, dearreader — you must discover that for yourself.
The Monster of Florence: A True Story, is almost impossible for an American audience to comprehend. The American legal premise that a person is innocent until proven guilty, our Constitutional rights to freedom of the press and speech, and the right to a speedy trial are all absent from an Italian investigation. The antics of this investigational and prosecuting circus are unbelievable.
An interesting comparison between the case of the Monster of Florence and that of the recent high-profile Amanda Knox prosecution and trials is made in an afterword. Preston exposes some of the similarities of the legal atrocities in the two cases, leaving his dearreaders to wonder whether the Italian justice system has anything to do with justice at all.
Four eyes for The Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi. Take a lookery at this title if you enjoy true crime or legal thrillers.
The Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi was originally published by Splendide Mendax, Inc., and Mario Spezi (2008).