Starting in 1981, star Italian journalist Mario Spezi reports on the slayings of a ruthless serial killer named the Monster of Florence. Little does he know that the Monster’s crimes will dictate the direction of his entire journalistic career. Plagued by images of mutilated sexual organs and daunted by a list of 100,000 some suspects, the case becomes all-consuming for Mario, and he spends twenty-five years struggling to make sense of the violence and a serial murderer no one can catch.
Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy Mackenzie follow Mario Spezi on the trail of clues and study the investigation’s prime suspects.
Serving as both a spiritual and psychological counselor, Brother Galileo Babbini sits down with Mario Spezi to discuss what’s weighing on his mind. At first, they talk about Mario’s family, but the conversation quickly turns to the reporter’s nightmares about the Monster of Florence.
The trouble begins on June 7th, 1981. Mario covers the crime desk at La Nazione, Florence’s top newspaper. It’s a Sunday, so expected to be a slow in the way of breaking news, but an investigator calls in the murder of a young couple. Mario leaps at the story opportunity and meets him at the crime scene, which looks staged, like a museum diorama.
A young man’s body sits in the driver’s seat of his car with a bullet hole in his temple. Behind the car, a young woman’s body is laid out on a bed of grass and wildflowers. A single gold chain rests between her lips. She was shot in the back, stripped of her clothing and mutilated with a knife. Mario feels ill at the sight of her missing genitalia.
The precision of the mutilation and the perforated cut marks leads investigators to believe the murderer is a doctor, surgeon or butcher and had used a scuba knife. Mario, however, has theories of his own. In an article, he points out the case’s similarities to a 1974 double homicide in the area, where an amorous couple was found shot and mutilated in the backseat of a car. He pressures the authorities into comparing the bullet casings from both crimes. Ballistics testing reveals they’re a match for a .22-caliber Beretta with a defect that uniquely marks each shell when fired.
Panic rises in the Tuscan countryside when two more victims, Stefano Baldi and Susanna Cambi are murdered next, and Mario accomplishes an astounding feat of writing fifty-seven articles related to the killings in only a month. Providing such in-depth coverage takes a toll on Mario’s mind, and he begins his therapy sessions with Brother Babbini.
After an eight-month hiatus, the Monster of Florence claims the lives of Paolo Mainardi and Antonella Migliorini. Two weeks following their deaths, the authorities receive an anonymous letter with a newspaper clipping about a double homicide in 1968.
The M.O. and signature of the 1968 crime fits the Monster of Florence killings. Archived evidence shows that the exact same gun had been used as well. But a man had already been convicted. In 1968, Stefano Mele confessed to murdering his own wife and her lover. Although Stefano was in jail when the Monster of Florence struck in 1974 and 1981 killings, his sentence was up by the time Paolo and Antonella were killed. Upon his release, Stefano went to live at a halfway house.
Wanting to interview Mele, but lacking access, Mario hires a filmmaker and pretends to be working on a documentary about the halfway house’s goodwill. To uphold the charade, Mario speaks to several residents before Stefano. When he finally interviews him, Mario’s efforts are rewarded with a new lead. Stefano tells him that multiple killers are involved in the latest killings, but unfortunately won’t elaborate. Disturbed and distant, he starts to ramble incoherently.
Police speculate that Stefano had help killing his wife and her lover from members of the Sardinian clan, and that afterwards, one of the clan members developed an unsavory taste for blood and became the Monster of Florence. The authorities arrest two prestigious Sardinian clan members, Francesco and Antonio Vinci, and continue to detain them even when others are killed. However, their persistence and intimidation tactics do not elicit confessions.
The next two victims, German tourists, break from the usual victim profile. Instead of a man and a woman, the Monster of Florence murdered two men. An investigator points out to Mario that one of the men could have been mistaken for a woman at a distance, due to his long hair. The investigator believes that when the serial killer realized his mistake, and was robbed of his opportunity to mutilate another female victim, he violently shredded a homosexual magazine found on one of the victims instead.
Francesco and Antonio Vinci are still in police custody when Claudio Stefanicci and his girlfriend Pia Rontini die at the hands of the Monster of Florence. Not only does the killer remove Pia’s genitals, he also amputates her left breast. Spurred by these latest attacks, local law enforcement and the military police form a special task force called the Squadra anti-Mostro.
In 1985, French tourists Jean Kraveichvili and Nadine Mauriot suffer a grisly fate while camping out in the woods. Jean nearly escapes after the Monster of Florence shoots him in the wrist and Nadine in the face. Unfortunately, he is caught, stabbed and has his throat slit. Like Pia, Nadine’s genitals and left breast are cut from her body.
The day after, Silvia Della Monica, the prosecutor on the case, receives an anonymous letter made from letters cut out of a magazine. She screams when she discovers a severed nipple inside. Not long after, she quits the case and Chief Criminal Prosecutor Pier Luigi Vigna takes her place. He is paired with Judge Mario Rotella, who believes the next man to pursue from the Sardinian clan is the eldest of the Vinci brothers, Salvatore.
Salvatore Vinci is arrested and brought to trial, but the evidence does not line up. No one testifies against him, so the prosecution fails to get a conviction.
When Chief Inspector Ruggero Perugini joins the investigation, he steers his team away from the Sardinian clan, believing it to be a dead end, and encourages them to think like criminal psych profilers.
Pietro Pacciani – a man who raped his girlfriend and murdered her lover – rises to the top of the suspect list. Jailed between the 1974 and 1981 killings, Pietro’s incarceration could explain the killing gap if he actually is the Monster of Florence.
In an old interrogation transcript Ruggero finds, Pietro confesses to being enraged by an ex-fiancé for baring her left breast to another man. It’s a striking coincidence considering how Pia and Nadine were mutilated, and it’s enough to get a search warrant for Pietro’s house.
Investigators find a reproduction of Botticelli’s Primavera, and the staging of the painting reminds Ruggero of how the Monster of Florence stages his crime scenes. Ruggero is given permission to search Pietro’s entire property. After a twelve-day search, a .22-caliber bullet is found, and Pietro is arrested on January 16, 1993 and charged with crimes associated with The Monster of Florence. Despite Ruggero’s certainty, Mario Spezi does not believe that the police have the right guy and thinks they shouldn’t look for a sexually violent man. Mario postulates that the real killer is impotent, since he never raped his female victims and mutilated their sexual organs instead.
Was Mario on to something?
Stay tuned for next week’s episode of Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories to find out what happens at Pietro Pacciani’s trial.