Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Monster of Florence and the Tragedy in Perugia

Part VII in a series on the Knox/Sollecito case

There are connections between the Knox/Sollecito trial in the murder of Meredith Kercher and the “Monster of Florence” case. The latter was a string of murders mainly in the 1970s and 1980s. A series of couples on lovers’ lanes were shot and the female bodies mutilated. Although several people were suspected, it is unlikely that the true culprit was ever found. Knox prosecutor Guiliano Mignini became involved in the Florence case well after the murders. He and an investigator, Michele Giuttari, were seeking a connection between the Monster case and the death of a certain Dr. Narducci in 1985 (p. 208, The Monster of Florence). Mr. Giuttari believed that the lack of an autopsy was evidence that the body in Dr. Narducci’s grave was not really his. On 6 April 2002 the body was exhumed and confirmed to be that of Dr. Narducci (p. 213). Mr. Giuttari and Mr. Mignini then argued that the bodies had been swapped twice, the second time just before it was exhumed.

Mr. Mignini claimed to believe that Mario Spezi, Mr. Preston’s coauthor for the book The Monster of Florence, planted evidence in the Monster of Florence case. Later he and Mr. Giuttari made Mr. Spezi into a suspect in the murders (p. 239). Mr. Spezi was indicted for obstruction of justice in the Narducci case and held in isolation for five days in 2006. Mr. Preston was himself interrogated by Mr. Mignini, after which he left the country because he was indagato for the crimes of reticence and making false statements (p. 259).

It is a shame that Mr. Mignini harassed Mr. Preston and especially Mr. Spezi. Their theory of the crime and their identification of a suspect made much more sense than the baroque conspiracy theory Mr. Mignini and Mr. Giuttari favored. The Committee to Protect Journalists said that their, “research and interviews with Italian journalists, some of whom asked to remain anonymous for fear of official retaliation, show a pattern of official harassment against Spezi in connection with his investigation of the ‘Monster of Florence’ case.”

“Mignini filed a request with the preliminary investigation judge of Perugia, Marina De Robertis, to invoke a rarely used law under Italy's criminal code to deny Spezi access to a lawyer for five days, Spezi's lawyer Alessandro Traversi told CPJ. The law is typically applied to the most dangerous criminals, yet Judge De Robertis authorized the measure, and for five days Spezi was denied legal counsel and held incommunicado.”

“An appeals court that day ordered that Spezi be released immediately, but it did not issue an explanation as to why it overruled the judge who authorized the imprisonment. Spezi, 60, spent 22 days in prison after being taken into custody on April 7.”

Now let us move on to the Knox/Sollecito case, starting with something that happened to Mario Spezi (from the new afterward to Douglas Preston’s book The Monster of Florence, pp. 325-326):

“A few moments later a timid and exceedingly nervous young woman approached.

“I’m a fellow journalist here in Perugia,” she said quietly. Could I speak with you a moment?”

Spezi invited her to sit at his table.

She looked about furtively, as if to check if she were being followed. Then she lit a cigarette with a trembling hand and, stumbling over her words, blurted out, “I hope they don’t see us together.”

“Excuse me, Spezi asked, but who is ‘they’?”

“Them, the police. Mignini’s men.”

“And why can’t we be seen together? What are you afraid of?

“My name is Francesca Bene,” she said all in a rush, “and I work for a small newspaper here, the Giornale dell’Umbria. Last July I made what I thought was a real scoop in the case of Meredith Kercher.” [Francesca tells the story of a drug addict’s suspicious behavior on the night of the murder.]

“Then what happened? Why wasn’t there any follow-up?”

“I’ll tell you what happened. “ Francesca Bene looked around again. “The very day I published that story, I was summoned to the prosecutor’s office and interrogated by Mignini’s men—in particular that big policewoman, the same one who interrogated Amanda Knox.” (The one Amanda says struck her.)” “She’s violent; she scares me.”

“What was there to interrogate you about?” Spezi said. “You say your story was corroborated by many witnesses who went on the record.”

“Of course. But that didn’t stop them from indicting me for the crime of inciting public alarm by publishing false information.”

“But that’s absurd.”

“I was afraid. I’m the only one who works in my family and if I lose my job…I was afraid. So I dropped the story.”

My hunch is that the drug addict in question is unrelated to the murder of Meredith Kercher. However, from this information it should be possible to identify the policewoman who allegedly hit Ms. Knox. This incident also says much about Mr. Mignini’s character and the power of the prosecutors in Italy to intimidate journalists.

With this background in mind, I would like to offer Douglas Preston’s insights from the interview he gave to blogger Candace Dempsey: “One other detail that American readers might like to know: in Italy, prosecutors are firmly in charge. They tell the police what to look for, where to go, what evidence to analyze, what evidence not to analyze. In America, the police work independently and are specifically trained in evidence gathering and criminal investigation. In Italy, the police must do what the prosecutor tells them. As a result, many criminal investigations in Italy are botched by prosecutors who are judges, trained in the law, who have no background in criminal investigation, police work, or forensic science.”

Ms. Dempsey has also written about the connections between this case and the Monster of Florence case. Her highlighting of Preston’s and Spezi’s dissection of the word “compatible,” a word applied to certain forensic evidence in the Knox/Sollecito case, is worth pondering.


Joe said...

Francesca Bene published a story about an unrelated matter that cut into the thoroughness of the Kercher murder investigation.

A man was seen by several people with blood all over himself on the morning of Nov. 2, and he was saying things like "I'll kill the bitch." He was a local drug addict, and a local hospital treated him that day. I believe he had stabbed himself during an argument with his girlfriend.

Months later, while doing an unrelated story on the hospital, Bene discovered the story about this man, and she found that Kercher murder investigators did not question anyone at the hospital after the discovery of the body. Bene's story cast a negative light on the police and the Kercher investigation.


Chris Halkides said...


Yes this is the same story. I just abridged the part where she descirbed the details in the interests of brevity. Do you have a link to her article?


Joe said...

I don't have a link to the article. I got what I know from Perugia Shock and Paul Russell's book.

Anonymous said...

"The Monster of Florence" and the document supporting Mr. Spezi submitted by the professional organization for journalists are must reads for those trying to understand this case.

Just as some folks who have followed the case willingly joined Mr. Mignini's efforts to shape a negative public perception of Ms. Knox and Mr. Sollecito, they are now elevating Mr. Mignini to near hero status in the wake of his conviction for abuse of office. They posit the prosecutor friendly argument that a group of friends were responsible for the murders in Florence all of whom served time for the murders and all of whom are now deceased. You see the prosecutors/investigators did not really bungle the case as Mssrs. Preston and Spezi believe. Furthermore, from this perspective Mr. Mignini was really onto something with the Satanic cult theory that supposedly traced directly through Dr. Narducci to some of the Florence elite. (Not explained is how the "friends" who served time who were not part of that "elite" somehow got mixed up with this evil and ancient Satanic cult). In this analysis, Mr. Mignini's willingness to go to such great lengths to follow his instincts despite the opposition he encountered in the Monster case should be lauded...hence the hero status accorded him.

Perhaps Perugia should should commission a statue of the man to put in the center of town.

Does anyone detect shades of Victoria Peterson here?


Anonymous said...

Definitely check out the link to Candace Dempsey's blog and watch the video of Ms. Knox's testimony if you get a chance. That was the first video I've ever watched of Ms. Knox. Her demeanor seems mature, serious and completely appropriate in this.


Chris Halkides said...


Which one of Ms. Dempsey's posts do you mean?


Kathmandu2011 said...

There's not a question that Knox and Sollecito have been unfairly treated in the legal system of Italy. Maybe they are totally innocent and don't have any connection to the crime. But you have to admit they weren't exactly running with a crowd you'd want your kid to run with. Debrah is hard on Knox. I think most people that age are unable to process things in responsible ways many times. Some people are just more mature than others.
Debrah mentions Reade Seligmann and I agree that he was a model of strength. But Reade and his fellow Dukies came from an upper class upbringing and have been raised better than Knox. The lacrosse guys would have more confidence because they have connections and a sturdy support system.
Debrah's right that Knox could have handled herself better. In the media she came across as a loose goose which helped the prosecution.

I kept up with the lacrosse case through KC's blog. He covered everything like nobody else and anyone who lives on the other side of the world would know the details about that case by reading his blog.
It's disappointing to read that people like Tim Tyson are not scrutinized by the media about his awful record. Tyson goes on and on about civil rights, but he chose to try to take civil rights away from the Duke boys.

Some people have already covered some of the Duke professors but the story on Tim Tyson with Robert Steel helping fund a movie is pertinent in my opinion. From following KC's blog it was clear that Tim Tyson was one of the harshest critics of the lacrosse team and doing that really hurt them publicly. He helped the dirty prosecutor Nifong do what the dirty prosecutor in Italy has done. But in Italy there was actually a crime that took place.

Anonymous said...

This is it. I thought it was one of those posted yesterday, but it's not. If you scroll down you will see the video of Ms. Knox's testimony and a recording of Mr. Sollecito's call to the police.


Debrah said...

"Observer", that video is a very good one.

Very helpful, indeed, that Knox understands most of what is taking place in Italian.

I agree that she presents herself well there.

Debrah said...

TO "Renegade"--

Obviously, I totally agree with you that it's been a travesty that Tyson has not been, nor is he now being, scrutinized adequately for his past deeds.

Anonymous said...

I took a look around for more video footage of Ms. Knox. I haven't found any, yet, but here is a story about her "odd behavior," including some quotes from an interpreter who was summoned after midnight to help with the all night interrogation.

The article reminds us again that Mr. Sollecito was arrested on the basis of the police finding a "match" between his shoe and a footprint at the scene. When the "match" actually turned out to be with Mr. Guede's shoe, the police then returned to the scene and ta da found the bra clasp with the DNA to implicate Mr. Sollecito.


Panacea said...

Renegade, it has been known for a long time that Timothy Tyson and his father have made a living off of that case in Oxford.
Most people who buy into it don't know anything about Tyson's family or what actually took place back then. If you read some of the history on this website you will see that Tyson has been using race and religion all of his life for profit. Long before he did the same thing in the Duke lacrosse case.

Anonymous said...

A little bit of the later testimony in Italian. She still looks entirely appropriate to me.


Anonymous said...

This is a terrific research piece about how completely unreliable police perception of "odd behavior" is in assessing truthfulness and how dangerous "investigator bias" is to the person being interrogated.

Thanks to Nina Shapiro who linked this in her article at the Daily Telegraph, a Seattle based publication.


William L. Anderson said...


You really are doing some heroic work here, and putting your many talents to great use. One thing that strikes me about your series is that all too often, what we think of as government "forensic" work is pretty haphazard at times.

I can only hope that people are reading this material and giving it the seriousness it deserves.

Anonymous said...

Hey BA,

Great to see you commenting!