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  • Writer's pictureKathryn McMaster

The Monster of Florence

Florence, Italy is the city of art, famous for it's statue of David, and the Piazza della Signoria. However, for two decades it was also the home of an unknown serial killer who killed several couples in the cypress-clad countryside and rolling hills surrounding the city. To this day, the Monster of Florence remains an unsolved crime. However, in true Italian fashion, there was plenty of drama in trying to find the perpetrator.

A panoramic view of Florence, Italy
A panoramic view of Florence, Italy

Barbara Locci
Barbara Locci

The mystery of the Monster of Florence began in August 1968 with the murder of Barbara Locci, a 32-year-old married woman from Lastra a Signa, and her married lover Antonio Lo Bianco, father of three children and married to Sicilian, Rosalie Barranca, who also lived in Lastra a Signa. Barbara Locci was married to Stefano Mele, a man known to be intellectually deficient, and together they had a 6-year-old son, Natalino. Barbara had a reputation around the town as being a promiscuous woman who had had several lovers over the years. One of her lovers had even moved into the marital home for a while, while her husband still lived there.

Antonio lo Bianco
Antonio lo Bianco

On the evening of August 21, 1968, Barbara, her young son, and Antonio went to the Cinema Garden Michelacci in Lastra a Signa to see the second show of the evening, Helga, the Miracle of Love, a German film not suitable for children under 14. On returning from the cinema Antonio suggested they stop off at a nearby cemetery for some quick sex. Since her son was fast asleep in the backseat of the car, Barbara agreed. Their tryst was short lived. As Antonio began taking off Barbara’s clothes, a figure emerged from the dark and shot the cheating couple dead. Following the double murder, the killer grabbed Barbara’s son out of the car and carried him into the darkness of the night.

Sometime later that night, a local farmer was awakened by a knock on his front door. When the man opened the door, the young boy was standing barefoot before him saying, “Let me in, I’m tired and my father is at home sick. You have to take me back home because my mommy and uncle are both dead in the car.” Although Antonio was not related to Natalino, referring to him as his uncle is a polite form youngsters use to address older people in Italy.

As investigators went over the cemetery crime scene, they discovered eight .22-caliber shell casings by the vehicle. The car was a white Alfa Romeo "Giulietta" with license plates from the Province of Arezzo. A check of the vehicle’s registration revealed that it belonged to Antonio Lo Bianco. Investigators were stumped. Who had committed this heinous crime and why?

Between six and seven in the morning, a police patrol car reached the home of Stefano Mele, Barbara's husband. As investigators made their way to Mele’s front door, it abruptly opened, and he stepped out with a suitcase, appearing to be in a hurry. When he had little reaction to the news of his wife’s murder, investigators’ suspicions were increased. Mele hesitantly agreed to talk with investigators and accompanied them to police headquarters.

At the police station, Stefano Mele told investigators that he had not felt well since the afternoon of the previous day, and had stayed at home, during which time two people had come to visit him, Carmelo Cutrona and Antonio Lo Bianco, both of whom had been his wife's lovers. During the questioning, Mele also mentioned Francesco Vinci, another lover of his wife. Vinci had been

Stefano Mele helping investigators standing by a car.
Stefano Mele, jilted husband and murder suspect waving to media.

arrested in November 1967 following an accusation of adultery by his own wife. As soon as Vinci was released from prison, he resumed the relationship with his lover. Barbara had been the lover of all three Vinci brothers -- Giovanni, Salvatore and Francesco. Investigators decided to investigate some of Mele allegations, and he was asked to return the following day.

The following day, August 23, 1968, after telling investigators that he considered his wife's lovers to be possible suspects in the double murder, Mele surprised everyone by confessing that he and Salvatore Vinci had killed his wife Barbara and Antonio Lo Bianco.

During his confession, Mele stated that when his wife and son failed to return home by 11:20 p.m. on August 21, he went looking for them. He eventually reached the town square of Lastra a Signa, where he met Salvatore Vinci and told him that Barbara had gone to the movies, perhaps with Antonio Lo Bianco, and taken their child with her. Vinci scolded Stefano for allowing his wife to continually cheat on him and told him that he should put a stop to the situation. Vinci had a small weapon with him, and the two of them drove to Signa.

When the two men arrived, they discovered Antonio’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta parked near the Giardino Michelacci movie theater. Stefano and Salvatore waited at the exit and eventually saw Lo Bianco and Barbara, who had the child in her arms, exit the theater. Stefano and Salvatore got into the car and followed them to the cemetery, just outside of town. Stefano told investigators that when Antonio and Barbara began to make out, Salvatore pulled a small pistol out of a bag and handed it to him.

Stefano said he walked up to the car and began firing until the gun was empty. His son slept through the initial hail of gunfire, but woke up immediately afterward. When Stefano returned to Salvatore's car, he told him that he had killed them. The two men then drove to the Signa Bridge where they disposed of the gun. A short time later he was back home again.

Stefano ended his confession by stating, “I killed my wife and her lover because I was tired of continually being humiliated. My wife had been cheating on me for a number of years, but it was only a few months ago that I decided to do away with her.” While Stefano’s story was lacking in many respects, the least of which being that he failed to mention if his son had seen him or how Natalino ended up at the farmhouse. Stefano was quickly arrested and held pending official charges.

The following day, August 24, 1968, the police searched everywhere for the pistol to no avail. A prosecutor questioned Stefano about the pistol, and he quickly changed his story, stating that instead of throwing the weapon away he had given it back to Salvatore Vinci. Nonetheless, a few hours later, Stefano retracted his entire confession and began accusing Salvatore's brother, Francesco Vinci. He stated that Francesco owned the weapon and that Francesco had killed his wife. For the next three days, Stefano told police the opposite of what he had said previously.

Two years after the double homicide took place, Stefano Mele was found guilty as the lone perpetrator during a hasty trial and sentenced to 14 years in prison on the grounds of partial insanity.

Photo of murder victims Stefania Pettini and Pasquale Gentilcore
18-year-old Stefania Pettini and 19-year-old Pasquale Gentilcore

By 1974, six years after the 1968 double murders of Barbara Locci and Antonio lo Bianco, the name Stefano Mele was all but forgotten and local authorities were focused on another disturbing double murder. On Saturday, September 14, 1974, investigators were called to the Borgo San Lorenzo area just north of Florence. A passerby had discovered the bodies of 18-year-old Stefania Pettini and 19-year-old Pasquale Gentilcore in a parked car and made the call to police headquarters.

The body of Pasquale Gentilcore with multiple gunshot wounds.

Upon arriving at the scene, investigators discovered the half-naked body of a young man in the driver’s seat of a Fiat 127, later determined to belong to his father. He appeared to have been the victim of numerous gunshot wounds. There was no apparent evidence of a struggle, and copper-jacketed bullet shells dotted the scene.

At the rear of the car investigators discovered the completely naked body of a young woman on the ground. Her killer had ghoulishly posed her corpse -- her arms and legs were in a spread- eagled position and a vine branch protruded from her mutilated vagina. At first sight, it appeared as though she had been stabbed to death.

Murder investigation scene of double homicide Stefania Pettini and Pasquale Gentilcore.
Murder investigation scene of double homicide Stefania Pettini and Pasquale Gentilcore.

In a nearby field investigators discovered the young woman’s handbag, with its contents scattered about the ground. Following a search of the crime scene and a photographic record, both of the bodies were bagged and taken to the morgue for examination.

During an autopsy of the victims, it was soon revealed that both had been shot numerous times with a small-caliber gun. Ballistic reports concluded that the weapon was a model 73 or 74, .22 automatic Beretta and that the bullets were a distinctive Winchester type manufactured in Australia during the 1950s. While the male victim succumbed to five bullet wounds, the female victim had only been shot three times -- her death was ultimately the result of at least one of 96 stab wounds. The knife was estimated to be 10 to 12 centimeters long and 1.5 centimeters wide, with a single-edged blade.

At the start, investigators focused their attention on three men: 53-year-old Bruno Mocali, a self-proclaimed healer; Giuseppe Francini, a mentally unstable man who had accused himself of the crime by coming to the police station of his own free will; and Guido Giovannini, a voyeur who had been identified by a number of witnesses as someone who had been spying on couples in the area where the crime took place. But there was no evidence linking any of the men to the crime, and all three were eventually ruled out as possible suspects.

Investigators concluded that the murderer was maniacal and sexually deviant. With no apparent leads or suspects to pursue, the case came to a standstill.

Carmela De Nuccio and Giovanni Foggi
Carmela De Nuccio and Giovanni Foggi

By June 1981, seven years had passed since the Borgo San Lorenzo murders, and as with Stefano Mele, they were all but forgotten. On Saturday, June 6, 1981, investigators were again stumped when a police sergeant on a country walk with his young son accidentally discovered the bodies of 21-year-old Carmela De Nuccio and her 30-year-old fiance, Giovanni Foggi.

The body of Giovanni Loggi.
The body of Giovanni Loggi.

The sergeant had first noticed a copper-colored Ritmo automobile parked alongside the road. The doors to the vehicle were closed, but a woman’s handbag was lying next to the driver’s side door, with the bag’s contents scattered about the ground. His curiosity obviously piqued, the sergeant decided to move in for a closer look. As he made his way to the vehicle, he noticed that the driver’s side window had been smashed. Sitting at the wheel of the vehicle was the body of a young man whose throat had apparently been slashed. The sergeant immediately left the scene to call the crime in to headquarters.

As investigators joined the sergeant at the crime scene, they soon discovered the body of a female victim lying at the bottom of a steep bank, just 20 yards away from the red Fiat. Her legs were spread apart, her T-shirt and jeans were slashed, and most ghastly of all -- her vagina had been crudely removed. There were no tracks and no witnesses.

An autopsy revealed that they had both died of multiple gunshot wounds while sitting in the vehicle. Subsequently, the young man had received three stab wounds, two to his neck and a third to the chest. The excision of the girl’s vagina had been performed with an extremely sharp apparatus, thus prompting the pathologist to conclude that the killer had skill in the use of cutting instruments.

Ballistic reports indicated that both victims were killed by a minimum of seven gunshot wounds from a .22-caliber automatic pistol with Winchester rounds. This revelation quickly raised the eyebrows of veteran detectives, and they requested that the bullets be compared to the ones recovered from the 1974 double murder. A ballistics match was made, and investigators were beginning to realize that they had a possible serial murderer on their hands.

Investigators focused their attention on Enzo Spalletti, an occasional voyeur, whose red Ford had been seen parked near the scene of the crime. Although the suspect gave investigators a confused alibi, they were more interested in the fact that he had talked with his wife about two corpses and a copper-colored Ritmo automobile as early as 9:30 in the morning, telling her that he had read about them in the paper, whereas the story did not actually come out until the day after the bodies were found. Spalletti was quickly arrested for the crime and placed behind bars to await trial.

Susanna Cambi and Stefano Baldi at a picnic
Susanna Cambi and Stefano Baldi

On October 23, 1981, just months after the double murder of Nuccio and Foggi, the killer struck again. A young couple, 24-year-old Susanna Cambi and her 26-year-old boyfriend, Stefano Baldi, had decided to spend the evening parked at a scenic outlook near Calenzano, just north of Florence. What the young couple failed to notice was a killer lying in wait. Later that evening, another young couple discovered their bullet-ridden and mutilated corpses.

Stefano Baldi's body next to the car lying in a ditch.
Stefano Baldi's body next to the car lying in a ditch.

As investigators arrived at the scene they discovered a man lying next to a Volkswagen. He was half-naked and appeared to have been shot and stabbed numerous times. A female victim was lying on the opposite side of the vehicle. While her wounds were similar to that of her male counterpart, one detail immediately struck investigators -- her vagina had been removed in the same fashion as with Carmela De Nuccio.

A pathologist concluded that both victims had been shot through the front window and that they were both still alive when the first of the numerous stab wounds were inflicted. There was no evidence that either of the bodies had been dragged to the location in which they were ultimately discovered and the knife was believed to be single edged and approximately 3 centimeters wide and 5 to 7 centimeters long.

The excision of the vagina appeared to have been performed with the same instrument used in the previous case, but it was executed with significantly less precision and a much larger area had been removed. The abdominal wall had been cut through all its layers, leaving a large area of the abdominal cavity exposed and part of the intestine punctured, thus suggesting that the murderer was rushed. Ballistics tests also ultimately revealed that the same Beretta .22 used in the previous crime was used in this latest double murder.

As news of the murders reached the press, two separate couples came forward and reported that they had seen a red Alfa GT with a lone male driver speeding away from the crime scene. Investigators decided it was time to let the press in on their theory of a serial murderer who preyed on young couples. They had hoped that the extensive coverage would prompt others to come forward with possible leads. However, no further clues were brought to light and the result was that frightened citizens stayed behind locked doors for fear of being the next victim of the media-dubbed “Monster of Florence”.

A shoe print in the mud belonging to the Monster of Florence.
The Monster of Florence's shoe print. Size 44.

There was one clue, one of the few, left behind at the crime scenes. This time, it was a significant clue. It was a size 44 shoe print found in the mud, It confirmed that the police were looking for a tall individual.

Investigators also decided to drop their charges against Enzo Spalletti for the June 6, 1981, double murder of Carmela De Nuccio and Giovanni Foggi. Since Spalletti had been behind bars at the time of this most recent murder, there was no way he could have committed the crime. His trial was canceled and he was released from prison.

Paolo Mainardi and Antonella Migliorini
Paolo Mainardi and Antonella Migliorini

On June 19, 1982, a Saturday night, the killer struck again near Montespertoli, southwest of Florence. A young couple, 22-year-old Paolo Mainardi and his girlfriend, 20-year-old Antonella Migliorini, were making love in a parking space near the Via Nuova Virgilio provincial roadway, when someone appeared out of the bushes and began shooting. Both were struck by the initial barrage of gunfire and Antonella died almost immediately. Even though Paolo was seriously injured, he was able start the car, turn on the headlights, and shift the vehicle into reverse.

Paolo Mainardi's car in the ditch trying to escape.
Paolo Mainardi's car in the ditch trying to escape.

Unfortunately the car ended up in a ditch and Paolo was unable to get it back out. The killer wasted little time and quickly shot out the vehicle's headlights, restoring the darkness and emptied his pistol into the two victims. After turning off the engine, the keys were pulled from the ignition and thrown into the weeds. Obviously disturbed by traffic in the area, the killer decided to skip the gruesome mutilation rites and fled the scene without even realizing that Paolo Mainardi was still alive.

Unfortunately for Paolo, he was not discovered until the following morning and died just hours later, without ever having regained consciousness. Later the same morning, the assistant district attorney assigned to the case, Silvia Della Monica, gathered various reporters from the media in her office and asked them to spread a minor lie. The keen assistant DA wanted the press to report that Paolo Mainardi was still alive when he arrived at the hospital, and that he had had time to give a description of the killer before he died. All of the reporters agreed, and the information appeared in the afternoon paper. Silvia Della Monica was hoping that the killer would become anxious and make a false move.

The assistant DA’s gamble did make the killer nervous. Following the release of the afternoon paper, one of the Red Cross emergency workers who had accompanied Paolo Mainardi to the hospital received two telephone calls from a person who first claimed to be with the DA's office and then changed his story, identifying himself as the murderer. He wanted to know what the young man said before dying.

A few days after the murder of Paolo Mainardi and Antonella Migliorini, a sergeant in the police force, Francesco Fiore, recalled the murder of Barbara Locci and Antonio Lo Bianco, committed in 1968 when he was assigned to Signa. Francesco began to wonder if there was a connection with the crimes of the Monster. On his insistence, the shells were compared and the tests revealed that the same weapon, a Beretta .22-caliber pistol, fired all the Winchester bullets, and that the shells all came from a single box of 50 bullets. The pistol used by the Monster was the same weapon that killed Locci and Lo Bianco in 1968.

Analyzing the situation 14 years after the 1968 murders, it was immediately apparent that Stefano Mele, the husband of the murdered woman, could not have been the “Monster of Florence” since he was in jail in both 1974 and 1981. At that point the investigators assumed that Mele had to have an accomplice -- someone who continued killing after he was imprisoned. Regardless, Mele was still claiming his innocence and refused to cooperate with investigators.

 Horst Meyer and Jens-Uwe Rusch
Horst Meyer (left) and Jens-Uwe Rusch

The killer waited about a year before striking again. On September 9, 1983, the “Monster” surprised police by breaking his pattern, albeit by accident, by murdering two West German boys, Horst Meyer and Jens-Uwe Rusch. The two young victims were shot to death while sleeping in a Volkswagen camper just 19 miles south of Florence in a grassy clearing. Some later reports stated that the boys were homosexual lovers, but there was no evidence to substantiate this claim.

There was no apparent mutilation to the victims’ bodies and investigators did not initially connect the murders to that of the “Monster of Florence.” Nonetheless, ballistics tests proved that the same Beretta .22 had been used in the murders. This revelation baffled investigators. Why had the killer changed his pattern? Perhaps the killer had made a mistake. One of the victims had very long blond hair and may have been mistaken for a girl. Upon realizing his mistake, the killer may not have wished to perform his usual mutilations on a male.

Apart from the pistol and the cartridges used by the killer, investigators were intrigued by some of the common elements of each crime -- all of the victims had spent their last evenings at a discotheque; the murderer usually struck on Saturdays; and he preferred to strike when the moon was hidden by the clouds. This last detail could have some cryptic explanation, or simply be a precaution taken by the murderer to lessen his chances of being recognized. In addition, it was theorized that the reason the killer rummaged through the female victims’ belongings was so he could take some sort of macabre souvenir.

Following the press coverage of the most recent murders, Massimo Introvigne, a religious historian, came forward to talk with investigators about the crimes. Introvigne told investigators that Florence, which partly inspired the poet Dante to write his ‘Inferno,’ had a long tradition of sorcery. He went on to inform them that occult sects were not necessarily Satanists and that the ritual nature of the murders suggested fetishists were involved. This revelation sat well with investigators who had already begun to suspect that the genitalia taken by the killer may have been used as some form of trophy by a religious cult.

A short time after the murder of the two young campers, the Red Cross emergency worker who had accompanied Paolo Mainardi to the hospital in 1982 and was later contacted by the killer, received another disturbing phone call while on vacation in Rimini. The killer continued to badger him about what Mainardi had told police before he died. This revelation shocked police. Who could have known that the worker was on vacation and how did they know how to contact him?

Claudio Stefanacci and Pia Rontini

The killer waited almost a year before striking again on July 29, 1984, this time murdering another young couple in Vicchio di Mugello, just north of Florence. The couple were Claudio Stefanacci, law student, aged 21, and Pia Gilda Rontini, barmaid and cheerleader, 18. The pair were shot to death and stabbed in Stefanacci's Fiat Panda parked in a woodland area near Vicchio. There were reports of a strange man who had been following them in an ice cream parlour some hours before the murder. A close friend of Rontini recalled that she had confided that she had been bothered by "an unpleasant man" while working at the bar. This double murder showed all the characteristics of the previous ones. The man’s body was found on the backseat of his car wearing only underpants and a vest. Not far from the vehicle, behind some bushes, lay the completely naked body of the girl. As with her predecessors, she was posed in a spread eagle position, with her genitals having been removed. The only real variance was that the killer had also decided to remove her left breast and slashed her corpse over 100 times.

An autopsy soon revealed that both victims had been shot through the car window before being stabbed with a knife. The body of the girl was then dragged by the ankles approximately 10 yards.

The ballistic results were of no surprise to investigators. The weapon had been a .22 automatic Beretta, and the bullets matched all of those used on previous victims. The knife was also deemed to have been a single-edged blade and matched the characteristics as that of the previous mutilations. In addition, no fingerprints were recovered from the scene, strengthening investigators theory that the killer wore surgical gloves during his crimes.

Investigators were curious as to why the killer had removed the breast of his latest female victim. Were his acts simply becoming more macabre or was this related to a cult aspect?

Detectives freely admitted to the press that they had no leads and were just as baffled as before. In a press release following the murders, Francisco Fleury, the DA then in charge of the investigation, said, “The man could be your respectable next-door neighbor, a man above suspicion.”

Other than the killer’s underlying motives, there was no question about the targets. The killer was obviously a sadistic individual who preferred to prey on random couples in rural settings. To veteran investigators, the killer was a ghost. After almost two decades they had no suspect, no substantial clues and little hope of ever catching the “Monster of Florence”.

Jean-Michel Kraveichvili and Nadine Mauriot
Jean-Michel Kraveichvili and Nadine Mauriot

The last known murder committed by the “Monster of Florence” occurred almost a year later on September. 8, 1985, when he murdered a French couple, 25-year-old Jean-Michel Kraveichvili and 36-year-old Nadine Mauriot as they camped in the San Casciano area just outside of Florence. The woman’s body, which was discovered closed inside a tent, showed that she had been shot four times. The first three bullets had penetrated her skull, while the forth went through her throat. Four bullets had also hit the male victim -- one in the mouth, two in the upper left arm, and one in the right elbow.

According to reports by the pathologist, all of the shots were fired at a close range no more than 15 to 20 inches. The pathologist also surmised that the couple had been making love at the time they were ambushed. The man was probably lying on his back with the woman on top of him.

The woman died from gunshot wounds while still inside the tent, but the man, who was only superficially wounded, had attempted to escape. He succeeded in getting out of the tent and was able to run for approximately 30 yards before being overtaken by the killer and stabbed to death. He was then thrown down a bank into the bushes where he was ultimately discovered.

Following the murder of the male victim, the killer entered the tent and decisively removed the woman’s vagina and left breast. The pathologist estimated that the killer could have completed the operation within a 10-minute period.

Directly after the discovery of Jean-Michel and Nadine, investigators thought they had their first real lead when a copper-jacketed Winchester bullet was found on a sidewalk in front of a nearby hospital. The hospital’s proximity, together with the investigators theory of surgical gloves and a scalpel, led them to question members of the hospital staff. Nonetheless, no suspects were discovered and the lead quickly fizzled.

On the day following the latest murders, an envelope was delivered to the public prosecutor’s office, addressed to assistant DA Silvia Della Monica. The address on the envelope had been created using letters cut from a magazine or newspaper and contained a single spelling mistake. Inside the envelope was a sheet of paper folded and glued at its edges, and inside the paper container was a small plastic bag. The bag contained a cube of flesh from Nadine Mauriot’s left breast.

The very next day, after the murder, a Prato , with his sister and her boyfriend, had gone to Scopeti for a macabre walk the day after the murder: his cocker, yanked the owner, is forwarded in a bush where he found that tissue , hair and surgeon's gloves. They handed over the findings to the Carabinieri who took charge of them. The handkerchief was deposited at the  Legal Medicine of Florence in the hands of Professor Riccardo Cagliesi who on November 7, 1985, deposited his report in 13 pages: the material was human blood of group B, the hair fragment was a human hair. The doctor had ruled that the blood could not belong to the French victims because Nadinewas of group A and Jean Michel of group 0 but not even to Pacciani group 0. That relocation delivered the genetic material of a murderer. The hair found is about 2 cm long, of brown color, smooth, provided with thin scaled cuticle: under a fingernail of Stefano Baldi,  killed with his girlfriend Susanna Cambi in 1981, 2 brown hairs were found, the woman was holding a tuft of hair in one hand. In 2004 DNA analysis was not performed: finally the test was done, we look forward to the results.

A passport picture of Pietro Pacciani suspect as the monster of florence.
A much younger Pietro Pacciani

Over the course of the next eight years, investigators questioned more than 100,000

In addition to his criminal background, unknown sources reported that Pacciani was involved in an opeople in hopes of gaining a lead. During the early 1990s, they began to focus on Pietro Pacciani, a 68-year-old semi-literate farmer who enjoyed hunting and taxidermy. Intriguing to investigators was the fact that Pacciani had been arrested in 1951 for the murder of a traveling salesman, whom he had caught sleeping with his fiancee. After stabbing the salesman a total of 19 times and stomping him to death, Pacciani raped his corpse. He was quickly convicted and sentenced to serve 13 years in prison for his crimes. Following his release from prison, Pacciani married and settled down to raise a family. Nonetheless, he was again jailed between 1987 and 1991 for beating his wife and sexually molesting his two young daughters.ccult group with three other men, Mario Vanni, Giovanni Faggi and Giancarlo Lotti (who were all known as peeping toms because of their nocturnal ramblings). Pacciani and Vanni were also alleged to have participated in black masses, which used female body parts at the house of a supposed wizard in San Caciano. Nurses at a clinic, which had previously hired Pacciani as a gardener, also came forward and claimed that he told them a doctor presided over satanic ceremonies he attended.

Although the head of Florence's detective force, Michele Giuttari, believed Pacciani was too sloppy to have planned the crimes, he was arrested on Jan. 17, 1993.

Pietro Pacciani’s trial began almost a year later in November 1994. Prosecutors were dead set on proving he was one of Europe's most prolific serial killers and asked that the trial be televised. The public relished the opportunity, and almost everyone became a compulsive viewer. A Florentine newspaper also went so far as to open up a "Monster hotline" so that readers could telephone in their opinions.

The packed courtroom drew swarms of spectators, but for all the drama, there was an alarming lack of evidence. At one point during the trial, a police guard collapsed, the evidence proving too gory for him to stomach. From day one, Pacciani had claimed his innocence and continued to do so during his trial. Nonetheless, although the evidence against him was largely circumstantial, he was convicted of committing seven of the double murders and sentenced to life in prison. When the verdict of guilty was pronounced, Pacciani was dragged from court howling that he

was "as innocent as Christ on the cross."

On Feb. 13, 1996, an appeals court overturned the conviction of 71-year-old Pietro Pacciani and cleared him of "all fault" -- a ruling that came one week after a public prosecutor stated that the evidence against him was unsound. Nonetheless, few doubted that Pacciani, who in his youth had murdered a traveling salesman, was indeed the Monster of Florence, and his release caused a strong public outcry. Interestingly enough, the release of Pacciani came just hours after the arrest of Pacciani’s friends Mario Vanni and Giancarlo Lotti, for their involvement in the murders.

Acting on new information, investigators began to suspect that not one killer, but an entire gang of killers might have been responsible for the ‘Monster of Florence’ crimes. They soon concluded that the gang must have been led by 71-year-old Pietro Pacciani, and would have included 70-year-old Mario Vanni, 54-year-old Giancarlo Lotti, and 77-year-old Giovanni Faggi. In retrospect, it appears as though prosecutors were simply grasping at straws.

The Italian Supreme Court quickly overturned the decision to free Pacciani and on Dec. 12, 1996 ordered a retrial in light of new ‘evidence.’ Allegedly Lotti was said to have confessed to police that he and Pacciani had perpetrated the killings.

On May 21, 1997, Mario Vanni and Giancarlo Lotti went on trial for their involvement in five of the double murders. The two men were ultimately convicted and sentenced to life and 26 years respectively. Pacciani never made it to his retrial for involvement in the ‘Monster of Florence’ murders. On Feb. 23, 1998, he was found lying face down on the floor of his home with his trousers down at his ankles and his shirt up around his neck. Although his face was blue and disfigured, the initial police opinion was that he had died of a cardiac arrest. A post-mortem examination revealed that a combination of drugs had caused his death. The investigating magistrate, Paolo Canessa, believed that Pacciani was silenced lest he reveal the real monster, or monsters.

One would assume that since Pacciani was dead and Mario Vanni and Giancarlo Lotti were behind bars, that the case of the “Monster of Florence” would be closed.

In August 2001, investigators again reopened inquiries into the Monster of Florence murders. While detectives are reluctant to discuss many of the details, they have said there are new suspects. A source close to the public prosecutor’s office has stated that the police now believe that a group of 10 to 12 wealthy, sophisticated Italians orchestrated the ritualized murders over the course of three decades and got away with it. Investigators surmise that the religious sect required night-time executions of courting couples, followed by mutilation with the help of a .22 Beretta revolver and a surgical knife.

As investigators began removing their original files from storage, they were tipped off by a series of undisclosed anonymous letters, which are believed to name some of the suspects, including an unknown doctor and a Swiss artist. The artist reportedly left the area in 1997, but police are said to have drawings he made of mutilated women and newspaper clippings he had saved.

One month later, in September 2001, Florence investigators raided the homes and offices of Aurelio Mattei, a psychologist with the Sisde Secret Service, and Francesco Bruno, Italy's leading criminal psychologist. Computer disks, books and notes about the killings were confiscated, and both men were questioned relentlessly for more than nine hours. While neither man has been deemed a suspect in the murders, detectives believe they may have withheld critical evidence from the original investigation.

In 2016 the Beretta 22 caliber similar to that used by the Monster of Florence for the double murders of the couples and never tracked down was found by a tourist, in August, during a walk near a stream in Madonna dei Tre Fiumi, a town near Ronta, in Mugello: one of the areas where the maniac had struck.

Regardless of these new revelations, Vanni and Lotti remain incarcerated and investigators are continuing to keep a tight lid on their continued investigations. Until then, the ‘Monster of Florence’ murders remain a mystery.

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