In Depth

Italy's dark side: Clooney, Florence and the 'crucified' girl

Prosecutor who led Monster of Florence case – soon to be a Clooney film - has a new serial killer to find

FLORENCE – Does the Tuscan capital have a new 'monster' on its hands? A serial killer to rival the so-called Monster of Florence who struck 16 times between 1968 and 1985 and has never been caught? It looks like it - and the new killer's timing could hardly be more Hollywood-friendly.

Last week, the American screenwriter Chris McQuarrie was in town to scout locations for the shooting of The Monster of Florence, which George Clooney will produce and star in as the American writer Douglas Preston, on whose book the film is based. 

Preston came to live in Tuscany in 2000 and discovered that a garden near his new home was the scene of one of the murders perpetrated by the 'monster', who always targeted couples making out in public places, shooting them with a Beretta pistol at close range, and invariably mutilating the genitals of the female victim.

Preston then took it upon himself to look into the killings but got caught up in what authorities say was a botched attempt to derail the investigation.

Back to the present – and according to Italian media, screenwriter McQuarrie was spotted carrying The Dark and Bloody Guide to Florence (with an introduction by Douglas Preston) under his arm. For authenticity, he should have come a week later.

This Monday, the body of a Romanian prostitute was discovered, naked but for her socks and tennis shoes, her arms duct-taped to a metal bar as if she had been crucified.

A man passing by on his bicycle found the dead girl on her knees, in woods close to a cemetery on Florence's northern periphery. "She was tied with her arms outstretched; her head was rolled over," he told the Corriere della Sera. "It looked like she was crucified."

First reports say Andrea Cristina Zamfir, 26, from Romania, was raped and killed after having performed sexual acts and after a long, desperate struggle to get loose that left her elbows bruised. Coroners estimate she died around midnight

The case is eerily similar to one a year ago when a 46-year-old Italian prostitute was attacked in a similar way in nearly the same location. She escaped, however, and is now working with investigators looking into the two killings and the disappearance of other working girls.

“Once again we are seeing the dark side of this city,” said Michele Giuttari, the bestselling Sicilian crimewriter and ex-cop who headed the homicide team that investigated the Monster of Florence murders.

Partly because of the killer's mutilation of sexual organs, Giuttari believed the 'monster' had links to freemasons and/or satanic sects – and he believes the new killer could be in the same mold.

"The whole world wants to visit enchanting Florence," Giuttari told me. “But the city has a dark soul, with secret sects, freemasonry and esoteric dark arts. And when that side occasionally reveals itself, we see crimes like this one – a woman killed and left hanging like a crucifix on a road called Cemetery Way.”

And here come the twists… 

The investigation of a possible new serial killer is being coordinated by Paolo Canessa, the same prosecutor who worked on the Monster of Florence cases – still unsolved and still making legal reverberations today.

The Monster of Florence was co-written by Preston with an Italian journalist called Mario Spezi. The book took as its central premise a private theory of Spezi's that a Sardinian man, Antonio Vinci, was the monster and that Giuttari was wrong to be pursuing the "dark arts" line of inquiry.

Today, however, long after the book became a bestseller, inquiries have proved Vinci to have been innocent while Spezi stands accused of attempting to plant evidence to prove his baseless theory. The preliminary hearing is set for 25 June.

If followers of the Amanda Knox murder trials are thinking this is ringing bells, they are not mistaken: Preston and Spezi inserted themselves into that case too, going on television in the United States and Italy to push another baseless theory of a deranged prosecutor going after the wrong person.

But there’s a saying in Italy: Il tempo è galantuomo - time is a gentleman. Years later, the prosecutor’s charge of murder against Amanda Knox has held up on appeal and it is Spezi who is on trial for allegedly mucking up a murder investigation.

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