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Murder Made in Italy: Homicide, Media, and Contemporary Italian Culture

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Looking at media coverage of three very prominent murder cases, Murder Made in Italy explores the cultural issues raised by the murders and how they reflect developments in Italian civil society over the past 20 years. Providing detailed descriptions of each murder, investigation, and court case, Ellen Nerenberg addresses the perception of lawlessness in Italy, the country’s geography of crime, and the generalized fear for public safety among the Italian population. Nerenberg examines the fictional and nonfictional representations of these crimes through the lenses of moral panic, media spectacle, true crime writing, and the abject body. The worldwide publicity given the recent case of Amanda Knox, the American student tried for murder in a Perugia court, once more drew attention to crime and punishment in Italy and is the subject of the epilogue.

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1 The “Monster” of Florence: Serial Murders and Investigation

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Serial Murders and Investigation

IN THE ELEVEN-YEAR PERIOD from September 1974 to September 1985, seven couples were killed in Florence and the surrounding countryside. Once the seriality of the murders was established, panic and hysteria ensued. The victims were Stefania Pettini and Pasquale Gentilcore, murdered the night of September 14, 1974, in a rural lane in Borgo San Lorenzo; Carmela De Nuccio and Giovanni Foggi, whose bodies were discovered on June 7, 1981, near Scandicci; Susanna Cambi and Stefano Baldi, found on October 23 of the same year, in a park near Calenzano; Antonella Migliorini and Paolo Mainardi, murdered the night of June 19, 1982, on a country road near Montespertoli; Horst Meyer and Uwe Rüsch, whose bodies were discovered on September 10, 1983, in Galluzzo; Pia Rontini and Claudio Stefanacci, killed the night of July 29, 1984, in the woods near Vicchio di Mugello; and Nadine Mauriot and Jean-Michel Kraveichili, found murdered on September 9, 1985, in the woods near San Casciano.

 

2 Monstrous Murder: Serial Killers and Detectives in Contemporary Italian Fiction

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Serial Killers and Detectives in Contemporary Italian Fiction

Non ci sono altri casi. Gliel’ho già detto una volta cosa penso della sua teoria del serial killer … guarda un po’, lo vede? Anche la parola … è americana e qua siamo in Italia e non in America. Da noi si chiamano mostri e sono quelli che tirano i sassi sulle autostrade o quei calabresi che hanno massacrato quella bambina per farle un esorcismo, perché la credevano indemoniata … altro che serial killer. A Modena, poi, in Emilia!

(There are no other cases. I already told you once what I think about your theory of a “serial killer.” Don’t you see? Even the word is American and we’re in Italy here, not the U.S. Here we call them monsters and they’re like those people who throw rocks onto the highways from the overpasses or those Calabrese guys who killed that little girl because they thought she was possessed by the devil. A serial killer? In Modena, yet, in Emilia!)

LANZARINI, VOX POPULI1

 

3 “Penile” Procedure: Law and Order in Dario Argento’s Cinema

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Law and Order in Dario Argento’s Cinema

Go to Italy. It’s a peaceful country. Nothing ever happens there.

DARIO ARGENTO, L’UCCELLO DALLE PIUME DI CRISTALLO

SOCIALLY SYMBOLIC PRACTICES IN ITALY representing serial murder span a variety of genres, including examples that are literary, such as the texts explored in the preceding chapter, as well as cinematic, the primary focus of this chapter, which addresses specifically the films of Dario Argento. My aim is not to make the fictional and cinematic narratives equivalent to the investigation of the serial sex murders in and around Florence attributed to the “Monster.” Rather, my interest lies in the way murders that are real and those that are represented are interwoven. Consequently, the cinema of Dario Argento in some instances links explicitly to the “Monster’s” murders. At the same time, Argento’s cinema also reveals the broader context of the representation of serial violence in contemporary Italy, the very context in which the “Monster’s” murders are embedded. The film that garners the most attention in this chapter, La Sindrome di Stendhal (The Stendhal Syndrome, 1996), enters into an obvious dialogue with the “Monster” narrative.

 

4 Sono stati loro: Erika, Omar, and the Double Homicide of Susy Cassini and Gianluca De Nardo in Novi Ligure

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Erika, Omar, and the Double Homicide of Susy Cassini and Gianluca De Nardo in Novi Ligure

ON THE AFTERNOON OF February 21, 2001, 42-year-old accountant Susy Cassini picked up her 16-year-old daughter Erika De Nardo after school at approximately 2:00 pm. They had lunch together at the family’s townhouse, then Erika studied at home until approximately 4:00 p.m., when she went to her boyfriend Mauro (nicknamed Omar) Fàvaro’s house. They spent a typical afternoon together: sex, drugs, music. Erika returned to the De Nardo home on Via Beniamino Dacatra in Novi Ligure at approximately 7:00 p.m. Susy had left the house to pick up Erika’s 12-year-old brother Gianluca from his afternoon sports practice. Francesco De Nardo, Erika’s father, was still at his weekly pick-up soccer match. Erika laid the dinner table for four, and Omar joined Erika to wait for the family’s arrival. Susy and Gianluca arrived home first. Omar and Erika heard them in the garage before they entered through the kitchen. Omar hid in the bathroom off the kitchen. Gianluca passed through the kitchen on his way to bathe in the upstairs bathroom. Once her brother was out of immediate earshot and the tub’s faucets masked the sounds downstairs, Erika took a kitchen knife and began stabbing her mother, screaming “Adesso muori!” (Die now!) Omar left the downstairs bathroom and helped in the attack. Erika ran up the stairs and began attacking Gianluca, trying first to persuade him to eat a blue powder, rat poison that she and Omar had purchased some time earlier, planning to poison the entire family. Omar joined Erika upstairs, where they both stabbed Gianluca while he was in the filled tub. Autopsy results revealed that the boy eventually drowned. Omar left Via Dacatra, disposed of his clothes, and hid the second knife. Erika ran from the house. As she approached the roadway, her charade began.

 

5 The Raw and the Cooked: Transnational Media and Violence in Italy’s Cannibal Pulp Fiction of the 1990s

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Transnational Media and Violence in Italy’s Cannibal Pulp Fiction of the 1990s

Il primo gennaio

So che si può vivere
non esistendo, emersi da una quinta, da un fondale,
da un fuori che non c’è se mai nessuno
l’ha veduto
.

EUGENIO MONTALE

(I know that one can live
without existing,
emerging from offstage, or from behind a curtain,
from an outside that isn’t there if no one
has ever seen it.)

THE PRECEDING CHAPTER, WHICH detailed the 2001 murders of Susy Cassini and Gianluca De Nardo in Novi Ligure, began and ended with a motif of indistinctness. I argued that the blur of the photographically reproduced faces of the two adolescents, Erika De Nardo and Omar Fàvaro, accused and convicted of premeditated double murder, came to signify the blurry outlines of the rising generation of adolescents in Italy at the waning of the twentieth century and the start of the twenty-first. The motif of an indistinct and inscrutable younger generation in Italy continues in this chapter, which explores the violence in (and of) the work of a cohort of young writers who emerged in the second half of the 1990s, called the “Giovani Cannibali,” or Young Cannibals.

 

6 The Yellow and the Black: Cogne; or, Crime of the Century

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Cogne; or, Crime of the Century

THE MORNING OF JANUARY 30, 2002, was reportedly both the same as and different from all other mornings at the small chalet in Cogne, in Italy’s Valle D’Aosta, where Annamaria Franzoni lived with her husband, Stefano Lorenzi, and their two sons. Franzoni, thirty-one at the time, was alone in the house with her two children: Davide, aged seven-and-a-half, and Samuele, three. After Lorenzi left for work, Franzoni either prepared her older son for school in exactly the same way as she always had or took a wide detour from her typical routine.

The degree of sameness or distinction of this morning routine became crucial for the psychiatric experts engaged in the evaluation of the case as well as the narrative of the murder itself. Trying to determine whether Franzoni was subject to an underlying psychopathology—which would serve as a conditioning factor in sentencing—the psychiatric team probed the possibility of an extraordinary and temporary break in an otherwise established routine, particularly in Franzoni’s actions following Samuele’s death. The forensic team of the RIS confirmed the location of blood in the Lorenzi-Franzoni chalet, which served to establish the time of death, a possible narrative of the actions that followed the crime, and the viability of the theory that an intruder committed the murder.1

 

7 Spectacular Grief and Public Mourning

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THE PUTATIVE “COLDNESS” ATTRIBUTED to Annamaria Franzoni’s behavior on January 30, 2002, and in the weeks that followed, indelibly conditioned her reception by the public. Not native to the Valle D’Aosta, Franzoni did not conform to the expectations of the Cogneins, the residents of Cogne. As detailed in the preceding chapter, the preparations for Samuele’s funeral were considered too grand and Franzoni’s reported attempts to make an appointment to have her hair done for the funeral an illustration of her callousness and superficiality. Since much of Franzoni’s behavior was documented by the media, and especially television, the Cogne case illustrates what Peppino Ortoleva identifies as the “lessons of grief” that the media, and especially broadcast media, are poised to offer.1 For Ortoleva, cinema especially enjoys hieratic, or, priestly, power. Television’s domestic omnipresence guarantees its power to instruct and imprint. Franzoni’s behavior was variously described, as she enumerates herself in La Verità, as “cold, without affect, cynical, mendacious, false.”2 Judge Eugenio Gramola, who presided over the case in its trial phase, declared her to have murdered her son “with presence of mind, cynicism and relentless coldness” and to have displayed “noteworthy and anomalous coldness.”3 As detailed in my investigation of the Novi Ligure matricide and fratricide of 2001, for the Italian penal code the murder of a family member is considered an aggravante, an aggravating factor, and carries an added penalty in sentencing. Franzoni’s alleged “coldness,” everywhere captured and reproduced in the media, served as an aggravante in her sentence in the court of public opinion.

 

8 Unspeakable Crimes: Children as Witnesses, Victims, and Perpetrators

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Children as Witnesses, Victims, and Perpetrators

SEVERAL YEARS AFTER THE events of the day her son died, Franzoni wrote her memoir for publication. La Verità (The truth) was released in November 2006 and went into a fourth printing by the end of the month. Given its brisk sales, one is tempted to quip that Franzoni “made a killing” with her version of the events of January 30, 2002, the day her son, Samuele, was found murdered in their house. In her book, Franzoni responded to public opinion about her, her family, and her role in the crime with choice words for the role the media played in shaping the public’s reception of her.

Three days after the homicide, she writes of her elder son, Davide, who blamed himself—and her—for his younger brother’s death. He says to her, “I told you I could get to the bus by myself … if you had stayed with Samuele nothing would have happened.”1 By all accounts from neighbors, friends, and relatives, Franzoni had good relationships with her sons. Thus, when she heard a news service several months later in which commentators pointed to Davide as the possible murderer, she grew understandably protective of him.2 Refuting any participation on Davide’s part, accidental or otherwise, opens a third possibility. Davide was not the perpetrator, but he may have witnessed the events or have some other knowledge of what occurred.

 

Epilogue: Kiss Me Deadly

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There are all sorts of seeming anomalies, in connection with murder and *** (sic), in the human race. People are oftentimes as sick as the secrets they hold. Amanda Knox may not be the “little girl” that her mother believes she still is. The face she presented to her mother, and the face she presented to others, were perhaps quite different.

MISSINGPLEC11

The parents of Amanda Knox are very certain she was charged and convicted unfairly. How can they be so sure? I doubt it was a crime planned out but an event that went the wrong way. I feel for both Amanda’s parents because they are determined to get her released and yet the evidence was strong enough to convict her. Every parent with a child going overseas to study or travel should require their child to read the Knox story. She, by her actions, joking, comments … etc.—some likely taken wrong has really destroyed so many lives. A sad lesson to learn with huge consequences.

LIN, SEATTLE2

 

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