Mario Spezi is a Florentine crime journalist who has co-written a book with Douglas Preston on the Monster of Florence. Spezi was imprisoned last month for ‘sidetracking the investigation’ of one of the most expensive, notorious criminal cases in Italian history. An independent three judge panel annulled the imprisonment and ordered his immediate release due to lack of evidence after 23 days in jail. He was set free unconditionally. Spezi has written various thrillers including Il passo dell’orco and Il violinista verde. His most recent novel Dolci Colline di Sangue has recently been published in Italian.
How did your involvement with the case of ‘The Monster of Florence’ all start?
It was in June 1981 and I remember the day vividly. It was a Sunday and although I didn’t have to work one of my colleagues asked me to substitute for him because he had an appointment. ‘Nothing ever happens in Florence on a Sunday!’ he said- and usually, it doesn’t. But that was the day that two young people were found murdered just outside Florence. It wasn’t the first crime carried out by Il Mostro, there’d been another murder seven years earlier, with similar characteristics - the same pistol and bullets were used. So, we decided to call the murderer Il Mostro di Firenze - ‘the Monster of Florence’.
Shortly after that murder, a person was arrested. I claimed all along that he was innocent. Then, the following October, there was another murder, with the same hallmarks, and so the convicted man was set free. This happened three times. And each time I stated that the person they had arrested was innocent. So I became, as it were, ‘the Monster’!
Why did you think he was innocent?
Here in Florence at that time, there was a great deal of ignorance about what constitutes a serial killer. The police arrested violent, sex-obsessed men but it was obvious to me, having talked to a psychological profiler about the nature of the attacks and the fact that the female victims were never sexually raped, that this murderer was impotent.
How many murders were there in all?
If you include the first crime, there were 16 murders on eight different occasions. Each time he would kill two people.
Did they ever find Il Mostro?
They condemned a man, who’s dead now, for first degree murder and for second degree assault. Then they arrested two of his friends, as accomplices and condemned them. The investigations continue today because the police think that these people were hired killers. The case is unique because it started in 1968 and it still isn’t finished. There have also been theories that there was more than one killer – a sort of ‘Satanic sect’ made up of important people who commissioned these murders. Then the police investigation turned on me. They say I hindered the course of justice because I criticized the judicial system in my articles and TV interviews. My house was searched, my computer and telephone tapped, and last December, I was put under investigation for murder. My book, Dolci Colline di Sangue (‘Sweet Bloody Hills’), jointly written with the American author Douglas Preston, is a ‘thriller’ based on these true events. In the book, we interview the person we think is the real Monster in the last chapter.
Tell us about your recent experience in prison.
I had excellent lawyers. When I was arrested, the prosecutor gave orders that I could not talk to my lawyers for five days. This is a regulation that they usually apply to high profile mafia criminals. I suppose they thought I was very dangerous! In the end, the appeals court affirmed that my arrest was totally illegitimate and never should have happened. Basically, I was held in prison for 23 days totally illegally.
Why do you think the prosecutor was so intent on having you arrested?
He was against me, and against Douglas Preston, as authors of a book that cast him in a bad light. Douglas says that he doesn’t think it’s by chance that they accused us of false testimonies right around the time the book was to be published — in efforts to discredit it. The book discusses the case in a very Anglo-Saxon style and contains criticism against how the ‘Monster’ case was handled. In the end, they inadvertently gave us a lot of publicity. I’m happy with the public’s response and its support. Dolci Colline di Sangue is now number one the Italian best seller list for detective stories, including foreign novels.
Are you still working for La Nazione newspaper?
Yes, there was no problem with that. Everyone has been very supportive other journalists, my colleagues various associations, and the public — even the American press, especially. Everyone has shown a lot of solidarity for us.
What do you like most about being in Florence?
I like the fact that Florence is provincial, though it’s changing now. In big cities, today, people are more uniform and homogenous. In smaller cities, you can still find ‘originals’ and Florentines have a strong, critical spirit. They’re very skeptical about fashion and current trends.
What don’t you like about Florence?
That it’s provincial! And that Florentines are closed to novelty! It’s the other side of the coin, of course. It can also be difficult for newcomers to be accepted.
What do you think is the biggest misconception foreigners have of Italians?
Some of the things people say about us - that we’re disorganised, dishonest, lazy, pasta eaters - may have some grain of truth, but there’s a positive aspect to this. I think people like Italians because they’re open, they can laugh, they enjoy life. But you can’t be one without the other. You can’t be Swiss and Italian at the same time!
If you had to describe Florence as a person, how would you do so?
She’s a grand, old woman - poor, who earns a living by selling photographs of when she was young.