U.S. suspense writer’s real-life thriller,

Douglas Preston voices concern

Douglas Preston
March 23, 2006

One of our readers, Douglas Preston, sent us the following letter in which he tells his version of a controversial news story recently published in Italy’s most important daily newspapers. We received the letter and have decided to publish it here. The Florentine welcomes reply from involved parties mentioned. 


Dear The Florentine,


For the past five years, I have been working with an Italian journalist, Mario Spezi, on a book about the case of a serial killer known as the Monster of Florence, who murdered fourteen people in the hills of Florence from 1974 to 1985. The Monster has never been caught, and the case is still open. It has become the longest-running and most expensive criminal investigation in modern Italian history.


I went to Italy with my family on Feb. 14 to take a vacation and to do some work with Spezi on the book. I was taken into custody by the police on Feb. 22. I was brought before an examining magistrate. He and three police detectives aggressively interrogated me for three hours. I was asked about my relationship with Spezi and questioned in great detail about our journalistic activities, our theories, thoughts and beliefs about the case. When I explained that my activities as an investigative journalist were privileged, I was told that this wasn’t about freedom of the press but about a criminal matter of the ‘utmost seriousness’, and that if I didn’t answer the questions fully, I would be arrested and charged with perjury. I was forced to answer the questions under the threat of arrest - and I did.


The commission of enquiry then  proceeded to play back telephone conversations I had had with Spezi, which they had wiretapped. They  played the same passages again and again, demanding to know what we were ‘really’ talking about, demanding that I explain the ‘real meaning’ behind every casual word we had exchanged. They had also recorded conversations we had had in Spezi’s car, which had been broken into and bugged (Spezi found the bug yesterday). When I asked if I was being accused of a crime, the enquiring magistrate said he believed I had committed not one but several serious felonies - to whit: planting evidence to frame an innocent man, obstruction of justice, and being an accessory to murder - all utterly false accusations.


Despite answering their questions fully and truthfully, in the end they charged me with reticena and false testimonianze - two serious crimes of perjury - but said the charges would be suspended to allow me to leave Italy, to be reinstated later. In other words, it seems their goal was to get me out of Italy for good.


The timing of this is not surprising. Our book will be published on April 19. The police had earlier obtained a draft of the book, which they had seized in a search of Spezi’s apartment, and know well what we have written. This was a naked attempt to use the power of the state to intimidate and silence two journalists, and it may be a prelude to a legal action in Italy to block publication of the book.


After the interrogation, the police raided Spezi’s apartment for a third time (he’d been raided twice before) and took away many documents. They also broke into Spezi’s car and planted a microphone, which he later found. Following that, the police apparently leaked details of their investigation to the press, with articles in Corriere della Sera, La Nazione and Il Giornale about my interrogation and the search and seizure of Spezi’s papers. The police also leaked out the information that Spezi was suspected of involvement in several murders and that he may be connected to the Satanic sect that the police believe was behind the Monster of Florence serial killings.


We desperately need to publicize this attack on journalistic freedom. I’m back in America and safe, but Spezi is at grave risk. His financial health, his career and his very freedom are at risk. Yesterday he wrote to me: Io sono molto depresso, per avere fatto il nostro dovere, mi ritrovo in questa situazione. (‘It is very depressing that, for having done my duty as a journalist, I find myself in this situation’.)


Some background on myself:  I’m a journalist who writes for the New Yorker magazine. I’ve published fourteen books and won numerous awards, and I’m on the board of the Author’s Guild. I mention these details only to establish my credentials. In my entire journalistic career, I have never experienced the kind of abuse of prosecutorial power that I witnessed in Italy.


- Douglas Preston


Dolci Colline di Sangue (‘Sweet Bloody Hills’) is due to be published in Italy in April (in Italian) and later in America (in English).

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