Saturday, 1 November 2008
This has been a very good week for Giuliano Mignini, the balding, avuncular-looking 58-year-old prosecutor in the Meredith Kercher case. Assaulted from across the Atlantic by amateur investigators and “Free Amanda” agitators, opposed across the court room by some of Italy’s cleverest lawyers, he carried the day. Judge Paolo Micheli bought his whole package, sending one suspect, Rudy Guede, to jail for 30 years and committing Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito for trial.
To the bitter disappointment of the two students accused along with Guede of killing their friend, he also refused them bail, warning that they “might kill again”.
Mr Mignini decided only a few days after Meredith died that the murder was the culmination of an orgy in which Amanda, Raffaele and one other person were involved. And in court on 19 October he explained in more detail what he meant.
The murder, Il Tempo newspaper reported him telling the court, “was premeditated and was in addition a ‘rite’ celebrated on the occasion of the night of Hallowe’en. A sexual and sacrificial rite ... In the intention of the organisers, the rite should have occurred 24 hours earlier” – on Hallowe’en itself – “but on account of a dinner at the house of horrors, organised by Meredith and Amanda’s Italian flatmates, it was postponed for one day. The presumed assassins contented themselves with the evening of 1 November to perform their do-it-yourself rite, when for some hours it would again be the night of All Saints.”
Mr Mignini saw the scene so clearly in his mind that he was able to describe it to the judge in detail: Meredith on her knees before the wardrobe, Rudy holding her immobile, Raffaele grasping one arm, Amanda in front of her, pricking her throat teasingly with the knife – until the blade in her hand struck home. “To prove it,” he told the judge triumphantly, “the only thing missing was a video camera in the room.”
Given such a weighty consensus, the outside world would be forgiven for sorrowfully shaking its head at the terrible things young people get up to these days. One would take for granted that Mr Mignini must have excellent sources – witness testimony, forensic findings, even confessions – for his shocking description.
The last place you would look for such sources, however, is in a conspiracy theorist’s blog. Yet that is where the theory of the sacrificial rite finds its fullest expression. In a blog posted last August, Gabriella Carlizzi, a prolific Roman blogger, claimed that Meredith’s murder had been ordered by the dark masters of an esoteric Masonic sect, the Order of the Red Rose, to which she thinks both Meredith and Amanda may have belonged.
“This is just my personal opinion,” she begins modestly, “and it may have no value to the investigators, but my research in America and England has reinforced my idea that this case must be interpreted from an esoteric point of view.”
Meredith and Amanda went to two universities, Leeds and Seattle, which “have become recruitment bases for Masonic orders, both deviant and non-deviant, and of Esoteric Schools,” she claims. These Schools brainwash their initiates into believing that it is right to offer “even the sacrifice of their own lives in a secret ritual, sacrifices often made voluntarily”.
Death, for these sad dupes, is no problem: they have become convinced “that life goes on after physical death, a barrier which, once overcome, allows them to cross the threshold of ‘mystery’ and ascend to the ‘superior ranks’ which rule humanity from beyond.”
Presuming that Leeds and Seattle host such secret organisations – Leeds is immediately suspect because of its rose symbol, even though it’s the wrong colour – and presuming also (because there is no evidence for it) that the two women belonged to them, the murder is easily explained: one of them had to die and the other had to kill, in a ritual of sacrifice. “It matters little which dies and which stays alive,” she explains. “What is of fundamental importance is the single motivation that both of them have ‘obeyed’ and of which both then become ‘victims’.”
Meredith’s murder, she concludes, is “a crime which has all the characteristics of a ritual culminating in human sacrifice, to which the victim may have submitted voluntarily.” Daringly, she also drags Meredith’s bereaved father into the scenario. “I ask myself if someone in Meredith’s family was aware of the presumed membership of the girl to the Esoteric School of the Red Rose.” Why so? Because “on the eighth day (you see the esoteric symbolism) after the death of his daughter... he left a single red rose (in her memory) in the cloister of Perugia cathedral.”
The similarities between the “human sacrifice” blog and Mr Mignini’s account might be considered a coincidence, except for the fact that Ms Carlizzi and the prosecutor know each other well. Ms Carlizzi has been giving unsolicited advice to criminal investigations up and down Italy for many years. The wealthy Roman wife of an architect, and a devout Christian, she was for years the disciple of a charismatic priest called Padre Gabriele. Gabriele died in 1984, and she claims has been sending her messages from the other side. “It’s he who lights me up with intuitions,” she explained to Corriere della Sera. “Then I investigate, I dig. And when I have concrete elements I go to the judges.”
No crime is too ghastly or notorious for her. Single-handedly, for example, she has succeeded in re-opening the Monster of Florence investigation, which lay dormant for years. For 11 years in the Seventies and Eighties, the city of Florence was terrorised by a serial killer who attacked lovers in cars at lonely spots in the surrounding countryside, shot or hacked them to death, then cut off and carried away the woman’s genitals and left breast.
The Monster of Florence was Italy’s most sensational criminal, the direct inspiration for Hannibal, Thomas Harris’s sequel to The Silence of the Lambs. And he drove Florence’s investigators crazy.
Ruthless, athletic, highly professional and deranged, he eluded them every time. When finally they managed to pin the crimes on a doddering old incestuous rapist far too short and slow to have committed the murders, few were surprised when the conviction was overturned on appeal. The Monster has never been found. And in Italy, which is a paradise for conspiracy theorists, that fact is an invitation to people like Ms Carlizzi to dream a little, and to hook up with her saint.
One day early in 2002, Ms Carlizzi telephoned a Florentine journalist, Mario Spezi, with a new theory about the Monster. The Order of the Red Rose was behind the crimes, she told him, but the Monster himself was a person who had completely evaded suspicion until now: a wealthy Perugian doctor, Francesco Narducci, who had drowned, through accident or suicide according to the courts, in Lake Trasimeno in 1985.
Ms Carlizzi told Spezi that Narducci had in fact been killed by the Order of the Red Rose, to which Narducci himself belonged, because he was about to expose its nefarious activities to the police. And to hide the evidence for the crime, another body had been substituted for the doctor’s, then dumped in the lake.
As a career crime reporter in Florence, Mr Spezi had a long familiarity with barmy conspiracy theories, and he thanked the lady kindly but said he was not interested in following it up. Ms Carlizzi was not discouraged and took her tale to Mr Mignini, who found it grippingly plausible. He alerted the Florentine policeman in charge of the Monster file, chief inspector Michele Giuttari, that at last they might be on the brink of solving the mystery, and the two of them went to work.
As Narducci had died 17 years before, the trail was stone cold, but forensic and other evidence seems to be of secondary importance in these investigations. What is required is a gripping story line – Gabriella Carlizzi’s speciality. According to Mignini and Giuttari, Narducci “had been murdered because he was a member of the satanic sect behind the Monster of Florence killings,” Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi write in their book on the Monster affair, entitled The Monster of Florence, published in June this year: “He had been named custodian of the grisly fetishes” – the breasts and genitalia of victims – “(but) shaken by the reality into which he had fallen, the young doctor became indecisive, unreliable, prey to depression, and difficult to trust. The leaders of the sect decided he had to be eliminated.”
Ms Carlizzi’s burst of heaven-sent illumination was thus bountifully endorsed – and meanwhile the hunt for Narducci’s “killer” goes on. And given the length of time that has elapsed – the last Monster murder was committed in September 1985 – no one can blame the investigators if their inquiry is stronger on ideas than solid clues.
Over in Perugia, however, Mr Mignini does not have quite that licence, as the crime happened just one year ago today. And when he told the court that “the only thing missing was a video camera in the room” to record the supposed sacrificial murder, he was not entirely correct. Also missing was a convincing weapon, any material evidence of the alleged rite, confessions, testimony by witnesses (by Rudy, for example, the West African found guilty last week, who had nothing to lose and much to gain by confirming the rite scenario) and evidence of previous involvement by the three accused in such behaviour.
Mr Mignini’s case against Knox and Sollecito rested on Amanda’s partial admission that she was in the flat when her friend died, later retracted; a carving knife found in Raffaele’s kitchen (too big to have been the murder weapon, say the defence) and some hotly disputed evidence of DNA at the crime scene.
Mr Mignini does, however, have the benefit of a cracking story. And in Italy that counts for a lot.
Behind the scenes: Conspiracy theorists
The Italian prosecutor took just days to decide that Meredith Kercher’s death was the murderous culmination of an orgy in which Amanda Knox, Raffaele Sollecito and one other were allegedly involved. Mr Mignini’s vivid accounts could land him in hot water as they appear to be influenced by the speculation posted by a friend, the prolific Roman blogger Gabriella Carlizzi.
Ms Carlizzi has posted a complicated and seemingly highly unlikely conspiracy surrounding Meredith’s demise involving Masonic sects, symbols and life beyond death. Mr Mignini and Ms Carlizzi have previously worked together and at one point convinced a senior Italian police officer to examine a conspiracy theory about the identity of the Monster of Florence, one of Italy’s most notorious serial killers.
A prolific writer on the internet and an all-round conspiracy |theorist, Ms Carlizzi has been giving unsolicited advice to criminal investigations up and |down Italy for many years. The wealthy, religious Roman believes a priest who died in 1984 lights her up with illuminations which she uses as a starting point for her investigations into some of Italy’s most heinous crimes. Her postings on Meredith Kercher’s murder, which she starts by saying are just her personal opinion, claim to be based on research in both America and England and conclude by suggesting Meredith’s death was a human sacrifice.