Misdirections and mistakes. Zodiac Killer’s shadow in the Monster of Florence case

By Francesco Amicone

Source: Libero, May 4, 2021

Some documents on the connection between the Californian serial killer Zodiac and the Monster of Florence, resulting from the admissions reported in my complaint against former superintendent of the American Cemetery at San Casciano, Joe Bevilacqua, were delivered to the carabinieri in Florence last week. Among those records, there is a report casting doubt on one of the investigative “certainties” of the inquiry, that is the connection between the seven crimes signed by the Monster pistol and a double murder dating back to 1968, attributed by the Italian justice system to the self-confessed husband of one of the victims, Stefano Mele.

“Portrait” of Zodiac, 1969

That is one of three piece of news which could facilitate the conclusion of the investigation on the Monster, a cold case on seven double murders of young couples in the Florentine countryside dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. The case saw only an incomplete and contrasting final judgment, in 2000s, a definitive sentence for some of the crimes of the postman Mario Vanni and the “snack companion” Giancarlo Lotti, alleged accomplices of a Monster who died before the second appeal trial, farmer Pietro Pacciani.

The other news are the magazine used by the so-called “Monster” to compose the only letter attributed to him, identified last year, and the discovery of a sensational error by the forensic police at the scene of Monster’s “last” crime.

“A friend-citizen”

The connection with the crime of ’68 was born in the summer of 1982. At the time, the maniac of couples was in full swing. On July 20, the same day an appeal by the carabinieri to an anonymous person who had helped them investigate the serial killer by signing a letter “un cittadino amico”, a friend-citizen, was published in La Nazione, detectives came across the discovery that would route the investigation for the next seven years. It was probably the “cittadino amico” who directed them. None of them knew that “a friend” and “a citizen” were the last possible signatures used by the American serial killer Zodiac in February and May 1974, before his disappearance.

Appeal to the “cittadino amico”, friend-citizen

The carabinieri opened one of the folders in the Mele trial file and, surprisingly, a bag with five shells and five bullets emerged in a sea of ​​papers. The finds were in an inappropriate place, accessible to the trial parties and anyone authorized by the competent judge. They were be shot from the Monster’s gun, probably a Beretta. For recklessness, an in-depth comparison was not made. It would turn out that the shells and bullets found were not identical to those dating back 1968. Like the original evidence, they belong to Winchester brand superspeed cartridges fired from a .22 caliber pistol with a barrel-shaped firing pin, but these generic details were not enough to prove they were the same as 14 years ago.

Possible last signatures of Zodiac

Recent analysis which saw the participation of about twenty ballistic consultants have revealed three serious discrepancies regarding the evidence found in the Mele file and those of the murders of his wife and his lover for which he was convicted. The most significant inconsistencies relate to the imprints of the ejector and extractor of the gun on the shells, described by ballistic expert Colonel Innocenzo Zuntini in 1968 as “almost undetectable”, while they are clearly visible on those attached to the file. The expert, even knowing where those traces should have been identified, does not even mention them to exclude that the gun was a revolver (that has no extractor and ejector). Their “invisibility” explains why Zuntini could not identify the brand of the gun, after 35 firing tests, despite the suspicion that it was a Beretta. On the contrary, precisely because the marks left by the Monster’s weapon are “clearly imprinted”, the expert, called to examine the Monster’s finds in 1974, would easily be able to identify the possible model and brand of killer’s weapon, a Beretta from 70 series.

The third inconsistency relates to a bullet that had a “metal burr facing right” in 1968 that does not match any of the five bullets found in the file.

The evidence was replaced to link the crimes of the Monster to the 1968 crime with deception and the perpetrator of the misdirection can only be the owner of the weapon or an accomplice.

Monster’s shell casing. The visible incision on the left is the injection mark

Compromised crime scene

Hopes for a future solution to the Monster case are also pinned on the recent discovery of an error by the investigators.

On September 9, 1985, in San Casciano in Val di Pesa, the forensic police was conducting in-depth research in a dirty road on the edge of the Scopeti wood. There was a tent next to a natural hedge formed by bushes, a Wolkswagen Golf with a blood-stained roof parked a short distance away. It was the last crime scene of the Monster and was located along a road leading from the Florence to the Tyrrhenian coast among vineyards, cypresses, and ancient villages.

“The day when a mushroom researcher discovered the bodies of the latest victims, a French couple”, ballistics expert Enrico Manieri tells me, “the forensic police officers also intervene, but they do not notice the shells in front of the tent. The same will be identified the next day in other positions.” Manieri with the nickname “Henry62” manages a blog following dedicated to the Florentine serial killer where he goes into the specifics of delicate technical-ballistic issues. “It is a very serious mistake committed by those who investigated,” he observes, “it changes the reconstruction of the crime and, therefore, the known facts never reviewed by the judicial authorities”.

Red arrows point four of the six unseen shell casings. Courtesy of Enrico Manieri, mostrodifirenze.blogspot.com

The presence of shells at the crime scene in different positions from the ones on record is unmistakable in the photos taken by forensics themselves. “You can see six small cylinders in front of the tent, in the images of Monday, September 9,” explains Manieri. “They are clearly the same shells that the next day will be found in different places, probably moved by the same agents or other people who compromised the crime scene.”

The position of the shells is a fundamental detail to understand where the shooter was positioned and, consequently, to verify the already reduced reliability of witnesses Giancarlo Lotti and Fernando Pucci, pillars of the accusations against Pacciani and Vanni. With various discrepancies, some notable, the Lotti and Pucci’s testimonies combine with the reconstruction of the investigators which, in the light of this discovery, are certainly wrong.

“.22 caliber pistols, including that of the Monster, usually eject the cartridge case at least one meter away, to the right and back. For this reason, it is scientifically very unlikely that the exhausted shells in front of the entrance to the tent belong to the first blows that the French drew, as will erroneously be deduced, after their movement,” explains Manieri. Those who inadvertently moved the shells before they were identified altered the crime scene, leading the perpetrators to reconstruct the events into various errors, including attributing a wrong position to the shooter in the early stages of the crime.

Monster’s gun may have been bought in the United States

“Unlike what the official reconstruction reports, based on the incorrect positions of the shells, the first shots were fired at a short height from the ground. It is therefore deduced that the serial killer began to shoot with his feet at a lower level, that is, in the slope that divides the pitch from the road.”

After the first shots, the male victim managed to escape. The killer came out of the bushes and shoot at him six times, trying to stop his escape. The exhausted shells in front of the tent entrance and then moved belong to those cartridges.

“The Monster was alone,” Manieri explains, “after having wounded the fugitive in the elbow, he put away the gun and reached him by stabbing him.” The body lost a lot of blood before it was dragged by the feet into the bushes and hidden with an “Aquabel” brand paint bucket. Then, the killer retraced his steps. He pulled the dying woman out of the tent. After mutilating her vagina and left breast, he lifted and placed her inside the tent. He closed the zipper of the main entrance, turned the back, cut the outer fabric of the tent with a knife, unzipped it, and repositioned the body, found by the investigators lying on the left side.

But where did the shells of the first shots fired at the victims go? “Probably in the slope, but no one looked for them there,” explains Manieri. Maybe they are still there in Scopeti, hidden in the dirt between the open space and the road, for thirty-six years at the mercy of bad weather and “treasure hunters” who, even today, with a metal detector could locate them and take them home as macabre souvenirs.

Monster’s magazine clippings

The Scopeti crime is also the only one known which was followed by a letter from the Monster. “Dr. Della Monica Silvia, Procura della Republi- (hyphen, next line TSN) ca, 50I00, Florence” is the address made up of newspaper clippings pasted on the envelope sent from San Piero a Sieve, in Mugello, immediately after the murders. Della Monica is one of the prosecutors who first dealt with the investigation of serial crimes in the early 1980s. The envelope contained a cardboard, a cellophane bag sealed with UHU extra inside which was a breast fragment of his latest female victim about the size of a postage stamp.

Monster’s letter

For 35 years, it has been a mystery which magazine used the serial killer for his letter to Della Monica. Forensics suggested that it should be a cheap weekly. Valeria Vecchione is the Milanese researcher who identified it at the “Sormani” library in Milan. The weekly is number 51 of Gente on newsstands from December 14 to 20, 1984. The magazine was discovered in February 2020 and should be part of the most recent acquisitions by the Florence Public Prosecutor’s Office. “I identified it thanks to Della Monica’s ‘della’,” recalls Vecchione, “it was the only word that the killer had cut out in full. On the back, you could read a fragment that may have been a title or an advertising slogan: ‘molte se’.”

Cover of the magazine used by the Monster

The researcher kept a copy of “della” in her wallet like a holy card as she wandered from library to library looking for a page that matched that clipping. “Without Paolo Cochi, I would never have succeeded,” she adds. Cochi, documentary maker and co-author with Francesco Cappelletti and Michele Bruno of ‘Il Mostro. Beyond any reasonable doubt’, provided Vecchione with a black and white copy of the back of the letters glued to the envelope.

On the day of his discovery, in the library, Vecchione quickly leafed through the pages of many weekly magazines, looking for the words “molte se”. Late in the evening, she stopped on pages 36 and 37 of Gente number 51 of 1984. She reads the title of the article: “Dear sweet waters, I no longer recognize you: here, my childhood dream ends”. The two-page image portrays the writer Piero Chiara on his boat in the waters of Lake Maggiore. She pointed her finger at “della”, like many other times, and turned the page. There was an advertisement for Zenit watches. “The words ‘molte se’ corresponded to the fragment of the clipping. My heart jumped in my throat,” says Vecchione, “I had found it.”

Riverside, Lake Herman Road, Lake Berryessa, Blue Rock Springs, even Washington Street near Lake Street, Zodiac crime scenes, notes Robert Graysmith in the bestseller “Zodiac” from which David Fincher’s movie of the same name was based, contain references to the water. Psychiatrist Leonti Thompson had already noticed this pattern in 1969. For Zodiac, water seemed to represent an obsession as much as that “paradise” where, according to him, the victims he killed would serve him after his death.

From the same title of Chiara’s article, the Monster cut out the last two letters of the envelope, the E of “acque”, waters, and the Z, which is also the initial of Zodiac.

“Normally anonymous letters are made up of letters of different shapes which in the end have a very messy result,” says Vecchione. “In this case, however, the clippings have been meticulously selected and all come from titles, except for the numbers and three letters of different fonts. The ‘ca’ of republi-ca and the first ‘e’ of Florence were taken from an advertisement in Chiara’s article”. Why this anomaly in “Ca” and “Firenze”? May it be a way to reinforce the allusion to “California and Florence”, the places where the Zodiac and Monster hit? On the back page of the advertising clippings, two words stand out: “water” and “paradise”. The two obsessions of the American maniac. “It’s a little more than a few suggestions,” admits Vecchione.