My wife and I had always dreamed of living in Italy. Six years ago we finally made the move with our two young children. We rented a fourteenth-century farmhouse surrounded by olive groves and vineyards in the enchanting hills south of Florence. There were two famous landmarks near us: the villa La Sfacciata, once the home of Amerigo Vespucci, the Florentine explorer who gave America its name; and the villa I Collazzi, said to have been designed by Michelangelo, where Prince Charles painted many of his watercolors of the Tuscan landscape.
The olive grove beyond our front door boasted a third landmark, of sorts. It had been the site of one of the most horrific murders in Italian history, one of a string of double homicides committed by a serial killer known as “the Monster of Florence.” As an author of murder mysteries, I was more curious than dismayed. I began researching the case. It didn’t take me long to realize I’d stumbled across one of the most harrowing and remarkable stories in the annals of crime.
I contrived to introduce myself to the journalist who was the acknowledged expert on the case, a former crime correspondent for La Nazione named Mario Spezi. We met in Caffè Ricchi, in Piazza Santo Spirito, overlooking Brunelleschi’s last and greatest church. Spezi was a journalist of the old school, with a handsome if cadaverous face, salt-and-pepper hair, and a Gauloise hanging from his lip. He wore a Bogart fedora and trench coat, and, knocking back one espresso after another, he told me the full story. As he spoke, he had his pocket notebook open on the table and he sketched his thoughts—I later learned it was a habit of his—the pencil cutting and darting across the paper, making arrows and circles and boxes and dotted lines, illustrating the intricate connections among the killings, the arrests, the suspects, the trials, and the many failed lines of investigation.