The Monster of Florence, by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi

The Monster of Florence is a frightening true story of justice run amok during the investigation of a serial killer responsible for shooting and stabbing to death 14 young people who were parked in remote lovers’ lanes in the Tuscan countryside between 1974 and 1984.
All were shot with the same .22 caliber handgun, as was another couple in 1968. A man was subsequently convicted of the murders of his wife and her lover in 1968, but the gun used to kill them was never recovered.
Then in 1974, as forensic examination of the spent shell casings revealed, someone started using it in a new series of killings attributed to the Monster of Florence.
The authorities bungled the investigations, adequately securing only the last crime scene for a proper forensic investigation. Still, over the years, a number of men were arrested as suspects, and one was even convicted. But time after time, suspects were cleared when the killer struck again while the suspects were securely behind bars.
Then in 2000, Preston, a writer of thrillers, moves his family to Florence to work on a new novel. He soon hears of the Monster of Florence for the first time and meets Spezi, a crime reporter who had covered all the monster’s murders. They soon agree to collaborate on a book.
Up to that time, the investigation had largely focused on a group of Sardinian men on the theory that the 1968 murders were a sort of Sardinian clan killing to put an end to the infidelity of the wife of one member of the clan.
But around the time Preston and Spezi began their collaboration, Giuliano Mignini, a prosecutor in Perugia, and Michele Guittari, the latest Florentine cop to take up the case, spin off in a total different direction. They claimed that the apparent suicide of an Italian doctor was actually a murder. The doctor, their theory asserted, had been a member of a secret society involving some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Tuscany. This group, Mignini and Guittari claimed, had masterminded Monster of Florence murders to obtain body parts from the mutilated women for use in black masses. A conspiracy theorist close to Mignini and a relentless proponent of the satanic cult theory claimed the group’s name was the School of the Red Rose.
An early indication of how much credence her advice should have been given came on Sept. 1, 2001, when she blamed the terrorist attacks on the United States on the School of the Red Rose.
Because Preston and Spezi were championing a rival theory and developing evidence that should have prompted the authorities to reexamine the Sardinian Trail, Mignini and Guittari began investigating the two journalists in an apparent attempt to silence them.
Preston was interrogated and then told to get out of Italy and never come back. Spezi was actually arrested, held incommunicado for five days and in prison for nearly a month before a campaign by writers and journalists from around the world finally forced higher Italian authorities to examine the actions of Mignini and Guittari. Ultimately, Spezi, who was being held on suspicion of involvement in the Italian doctor’s murder, planting evidence in the Monster case and obstructing justice, was cleared without ever going to trial and Mignini and Guittari indicted for abusing their offices.
All this made me wonder what kind of a fair shake Amanda Knox, the American student accused of involvement in a wild, group sex murder of a British student, is getting from the Italian justice system.
Then I got to the “afterword” of Monster of Florence. Knox’ prosecutor is the same Giuliano Mignini who spun the absurd cult theory for the Monster killings.
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