“IT’S SUCH A SHOCK to send your child to school and for them to not come back.”
That was the brokenhearted testimony of the mother of Meredith Kercher, the 22-year-old British student killed in Perugia, Italy, in November 2007, at the trial of her daughter’s alleged killers two years later. “We will never, never get over it.”
As the mother of a 19-year-old myself, I shuddered at her words.
Hers is the nightmare that haunts every parent who sends a son or daughter off to one of the “gap year” or study-abroad programs that have become a rite of passage for educated Western youth. But the rapid growth of such programs can be credited, in part, to parents’ woeful—or is it willful?—ignorance about what can happen when students suddenly find themselves in a foreign land, free from parental or college oversight, and surrounded by a new set of peers, all of them eager to experiment.
Mining diaries, social-networking sites, exclusive interviews, and telling moments in the courtroom, Nadeau paints the first full portrait of a quirky young woman who is neither the “she-devil” presented to an Italian jury nor the blameless ingénue her parents believe her to be.
The picturesque Umbrian hill town of Perugia may have seemed an idyllic setting for cultural and linguistic enhancement. But for the kids who signed up to go, its greater attraction was its reputation as Party Central. The lengthy official and unofficial investigations into the minds and mores of Meredith’s accused killers—her fun-loving American roommate, Amanda Knox, and Knox’s onetime Italian boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito—exposed a merciless culture of sex, drugs, and alcohol that was a chilling eye-opener to parents who learned of it too late. Only with Meredith’s horrific death did it become clear that she and her roommate had been mixing with a crowd that was headed not just for trouble, but, in Amanda’s case, a descent into evil.
Who was Amanda Knox? Was she a fresh-faced honor student from Seattle who met anyone’s definition of an all-American girl—attractive, athletic, smart, hard-working, adventuresome, in love with languages and travel? Or was her pretty face a mask, a duplicitous cover for a depraved soul? Even when all the facts of the case seem to point so tellingly in her direction, how and why could Amanda, apparently without motive, have helped slash her roommate’s throat with the aid of her boyfriend and a seedy drug dealer—and then gone on to repeatedly lie about the events of that terrible autumn night?
These questions obsessed all those involved with this case, from the legal professionals to the journalists and spectators who packed the Perugia court room for the trial. To the Italian prosecutors and the British tabloid press, she was a drug- and sex-obsessed vixen. To her family and her defenders in the American press, she was a wholesome coed framed by an aggressive and incompetent prosecutor—or, at worst, led astray by a dissolute Italian boyfriend and the drug dealer Rudy Guede, who had gone on the lam in Germany immediately after the crime.
At The Daily Beast, we were fortunate, early on, to recruit the most diligent and talented English-speaking journalist covering this case.
Barbie Latza Nadeau, who has been reporting from Italy for Newsweek since 1997, arrived in Perugia the day after Meredith’s battered body was discovered in the house she shared with three other girls. A resident of Rome, fluent in Italian, Nadeau (who also happened to have been married in Knox’s hometown of Seattle) was uniquely suited to grasp all the factual and cultural nuances of this confounding case.
And she pursued them zealously. Over the next two years, she attended almost every session of Knox’s murder trial, read the entire 10,000-page legal dossier in Italian, and invested countless coffees, dinners, and glasses of prosecco in cultivating cops, lawyers, judges, witnesses, jurors, friends, and families. Nadeau’s regular posts on The Daily Beast during the 11-month trial established her as an authoritative voice on the case—with appearances on CNN, CBS, NPR, the BBC, and NBC’s Dateline. But her pieces also got her blackballed by the Knox family because she declined to toe the line they force-fed to a U.S. media eager to get them on-camera: that Amanda was a total innocent railroaded by a rogue prosecutor in a corrupt justice system.
Daily Beast readers knew otherwise, thanks to Nadeau’s thorough and balanced reporting. But her objective dispatches also earned her the enmity of ferocious pro-Knox bloggers, who hurled insults and threats, hoping to discredit her professionally. Instead, her reputation has been enhanced by her diligent pursuit of a story that most of the U.S. media, including The New York Times, badly misread.
Barbie Latza Nadeau’s sensitive, clear-eyed, and compelling examination of a perplexing case is now a book—the second in our provocative Beast Book series—that brings to American readers the first full account of this baffling case. The book finally gets behind the impassive “angel face” (as the Italian tabs sneeringly called the defendant) to find the real Amanda Knox. Mining diaries, social-networking sites, exclusive interviews, and telling moments in the courtroom, Nadeau paints the first full portrait of a quirky young woman who is neither the “she-devil” presented to an Italian jury nor the blameless ingénue her parents believe her to be. What Nadeau shows is that Amanda Knox is, in fact, a 21st-century all-American girl—a serious student with plans and passions—but is also a thrill-seeking young woman who loves sex and enjoys drugs and who, in the wrong environment with the wrong people, develops a dark side that takes her over and tips her into the abyss.
In short, every parent’s worst fear...
Tina Brown is the founder and editor in chief of The Daily Beast. She is the author of the 2007 New York Times bestseller The Diana Chronicles. Brown is the former editor of Tatler, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk magazines and host of CNBC's Topic A with Tina Brown .