10.23.11

Strange Tale of a Gucci Murderess

Patrizia Reggiani, convicted in 1998 of orchestrating the murder of her ex-husband, Maurizio Gucci, just declined parole. Barbie Latza Nadeau on why she'd rather stay in prison than work.

Long before Italians ever heard of Amanda Knox, the 24-year-old Seattle native sensationally acquitted earlier this month of the murder of her roommate Meredith Kercher, they were fixated on their own bizarre murderess, Patrizia Reggiani, a.k.a. the Black Widow, who was convicted in 1998 of orchestrating her ex-husband Maurizio Gucci’s murder with the help of her sorceress and a cast of unseemly characters including a doorman, driver, and hitman. Last week Reggiani, who is serving 26 years in Milan’s San Vittore prison, was offered work-release-based parole, but decided to stay in prison instead. “I’ve never worked a day in my life; I’m certainly not going to start now," she said.

The parole case of Reggiani, who once said she’d “rather cry in a Rolls-Royce than be happy on a bicycle,” brought back to the headlines one of the most extraordinary pre-Knox murder trials in this country’s history. It was Italy's first media show trial where TV cameras and paparazzi jockeyed for space in the courtroom, hoping to capture a glimpse of Reggiani, who, when she showed up in court, did so in fur coats and stiletto heels with perfectly manicured nails despite being in prison during the trial. The judge had granted her petition for pre-trial beauty treatments, and her two daughters brought her expensive designer clothes to wear to court—although she pointedly never wore Gucci. The six-month trial was riddled with delays due to lawyers’ strikes and internal squabbling, and peppered with freakish details like how Maurizio Gucci hired a “maga bianca,” or white witch, to cleanse his St-Moritz mansion of his ex-wife’s evil spirits.

The murder itself was simple enough, but because so many people would have liked to see Gucci dead, the case stayed open for nearly a year before arrests were made. Gucci, the grandson of Guccio Gucci and former head of the fashion dynasty, was gunned down in 1995 in the foyer of his Milan office building with three bullet wounds in his back and one in his face. The Gucci fashion company had already gone public by then, and Maurizio had recently sold the family’s last shares to an Arab conglomerate for $150 million.

Initially investigators suspected the hit was carried out by squabbling Gucci family members who were bitter about the sale of the family’s last shares. But Reggiani had her own gripes with her ex-husband, who had recently settled in with a 35-year-old interior designer. He was about to marry his new lover, and in doing so, announced that he would cut his ex-wife’s alimony to just $860,000 a year. Insulted by both her former husband’s newfound love and the pittance in alimony, which she called “a bowl of lentils,” Reggiani started talking about wanting Gucci dead. She even testified in court that she talked incessantly about killing him off. “I was asking everyone. I would have even asked the butcher; it was a mania with me,” she told the court. “But I didn’t really mean it.”

At the time, she also started meditating about her desire for her husband’s death with Auriemma, a self-titled witch who was drawn to Reggiani’s wealth and who preyed on the socialite’s belief in supernatural powers. When Gucci was shot, Reggiani wrote in her diary “Paradeisos,” the Greek word for paradise. She even testified in court that she believed she had willed him dead.

Even though Reggiani made no secret of hoping for her husband’s demise, she denied any involvement, and the Italian police could not initially find a money trail or any forensic evidence to link the murder to the socialite. The investigators also found it ludicrous that Reggiani would sink to murder when she could have more easily destroyed him financially through the courts. During the trial, maids for Reggiani, who spent a reported $10,000 a month on parties and flowers, testified that she was completely incapable of completing the most simple tasks, let alone a murder.

Maurizio Gucci hired a 'maga bianca,' or white witch, to cleanse his St-Moritz mansion of his ex-wife’s evil spirits.

Finally, nearly a year after the hit, an informant who had befriended Ivano Savioni, the doorman at a sleazy hotel near Gucci’s office building, called the police with a tip that broke the case. The doorman had been been overheard bragging about how he had been contacted by Reggiani’s witchy friend, Auriemma, who had hired him to make all the arrangements based not on Reggiani’s directions, but instead on what she “knew” Reggiani wanted through her mind-reading. In her trial Reggiani admitted paying Auriemma $300,000, but said it was "hush money" to keep Auriemma from dragging her into the case, not for arranging the murder, though she did testify that the sum would have been a fair price to see her husband dead. “But he wasn’t worth one lira more,” she said.

Auriemma also admitted she was just channeling her friend. When the sorceress was arrested, police found a note from Reggiani still attached to an empty gift box that said, “Leave me out of it and I’ll shower you with gold.”

Auriemma, who was sentenced to 25 years as an accomplice, later confessed that the doorman subcontracted a desperately unemployed Sicilian named Benedetto Ceraulo, who was later sentenced to life in prison for the shooting, and a getaway driver named Orazio Cicala, whose gambling debts led him to take the job, who is serving 29 years as an accomplice. Doorman Savioni, who made the arrangements and cleaned up the evidence, was sentenced to 26 years. In 1998 the head prosecutor ended his closing arguments with a poignant summation. “Maurizio is dead because of Patrizia’s hatred, Auriemma’s desire to remain a parasite, Savioni’s lust for money, Cicala’s gambling addiction, and Ceraulo’s dream to take his daughter out shopping.”

After refusing to take work-release parole, Reggiani will now stay in prison until she has another chance at freedom in two years' time. According to her lawyer, she will spend the time caring for her plants and her ferret, Bambi, which she has kept as a pet since 2005 after her lawyer somehow persuaded the prison warden to bend the rules about keeping an animal behind bars. When Reggiani was convicted in 1998, Gucci’s flagship store in Florence displayed silver handcuffs with the Gucci emblem in its display windows. It remains to be seen what the luxury retailer will make as a fashion statement when she finally walks free.