Where There’s Smoke

Did an Italian Businessman’s Nephews Burn Him in the Company Oven?

There was strange smoke over the factory that day. How a missing owner and bizarre ‘suicide’ have led investigators to the family metal works’ smelting oven.

12.22.15 9:05 PM ET

ROME — There was something strange about the smoke billowing from the chimney of the Bozzoli metal works on Oct. 8 near Brescia in northern Italy. People who lived in the area were used to the hazy smoke that normally belched from the factory. But the cloud that warm day was somehow different in smell and color, and people were concerned the filters meant to keep the pollutants from the air were compromised.

Instead, it seems the smoke was different because the body of Mario Bozzoli, one of the foundry’s co-owners, was apparently being burned to destroy the evidence of his murder.

Until last week, Bozzoli, 50, was thought to be a missing person, potentially a victim of kidnapping by organized-crime syndicates that operate in the area. But after questioning his nephews and two factory workers on Tuesday, officials say it seems something far more sinister likely contributed to Bozzoli’s disappearance. Investigators now think Bozzoli’s nephews killed him in the factory, doused his body in chemicals, and threw him in the smelting oven to destroy the evidence, producing the peculiar smoke the day he died.

Police have arrested nephews Giacomo and Alex Bozzoli, both in their thirties. They also questioned a local man named Oscar Maggi and a Senegalese man named Akwasi Aboagye, who was known as Abu, who were working Oct. 8, when the elder Bozzoli was last seen. Neither Maggi nor Abu are in custody, but they reportedly gave evidence about the circumstances of Mario Bozzoli’s demise. When Abu left the police station Tuesday afternoon, all he said was, “No comment.”

Police have also questioned Mario Bozzoli’s brother Adelio, who co-owned the factory and is father to the arrested nephews. He maintains his innocence. “I have worked with Mario for more than 40 years,” he told the local press. “Sure, we had our disagreements like any family, but even a few days before he disappeared we made a pact to keep the business going.”

Police had been working to make a connection between Mario Bozzoli’s mysterious disappearance and the apparent suicide of one of his employees, Giuseppe Ghirardini, whose lifeless body was found on the Ponte di Legno bridge around 40 miles from the factory on Oct. 18 with traces of a poisonous berry ground into his teeth. His wife insisted that he was a happy man and that he had not taken his life. Indeed, it would appear she was right.

Toxicology reports instead showed that a capsule containing a cyanide substance commonly used to bait wild animals was in his stomach. The capsule, along with the analyses of bruises on his body, point to forced ingestion of the substance, according to police reports from the investigation.

The berries were likely smeared on his teeth to lead investigators astray, even though it was assumed that Ghirardini, an avid outdoorsman and hunter, would have surely known those berries would not kill him.

Further investigation showed that Ghirardini was also working on Oct. 8, when Bozzoli disappeared. In fact, police now say Ghirardini had made an appointment for Oct. 16 to talk to police about his boss’s disappearance—just two days before he was found dead. Instead, he took whatever he planned to tell them to the grave.

Brescia prosecutor Tomasso Buonanno must now try to figure out what might have motivated the nephews to kill their uncle in such a cruel way. So far, he’s said money may have been a motivation, after the discovery of eight crisp €500 notes in Giacomo Bozzoli’s home, which could be the tip of a treasure trove of cash. Authorities are investigating whether anyone close to the deceased Bozzoli paid any sort of ransom with the crisp bank notes. Bozzoli’s current wife and ex-wife have been questioned.

Investigators also say they are studying CCTV camera footage that shows the dead uncle’s Fiat and an unknown off-road truck traversing the canyons near the area the evening after Bozzoli disappeared. Police are searching the areas for further evidence of foul play. “We are absolutely innocent,” Giacomo Bozzoli told reporters on his way to Tuesday’s police questioning. “We have never uttered death threats against our uncle, either directly or indirectly.”

The two nephews have been charged with murder and the destruction of the cadaver as forensic police now work to find bone shards or other human remains in the foundry ovens. “That the young men burned their uncle is the only hypothesis,” said Alberto Rossi, the assistant prosecutor in the case. “There is no other logical scenario.”

Until the nephews were arrested, Mario Bozzoli’s wife said she held out hope that her husband was still alive.

“The latest developments, however, have thrown my children and me into turmoil,” Bozzoli’s wife Irene told the Giornale di Brescia newspaper. “It is one thing to think it may be dead, but it’s quite another to think he died this way.”