An ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ Story Ends in Murder

American expatriate Ashley Ann Olsen lived what seemed like a charmed life in Florence before she was found murdered in a case stumping Italian investigators. New details emerged Wednesday.

01.13.16 8:51 PM ET

Italian news outlets on Wednesday reported that the prime suspect in Ashley Ann Olsen's murder is an African man known to police for drugs. He was apparently known to Olsen, and was seen on CCTV video, according to local media reports.

Italian forensic experts spent most of Wednesday gathering new evidence from the apartment where Olsen was murdered. No arrests have been made.

Olsen, a 35-year-old American woman from Florida whose lifeless body was found over the weekend in her apartment in Florence, Italy, wore her heart on her Instagram feed, which was aptly titled, “Live free or die.”

The latter, it seems, was her destiny.

Her prolific feed is like a holiday scrapbook of someone who had found her happy place, filled with snapshots of an enviable life in the pretty squares and funky wine bars of the Tuscan capital where she was attending art classes and where she worked as an event planner. The photo diary, at times, seems straight out of Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 bestseller, Eat Pray Love, about an American woman’s quest for everything. 

In fact, two weeks before she was killed, Olsen even posted the first paragraph of the 28th chapter of Gilbert’s popular book on Instagram in what was clearly a moment of misgiving about her love life. Part of the excerpt reads: “We loved each other. That was never the question. It’s just that we couldn’t figure out how to stop making each other desperately, shriekingly, soul-punishingly miserable.”

Whether that post was about her relationship with her 42-year-old artist boyfriend Federico Fiorentini, who eventually found her body, or about her ex-husband, a South African diver named Grant Jankielsohn, whose breakup apparently prompted her to trade America for Italy, may never be known.

But other posts are equally disturbing, including one of a sign that says, “the future will be confusing” with the hashtag #futureiscoming and one that shows graffiti that reads, “Ashley, I’m so fucking sorry. I can’t cry anymore. Please come back to me. I love you,” with the hashtags #youshouldnthave and #howthoughtful. 

Two other posts, in which she appears to be calling out a stalker, are also worrisome. One has the hashtag #fuckoff #creeper and the other says “I have a #stalker #stalkeralert #creeperintheback #creeperpic #weirdshit” though it is unclear how she got the photos to post or whether it was an inside joke of some sort. One would hope investigators are taking it seriously and trying to find the author of the original photos, though there has been little comment on that angle of the investigation.

But her last post a few days before she died, of graffiti that says, “kiss me hard before you go” may be the most prophetic of all, especially when you consider how her body was discovered.

After Olsen apparently argued with Fiorentini on Wednesday, the two played the usual lovers’ quarrel game of  “I’m not calling first” until he finally gave in and tried to reach her, according to his own testimony to investigator Domenico Profazio, who, by way of odd coincidence, is the same man who led the investigation that led to the arrest of American Amanda Knox for the murder of Meredith Kercher. 

When Fiorentini discovered Olsen’s phone was eventually turned off on Saturday morning, he says he went to her flat and heard her beloved beagle Scout barking when he rang the doorbell. When she still wouldn’t answer, he alerted Olsen’s landlady, Claudia Colivicchi, who lives one floor above the American, to see if she might let him in. Colivicchi, who had been out of town on Friday night, then described to Oggi magazine what happened next.

“It was a disturbing scene,” she told Oggi. “Ashley was naked, lying on the ground next to the sofa. She was dead, there was no doubt that she was.”

But then she described how Fiorentini “lost his mind” and ran to Olsen’s then-cold corpse. “Federico was desperate,” she told the magazine. “He threw himself on her to revive her. He either didn’t see or he couldn’t accept the evidence that she was dead. The body was cold, but he did not understand that there was nothing to do. He tried in every way, first with the mouth-to-mouth then with heart massage… he kept repeating ‘my little one, my love.’”

One last kiss, indeed. 

The apartment was moderately untidy, Colivicchi said, and investigators told The Daily Beast that Olsen’s beagle Scout had defecated on the floor in several places, implying that he had not been taken out for quite some time. The landlady called the police who sent officers and an ambulance, but by then the crime scene had been seriously compromised.

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Fiorentini moved and touched the body, meaning there is no forensic record of the scene before he entered, and no certainty about the exact location and state of her body immediately after the murder. If her bones are broken, did he do it when he tried to revive her or did the assailant do it? Or both? Perhaps more importantly, his interference now justifies his DNA on her body.

Police removed Olsen’s corpse on Saturday evening, but given the weekend schedule, the coroner only got around to conducting the autopsy late Monday afternoon. The only information investigators have released so far is that her cause of death was by “strangulation with a cord or belt or scarf.” No exact time of death has been released, no doubt to stop any potential suspects from scrambling for an alibi.

Nor have investigators released any information from the video footage from public and private security cameras that cover the high-traffic area, which would clearly show Olsen’s movements and those of any others around the time she died.

Toxicology reports will come later, too, but investigators did say she was not sexually assaulted, though the results of the exam that will eventually reveal whether she had sex in the hours before she died are being kept secret for now.

Investigators say they do not have a suspect. All eyes were initially on the boyfriend, who, if he eventually proves to be the killer, would be just one more statistic in a country where femicide is rampant.

But within 24 hours of the discovery of Olsen’s body, investigators hinted that Fiorentini’s alibi was solid, even though they haven’t named an exact time of death and certainly have not said they have excluded anyone from their investigation. Some speculate that it is an attempt to trick him, an oft-used tool in the investigative arsenal of most Italian detectives. If he is a suspect, he can choose not to speak without a lawyer present; if he is just a person who is privy to the facts, he may speak more freely.

Investigators are also hinting that they are looking for “any acquaintance” Olsen may have made the night before she died and have even hinted of some sort of erotic game gone wrong, which is what the same investigator thought happened to Meredith Kercher in 2007, and which seems to be the catch-all investigative thread for foreign women who are murdered in Italy, implying that victims were not assumed to be innocents abroad.

Olsen was last seen at the Montecarla nightclub by close friends at 3 a.m. Friday, and her cellphone (which incidentally has not yet been found) was turned off at 9 a.m., more than 24 hours before her body was discovered. The Montecarla is a club that was closed down at least once in the last year for abetting the sale of cocaine, according to public records, which means nothing at all in the absence of a complete toxicology report on Olsen, though local press have hinted it was her favorite haunt. The reason she liked the club is far more likely to be that it was just 200 meters from her apartment.

And so, in the absence of investigative news, the story coverage is spinning in a downward spiral, as is often the case in Italy. When Olsen’s death was first reported, she was described as a pretty, well known “Americana” who everyone loved and who walked her beagle around the Bohemian neighborhood of Oltrarno in Florence.

But as the days have worn on, she has been increasingly described in the oft-repeated stereotypic terms of a “wild American abroad” and a “socialite” whose late-night carousing didn’t go unnoticed by the conservative Florentines. She has gone from “pretty” to “privileged” and from “sweet” to “seductive” in what increasingly looks like victim-shaming in a case where no amount of partying or privilege should justify such a horrific murder.

Olsen moved to Florence in 2014 in search of happiness and to start a new life near her father, Walter Olsen, a successful architect and teacher in Florence. Based on her social networking profile, she did find that happiness, temporary as it was. She posted the news, “I got a one way ticket to Italy!” on her Facebook page in April 2014. Now, just two years later, that post seems more like a haunting premonition.

This story was updated at 3:51 p.m. to include information about a suspect in Olsen's murder.