09.05.134:45 AM ET

Italy's Acid-Slay Femicide

A pregnant 29-year-old Brazilian was brutally murdered near Brescia last week—and police say her secret lover is to blame. Barbie Latza Nadeau reports.

When it comes to femicide, it is difficult to categorize one murder as worse than another. But the latest case in Italy—the 852nd since 2000—is inarguably one of the most tragic cases on record.

When the body of 29-year-old Marilia Rodrigues Silva Martins was found last Friday soaked in acid on the floor of the charter airline office where she worked as a booking agent, near the northern Italian city of Brescia, almost no one suspected the company’s 32-year-old pilot Claudio Grigoletto. After all, Grigoletto’s wife had just given birth to the couple’s second child a few weeks before, and the decorated war veteran seemed every bit the doting father and husband. He even positively identified Martins' body for the police since she had no next of kin in Italy. Odd, perhaps, was the fact that Grigoletto had come home from work the day before Martins’ body was found with scratches on his neck and a cut on his hand that his wife lovingly tended to with disinfectant and bandages. With the stress and distraction that comes with tending to a newborn infant and a fidgety toddler, who could blame Grigoletto’s wife for not connecting her husband’s injuries with his assistant’s death?

But on Tuesday, prosecutors arrested Grigoletto on suspicion of double homicide. The second murder charge was for the baby that Martins had been carrying for three months. Her autopsy report confirmed that the unborn child was Grigoletto’s based on a DNA match. “He felt the necessity to eliminate the problem represented by the fact that he was the father of the child the young Brazilian was carrying,” prosecutor Fabio Salamone told reporters on Tuesday. “He wanted to eliminate reality, eliminate this problem to save his marriage.”

According to the investigators’ recreation of the crime scene, Grigoletto allegedly went to the office last Thursday afternoon knowing Martins would be there alone. Based on the autopsy results, the young woman apparently suffered a blow to the head, presumably at Grigoletto’s hand, which sent her to the floor. Bruising consistent with such a fall was identified on the right side of her body. Grigoletto then allegedly strangled her, as evidenced by the bruising on her neck. Investigators believe that the scratches on Grigoletto’s neck and the cut on his hand were made by the pregnant Martins in self-defense as she tried to save herself and her unborn child. Her broken fingernails are consistent with such a fight.

Grigoletto then allegedly surrounded his lover’s body with newspapers, which he doused with muriatic acid. As a final step, he poured the acid inside her mouth, presumably to stop her from screaming as she burned alive. Investigators say he then opened the gas valve on the hot water heater in the adjacent room and threw a match on his lover’s pregnant body before leaving the office. They say Grigoletto expected that the combination of the flame, the gas and the acid would set off a powerful explosion to hide his crime. But the match fizzled out before the flame could light the soaked paper. Grigoletto’s lover was already dead from the strangulation. According to prosecutors, he was trying to stage a suicide. And even if they were able to identify the body, they would never be able to pin it to him. He even allegedly created a false email account in his lover’s name from which he sent an email that would set back the time of her death to give him an airtight alibi. By the time his lover died in the explosion, he would have already been at home with his wife tending his wounds.

As sad and tragic as Martins’s death is, an almost more troubling scene lead up to her alleged assassin’s arrest. In the days between the discovery of Martins’ remains and the prosecutor’s link to her Italian boss, speculation ran rife that she—as a foreigner in Italy, and a Brazilian no less—had somehow asked for her tragic death. Was she a prostitute, an illegal immigrant, an interloper? The Italian press went wild with stories eked from her two-line LinkedIn profile, which was the only trace of her existence in the public domain. She was a hostess for Air Dolimiti for six years, which was obviously a cover; she had no Facebook page, which meant she was surely a clandestine immigrant or hiding from the law back home; someone had seen her leave a hotel one morning, one can guess the rest. Someone once saw her pulling a strange cart—perhaps connected to some sinister deed. Others talked of the fact that she spent many nights in the office, yet no one ever paused to wonder if perhaps it was at her boss’s request. In fact, Martins came to Italy at the age of 16, legally, with her mother. She earned her high school diploma in Milan and then went on to study at a school dedicated to tourism at Sant'Angelo Lodigiano. The only thing she ever did wrong, it would seem, was fall in love with the wrong man. And for that she paid with her life, like so many victims of Italy’s femicide epidemic.