Italy’s Scariest Serial Killer Returns

The torture and murder of a young prostitute has Italians worried that one of the country’s most notorious serial killers may be back in action.

UPDATE, May 9: Florence police have arrested a 55-year-old plumber in connection with the murder of Andrea Cristina Zamir, the 26-year-old prostitute found dead with her hands taped to a metal barrier, crucifix-style, earlier this week. The suspect, Riccardo Viti, allegedly confessed to the murder and told police and his elderly mother, with whom he still lived, “Yes, yes, I did it. I didn’t think they would die… I’m finished.” Earlier this week, police linked Zamir’s murder, a previous murder, and an attack on a prostitute last year with DNA found on packing tape with a Careggi Hospital logo used in all three crimes. Viti’s plumbing company worked at the hospital. Police are now awaiting DNA tests to verify Viti’s alleged confession and to see whether he is responsible for any other homicides. Seven prostitutes have been killed since 2006.

There are still black markings on the white roadside barrier along a lonely road outside of Florence where an unknown killer used packing tape to secure 26-year-old Andrea Cristina Zamir’s hands, crucifix-style, on Monday night. A pool of blood on the crushed gravel road below the barrier bears witness to the unthinkable torture that the young woman suffered before she finally died. She was nude except for her sneakers and sport socks. Her clothes and purse were found a kilometer away with money still in her wallet.

Zamir, a prostitute who worked in the area, is one of a string of victims who have been tied up, tortured and left for dead under similar circumstances in the foothills outside of Florence in recent years. But what makes Zamir’s murder doubly eerie is that her lifeless body was found in the same area where Florence’s most notorious unsolved mysteries, the Monster of Florence serial killings, played out.

Sixteen people were killed in eight double homicides between 1968 and 1985, many as they made love in their cars, shot at point blank range with the same .22 calibre Beretta gun, identifiable because of the scars it left on the bullets. Many of the victims were believed to have been killed at the moment of or just before climax, presumably when they would be most distracted. All but one of the female victims was then mutilated post-mortem. One of the victims was stabbed 97 times around her breasts and pubic area before the assailant sexually violated her with a grapevine. Many of the female victims were found with one of their breasts and their entire pubic area cut from their bodies and taken from the scene, a horrific detail that inspired the 1991 Oscar-winning film Silence of the Lambs. Several people were arrested and even convicted over the years, but further killings with the same gun under the same circumstances while they were imprisoned exonerated them. The mystery remains unsolved.

Zamir’s murder is not being considered a serial killing yet, but Florence investigator Lorenzo Bucossi says he is not ruling it out. He says six or seven prostitutes have been killed nearby in the last decade. He also says that the tape used to restrain Zamir, from the Careggi University Hospital in Florence, is the same type of tape that has been used in at least two similar attacks since 2006, both involving prostitutes who were tied up and tortured within a stone’s throw of the Monster of Florence killing fields. According to Bucossi, the hospital has not used that exact tape with the logo on it since around 2006, when they switched to a different design. He says investigators are combing through all the homicides over the last decade to find other similarities.

One incident of particular interest took place last March when Alle Bartoline, another prostitute, survived a similar attack. She told police that a “maniacal client” around 50 to 60 years old with a hunched back, a limp and very little hair, had asked her to take part in an erotic sex game for a few euro, but instead he taped her hands to the same barrier and tortured her, leaving her for dead. She survived the incident but is still undergoing physical therapy to recover from several reconstructive surgeries, after being brutally sodomized with a broomstick. Zamir was also sodomized, according to Bucossi, but the weapon has not yet been found.

Bartoline was saved when a local resident called the police, who arrived and scared off the attacker. Two men were investigated, but no one was arrested. This time no one called for help even though several residents say they heard screams around 11:30 Monday night. “It sounded like a wounded animal,” one woman told Italian state television RAI, explaining why she didn’t call. Residents who live in the area say they often hear screams coming from the same area where Zamir was killed, which is well known to be a place where prostitutes take their clients, just as it was well known as a place where young couples could steal a private moment during the era of the Monster of Florence killings. Then, the murders eventually acted as a deterrent for young couples.

Paolo Canessa, the prosecuting magistrate who has been assigned to the case, cautions that the prostitute murders and the Monster of Florence killings are entirely different. He should know, he was also a prosecuting magistrate who investigated the Monster of Florence crimes. He believes that the prostitute perpetrator did not have the intent to kill, but instead likely intended to punish the women for prostituting their bodies, thus the crucifix-style position. “This time it is not a serial assassin,” he says. “It’s just a serial maniac.”