Bonnie and Clyde - the sequel

SARA MASCITELLI & GIGI PIRAS

he was known as the beauty of Buccinasco, a respectable policewoman, wife and mother. He was eight years her junior with a long criminal record, a bleak future and a craving for affection. This is the story of Sara Mascitelli, 29, and Pier Luigi Piras, 20 - the Bonnie and Clyde of the Milanese hinterland.

Buccinasco is an improbable location for the sort of romantic adventure Hollywood dreams of. Once fertile farmland, it's now the heart of the Milan commuter belt. Our male lead, Pier Luigi (Gigi) Piras, grew up here. Dark-haired, handsome and restless, the son of a Sardinian truck driver, he decided early on to rebel against his destiny as a have-not. By 20, Gigi had dabbled in drugs and crime. His police record included drug trafficking, armed robbery and grievous bodily harm.

Enter our female lead. Sara Mascitelli lived a short commute away, in Milan, with her graphic designer husband. She came to Buccinasco by chance, when she got a job with the municipal police corps. But like Faye Dunaway, who played a bored small town waitress, in Bonnie and Clyde, Sara suffered from wanderlust and in Buccinasco she met her Clyde. And like the character played by Warren Beatty in the 1967 film classic, Gigi saw crime as the only option for someone who came from Italy's underclass.

Gigi and his pals used to hang out under the arcades in the central piazza. As a new recruit Sara would stop to chat, hoping to show them that not all police were hostile. There were loaded comments about her good looks and her fantastic figure. Her colleagues chided her for being naive. The pair continued to brush up against each other. Sara fined Gigi for tearing about town on a souped-up scooter. One day he threw a rock at a police patrol car she was driving. But Sara continued to stick up for him. "He's just a misguided youth," she told colleagues. "All he needs is a firm hand and some affection." Never for a moment did anyone suspect that her interest was other than professional.

That was until May 1997, when a stolen red Alfa Romeo driven at high speed, with carabinieri in pursuit, narrowly avoided a head-on collision on the outskirts of Milan. Inside were Sara and Gigi. At the scene they gave false identities but once in custody they revealed who they really were. She was released the following morning on bail but failed to show up for work.

Her colleagues put it down to embarrassment. "We just thought she had been innocently caught up in the whole business of the stolen car," says a deputy commander in service at the time. "She was extraordinarily attractive and in a small community like this she stood out. The news had got around so we figured she was lying low."

Then Sara's husband Enrico phoned and dropped the bombshell: the night before - prior to the car chase - he had arrived home to find Gigi and his wife together, "in a compromising position". He hadn't seen her since. A check at the Piras house revealed that Gigi, who was supposed to sign in with the police, had disappeared.

Yet even though it was clear the couple had run away, her family were not too concerned. She'd soon be back, they said; she had a son, Tommaso, not yet two years old. In Italy, the idea that a woman might abandon her child was unthinkable.

What they didn't know was that the blonde law enforcer with a penchant for lost causes, and her young lover, were already in Switzerland. It was the start of a journey of love and lawbreaking that took them through France, Spain and Portugal. They lived for the moment, exhilarated by running away from respectability, and who knows what crimes they committed along the way. What we do know is that unlike the inspiration for Bonnie and Clyde - the gang who sowed terror throughout 1930s Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma - the policewoman and the petty criminal shed no blood.

Gigi had a taste for the high life - he liked to "stay in hotels with silk sheets" Sara recalled later - and her L9m savings (pounds 3,300) helped them survive. Her knowledge of police procedures and her beauty were also distinct assets in keeping them safe from the authorities. They crossed the French border by pretending to be dizzy tourists who had lost their passports, for example. And crossing into Switzerland, the border guard helped them to sidestep bureaucracy over an out-of-date identity card and only later recognised their photograph in a newspaper.

Speculation on their whereabouts kept the Italian press busy throughout the summer of 1997. The authorities in Buccinasco were remarkably generous: they said it would be inappropriate for Sara to continue wearing her white and blue uniform but that they'd keep her a job in the social services division.

The pair risked returning to Italy in August, visiting a cousin of Gigi's who was about to get married. He made them welcome and even invited them to the ceremony. They accepted - and cleaned out his wedding presents and savings before hitting the road again.

Yet maybe that trip was a sign that they were tiring of life on the road, because several weeks later, after three months at large, the pair

returned to Buccinasco and handed themselves in. Gigi said it was "the only way I can make a life with Sara. We often talk about our future. Maybe we will open a bar together, far away from here."

He wasn't the only one to sound hopelessly romantic. "If I did what I did it was because I am in love with Gigi and because running away with him was the only way to prove that I had faith in him, something he desperately needed."

The authorities decided not to prosecute Sara, but anyone who thought she would come to her senses was wrong. She left the police force, took a job as a waitress in the trendy Navigli area of Milan and applied for a divorce. Her husband was awarded temporary custody of their son and her own family severed all ties. "The worst thing in my life was abandoning my son," she said. "The best thing was giving birth to him. I would like to give him back a mother but I have chosen my path," she said.

She dedicated herself instead to the small-time villain whom she saw as a victim of social injustice. She visited him every day, bringing him books and his favourite food. The months passed and Gigi was moved from jail to a drug rehabilitation centre in Milan. One hot July day the two of them escaped again.

This time they were more desperate. They knew what it was like to be apart, and they knew they would not escape more serious punishment if they were caught again. They fled to Austria, staying with a friend, and repaid her in stolen goods. Back in Milan, they robbed a young man at gunpoint and dumped him in a ditch.

Their plan was to start a new life in South America but for that they needed money. Their final heist was to be a hold-up at petrol station.

But their luck ran out. The motorway police stopped a car doing 200km per hour on the Milan-Venice highway. The woman passenger, with a shaved head and a strange accent, produced a photocopied Austrian passport. The agent was suspicious and called back to base. Sara and Gigi surrendered. This time there were no exceptions for the former policewoman.

Last October, Sara turned down the option of house arrest, remaining in prison to be closer to her lover. In jail she resumed studying for a law degree and converted to Islam. And she wrote songs for Gigi, "the most beautiful person she had ever met".

"He is very different from the way he has been depicted in the gutter press as a small time crim or junkie," she says. "When I met him, Gigi seemed like a wounded animal. The deeper I looked into his dark eyes the more suffering and hurt I encountered. Our love story will continue in this life and the next."

Sara was sentenced to three-and-a-half months in prison and Gigi to six years, for armed robbery, bodily harm and kidnapping. Yet the pair were granted permission to meet for an hour each week. They used the time well. By February Sara was out of prison - and pregnant by her young lover.

Their baby was born this week. Her name is Iosha, and according to Sara's solicitor, mother and daughter are doing well. Just wait until the Hollywood scriptwriters hear about that.

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