But the producers of an Italian television show specialising in missing persons, who had convinced him to return to Italy after filming his confession in London, are now crying foul. They say the Italian police have ruined their exclusive.
Ferdinando Carretta, 36, went missing shortly after his family left on a holiday in August 1989. They never returned and he disappeared, becoming one of the main suspects.
The television producers initially said they were used against their will to lure Mr Carretta home and complained that the police had broken a deal with them. It emerged last night that they had wanted to break the news first in the most dramatic way, by airing his confession on their top-rated, prime-time show. He arrived in Rome on Sunday to take part in the popular programme Chi l'ha visto? The subject was to have been the mysterious disappearance of his family, who vanished after setting off on their camper-van.
But instead of being whisked off to the RAI television studios, Mr Carretta was met at Rome airport by police, who escorted him to his native northern city of Parma. During six hours of questioning, he allegedly confessed to the murders.
Until about a month ago, when he was discovered during a chance stop- and-search operation in London, he was on Interpol's missing persons file and the Italian police had no idea whether he was alive.
Mr Carretta had been resident in Britain since 1989, where he had claimed unemployment benefit and had been employed in various menial jobs, including as a motorcycle courier. Officers described him as a loner.
Police were baffled to discover him living in squalor on his own in a one-bedroom flat in Ilford, Essex, after they found millions of pounds in his family's bank account.
Two weeks ago the Italian police were informed by Interpol of his existence and visited London to interview him.
He told them his family had travelled to South America. The Italians were preparing to obtain an extradition warrant to bring him back to Italy. However, last week an investigating magistrate in Italy said there was not enough evidence to press for his extradition.
His parents, Giuseppe and Marta, and their son Nicola were last seen in August 1989 before they headed off on holiday in their van to France, Spain and North Africa. Ferdinando, their eldest son, did not go on the family holiday and disappeared a couple of days later, after having cashed two cheques. To do that he forged the signature of his father and brother.
Extensive police searches failed to find any trace of the family. Their camper turned up three months later, abandoned in a street in Milan.
The fact that Ferdinando had disappeared around the same time, had bought a pistol several months earlier and had had a difficult relationship with his father prompted speculation that he may have murdered his family. There was speculation also that his father had absconded with a vast quantity of company slush funds, and that Ferdinando then murdered him for the money.
As soon as he was discovered in London, the producers of Chi l'ha visto?, who had followed the case closely for years, visited Britain. They spent several days with him, persuading him to return to Rome. They insisted they had received guarantees from the Italian police that he would not be arrested or taken to his home town.
They accused the authorities yesterday of making "a shameful exhibition" for allowing television cameramen to film Mr Carretta's arrival at Fiumicino airport in Rome. An Interpol spokesman dismissed the criticism.
Mr Carretta's lawyer, Filippo Dinacci, said his client had been desperate to confess: "He wanted to get it off his chest. He had been living like a hermit in London. He had, in a sense, jailed himself."
During his confession on Sunday night, Mr Carretta allegedly told the Italian police he had disposed of the corpses in a dump on the outskirts of Parma.
The motive to the confession remains a mystery. In his confession, Mr Carretta allegedly said he had killed his father simply because he had been reprimanded by him, and that he had then got rid of his mother and brother because they had witnessed the murder.
Mr Carretta also apparently spoke of his family in affectionate terms. "He appears to have a double personality: one moment he is very lucid and smart - the next he is just not there," said his lawyer, Mr Dinacci.
The lawyer has asked for a psychiatric assessment to determine whether his client is fit to stand trial.
There remain questions as to whether Mr Carretta will ever come to court because of his apparently unbalanced state of mind and because the bodies of his parents and brother may never be recovered.Reuse content