Alpine killer strikes again

ANDREW GUMBEL

Rome

The serial killer stalking the quiet Italian Alpine town of Merano has struck again. Barely five days after police claimed to have caught the man responsible for gunning down a German banker with his girlfriend and then a handicapped labourer earlier this month, fear has returned to haunt the citizens of the upper Alto Adige valley.

The latest victim was Paolo Vecchiolini, 36, an electronics worker. He was strolling with his fiancee in Merano's main square early on Tuesday evening when the killer crept up from behind and fired at his right ear from close range, killing him instantly. The latest attack took place at the same time of day as the earlier killings, and the weapon appeared to be the same rather dainty .22-calibre pistol.

The latest murder came as a severe embarrassment to the local crime squad, who seemed in no doubt they had cracked the case last Friday, when they arrested Luca Nobile, a 24-year-old plasterer spotted near the scenes of the first three crimes. "With the evidence we have I would be ready to take the case to court right now," one of the investigating magistrates, Cuno Tarfusser, boasted. Yesterday, Mr Nobile's lawyers clamoured for his release.

Thanks to evidence from the latest victim's companion, who glimpsed the murderer head-on, the police were able to issue a portrait of a six- foot man in his late 30s with blond hair and a short beard. The description tallied with that of a mystery man who attacked a young Meranese in the street two years ago and then vanished.

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