Florence murder trial opens

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The Independent Online
ROME - A farm labourer went on trial yesterday accused of being the 'monster of Florence', the serial killer who preyed on courting couples in the countryside around the city, murdering 16 people in 17 years, writes Fiona Leney.

Pietro Pacciani, 69, broke down and sobbed as he was mobbed by television crews and photographers who crowded into the courtroom in Florence. The proceedings are being televised for an Italian public riveted and horrified by the first serial-killer case in living memory.

Giving an added twist of the macabre to the case was the revelation yesterday that anonymous letters had been sent to the court and Mr Pacciani's lawyers, containing what appear to be pieces of skin. Tests are being carried out to see if they are human flesh and if they match a piece from one of the victims which was sent to investigators after the last murders in September 1985.

'If they manage to confirm that the skin comes from some of the flesh that the maniac took, it would show that Pacciani is not 'the monster',' Rosario Bevacqua, one of the defence lawyers, told reporters. Among those crammed into the court was Thomas Harris, author of the best-selling novel, The Silence of the Lambs.

'What do they want with me? I am innocent. I am a scapegoat,' Mr Pacciani shouted at reporters.

The murders, described by newspapers as the work of an 'Anglo-Saxon-style serial killer', began in 1968 and followed an almost identical pattern. The killer would usually stalk his victims as they made love in cars in isolated spots. He would shoot them dead with a Beretta .22-calibre pistol, then sexually mutilate the woman.

Four tourists were among the victims: a French couple, killed as they slept in their tent in an olive grove and two German men killed in their camper-van. Investigators believe that the long hair of one of the men may have led to him being mistaken for a woman.

Six suspects were detained and then released in turn as the killings continued. A pounds 150,000 reward was offered after the deaths of the French tourists in September 1985, as the Florentine authorities began to fear the impact of the murders on the area's immensely lucrative tourist industry. An anonymous letter was sent to the police in 1985, accusing Mr Pacciani. But inquiries continued for another six years before charges were brought aganst him.

His accusers allege that Mr Pacciani's criminal record suggests both a violent and seriously sexually disturbed individual. He was jailed in 1951 for the murder of his fiancee and her lover: he had surprised them together in a car. He was jailed again in 1987 for raping his two daughters.

Furthermore, the prosecution says, Mr Pacciani, who lives in the gently-rolling countryside around Florence where the killings took place, is an excellent marksman. A bullet found on his land matches those used in the murders. His defence team argues that the Beretta thought to link the murders has never been recovered. They say forensic evidence suggests the killer was a larger man. The case is expected to take between two and three months.