The shutters have come down and fear has descended on the sleepy northern Italian spa town of Merano. Ten days after a senior Bundesbank official and his Italian girlfriend were brutally murdered on a romantic riverside path - the most sensational event to hit the upper Adige valley in years - police say they now suspect the culprit to be a serial killer.
The murderer struck again last Wednesday, his latest victim an elderly handicapped farmer living a seemingly blameless life in a hamlet on the outskirts of town. The technique was the same, a single pistol shot to the head from close range, and so was the curious weapon, a .22 Derringer - a small, almost dainty gun more commonly found in the handbags of Hollywood's gangster molls than out on the mean streets of Italy.
"The weapon leaves no doubt about the killer's personality. He is a psychopath," said the policeman in charge of the investigation, Colonel Quirino Longo, of the Carabinieri. "A madman with a toy in his hands who likes playing with it, even though this is a toy that kills."
Since the weekend, the largely German-speaking town has lived under a self-imposed curfew, with nobody venturing out after dark.
Officially, investigators have not discarded earlier theories about the deaths of Hans Otto Detmering, a director in the Bundesbank's credit department, and the school secretary he intended to marry, Clorinda Cecchetti. At first the clues pointed to Germany, with police favouring either a conspiracy connected to Mr Detmering's work or a crime of passion orchestrated by his estranged wife, Else.
As the days pass, however, it has become harder to see any connection with the third murder. Umberto Marchioro, who was gunned down outside his cowshed as he finished the day's milking, was too lame to walk far and so could not have have been a witness to the first killing. Known for his mild, retiring nature, it also seems unlikely that he would have challenged or given chase to a killer hiding out on his property.
Serial killers are much in the news in Italy these days, with the release of the man known as the "Monster of Florence", Pietro Pacciani, who was acquitted on appeal last week. Investigators in that case have not given up their efforts to find the murderer of eight couples in the Tuscan countryside; they have produced new witnesses telling of voyeurism and Satanic rituals, and are at present interrogating their latest suspect, a friend of Pacciani's, who has been remanded in custody.Reuse content