54-Year-Old Italian Serial Killer Case Could Be Reopened

the "monster of florence" or copycat has replicated murders starting in 1968

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Smoking gun on dark background
Key to the case of the “Monster of Florence” killings is a Beretta .22 caliber firearm. Photo by zef art / Shutterstock

Italy’s Il Mostro di Firenze—the Monster of Florence—began a spree of murder in 1968. He shot eight couples who were engaged in physical intimacy in their cars, from 1968 until the mid-1980s. Police eventually investigated more than 100,000 men and 12 were arrested, but the lack of answers in the case has led most to consider the cases unsolved.

A new spate of eight double homicides has led families of the victims to ask the Florence police to reopen the original case. In all eight cases, the victims were killed in the same manner as the original Monster of Florence killings—and all shot with the same Beretta. Could it be the same killer, a copycat, or just a coincidence?

In his video series Crimes of the Century: A Selective History of Infamy, Dr. Richard B. Spence, Professor of History at the University of Idaho, lays out the Monster of Florence case and the questions with which it leaves us.

A Murder Most Foul

According to Dr. Spence, at 2:00 AM on August 21, 1968, a six-year-old boy named Natalino Mele rang the doorbell of a nearby farmhouse. When the farmer answered, Natalino asked him to drive him back to his house, where his father Stefano was sick in bed, and added that his “mommy and uncle” were dead in the family car. Police found Natalino’s mother and her lover shot four times each with a .22 caliber firearm. Judging by their state of undress, they had been intimate at the time of the killing.

“The young boy explained that he’d gone to the movies with the couple earlier in the evening,” Dr. Spence said. “On the drive home, he’d fallen asleep in the back seat. The boy remembered awakening to the sound of gunshots and found the two adults dead in the front seat.”

Young Natalino said that several men, including his father, were present, and that one man—who the boy named as Salvatore—carried him on his shoulder to the farmhouse, rang the doorbell, and ran off. The boy was too small to reach the doorbell himself, and his bare feet were clean, supporting his story; but he soon changed his story and stubbornly stuck to the notion that he had seen no other men at the crime scene and he had walked there himself.

Over the next 17 years, seven additional murders, nearly identical in nature, occurred. Despite a dozen arrests, including that of Natalino’s father, a satisfactory answer to the cases never came.

The Smoking Gun

Investigations into the Monster of Florence case revealed that three brothers—the Vinci brothers of Sardinia—had all been lovers of Natalino Mele’s mother. One even bore the name Salvatore, as the boy had mentioned. Natalino’s father confessed to the initial killing and was sentenced to 14 years in prison, but while he was locked away, the subsequent killings commenced.

In all cases, couples were shot with a Beretta mid-coitus or post-coitus in cars in rural areas surrounding Florence, but the gun has never been recovered.

“That pesky .22 Beretta remains the key to solving the mystery surrounding The Monster of Florence,” Dr. Spence said. “Arguably, the person who has conducted the most thorough investigation of the case is journalist Mario Spezi. He believes it all leads back to the Sardinian clan of Stefano Mele and the Vinci brothers.”

Spezi, who coined the term the “Monster of Florence,” believes that the initial killing of Natalino Mele’s mother and her lover was a simple matter of honor and revenge, and that the Beretta was then passed around the Vinci family. Ending up in the hands of one of Salvatore Vinci’s sons, the gun was used by the son to commit the subsequent murders, but the family refused to turn in their kinsman.

Some even believe the Zodiac Killer and the Monster of Florence are the same person.

If the case is soon reopened, new technology and advances in forensics could help bring closure for the families of the victims.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily