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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 March, 2004, 16:10 GMT
Hunting Tuscany's serial sex-killer
By Brian Barron
BBC correspondent in Tuscany

Spring has come to the tranquil, timeless heart of rural Tuscany - but this year, suspicion is in the air as police dig into a macabre chapter of the province's recent history.

Florence skyline
Many questions remain unanswered in the 'Monster of Florence' case

They are investigating the period when the forested hills around Florence became a hunting ground for modern Italy's most notorious serial killings.

The murders transfixed Italy in the 1980s and 1990s and were blamed on a handful of villagers, known collectively to the police as the Monster of Florence.

The fresh investigation into this complicated case has divided Italy - and the web of conspiracy theories that has emerged has brought with it allegations of a miscarriage of justice.

Sudden death

In 17 years eight couples were killed, many as they made love. The women were mutilated.

Under pressure the police eventually charged Pietro Pacciani, a Tuscan villager with a record for murder and rape.

Despite his denials, he got multiple life sentences - only to then be freed on appeal.

Scene of the crime
Many of the victims were lovers having sex in the countryside

Pietro Pacciani took his secrets to the grave. He was buried here four years ago.

He died suddenly before the retrial that had been ordered. Two of his friends are still serving lengthy jail sentences for their part in the serial murders.

Satanic cult suspicions

But now a new investigation has been ordered, headquartered 12 miles away in Florence.

The boss of Tuscany's serial murder squad, Inspector Giuttare, believes that behind Pietro Pacciani was a mastermind.

He has written a best-selling thriller, drawing on his investigations.

Tests showed a Beretta .22 was the murder weapon - but only the bullets were found.

"We're looking for people behind at least eight of the murders, says Inspector Giuttare. "Maybe an individual, or a group or even a satanic cult."

The new investigation has focused on Pietro Pacciani's home village. Houses have been raided and respectable people interrogated.

Out there

But Magdalen Nabb, a British writer who has lived here for 30 years, remains sceptical.

Bullets
Police recovered bullets - but the weapon that fired them is missing

"Theoretically there could still be a man out there who did these crimes," says Magdalen Nabb.

"He could be dead. He could be in prison. So many things could have happened to him."

Asked if it might have been Pacciani, Mr Nabb replies, "I would find it difficult to get my mind round that really."

Was he the monster of Florence or the victim of a miscarriage of justice?

The truth is still out there. But arrests are promised.




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