It is January 30, 1974. The San Francisco Chronicle receives a letter from the Zodiac Killer. He has been silent for three years and the letter will be the last about twenty taunting notes sent to the Californian press. Serial killer claims 37 murders and quotes a movie, “The Exorcist”.
The screenplay by William Friedkin has been in cinemas since December 26, 1973 and, in those days, continues to enjoy enormous success with the public.
To one cultural reference, Zodiac adds another. A quote from “The Mikado” by Gilbert and Sullivan.
He plunged himself into
the billowy wave
and an echo arose from
the suicide’s grave
titwillo, titwillo, titwillo
The enigmist killer has already quoted Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta in a message from 1970. At this point, the “supreme executioner” Koko, one of the main characters, is trying to seduce lady Katisha, telling her a story about a suicide for love, a drowning.
What does the killer want to suggest with this unusual signature?
Is he drowning, as he claimed in the letter to attorney Melvin Belli postmarked December 20, 1969? However, Zodiac does not give the impression of being submerged by the water as he will write a few months later.
Zodiac concludes the letter by threatening to kill again if it is not published, like almost always since his first notes in July 1969, .
Days, months go by. More than a year after the last contact, the press asks itself again: “Where is Zodiac?”.
Perhaps it was him who sent a couple more letters before the summer of 1974, signing himself “a friend” and “a citizen”. Someone credits him with others, but there is no evidence.
He is gone.
At the time he should be 35-45 years old, according to witnesses. He is not old. What happened to him? Was he arrested for other crimes? Is he dead?
The most popular theory on Reddit is that he has never stopped. That he has become “something different”. What?
Lovers’ lane killers
Before the press wonders about the disappearance of Zodiac, in September 1974, a mysterious killer appears near Florence. He too attacks and kills young couples in secluded public areas.
Coincidence or concatenation?
At the time, no one asked this question. Italian investigators very likely do not even know of the existence of the American serial killer. On the contrary, they almost certainly know “Scorpio”, Clint Easwood’s first antagonist in Inspector Callaghan’s saga, openly inspired to Zodiac. The film dates back to 1971 and by then Zodiac had become a movie subject.
Actually, only in the movies the investigators would have expected to witness the chain of murders started in 1974 that “will throw Florence into terror” in a few years.
It is no coincidence that the Monster of Florence and the Zodiac have been placed next to each other on the English Wikipedia page dedicated to “Lovers’ lane”.
The “maniac of couples”, which for the first time was nicknamed “Monster” by the Corriere della Sera, on September 16, 1974, belongs to a genre that had never been seen in the Italian scene, but was relatively widespread at the time in the countries of Northern Europe and the United States, where it is sometimes referred to as a “Lovers’ lane killer”.
A “lovers’ lane” is an area where young couples seclude themselves looking for intimacy. This is the common “hunting ground” of Zodiac and the Monster.
Connections between the two criminals go well beyond the year of the “relay”, 1974, the preference for a certain category of victims and the type of areas of the attacks.
The modus operandi is also similar.
They both use pistols and / or knives to kill. They generally operate in a countryside context, around a city and at a specific time of the year, June-October. They prefer new moon nights on holidays and days before holidays.
The similarities extend to the language and also include the same type of misspelling concomitant with the use of the hyphen.
Zodiac takes a lot of caution in his crimes, flaunting various skills in his letters, especially when provoked by the police. For example, he writes that when he kills, he disguises himself and applies air-cement glue on his fingertips to avoid leaving footprints.
Weapons and military boots used in some of his crimes and his knowledge of cryptoanlysis lead civilian and army investigators as well as the majority of the amateur sleuths of the case to think that Zodiac has a military background.
The way of describing crime scenes, predicting the investigators’ moves, approaching victims in a car by dazzling them with a flashlight as a road agent would do, and avoiding the capture by escaping in the Presidio, despite unleashed dogs on his trail, could indicate investigative skills.
Even the Monster, experts argue, seems to prepare his crimes with method and care. For the FBI, the “Italian” serial killer has a military background. According to lawyer Nino Filastò, he has an aptitude and knowledge that suggest that he is close to police circles. The attorney speculates that the Monster approaches the victims’ cars like a policeman, dazzling them with a flashlight. Also Zodiac acts that way at Blue Rocks Springs car park.
Misspellings aside, both the Monster and the Zodiac are “best in class”, not fools. There is also a contradiction in common. Why do they both take unnecessary risks after the murders despite their caution?
What drives Zodiac to send messages to the press, sometimes attaching evidence of his crimes? What reason forces the Monster to linger on the crime scenes to slash bodies of his female victims?
From the only letter sent by the Monster and its so-called “ritual” – the vilification of the body of female victims that Zodiac has only announced in a letter and, apparently, never carried out – the most decisive link between the two killers emerges. Their signature.
The ritual, or rather, the post-mortem rituals of the couple killer of Florence (in 1974 it is different from the next ones) represent one of those mysterious elements which, after the publication of the first articles of my investigation on the Monster-Zodiac connection in 2018, two renowned Italian criminologists, Roberta Bruzzone and Ruben De Luca, have exploited in the weekly Di Più and on the website cronaca-nera.it to argue that the two killers had nothing to do with each other. However, they did not know that Zodiac too was a sadist who suffered from “sexual aberrations”, according to American investigators (bottom image).
Another famous criminologist, Ursula Franco, had argued in an interview with lecronachelucane.it that the Monster was not Zodiac because, if it had been, he would have sent messages to the press signing himself as before.
Actually, even the Monster made a boasting message, in 1985. A risky action that must have had a certain value for him, being his final public act.
It was an envelope addressed to deputy district attorney Silvia Della Monica. The address was made up of clippings from a weekly that was identified in 2020. Inside, 2 square centimeters of last victim’s subcutaneous tissue in a cellophane bag sealed with air-cement glue and carefully placed in a folded card. An unusually effective communication for someone who, according to the vulgate, had never sent a message to his audience.
The recent discovery of the magazine used by the Monster for the composition of the envelope shows that even in that communication, the serial killer had placede his signature. The same is already present in his first crime scene in Italy. The water.
Birth of a public identity
Sunday morning, September 15, 1974, Italy. Six days to go until the national preview of “The Exorcist”. In the countryside of the Mugello, near Florence, the lifeless bodies of a teen couple, Pasquale Gentilcore, 19, and Stefania Pettini, 18, were found.
They were killed in the night by a .22 caliber pistol, and with a knife, while they were in Gentilcore’s car at the “Little fountains” of Rabatta, a countryside area adjacent to Borgo San Lorenzo.
Pettini’s body is lying on the grass behind the car with arms and legs apart and a vine branch inserted into the vagina. The body is naked, the clothes folded and placed a few meters away. There was no sexual violence. The killer produced 96 lacerations on the girl’s skin, most of them superficial.
The first Monday after the murders the press does not know the murder weapon, but already highlights the salient characteristics of the murderer that will remain practically unchanged in the following years, significantly influencing possible witnesses and investigators.
For the first time, the term that will be approached by the media in the early 1980s, “monster”, appears. Only 48 hours after the killings the public identity of the Monster has already been born, identified as a “maniac”, “perhaps a voyeur”.
Discrepancies (read also this post)
With much approximation, the first crime of the Monster is generally traced back to August 21, 1968. On that day, around midnight, a couple of lovers, Antonio Lo Bianco and Barbara Locci, was shot dead with a .22 caliber pistol , in a dirt road in Signa. The two had gone off in the car for a sexual intercourse. Barbara’s son, Natalino, slept in the back seats.
Two hours after the murders, the boy knocked on the door of a house about two kilometers from where the car was parked. To the man who looked out the window he said that his mother and “uncle” were dead. The apartment stood next to that of a friend of another Barbara’s lover, who was then investigated in the Monster case, Francesco Vinci.
After accusing various people, including Francesco and Salvatore Vinci, Stefano Mele, victim’s husband, who had been home from work that day, confessed to the crime.
Despite the doubt that he had not acted alone, for the investigators the implication of Mele was certain, which explained why the child had survived. The investigators were certain of the jealousy motive and believed that the crime had matured in the context of the Sardinian environment frequented by the victims. Barbara had many lovers and there had been frequent quarrels.
Mele was definitively convicted in 1973 and is still serving his sentence in prison when the double murder of Borgo San Lorenzo takes place. Although the type of victims is identical and the scenario of the similar attack, that of 1974 is a manic crime that has no similarities in motive with the case of Signa. Also for this reason, probably, the investigators and the ballistics expert, who deal with both crimes, do not think of a link.
The two cases will remain disconnected until a “fortuitous” discovery of a few pieces of evidence in the archive of the Court of Florence in 1982. In the meantime, none of the officials who participated in the investigative activities on both facts, including the ballistics expert, Colonel Innocenzo Zuntini, thinks of connecting them.
The macroscopic difference is that the motive of 1968 is different , as summarized in the “criminological” report of the team of the University of Modena appointed by the Florence Public Prosecutor. In fact, scholars observe that the Signa crime:
“… appears so devoid of abnormal connotations as to lead to formulate the hypothesis of a crime of passion (hypothesis immediately advanced by investigators, and amply supported by information about the habits and conditions of life, existential relationships, the environment frequented by the two victims)”
“Who committed this crime, therefore, even in the hypothesis that he is the author of the subsequent crimes, does not seem to have been moved by sadistic-sexual motivations, but from common motivations; motivations that lead to the desire for the physical elimination of the victims, according to a modality and a psychological dynamic completely clear of abnormal sexual elements and, even more, of sadistic impulses.”
The crimes of the Monster, from 1974 onwards, do not have a jealousy motive , but belong to the category of lust murders, only apparently without motive, such as those committed by Zodiac. Both killers appear to be drived by a sadistic-sexual compulsion (see attack at Lake Berryessa).
“…appare talmente privo di connotazioni abnormi da indurre a formulare l’ipotesi di un omicidio passionale (ipotesi dei resto subito avanzata dagli inquirenti, ed ampiamente suffragata dalle notizie inerenti alle abitudini e condizioni di vita, ai rapporti esistenziali, all’ambiente di appartenenza delle due
“Chi ha commesso questo delitto, dunque, anche nell’ipotesi che sia l’autore dei successivi delitti, non sembra sia stato mosso da motivazioni sadico-sessuali, bensì da motivazioni comuni; motivazioni cioè che portano a desiderare la eliminazione fisica delle vittime, secondo una modalità ed una dinamica psicologica del tutto svincolata da elementi sessuali abnormi e, ancor più, da impulsi sadistici.”
I delitti del Mostro, dal 1974 in poi, non hanno un movente passionale, ma appartengono alla categoria dei crimini “maniacali”, all’apparenza senza movente, come quelli commessi da Zodiac. Entrambi gli assassini sembrano essere governati da un impulso sadico-sessuale (vedasi l’aggressione al Lake Berryessa).
There are also differences between sadistic-sexual crimes though. What changes is the post-mortem ritual on female victims.
The Monster will in fact return to strike from 1981 to 1985 and, when possible, will mutilate the pubis of the attacked girls, removing skin and hair “without genital organs“. The team led by De Fazio dwells on this strange detail several times and also highlights “the accuracy of the excision technique“. From 1984, the Monster will also remove the left breasto of the victims.
The question that scholars must answer is why, in 1974, instead of practicing mutilation, the murderer struck the female victim dozens of times, putting a branch in her vagina, an act he will never repeat.
The official explanation
The official criminological analysis of the experts of the University of Modena places Stefania Pettini’s wounds and the branch in the vagina in a evolutionary dynamic of a “sadistic ritual” which progresses culminating in the excision of the pubis and breast of the female victims .
“This evolution does not imply modifications but additions, as a sort of gradual refinement (deviation of fantasies)”
In reality, the killer strikes no other girl as much as the 1974 victim. There is therefore a decrease and not an “addition”. But for the experts, this isn’t a problem.
According to them, the Monster, in 1968, would have dominated himself while killing the couple or have just witnessed the murders; in 1974, he added to the murders the stab wounds on the corpse of the teenager, inserting a branch in the vagina; seven years later, in a progress, the mutilation of the pubis of the female victims.
Among all these actions interrupted by pauses sometimes lasting many years there would have been a complex introspective activity by the serial killer who would gradually accept his own nature. In particular, experts from the University of Modena argue that in the pause between 1974 and 1981 there could be space for …
“… an attempt to satisfy his sadistic desires with surreptitious substitute actions, hence a progressive acceptance ego-syntonic of his own homicidal sadism and a “ refinement ” in the elaboration of the criminal action.”
This is a theory that does not dissatisfy the investigators, at a time when there is few doubt that the Monster was the author of the 1968 crime. That crime, to date not attributed to the serial killer by Italian judges, it lies in that evolutionary context as a sort of “prelude”.
Is this really the case?
While De Fazio, Galliani and Luberto’s general analysis of crimes contains many useful observations, their theory for explaining the differences in the murderer’s post mortem rituals does not appear as convincing.
“Change” is not synonymous with “evolution”. It seems a stretch to define inhomogeneous actions as an attempt to “perfect” the same sadistic ritual. Why would the excision of a breast and pubis in the 1980s represent an advancement of the 96 stab wounds and the branch in the vagina of 1974? There is no “addition” but “subtraction” (less stabs). Turning attention from the genitals to the piliferous part of the pubis does not seem to outline an evolution, but an involution.
Regardless of the introspective activity of the maniac in the pauses between one crime and another, why would the unexplained reawakening of the homicidal drive in the 1980s, after seven years of “tranquility”, would have led the murderer not to repeat the stabs and the violation of the vagina of the previous murders? It is not explained.
While writing the report, professors of the University of Modena do not know that the Monster will end its rituals in 1985. The “psycho-evolutionary” theory of the ritual therefore faces a new dilemma: why does the Monster stop?
The last problem is that the rituals are traced back to mere psychiatric phenomena that end up disconnecting the Monster from the surrounding environment. No reference is made to possible cultural factors that could have influenced its action and that perhaps will be decisive in confirming his identification.
There is an important observation by De Fazio-Galliani-Luberto which is also taken up by investigators, such as the police investigator at the head of the Anti-Monster Squad between 1985 and 1994, Ruggero Perugini. The Monster does not unleash itself on the genitals or internal organs of its victims, as an ordinary “lustmurder” would do, a murderer for lust. His attention, on the other hand, is all on cutting the skin and pubic hair with the utmost care to remove them. Why?
Experts reply that the pubis is more easily preserved than the soft tissues of the genital systems. The killer turns his attention to this anatomical area because he intends to make a fetish of it, probably through tanning techniques.
This theory seems correct, but still it fails to explain why the serial killer, driven by a strong sadistic-sexual impulse, ignored the genitals, even if he had to be instinctively attracted to them.
The reasons for this practice could be many, from sexual (but why not venting on the vagina as well?) to occultistic.
Without pretending to replace the “psycho-evolutionary” theory with another one, a blogger named De Gothia, who passed away a few years ago, thought that the official explanation of the Monster’s excisions should be integrated with the influence of a cultural element. The question he asked himself was: where did the Monster get the idea of taking possession of the skin and pubic hair of female victims? What inspired him?
Without the time limits that the experts had and facilitated by the perspective of those who watch back years later, De Gothia has the merit of contextualizing the Monster in the time and place in which he lived. The title of his study, “Maniac, the untrodden path”, is the answer to the question of a serial killer’s possible source of inspiration. A summary of De Gothia’s study was provided by Antonio Segnini in his blog “Quattro Cose Sul Mostro“.
The 70s-80s coincide with the golden age of the horror genre. De Gothia (and attorney Nino Filastò before him) observes that in Florence, in the summer of 1981, numerous films with a violent and sexual theme were screening at theaters in and around the city. De Gothia makes a more than exhaustive list of the 1981 titles. Among them there is also “Maniac”, starring Italian-American Joe Spinell.
The story tells of a serial killer, Frank Zito, who targets single women and couples. The dramatic core is Zito’s relationship with his deceased mother. A possessive woman that this “Monster of New York” tries to replace with some mannequins.
The peculiarity of Zito’s murders is the signature, the post-mortem practice he performed after each killing. As is also evident from the posters below, Zito cuts off female victims’ scalps and collects them as souvenirs.
The first to publicly report similarities between “Maniac” and the Monster is a reviewer of the movie on La Nazione, who wrote on 30 August 1981:
Among some scenes (a boy and a girl in a car at night, attacked and killed with terrible violence; the macabre skinning ceremony) and the details of the Scandicci crime someone saw some similarities.
“Maniac” hits theaters in USA in January 1981 . The violent scenes in the screenplay, especially the practice of “scalping“, in addition to the negative reviews, generate a controversy in the American media. The movie would incite hatred against women. For this reason, the Los Angeles Times refuses to advertise for it.
In Italy, “Maniac” is screened in February in some theaters in Rome and Palermo.
A few months later, in June, the Monster of Florence is back in action , after seven years of apparent hiatus. The post-mortem ritual, as we have seen, is different from that of 1974. This time, the serial killer takes no interest in the vagina. Instead, using a very sharp knife, he meticulously cuts the skin of the pubis and removes it.
What the Monster does, albeit on another anatomical part of his victims, is to replicate and reinterpret the post-mortem acts of the protagonist of “Maniac”.
The Monster, according to De Gothia, appropriates the ritual of Joe Spinell’s character.
On his blog, Segnini, reporting an information taken from the book by De Gothia, points out that the distribution of “Maniac” in Italy stops a few days after the national preview in Rome and Palermo , in February 1981.
The film is screened in Florence only at starting from August 1981 , that is after the first crime of the Monster. Where could the killer have watch it?
De Gothia and Segnini argue that the Monster did not watch the whole movie, but was influenced by advertisements .
“Maniac” seems to be a good lead. However, there is no solid explanation as to why the Monster, in 1981, decided to stage a ritual copied from that film, adapting it. Is there a specific reason? What can it be?
“The Exorcist “
There is another serial killer who hangs out in theaters and has the habit of appropriating other people’s works, Zodiac (watch the “little list” of the executioner KoKo adapted by Zodiac in his letter postmarked July 26, 1970).
In his last message of January 29, 1974, the American serial killer quotes “The Exorcist” by defining it “the best saterical comidy I have ever seen”.
At the beginning of 1974, “The Exorcist” has been released for a few weeks in American cinemas, obtaining an immediate and vast success that will spread throughout the world.
Speaking of the possessed child, Ettore Botti writes in La Nazione in February 1974:
The girl utters the most atrocious obscenities in a voice that is not her own, tries to rape a psychiatrist, vomits on passing priests and, in a scene that will hardly pass the Italian censorship (for once, long live the censorship) she uses a crucifix to perform acts of self-eroticism.
Those who have not yet watched the film and read this review of February 10, 1974 thus discover that the possessed “uses a crucifix to perform acts of self-eroticism“, a detail that makes think of the branch Stefania Pettini’s vagina.
Couldn’t there be a connection between the 1974 ritual of the Monster and “The Exorcist?
Just watch the movie.
When you see this sequence, you may think that, in the crime of Borgo San Lorenzo, the Monster copied and adapted a cult scene from the movie mentioned by Zodiac a few months earlier.
Stefania’s body is positioned like Regan, the possessed child, during levitation – one of the key moments of the movie – when lying on her back on the bed rises into the air with her arms wide open, while the exorcist and the younger colleague command the devil to free her, shouting:
The power of Christ compels you!
Holy water sprinkled by the exorcist on the girl’s body causes immediate lacerations on her skin, similar to the cuts made by the serial killer on Stefania’s body (see here at minute 1.20).
The hypothesis of an act of “plagiarizing” explains:
- why the Monster cuts victim’s body dozens of times;
- why he places it in a supine position with his limbs apart;
- why he puts a branch into the vagina.
This could be the reason for the gestures performed by the Monster on Stefania’s body, a concrete link between the apparently disconnected rituals of 1974 and the other ones.
Net of the speculations on his psyche and his alleged relationships with the victims, the serial killer copies two horror movies in his rituals, one of which was mentioned a few months before the murders by Zodiac. This is the fact that could change the perspective with which one looks at the Monster case.
One question remains: why did the serial killer choose to represent the levitation scene?
“Water, water everywhere” reads Samuel Coleridge’s “Ballad of the Old Sailor”. In the last letter, Zodiac signs himself with a passage about a drowning. Why? And what is the element that unites it with Regan’s levitation scene?
Zodiac uses for the last time the recurring “aquatic” theme (see the water theory) in the same letter in which he quotes “The Exorcist”. Thus, at his first appearance a few months later, the Monster copies and adapts a scene from the same movie quoted by Zodiac in which water plays a fundamental role causing wounds to the possessed child.
Water will also return in the final act of the Monster, the message to Silvia Della Monica. From the pages of a magazine, the murderer will cut out the letters with which he will compose his only “written” message, taking the “E” from the word “acque“, waters, the last letter on the envelope.
There is one more clue in addition to the citation of “The Exorcist” and the reference to the water that implies that the so called “Monster of the Mugello” may be Zodiac. The murders takes place before, not during or after the start of the screenings of “The Exorcist” in Italy. The Italian premiere of the movie dates back to six days after the crime. How and where can the “Florentine” monster have already watched it?
It is not true that the Monster does not communicate, observed detective in charge of the investigation in the 90s Ruggero Perugini, returning from a specialization at FBI Academy in Quantico. He makes it every time he kills with the same gun .
By quoting the Monster and Zodiac together in his 1994 book, Perugini found that the two serial killers are “communicative” in two distinct ways. He did not know how close he had come to the truth.
The Monster replaces with his rituals Zodiac’s verbal communication. He transforms words into a visual and universal language composed of cinematic references that don’t need translation.
Zodiac was not born in Italy. He moved to Italy. His change is probably imposed by linguistic inadequacy and the need to claim his crimes while avoiding being identified. The outcome of this choice required by necessity leads to the birth of a new media personality apparently more silent and, therefore, more closely sensitive to the interpretations of the public to which the killer was sensitive to.
It’s the country, the language, the culture and the way he is seen by the people to be different. Not him.
The identity hidden in Monster’s visual messages is identical to that veiled by Zodiac in his riddles. You find it in the holy water that tears the skin of the possessed girl in “The Exorcist” as in the figure of the Italian-American Joe Spinell who stalks his victims in “Maniac”; in the drowning in the “Mikado” mentioned in Zodiac’s last letter as in his 13 symbols cipher.
This is because the Monster is just Zodiac, a witness of the Pacciani trial, superintendent of war cemeteries and former investigator of the Criminal Investigation Division of the United States Army, Italian-American Joe Bevilacqua.
 Deparment Of Justice – California, “Zodiac homicides”, 1971. Per il Mostro, leggasi Francesco De Fazio, Davide Galliani, Salvatore Luberto, Indagine peritale sugli omicidi del Mostro di Firenze, 1984.
 Il colonnello Innocenzo Zuntini ha firmato le perizie balistiche del 1968 e del 1974. In entrambi i casi, le indagini sono state dirette dal colonnello Olinto Dell’Amico, futuro comandante del Nucleo Operativo dei carabinieri di Firenze e uno dei principali investigatori del caso Mostro.
 Ruggero Perugini, Un uomo abbastanza normale, la caccia al mostro di Firenze, Mondandori, 1994.
 Ruggero Perugini, Un uomo abbastanza normale, la caccia al mostro di Firenze, Mondandori, 1994.
 Read this.
 Ruggero Perugini, Un uomo abbastanza normale, la caccia al mostro di Firenze, Mondandori, 1994.
 Ruggero Perugini, Un uomo abbastanza normale, la caccia al mostro di Firenze, Mondadori, 1994.