I can still pinpoint the moment I fell in love with Amanda Knox.
In Italian, we have an expression for moments like these, moments when you connect with a kindred spirit with whom you may not, on the face of it, have much common ground—language or otherwise. Yet you find yourselves locking eyes and exchanging smiles and feeling an instant connection. We call this moment un colpo di fulmine, a lightning bolt.
That’s what I felt the night I met Amanda.
It didn’t hit me right away. Rather, it crept up on me, almost unawares, like a beautiful dream. I’m a romantic by nature, I’ll admit it, but when I met Amanda, I was also a shy, awkward twenty-three-year-old with limited experience of approaching girls, let alone having them sweep me off my feet so suddenly, so unexpectedly. So it all seemed vaguely unreal, even when we were standing and holding each other close under a star-filled Perugian sky in Piazza Italia, overlooking the rooftops of the city and the Tiber River valley below. When I leaned in and kissed her for the first time, it was intense and beautiful and seemed to last forever.
I don’t know what it is about a first kiss that makes it so much more powerful than the thousands that may follow. It’s as if one kiss can bind you to someone forever—it may be in friendship, it may
be in love, it may be by some kind of cosmic connection that has no name in English or Italian, and it may be nothing at all. All that matters is living in the moment and experiencing life when you are young and alive and bright, with nothing but promising futures ahead of you.
* * *
It was October 25, 2007. I’d just finished the last undergraduate exam for my bachelor’s degree in computer science at the university in Perugia, and while I still had a thesis to complete, I felt relaxed for the first time in weeks. That night, a musician friend invited me to a classical-music concert at the Università per Stranieri, the University for Foreigners, which attracted tens of thousands of young people from all over the world. Even though I was dog-tired and looked a mess, with shaggy hair, several days’ growth of beard, and the same jeans and sneakers I’d been wearing all day, I didn’t care—I was ready for a break, and zoning out to some live classical music sounded like the antidote to all those long hours of studying.
The concert was held in the university’s Great Hall, a marble-floored room adorned with early-twentieth-century art, and refreshments were served in a magnificent side room with a gilded rococo ceiling. Most of the audience were Rotary Club members my father’s age. My friend and I sat at the back of the room and settled into the music, starting with Astor Piazzolla’s spectacular “Grand Tango,” arranged for viola and piano.
At intermission, as the audience dispersed in search of refreshments, I glanced across the room and spotted, looking in my direction, the only other person under fifty years old. She was pretty; beautiful actually, with long, blondish-brown hair and striking eyes.
Normally, I would have been too anxious and reticent to consider approaching her, but I was in a great mood and figured I had nothing to lose, particularly in this crowd.
“Ciao, sono Raffaele. E tu?”
“Amanda,” I repeated. She wasn’t dressed like an Italian and she didn’t sound like one either. So I switched to English, dusting off the little I’d learned in school. “Where are you from?”
“Sono americana. Sorry . . . my Italian isn’t very good. I just got here.”
“It is not a problem. Where in America?”
“Seattle,” she replied. “Do you know it?”
“Seattle! Of course. That’s fantastic. I’m a computer scientist, and Seattle, for us, è come Mecca per i musulmani . . . it’s like Mecca for the Muslims.”
Amanda laughed, and we chatted until the lights started flickering to signal the end of intermission. I asked if my friend Mauro and I could sit next to her for the second half, and she agreed. Mauro, or Tozzetto, as I knew him, gave me the hairy eyeball when I called him over. “Come on,” I urged. He sat next to us with all the enthusiasm of a sullen teenager.
The second half of the program was Schubert’s Trout Quintet. With each movement, Amanda noted the change of tempo by whispering the few Italian words she knew—allegro, andante, lento, presto. I laughed and whispered encouragements back. Every now and again she would bob her head in time to the music, almost as if she were alone in her room with no one around to see her. Something about her was undeniably eccentric, but I didn’t dislike it at all. I’d never met someone with so few inhibitions, yet she had this
goofy charm that drew me to her and made me feel immediately comfortable.
When the concert ended, Amanda said she had to go to work. She had a part-time job handing out flyers and serving drinks in a cellar bar called Le Chic. Apparently, Thursdays were one of their busiest nights.
“Will you give me your number?” I asked.
“Come by the bar later on and we’ll see.” With that, she headed home to change her clothes.
Tozzetto was already feeling like a third wheel, and he wasn’t enthusiastic about tagging along to Le Chic. But I didn’t want to go alone—I’d never set foot inside before and it wasn’t the kind of place that I frequented. So I offered to buy him a drink. Tozzetto said he wanted to call two other friends and go out with them instead. I wouldn’t take no for answer. In the end, I paid for everyone.
The bar was dark and poky, and the customers were not my kind of people. It belonged to a Congolese immigrant named Diya Lumumba, whom everyone knew as Patrick. His crowd was transient—foreigners, musicians, people passing through for reasons both good and maybe not so good. Amanda had been introduced to Patrick through an Algerian named Juve, who also worked at Le Chic. From what Amanda told me, Juve was the kind of guy who latched onto every girl in sight. She gave me no reason to feel any better about being there.
The place was crowded, but we found a couch to squeeze onto. As the last of Tozzetto’s friends sat down, a lever on the side of the couch suddenly fell with a clunk—just as Amanda walked up to greet us. Her face fell and her mood changed immediately. She looked around furtively, clearly worried that her boss would blame her in some way for breaking the furniture. So I sprang up and
offered to fix it. For several minutes I struggled with the lever on my hands and knees and eventually screwed it back into place. To my surprise, the entire bar broke out in spontaneous applause. For a moment I felt embarrassed, but then I saw Amanda beaming and it dawned on me I might actually have a chance with her.
“Do you want to go for a walk or something after you finish your shift?” I asked.
She smiled and said she would.
My friends took that as their cue to leave, and I was left staring at the ceiling and wondering how to pass the time until she was free. Eventually I wandered over to the bar and chatted with Patrick, who was perfectly amiable. I’m not a big drinker and didn’t want another beer, so I ordered a tonic water and waited until well after midnight.
Perugia was full of foreign students, and a lot of my fellow Italians saw the women as easy targets—good for a quick roll in the hay, or a discreet affair on the side, with a built-in guarantee that sooner or later they would head back where they came from. But that wasn’t at all how I felt. I’m too dreamily romantic to think of using women that way. For me, it’s always been true love or nothing. Given my overprotected childhood and my introverted personality, “nothing” had been the prevailing story line to that point—for which my friends teased me incessantly. When I came back from a year abroad in Munich, in 2006, they laughed that I was the first person in the history of the Erasmus student-exchange program to leave home a virgin and come back still a virgin.
I’d only had one girlfriend before Amanda, another transplant from my home region of Apulia, on the Adriatic coast. We met at a birthday party a few months after I returned to Perugia from Germany. Neither of us knew entirely what we were doing—she was
as inexperienced as I—but we muddled our way through our first time, both rather pleased to have got it out of the way. The relationship was short-lived; when my grandmother died, a month after we started seeing each other, I headed home for the funeral and broke up with her before I returned. Getting into a serious relationship was the last thing on my mind—I didn’t have the headspace for it. I was happier focusing on my studies and kickboxing and thinking about my future.
Now that graduation was upon me, I was planning to leave Perugia for good in a few weeks. Foremost in my mind was the pressure I was feeling from my father to apply for a nine-month internship at a prestigious university in Milan. He was planning to take me there as soon as we’d celebrated my graduation. We talked about it incessantly, usually several times a day. As he knew, I was more interested in enrolling in a master’s degree program in Ireland, and working toward my dream of becoming a video-game designer. But my father, a doctor specializing in urology and my only living parent, was both highly protective and a difficult man to say no to. So I agreed to apply to Milan. The last thing I wanted was to start one of my family’s notoriously melodramatic fights, which some of my relatives seemed to thrive on but which always left me feeling debilitated. I did want to make my father proud; that much was important to me. But figuring out how to please him while also establishing my independence was a skill I had yet to master.
I can now say, looking back, that meeting Amanda was a glorious escape from these concerns. She was an accomplished student, like me, but also quite unlike anyone I had ever met. As she told me on the walk we took after she finished her shift at Le Chic, she was a third-year student at Seattle’s University of Washington and was studying German as well as Italian. So we had another language in
common. She, like me, was the child of divorced parents, and she too was close to her family—stepparents, stepsiblings, and all. She had arrived in Perugia a month earlier and found a room in a house just outside the city walls, which she shared with two Italian women at the beginning of their legal careers and a young English student named Meredith Kercher.
Meredith had, in fact, accompanied Amanda to the concert but left at the interval, just before Amanda and I set eyes on each other. If Meredith had stayed, chances are we would never have started talking and things would have worked out very differently.
* * *
Our walk seemed to last for hours. We strolled down Corso Baglioni toward the piazza where we shared our first kiss. We admired the views and talked about our families and exchanged many more kisses until we were too cold to continue. I asked Amanda if she wanted me to walk her home, or if she’d like to come back to my place to watch a movie.
I wasn’t expecting her to accept my invitation; it’s just one of those questions that Italian men feel compelled to ask.
“Okay,” she answered, “I can come to your house.”
Her answer took me completely by surprise. Where I was brought up, in the traditional-minded Italian South, women who say yes on the first date are regarded as suspect, and men are warned against getting involved with them. But Amanda didn’t seem to be one of those girls. She was gentle and genuine, and even my bafflement couldn’t mask how thrilled I was that the night was turning out so well.
“Aren’t you afraid to be out with me?” I asked. “How is it that you trust me?”
“I don’t know,” she said, “but I trust you.” Then she took me by the hand and smiled, and my heart melted. The lightning bolt had hit its target.
* * *
I took Amanda back to my one-room apartment on Corso Garibaldi, just a few steps away from the University for Foreigners. At night, the area attracted drug dealers and street bums, but they mostly kept to themselves and were easy to avoid; for all the subsequent talk about this being a brutta zona, a bad neighborhood, it never struck me as particularly dangerous. I showed Amanda around and invited her to plop down on the bed while I loaded a film on my computer. Of course, by the time I settled in next to her, all thoughts of the movie were quickly forgotten and we pulled each other’s clothes off before the opening credits finished rolling.
When I woke up the next morning, Amanda still had her arms wrapped tightly around me. I remember feeling safe and warm in a way I hadn’t since I was a little kid. We related in a sweet, almost childlike way, maybe because we didn’t share a native language. I helped her with her Italian, she corrected my English, we found common ground in German, and everything felt fresh and new. Amanda brought me back to my childhood, a time of purity and carefree abandon long since overshadowed by family disputes and reversals of fortune, none worse than the death of my mother in 2005. It was as if Amanda had found an old dresser, dusted it off, and opened a drawer full of toys and beautiful objects that had been locked away for a long time.
Did I fall hard for her? Absolutely. Did she feel as strongly about me? No, but as we first got to know each other, I preferred not to
let that trouble me. I was floating high in a pristine, azure sky, and I just wanted to keep floating.
* * *
I didn’t know what I should tell my family about Amanda, so for a day or two I said nothing at all. I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold back for long because my father called several times a day and he would have sniffed out any real reticence in about two minutes flat. Besides, we were in the habit of discussing everything, even the most intimate parts of our lives. That’s a Southern Italian thing; families in my part of the world are all over each other’s business and treat everyone’s ups and downs as their own. But we Sollecitos had also developed a special bond because of my mother’s sudden death. She and my father had been divorced for years, but once she was gone, he went into protective overdrive with me and my older sister, Vanessa. We didn’t always welcome his intrusions and fought bitterly with him from time to time. Vanessa would sometimes cut off communication for weeks or months and insist on going her own way, but not me. I kept right on talking, no matter what.
By the time I did talk about Amanda, she and I were more or less inseparable. We shopped together, cooked together, strolled around the town’s center, and unfailingly slept at my apartment every night. We were apart only when she had to go to class or I had an appointment with my thesis director. Such instant closeness felt right to me. We didn’t have a plan; we just took care of each other and lived in the moment. I would climb in the shower and help her get clean, and afterward I would comb out the knots in her long, straight hair.
When I told my father about this, he said I treated her more like a doll than a girlfriend, and he had a point. I did not have
much experience being in a relationship, but playing with dolls was something that came naturally. When I was a kid, Vanessa was not remotely interested in her Barbie collection—she was too much of a tomboy—so I played with them instead. I was an unusual child that way. Barbie and I went on adventures together, faced down monsters, and had our romantic moments. A little odd, I will admit. But as a child I had a limitless imagination and didn’t see much difference between Barbies and superheroes and the fantasy characters I encountered in video games.
Papà was not hugely enthusiastic about Amanda, but neither was he entirely negative. He was touched that I had found someone who made me happy, but he also wanted to make sure I was getting on with my work. “You need to finish your thesis,” he admonished, “and, remember, you’re going to Milan.” I had not forgotten. Vanessa, being Vanessa, was much blunter. “What do you think you are doing?” she railed. “You’re going crazy for someone who is going to go back to America, and you’ll never see her again.”
She would keep up a similar barrage against Amanda for the next four years.
* * *
I visited Amanda’s house at number 7, Via della Pergola the day after I met her and went back twice more over the next week. It was just a few minutes’ walk from me, down Corso Garibaldi to Piazza Grimana and the University for Foreigners, then around a corner to the left where the city walls gave way to a large ravine and a dramatic vista. The house felt a little isolated, perched on the edge of the wilderness across the street from a large city parking lot. Inside, though, it was a typical student dwelling, filled with books and computers and cheap furniture. Everyone went about their business
and talked mostly when they ran into each other. The four women occupied the upper floor of the house; downstairs were four male students, who were quite a bit rowdier and kept pot plants in one of their bathrooms.
Laura and Filomena, Amanda’s Italian roommates, welcomed me warmly, and we often chatted together in our native language. Once or twice, I brought food and cooked them lunch. Laura was the more cynical of the two, all skin and bones and nervous energy and ear piercings; I remember her wondering aloud whether love and sex could really coexist. Could a man be relied upon to commit to a relationship, she asked, or was it better to look for a friend with benefits? I didn’t have a whole lot to say on the subject and suspected she was poking fun, however gently, at the way Amanda and I were joined at the hip. Piccioncini was how she later characterized us in court. Little lovebirds.
Amanda and Meredith, meanwhile, talked in English—at a speed I couldn’t have kept up with even if I tried. Still, I didn’t get much of an impression of Meredith the few times I saw her at the apartment. She was well-mannered but a little distant, as English people can often be. The one time I offered her food, she had already eaten and politely turned it down. I noticed one day that she was wearing men’s jeans, and she told me they belonged to a boyfriend she had left behind at home. I found that oddly endearing.
Mostly, I craved time alone with Amanda, and for that reason we were much more often at my house. My father reminded me that when I first moved to Perugia, he and my stepmother, Mara, and I had toured some of the hill towns in the area. “Why don’t you take Amanda to some of the same places?” he suggested.
Right, a date, I thought. I was more than happy to take him up on the suggestion. A month earlier, I had bought a brand-new,
black Audi A3, half of it an early graduation present from my father and the other half paid out of the rental income I received from my mother’s estate. I was proud of my new car and loved the idea of touring Amanda around in it. Our first stop was to be Assisi, the spiritual home of St. Francis.
This was maybe three or four days into our relationship. The night before we left, I noticed she was chatting on Facebook with an American friend. I asked who he was. Right away, she explained that she, like Meredith, had left behind a boyfriend when she came to Italy. His name was David Johnsrud, known as D.J., and they were still in regular contact. In fact, they chatted or e-mailed almost every day. D.J. was spending his junior year in China, and given the distance, it hadn’t made sense for them to stay together as a couple.
I could tell just by looking at Amanda that she was still attached to him. Even though we’d known each other only a few days, I had fallen for her—and it hurt.
“But we’re no longer together, Raffaele,” she said.
I had no reason to doubt her, but I also knew she wasn’t over him and wasn’t able to give her heart fully to me. As the conversation went on, I learned she had just bought a ticket to China to visit D.J. later in the year, and my suspicions were confirmed.
If I felt crushed, I was not about to admit it. So I met a nice girl, I told myself, and we had fun for a few days. Whatever. It’s not as though she was the love of my life. So what if I was just some guy to keep her company and nothing more? We had some nice moments together, but this wasn’t exactly the romance of the century. If it’s finished, I’ll get over it.
At least, that’s what I told myself.
* * *
I took her to Assisi anyway. The decision wasn’t destined to win the respect of my friends or family, but I followed through just the same.
If an Italian man feels there’s more than one other person in a relationship, then his pride should—in theory—lead him to turn his back and say good-bye. Right away. I was brought up to believe that a strong sense of belonging is at the heart of all relationships. It’s absolute commitment, or nothing. If the woman is looking over her shoulder or thinking about someone else, it’s tantamount to cheating. For the man to stay with her is to be branded a cuckold or a fool—which is exactly how my friends saw me.
But I knew that my days with Amanda were numbered, one way or another, and I was having far too much fun to give her up so soon. I decided I’d take it day by day and felt comfortable with that approach. If you don’t live while you can, I thought, what’s the point?
In Assisi, I took particular pleasure in visiting St. Francis’s tomb, which had been closed when I was there with my parents. Amanda and I strolled around, ate pizza, and bought incense. A perfect day out.
Back in Perugia, we settled into long, carefree evenings watching movies and listening to music. Sometimes I’d work on my thesis, while Amanda strummed her guitar and sang Beatles songs or did her yoga stretches on the floor. We made elaborate dinners. When I didn’t know how to cook something, I would call my father’s house to get the recipe. Amanda called herself my sous-chef. We were both Harry Potter fans and read to each other from the German edition of the first book, which Amanda brought round to my house. Bizarrely, it became a significant piece of evidence at trial. Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen.
The days began to blend into each other. We went to bed a lot, but neither of us slept well. I wasn’t used to having a woman in my bed and woke up several times a night. Amanda tended to be up at 5:00 a.m. every morning, which she chalked up to the aftereffects of jet lag. So our time together felt a little restless and blurry. That did no harm to our romance, but it was lousy preparation for witnesses in a murder case.
* * *
October 31 was the first day since our meeting that Amanda and I spent almost completely apart. In the morning I was invited to a friend’s graduation ceremony, and I went to another friend’s house for much of the afternoon. Amanda had class, then focused on her plans for Halloween, a big deal for Perugia’s foreign students, though it meant nothing to us Italians. She and I did not meet up until late afternoon, at which point she drew cat whiskers on her face in makeup and, knowing my passion for Japanese comics, scrawled an abstract design on me. I didn’t feel like going out, so I worked on my thesis while Amanda walked over to Le Chic to meet up with some of her friends there. She had hoped to spend the evening with Meredith, but Meredith’s British girlfriends didn’t like her—they found her too unrestrained in the way she acted and talked and burst into song whenever she felt like it—and Meredith never responded to her text suggesting they meet.
Late that night, around 1:00 a.m., Amanda called me from the fountain in Perugia’s main piazza and asked me to accompany her back to my house. She’d been out drinking with a Greek friend, Spiros, whom I greeted cautiously as I took her by the arm. He ran an Internet café near the University for Foreigners and was a little too familiar with her for my liking.
We slept in the next morning, which was All Saints’ Day, November 1, a national holiday. Many people were taking advantage of its being a Thursday to create a “bridge” to the weekend and take four days off. Because of the coincidence of All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day, they called it il ponte dei morti, the bridge of the dead. When Amanda headed back home midmorning to take a shower and change—she did not like the shower at my apartment, saying it was too cramped—she learned that Laura had already left for her hometown north of Rome, and Filomena was making plans to spend the weekend with her boyfriend at his place on the other side of Perugia. The boys in the downstairs apartment were all gone as well.
Amanda had to work that night, but otherwise we were looking forward to a long, lazy weekend with no plans in particular, except to drive to Gubbio, three-quarters of an hour northeast of Perugia, for a little sightseeing. By the time I showed up at her apartment for a late lunch around two, only Meredith was still in the house. Her chin still showed signs of the fake blood she had used for her Dracula costume the night before. We asked her to join us for lunch, but she had a shower instead, did some laundry, and left around 4:00 p.m. without saying where she was going.
It was the last time I ever saw her.
Amanda and I smoked a joint before leaving the house on Via della Pergola, wandered into town for some shopping before remembering we had enough for dinner already, and headed back to my place. Shortly before six, a Serbian friend of mine named Jovana Popovic rang the doorbell and asked if I’d mind driving her to the bus station at midnight to pick up a suitcase her mother was sending. I said that would be fine. When she left, Amanda and I sat down at the computer to watch a favorite movie, Amélie.
We had to stop the film a few times as the evening wore on. First, Amanda got a text from Patrick telling her it was a slow night because of the holiday and he didn’t need her to come in after all. It was like getting an unexpected snow day—we were thrilled. Amanda texted back: Certo ci vediamo più tardi buona serata! Sure. See you later. Have a good evening.
Then my father called. He and Mara had just seen the Will Smith movie The Pursuit of Happyness, and he told me how beautifully it portrayed the relationship between a father and his son. My father was always making phone calls like this. It was sweet that he wanted to share his experiences, but he also made everything he said sound vaguely like an order, as if laying out the parameters of how I should react to things before I’d had a chance to form my own opinion. But he never stayed on the line for long—he is too nervy and impatient—so I listened calmly and the call was over in less than four minutes.
In the meantime, Jovana dropped by again and told Amanda that I didn’t need to drive her to the bus station after all. Now we didn’t have to leave the apartment. The evening was ours, and we couldn’t have been happier. We switched off our cell phones, finished watching Amélie, and discussed what to make for dinner.
* * *
Shortly before eight o’clock, a video surveillance camera in the parking structure across from Amanda’s house captured a man walking briskly past the security barrier and onto Via della Pergola. Of course I had no idea of this at the time; this was material my family gathered during the investigation and the trials. I’m mentioning it here because it was one of many facts that the prosecution and the
media chose to overlook, and because it helps make sense of what did and did not occur on that fateful evening.
The man in the video footage was wearing a black coat with high wing-tip lapels and sneakers with white trim. He had his back to the camera and his head was covered with a woolen cap, making him difficult to identify. But his height, gait, coat, and shoes were all a plausible match for Rudy Guede, a twenty-year-old drifter of Ivorian origin who often shot hoops at the basketball court next to the University for Foreigners and was acquainted with the boys who lived downstairs from Meredith and Amanda.
Guede had an extraordinary past: an abusive childhood; a mother who abandoned him as a baby and a father who abandoned him as a teenager; an improbably idyllic period under the protection of one of Perugia’s richest families, who sent him to private school in a chauffeur-driven limousine; and, more recently, a budding career as a cat burglar. According to eyewitnesses and police reports, Guede liked to break into houses by smashing a window with a rock and using his considerable athletic skills to scale the wall and climb inside. Often, his victims said, he would help himself to food and drink from the kitchen before looting the electronics and hard cash.
The previous Saturday, the director of an English kindergarten in Milan had caught Rudy red-handed sitting at her office computer and making the place his own. When the police searched his backpack, they found a knife he had lifted from the kitchen, a woman’s gold watch, and a laptop and cell phone later traced to a lawyer’s office in Perugia that had been burgled two weeks earlier. Guede was taken to police headquarters and questioned for four hours.
All indications were that he was about to be arrested. That is,
until a call was placed to the Perugia police and the interrogation stopped. Instead of facing charges, Guede was put on a train back to Perugia, no more questions asked. To many independent observers in law enforcement, the only explanation for this was that Guede was working as a police informant; the Perugia authorities were apparently more interested in continuing his services than in prosecuting him for just a few hundred euros’ worth of stolen items. It’s a supposition officials in Perugia have never confirmed but it goes a long way to explain their behavior in the weeks and months to come.
On the time-stamped surveillance tape, Guede—or his doppelgänger—vanished into the night just moments after he appeared. But the camera picked up a pair of similar shoes crossing the street toward Meredith and Amanda’s house about half an hour later. My defense team would later conclude he must have spent the intervening time formulating a plan to break into the house and making sure he was unseen.
It was a propitious moment to strike. First, Guede could reasonably assume that the occupants of the house were either out for the night or away for the long weekend. Second, he had previously stayed over in the boys’ apartment downstairs—he fell asleep on the toilet one night in early October and ended up sprawled on the couch—so he knew the lay of the land. He had even met Meredith and Amanda briefly. And, third, since it was the first of the month, chances were good that the accumulated rent money for November was sitting in a pile somewhere in the house.
In the upstairs apartment, Filomena took responsibility for gathering everyone’s cash and handing it over to the landlady. And it was Filomena’s bedroom window that would soon be smashed
with a large rock—most likely a few minutes after those white-rimmed sneakers were captured loping across the street around eight thirty.
Meredith, meanwhile, was finishing up an evening with her British friends, Amy Frost, Robyn Butterworth, and Sophie Purton. They had met early, tucked into a pizza at Amy and Robyn’s house, watched a movie, and snacked on ice cream and apple crumble. Meredith announced that she was tired from the previous night’s partying. She asked to borrow a history book and headed home.
Just moments before nine o’clock, the video surveillance camera at the parking lot captured a trace of someone walking across the street toward the house on Via della Pergola—exactly the hour that, the prosecution and defense would later agree, Meredith crossed her threshold for the last time.
* * *
When Amélie ended, I went into the kitchen to take care of some dishes left over from breakfast before we started making dinner. I soon realized that water was leaking out of the pipe under the sink, and I cursed under my breath. I’d had a plumber come and fix the sink just a week earlier, and he had made me buy all sorts of replacement parts that clearly were not put together properly. I suspected he had left them loose on purpose to force me to pay for another visit. As Amanda and I threw kitchen towels onto the puddle on the tile floor, I decided I was going to let my landlady deal with it from now on.
“Don’t you have a mop?” Amanda asked. I did not. She offered to pick one up from Via della Pergola the next morning and bring it round.
We cooked a fish dinner, did our best to wash the dishes again, and tumbled gratefully into bed in each other’s arms. Only later, when I lay in the dark, unable to sleep, did it dawn on me that Papà had broken his usual habit of calling to wish me good night.
It turned out he did so out of consideration. He had been about to pick up the phone when my stepmother talked him out of it. “Stop bothering him,” Mara said, as they got ready for bed around eleven o’clock. “He’s with Amanda, and they want to be alone. Why don’t you send a text instead?”
My father took her advice, but because my cell phone was turned off, I didn’t receive the message until six the next morning.
It was a desperately unlucky combination of circumstances. If my father had tried my cell and then called me on the home line—which he would have done, because he’s persistent that way—I would have had incontrovertible proof from the phone records that I was home that night. And the nightmare that was about to engulf me might never have begun.
* * *
My father called my landline a little before nine thirty the next morning to make sure we would be ready for our day trip to Gubbio. I was too groggy to talk. I’d been up several times in the night—listening to music, answering e-mail, making love—and wanted only to go back to sleep. Amanda got out of bed and said she was going home to shower and change her clothes, so I walked her to the front door, gave her a kiss, and crawled back under the covers.
By the time she returned, I was up and in the kitchen making coffee. I could tell something was bothering her, but she didn’t say what it was. She’d brought the mop, so I spent some time wiping up while she poured our coffee. Then we sat down to breakfast.
Only when we were close to finishing our cereal did she finally tell me what was on her mind. “I saw some strange things over at the house.”
“Strange how?” I asked.
“Well, the front door was open when I arrived, but nobody seemed to be home. At first, I just assumed someone had taken out the garbage or gone to the corner store.”
Amanda looked increasingly worried as she began detailing the things she’d found out of place. The open front door was concerning, but not alarming—the latch was broken and the only way to keep it shut was to lock it. But Amanda also found Meredith’s door closed, which was unusual. She knocked, but nobody answered. Was she asleep? Or away? Amanda didn’t quite know what to think.
Amanda went ahead with her shower, only to notice a small bloodstain on one of the washbasin taps. It looked like menstrual blood. Was Meredith, who shared the bathroom with her, having some sort of problem? It was unlike her to leave things less than immaculate. Maybe she’d run out to a pharmacy. Then again, it was just one small stain; perhaps she missed it.
After she came out of the shower, Amanda went to the other bathroom, the one shared by Filomena and Laura, to use the hair dryer and noticed that somebody had defecated in the toilet and neglected to flush. The bowl was stuffed with toilet paper. Amanda knew Filomena and Laura were scrupulously clean; neither of them would have left that kind of mess. What was going on? Nobody could accuse Amanda of being overanxious, but even she was starting to freak out. Why had the person who left the front door open not come back? Where was Meredith? Amanda decided she didn’t want to stay in the house a moment longer. So she grabbed the mop
from the closet and left, taking care to lock the door properly on her way out.
* * *
Of all the things Amanda did that day, none attracted more criticism than her failure to raise the alarm as soon as she saw so many things out of place. It wasn’t just the police who attacked her. Many Italians, including most of my family, could not fathom how she could go ahead with her shower after finding blood on the tap, much less put her wet feet on the bath mat, which was also stained, and drag it across the floor. When Filomena found out, she called Amanda cretina, an idiot.
All I can say is, I was as distracted as she was that morning and might have done the same in her position. I’m not a worrier by nature and just did not think through what Amanda was telling me. After she had finished her story, I shrugged it off, saying there had to be a simple explanation. I was so unconcerned I even asked if she was ready to leave for Gubbio. A stupid question, of course, which Amanda found a little jarring as well.
“Perhaps we should drop the mop off at the house and take another look,” she suggested. “It won’t take more than a few minutes.”
I agreed and suggested she call her housemates to see if they had any idea what was going on.
On the walk over, Amanda reached Filomena at a holiday fair on the outskirts of Perugia. They muddled through the conversation in a combination of Amanda’s bad Italian and Filomena’s sketchy English. The upshot, though, was clear. Filomena was alarmed and urged Amanda to go back to the house as quickly as possible. “Do a check!” she said more than once. She promised to get there as soon as she could, probably within the hour.
Amanda also tried the two cell phones that Meredith was careful to keep close at all times: the British one she used to call her family, and an Italian one Filomena had given her for local calls.
There was no answer on either.
* * *
A few minutes’ walk from Amanda’s house, Elisabetta Lana and her family were increasingly bewildered by what they feared was an attempt to break into their three-story villa overlooking the Fosso del Bulagaio, the same ravine that extended behind the house on Via della Pergola. The previous night, Elisabetta had received a jarring phone call announcing a bomb in one of her toilets. She had called the Polizia Postale, the postal police, who scoured every inch of the house and grounds and turned up nothing. Still, she asked her son Alessandro to come over and spend the night in the house. They had been burgled a number of times before.
Shortly after breakfast on November 2, Alessandro stepped outside to talk to his girlfriend on the phone and noticed a Motorola flip phone lying facedown on the lawn about sixty feet from the wall separating the property from the street. The phone was switched off. He and his mother assumed, at first, that it must belong to one of the police officers who had visited the night before, and they decided to bring it in. They needed to make an official statement about the threatening call anyway. After Elisabetta completed the paperwork, the police asked her to wait while they extracted the phone’s SIM card and traced the owner. Twenty minutes later, they had a name: Filomena Romanelli.
Elisabetta had never heard of her. She called home and nobody, not even the maid, knew who she was either. A few minutes later, while Elisabetta was still out shopping, she received a call from her
son announcing that a second cell phone had just been found in the garden. Elisabetta’s daughter, Fiammetta, and the maid heard it ringing in the underbrush about twenty feet from the property line. By the time they retrieved it, the ringing had stopped.
It was a Sony Ericsson, Meredith’s British phone. They brought it into the house, and a couple of minutes later, it rang again. Alessandro looked at the display, which flashed up the name Amanda.
* * *
Amanda and I decided to go through her house room by room. Filomena called and said she had spoken to Laura at her family’s house near Rome, so only Meredith remained unaccounted for. Her bedroom door was still locked.
I agreed with Amanda, the kitchen and living room looked normal. So did Laura’s room; a couple of drawers were pulled open, but that didn’t strike me as out of the ordinary. Amanda’s room was apparently untouched; she had left the previous night’s clothes strewn over her bed, and her other things were less than tidy, but nothing seemed to be missing. Then I pushed open Filomena’s door, which had been left slightly ajar, and saw that the place was trashed. Clothes and belongings were strewn everywhere. The window had a large, roundish hole, and broken glass was spread all over the floor.
Okay, we thought, so there’s been a break-in. What we couldn’t understand was why Filomena’s laptop was still propped upright in its case on the floor, or why her digital camera was still sitting out in the kitchen. As far as we could tell, nothing of value was missing anywhere.
Amanda went into the Italian women’s bathroom alone, only
to run back out and grab on to me as though she had seen a ghost. “The shit’s not in the toilet anymore!” she said. “What if the intruder’s still here and he’s locked himself in Meredith’s room?”
We didn’t know what to do about Meredith’s room. Filomena had called back a couple of times and made us appropriately concerned that Meredith had vanished without a trace. So Amanda knocked at the door, gently at first, then ever louder, until she was banging on it for a response. I made a halfhearted attempt to kick it open but wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. We peered through the keyhole, but all we could see was Meredith’s brown leather purse sitting on the unmade bed.
We walked back outside hoping to find a vantage point onto her bedroom window, but no ground was high enough.
“Let’s try the terrace at the back and see if we can’t reach her window that way,” Amanda said, and she dashed out onto the deck. By the time I caught up with her, she had one leg over the balustrade and announced she was going to shimmy her way around the house. It was a crazy idea: there were no toeholds, and the ground fell away as much as fifteen feet below us.
I said, “Don’t do anything stupid.”
Amanda realized it was a nonstarter, pulled her leg back, and gave me a kiss of endearment for talking her out of it.
“Now what do we do?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Let me call my sister, Vanessa. She’s in the carabinieri. She’ll tell us.”
* * *
My big sister is someone you don’t mess with. Vanessa’s not extraordinarily tall and is almost preternaturally slight, but she has
the muscle tone of a professional athlete and a tongue so sharp you can cut yourself on it. She’s seven years older than me and likes to think of herself as my protector. Honestly, there are times when her refusal to indulge other people’s shortcomings, even for a moment, grates on my nerves. But she’s also smart and passionate and unburdened by my tendency toward self-doubt and second-guessing. In a crisis, there’s nobody better.
Vanessa lived in Rome, where she had a desk job with the carabinieri, the Italian military police. It wasn’t what she imagined when, in 2000, she became one of the first women to enter the Italian air force. She beat out everyone, men as well as women, for top place in her year’s intake. As she would be the first to tell you, though, Vanessa is no diplomat and refuses to play the game the way Italians expect it to be played. She fell out with her air force superiors over a romantic liaison, joined the navy on the rebound, then mounted a legal battle against a reluctant Ministry of Defense when she wanted to change jobs once more and join the carabinieri. By the time she won that fight, she had spent two years on unpaid administrative leave and was viewed as a troublemaker who needed to be brought down a peg or two.
Vanessa is almost absurdly accomplished: she is a champion show-jumping rider, a certified fighter pilot, and has three university degrees, in archaeology, political science, and international law. When she applied to the carabinieri, she imagined herself flying helicopters or working with a mounted division. Instead, she was assigned to logistics, where her days involved coordinating elevator repairs and making furniture inventories for the force’s 375 barracks in the region around Rome.
Since she was so comprehensively desk-bound, I had no difficulty in getting her on the phone right away. I had barely finished
describing what we had found at the house when she responded with great urgency. “Leave! Leave right away,” she said. “And don’t touch anything. If there has been a burglary, you don’t want any trace of yourself on the premises. I can’t do anything for you from here, but go outside and call the local carabinieri. Let them handle everything—it’s not your problem.”
I passed the message along to Amanda, and we did exactly as instructed.
* * *
We must have looked like two abandoned waifs as we sat facing the street on a concrete step just above the roadway. Amanda was not wearing nearly enough for the cold weather, just a thin sweater over her T-shirt, and she started to shiver as I dialed the emergency number for the carabinieri. On the first try, the dispatcher said he was busy and told me to call back. Not exactly the response I wanted to hear. When I called back a few minutes later, he was still noticeably impatient.
When I described the break-in and the bloodstains, and he became fixated on the idea that the intruder had cut himself on the glass on the way through Filomena’s window. I didn’t quite know how to respond to that, and when I hesitated, he growled at me to make sure I was still there.
“So it’s a home burglary?” he asked.
“No, nothing’s been taken.” I didn’t know that for sure, of course, and I should have been more careful about my choice of words. At the time, though, I thought I was just performing my civic duty by passing the information along. The only reason I was on the line was because Amanda’s Italian was not good enough for her to make the call herself.
“You say there’s a locked door,” the dispatcher said. “What door is that?”
“One of the tenants’, and we don’t know where she is. We’ve tried to call but she’s not picking up.”
“Okay,” he said at length. “I’ll send a squad car and we’ll look into it.”
* * *
Minutes later, too soon—I thought—for anyone to have responded to my call, an imposing man in his late thirties strolled toward us with a sense of purpose that made me nervous. He was in casual clothes and Adidas sneakers. I wasn’t sure if he was a member of the carabinieri, inexplicably out of uniform, or someone we needed to steer clear of. I jumped up as he approached, very much on the defensive.
He flashed a badge—I didn’t look at it closely—and asked if we were acquainted with a Filomena Romanelli.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s for us to know why,” he replied sourly. As I learned later, this was Michele Battistelli, chief investigator for the Polizia Postale, and he was here to trace the abandoned cell phones. His deputy, who had been parking their car, joined him moments later.
I didn’t understand at first why they were asking for Filomena, but I did tell them about the mess inside and invited them to take a look. They agreed it was strange that no valuables had been taken. In fact Battistelli, a telecommunications specialist with little experience of burglaries, much less murder, was already formulating a theory that the break-in was staged. No doubt he was thinking of insurance fraud, but the theory would carry over into the murder investigation and prove disastrous for us.
Once Battistelli and his colleague Fabio Marzi started looking around, Filomena’s boyfriend, Marco, arrived with his friend, Luca. I didn’t know either of them. Minutes after that, while we were all looking at the mess in Filomena’s room, Filomena herself showed up with her friend Paola, who was Luca’s girlfriend. Filomena confirmed that nothing valuable was gone from her room. Her jewelry was still in the nightstand. After rummaging around—and disturbing the crime scene—she retrieved her cash and designer sunglasses. She later removed her laptop too.
As soon as the police disclosed that Meredith’s two cell phones had been thrown over Elisabetta Lana’s wall, Filomena felt enough was enough: someone had to open Meredith’s door immediately. Battistelli slowed her down just enough to ask if it was normal to find the door locked. Filomena told him no, absolutely not, unless Meredith was away in England. I didn’t hear her say this because I was busy repeating the question in English for Amanda. And, unfortunately, I misunderstood Amanda’s answer. I thought Amanda said that, yes, Meredith sometimes kept the door closed, even when she was in town. But that was not right; Amanda said exactly the same thing as Filomena. Because of this translation error, Amanda would later be accused of telling lies to throw off the investigation.
Battistelli didn’t want to take responsibility for the door. Filomena said that if he wouldn’t authorize breaking it, she wanted him to bring in someone who would. “Okay, calm down, there’s no need to call anyone,” Battistelli shot back. “It’s not like we’re going to find a body under the couch.”
It was not a line he would later care to remember.
Filomena glared at Battistelli and asked Marco and Luca if they’d break down the door instead. Luca needed no further prompting and began shoving and kicking.
The door flew open. I was several people back in the narrow corridor at this point, so I saw nothing. Amanda was farther back still, toward the kitchen, talking to her mother in Seattle. But I certainly registered the horror etched on everyone’s face.
Paola screamed. “Blood!” she and the others shouted. “Blood everywhere!” And then: “A foot! A foot!”
I saw Filomena holding her hands up in front of her face and breaking out in great sobs. Marco pulled her back as abruptly as he could. Amanda told her mother about the foot and got off the line. I took her by the arm and escorted her out of the house. The others quickly followed.
Only Luca stayed a few seconds more and later testified he saw Inspector Battistelli venture into the room and lift the blood-soaked duvet that was covering Meredith’s body on the floor. Battistelli himself denied doing any such thing, insisting that he knew better than to contaminate a murder scene. Yet, somehow, he felt confident enough on the phone to emergency services to confirm that Meredith was already dead.
The six of us hovered outside while Battistelli and Marzi made their calls. Amanda was in tears, too stunned and fearful to say a word. She and I just held each other in silence. I was too shell-shocked to know what to think; my only impulse was to look out for Amanda, so I concentrated on that. It was better than wondering what had happened to poor Meredith; whatever it was seemed too awful to contemplate. One of the others mentioned seeing blood on the wall and a body laid out in front of an open closet. Amanda picked up only part of this and later said she thought that Meredith had been found inside the closet—another misunderstanding later characterized as a deliberate evasion.
Only after the medical emergency team arrived did we learn what we had scarcely allowed ourselves to imagine. Meredith’s throat was slashed, a paramedic told Luca, and she had been left to die in a pool of her own blood.
* * *
The carabinieri, like the Polizia Postale before them, got lost on the way to Via della Pergola and had to call Amanda’s cell phone for directions. It wasn’t an easy place to find because the street signs suggested that Via della Pergola had, at this point, turned into Viale Sant’Angelo, and the one-way traffic system meant there was no going back. The delay had a huge impact in determining our fate because the case was turned over instead to the Perugia city police, who had far less experience than the carabinieri in conducting high-profile criminal investigations and were less likely to assert their independence from the prosecutor’s office.
As things spiraled out of control over the next several days, a senior investigator with the carabinieri in Perugia took it upon himself to call my sister and apologize, colleague to colleague. “If we had arrived ten minutes earlier,” he told Vanessa, “the case would have been ours. And things would have gone very differently.”
* * *
Instead of the carabinieri, we got the Squadra Mobile, the flying squad of the Perugia police, who sent a forensic team kitted out in white protective suits (but no hoods), as well as a handful of detectives, all in plainclothes. At first, I helped Amanda sit down on the same step where we had waited before. She was pale and almost doubled over with anguish. Then we got up so I could give her
my green-gray jacket, and we walked toward the crisscross-wooden fence overlooking the ravine. I noticed that a tightly wound woman with jet-black hair—whom I later knew as Monica Napoleoni, the head of the Squadra Mobile’s homicide division—was staring at us, her eyes bulging. I couldn’t understand what she wanted. At various moments she turned her body away and said something to her colleagues, covering her mouth with her hand so we couldn’t read her lips. She shot glances at us while she was talking.
Amanda and I stayed close to comfort each other and to shield ourselves as best we could from the cold. I was so focused I had no idea that television crews were setting up across the street and training their cameras on us. I caressed Amanda’s arms and leaned in for a kiss. She was my girlfriend—at least, we were together for the moment—and I desperately wanted to comfort her. The world’s media—cajoled by the police and uninterested in the context—would soon play up that kiss, a simple act of human sympathy in a moment of grief and shock, as evidence of the uncontrolled sexual urges of two stone-cold killers.
* * *
Inside the house, the police, later joined by a second forensic team from the Polizia Scientifica in Rome, were making their first assessments. We were privy to none of it. Only later did we learn about the knife wounds on both sides of Meredith’s neck, the multiple signs of struggle, the blood-soaked towels under her body, the evidence that her attacker had stripped her almost naked but had not, apparently, attempted any sexual penetration, and the curious trail of shoe prints, all made with a left shoe, and the equally curious trail of footprints, all made with a right foot.
The police asked us questions, just routine stuff to establish our identities and our relationship to Meredith. Filomena had the wherewithal to call one of the lawyers from her office to seek advice on how much to say. Laura, who did not return to Perugia immediately, did the same. I called my family and told them what was going on, but it never occurred to me, or to them, to contact a lawyer. As I saw it, I was just a bystander, a translator for my girlfriend, happy to tell the police whatever they wanted to know.
After some time—it was hard to tell how long—we were told we needed to go to the Questura, Perugia’s police headquarters, for more detailed questioning. Amanda and I accepted a ride from Luca and Paola. As we climbed into their car, Paola—who had never met either of us before—asked Amanda how she had reacted when she found the front door open that morning.
Amanda didn’t understand the question, so I answered for her, explaining that she’d taken a shower and then come back to my house.
“Really, you took a shower?” Paola said. She was incredulous.
Amanda was still troubled about the toilet that was unflushed one minute and flushed the next, so I mentioned it. Paola and Luca said it could be important and we needed to tell the police right away. So I got out of the car and discussed it with Monica Napoleoni. It was another ill-fated move because Amanda was mistaken—for what reason I do not know. The excrement in the toilet was still there, as the forensics team soon discovered. Maybe it had sunk a little in the bowl as the paper absorbed the water and grew heavier. Or maybe Amanda was just disturbed by the scene and hadn’t been thinking clearly when she made that observation—who knows.
As we finally drove off to the Questura, the atmosphere was
frosty. Clearly, Amanda and I hadn’t given a good account of ourselves. To break the tension, I quizzed Luca on what he knew, as he seemed better informed than anybody. But everything coming out of my mouth felt clumsy and out of place.
“So she’s dead?” I asked.
“Yes, someone cut her throat.”
“With a knife?”
“No, with a loaf of bread,” Luca snapped. “What do you think?”
Amanda, at this point, was crying again. We continued to the Perugia suburbs in silence.
* * *
Around 3:00 p.m., the man responsible for overseeing the investigation, public prosecutor Giuliano Mignini, was given his first glimpse of the crime scene. The head of Perugia’s vice squad collected Mignini from his house, where he had just enjoyed lunch with his wife and three teenage daughters, and briefed him on the police’s best guesses so far: that Meredith had been sexually assaulted, that the break-in looked staged, that one of Meredith’s housemates was saying odd things about the toilet.
Mignini, who was fifty-seven and a lifelong perugino, did not have a lot of experience with murder cases, with one striking exception. He had spent the previous five years reinvestigating the drowning of a well-connected local doctor, Francesco Narducci, who was fished out of Lake Trasimeno in 1985. Mignini’s theory was that Narducci did not commit suicide, as had long been assumed, but was murdered by members of a satanic death cult. Mignini further
theorized that Narducci’s death, and the cult, were connected to a string of unsolved serial murders in Tuscany known as the Monster of Florence case—a hypothesis that brought him only ridicule from his Florentine colleagues, who had been trying to track down the Monster for more than thirty years. The case was at least good for generating headlines: Mignini exhumed the corpse, speculated that it was not Narducci’s but had been swapped before the funeral for murky reasons connected to a gang of loan sharks, and theorized that Narducci himself had been part of the satanic cult.
By November 2007, Mignini was steeped in accounts of devil-worship rituals, secret Masonic sects, and symbolic portals leading from this earth to the bowels of hell. So when he stepped into Meredith’s room, he was alert to things other investigators might have overlooked.
He saw Meredith’s Dracula costume from Halloween, including fake teeth and a cape. He saw an open pot of Vaseline on her desk, which in his mind was immediately associated with anal sex. He saw her near-naked body, with her legs splayed open and spots of blood on her chest just above her naked breasts. And he saw the bloody prints with their curious left-shoe, right-foot pattern.
Over time, he would wonder whether Meredith’s murder was connected to the same Order of the Red Rose he suspected of being behind the Monster of Florence killings. He knew of a Masonic ritual that involved the removal of one shoe. He also knew about the ceremony of the Rose-Croix, which Masons perform on the Thursday before Easter to initiate new members, but which some Catholics view as a blasphemous imitation of the Passion of Christ. Did that ceremony’s use of a Cubic Stone, symbolically mixing blood and water, have anything to do with the sodden, bloodstained
bath mat? Was it significant that Meredith’s murder took place on a Thursday? Or was it rather, as Mignini argued in a preliminary hearing a year later, that Meredith was destined to be part of a satanic sex sacrifice on Halloween but the ceremony was postponed for twenty-four hours because it clashed with a dinner party thrown by Filomena and Laura?
To an outsider this must sound more like a conspiracy-laden plotline from Umberto Eco than the workings of a public prosecutor’s office. I wish I were making it up. But this was the mind-set we were dealing with: a grand, baroque imagination that could never be satisfied with the banalities of a brutal, straightforward murder by a man with a clearly established criminal history. From the beginning, the notion that a burglar broke in, came across Meredith unexpectedly, and killed her in a panic—the simplest and most plausible explanation of the scene at Via della Pergola—could not have been further from the prosecutor’s mind.
* * *
The head of the Squadra Mobile, Domenico Giacinto Profazio, raced back to Perugia from his own ponte dei morti and quickly concurred, when he arrived in the late afternoon, that breaking in through Filomena’s window was too difficult to be plausible. Profazio took a walk around the house and concluded it would have made much more sense for an intruder to clamber over the balcony, the one Amanda had run to, and use a flowerpot or a chair to smash a window. Therefore, Profazio concluded, the murderer or murderers must have come into the house using a key and faked the break-in after Meredith was killed.
The police never wavered from this view for the next four years.
* * *
The night at the Questura seemed to last forever. Amanda and I were put in a waiting room with Meredith’s English friends. I went around shaking hands and explained that we were the ones who stumbled on the crime scene. But it was hardly the time to start socializing, and the English girls kept mostly to themselves.
Amanda curled up on me like a koala bear, grabbing hold of my neck with both arms and resting her body on my lap. We nuzzled, and at one point she stuck out her tongue at me as a joke.
Police officers passed by regularly and glared at us. “State composti!” one shouted. Behave yourselves.
When they told us to sit separately, I responded, “But it’s cold.”
“This is a Questura,” they shot back.
The English girls later said they were appalled by Amanda’s behavior, and I admit, it made me a little uneasy too. This was a public place, in the middle of a murder investigation, and she was acting like a little girl. She even complained about being hungry and thirsty; the Questura offered us nothing but a vending machine and we were not allowed to leave. Days earlier, under very different circumstances, this quirky, unrestrained behavior had drawn me to her. But here it was embarrassing, and I can understand why Meredith’s friends were put off.
In the moment, I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to make Amanda feel worse. The whole purpose of my being there was to comfort her. So I defended her, even beyond the point where I felt comfortable or could be said to be looking out for my own interests. I don’t know how to account for that entirely, except to say I was not thinking straight and badly underestimated the possible consequences of my actions. Amanda did sit on her own periodically to write in her journal; she said she felt like writing a song
about everything that was going on and—as the Italian papers later reported with relish—“could kill” for a pizza. This was Amanda free-associating, as Amanda the West Coast dreamer was in the habit of doing; she too did not stop to think that someone might later read what she was writing and judge her for it.
I called my father to complain about how long they were making us wait. Papà was only so sympathetic. “Just do what you need to do,” he said.
Eventually, Amanda was summoned. She left for so long I fell asleep. Apparently, they tried to question her in Italian first, then brought in an interpreter because they weren’t getting anywhere. Amanda ran through everything she could remember about her few weeks in the house and had her fingerprints taken. My own session was much more straightforward: I gave the police my account of the events of the day, they said thank you and let me go.
By the time Amanda was through, it was five thirty in the morning. We headed back to my place—the only place Amanda now had—for a proper meal and some sleep. But we couldn’t rest long. The police told us she needed to be back by 11:00 a.m.
* * *
Amanda was called into the Questura again and again, and each time I grew more perplexed. Why focus on her, and not on Meredith’s other friends? I wondered. She and Amanda were new acquaintances, and there was never any animosity between them. How often could the police ask about their jaunts around Perugia, the meals they shared in the flat, or the way they organized the morning bathroom rota? I just couldn’t see what the interest was. I grew frustrated, too, by the way the police seemed to rely on me as a taxi service. I
would take Amanda to the Questura in the morning, then pick her up again when she was done. Concentrating on my thesis became increasingly difficult. After the first couple of days, I had to resist the urge to say: If you want her, come and get her yourselves.
What I did not know was that the pool of available interview subjects was narrowing. At least two of Meredith’s English friends, Robyn and Amy, had left town, apparently terrified that whoever killed Meredith might come after them next. And a third friend, Sophie Purton, inadvertently poured gas onto the fire of the police’s budding sex-game theory. Sophie described a string of men that Amanda had invited back to the house (based on secondhand information from Meredith). Sophie didn’t mean they were invited back for sex necessarily, but that was how the police—and the press, once they heard about it—inevitably interpreted it.
Amanda noticed the police’s sex obsession right away; they couldn’t stop asking her about the Vaseline pot and a vibrator they had found in the bathroom. The vibrator was a joke item, a little rubber bunny rabbit shaped to look like a vibrator and fashioned into a pendant, but the police seemed to find this difficult to accept. What about Meredith’s sex life? Amanda knew only that Meredith had left a boyfriend in England and was now involved with one of the men who lived downstairs, a twenty-two-year-old telecommunications student with a carefully sculpted beard and outsize earrings named Giacomo Silenzi. Amanda had helped Meredith out a couple times by giving her a condom from her supply. But Amanda had no idea how, or how often, Meredith had sex and didn’t feel comfortable fielding questions about it.
Silenzi had taken extraordinary precautions from the moment he heard about Meredith’s murder. When he took the train back
to Perugia from his parents’ house, he got off one stop early and waited for one of his university professors to meet him. He then sat in the Perugia train station, with the professor, until his parents could make the journey themselves. By the time the police spoke to him, he also had a lawyer. Clearly, Silenzi either suspected the police would pursue a sex angle and felt vulnerable, or was appropriately skeptical of authority. We could have used a dose of that skepticism ourselves.
The day after the discovery of the body, on November 3, Amanda asked if we could go shopping because she’d retrieved nothing from the house, not even underwear, and it was now inaccessible. We first tried an outlet called Timbro, which specializes in fashions for our age group, but it was too expensive. So we moved on to a bright pink teen discount store, Bubble, where she tried on some jeans and eventually settled on a laughably childish thong with a cow motif.
I made a joke in English, saying something along the lines of, “Wow, you’re going to look smoking hot in those.”
A few days later, this episode would be distorted in the newspapers to make it seem as if the first thing we did after the murder was to buy sexy lingerie—specifically, a G-string—and tell each other how we couldn’t wait to try it out. The store owner, who did not speak English, corroborated the story in pursuit of his own brief moment in the spotlight. True, the surveillance video in the store showed us touching and kissing, but that was hardly a crime. I wasn’t making out with her in some vulgar or inappropriate way, just comforting her and letting her know I was there for her. Besides, there was nothing remotely sexy about Bubble. A much sexier underwear store was next door, and we didn’t set foot in there.
* * *
The police were at last pointed in the right direction by Stefano Bonassi, another of the boys who lived downstairs from Meredith and Amanda, who mentioned Rudy Guede as soon as he was interviewed and described the strange night about a month earlier when Guede slept on the boys’ couch.
Guede himself had been behaving strangely. At 2:00 a.m. on the night of the murder, he was spotted dancing at a Perugia club called Domus. The following night he was back, smelling as if he hadn’t washed in a while, according to one Italian student acquaintance who was there with him. The news of Meredith’s murder had broken just a few hours earlier, and everyone was talking about it. When the dancers were asked to observe a minute’s silence, they all complied immediately—except for Guede, who kept right on dancing. That got several people’s attention.
The next morning, perhaps in reaction to the ubiquitous banner headlines describing Meredith being slaughtered like a farm animal, he hopped on a train to Milan. And a day after that, he fled to Germany.
* * *
As the days went by—it was now Sunday, November 4, three days after the murder—I realized I had not properly acknowledged my own discomfort with Amanda. I was not scandalized by her, in the way that so many others later said they were, but I shouldn’t have allowed her to climb all over me in the Questura, and I should have counseled her quietly not to complain so much. I understood the gallant side of being her boyfriend, but I could have given her better advice and protected myself in the process.
What brought my discomfort to the surface was her old boyfriend, D.J. He kept calling from China to find out how she was, which was understandable, except that she clearly shared an intimacy with him that I was not welcome to intrude on. Amanda would Skype him at five o’clock in the morning and, when he asked, say only that I was half her boyfriend and half not. So that’s the thanks I get, I couldn’t help thinking.
One time when he called, I picked up the phone and told him to try again later because Amanda was in the bathroom. Another time, Amanda put me on the line so D.J. could thank me in person for everything I was doing. The conversation made me extremely uncomfortable. What was I, just the stand-in to get her through her time of difficulty in Italy while he was unavoidably on the other side of the world? I didn’t think I was a jealous person, but this was about more than jealousy. Nobody seemed to be considering my feelings at all.
In retrospect, I realize we were all under tremendous pressure. Amanda stayed up until three in the morning one night writing a long e-mail for her friends and family back home to describe everything that had happened. She talked about the “hurricane of emotions and stress” involved in dealing with everything from her grief over Meredith, to the constant barrage of police questions, to the avalanche of practical issues that she, Filomena, and Laura faced as tenants in a house that nobody was likely to be able to enter for weeks or even months. Hours after sending that message, Amanda was back at the Questura—with me tagging along—answering questions about every man she’d met in Perugia since she’d arrived.
She told them, quite openly, about a guy from Rome she went to bed with a few days before meeting me. She had no problem being open about her sex life, and that made her interrogators
suspicious. How many men, they wondered, did she plan on getting through during her year in Perugia? The American attitude to sex—the embrace of youthful experimentation as a normal stage on the way to adult maturity—was entirely alien, even abhorrent, to them.
Amanda was getting her period, one more reason for her to feel uncomfortable and moody, and she sent me out to buy tampons and a slice of pizza. As I left the Questura, I noticed that a policewoman had followed me out. She approached surreptitiously, as though not wanting to be seen.
She slipped a business card in my hand and said it was for a lawyer. “Give him a call,” she said deliberately. “You’re going to need him for sure.”
It could not have been a more explicit warning. But I didn’t know this woman and I refused to take her seriously. I thought, What do I have to be worried about?
I put the card in my wallet and forgot about it. Regrettably, I never saw the policewoman again.
* * *
My family did not share my breezy optimism about the way things were going and worried about the endless time I was spending with the police. Officially, I was a persona informata dei fatti, a “person informed of the facts” and helping police with their inquiries, no more. But my father decided he’d call a friend who was a criminal lawyer and ask his opinion.
I’d grown up thinking of Tiziano Tedeschi as an uncle. When I was little, he and my father were almost inseparable, although the closer friendship was now between my father and Tiziano’s older brother, Enrico. My father knew Tiziano as a friend, not by
reputation. Still, he imagined Tiziano would do everything he could to safeguard my interests.
Papà couldn’t help feeling a little disappointed by the response. Tiziano said he put a call into the Questura and there was nothing to worry about. He was told it was all routine.
My sister, Vanessa, made her own separate inquiries and felt much less reassured. The first time she called the Questura, they left her waiting on the line, even though she announced herself as a lieutenant in the carabinieri, and never took her call.
The second time, she had herself put through from the carabinieri’s regional switchboard, to make it more official. This time she got through, but only to a junior policeman clearly her inferior. (In Italian law enforcement, protocol on such matters is followed scrupulously.) “Listen,” the man told her impatiently, “everything is fine.”
“Is there someone I can talk to who is in charge of this case?” Vanessa insisted.
“No, no. It’s all routine. Don’t worry.”
Unlike Tiziano Tedeschi, though, my sister did worry. To her, the conversation raised a lot more questions than it answered.
* * *
Amanda was exhausted. She would sprawl out on the chairs in the Questura, complaining of feeling unwell. Her interpreter noticed she was unusually pale and further noticed that her pallor revealed a small red mark on her neck. The police seized on this as possible evidence of injury during the murder, but it was nothing, most likely the residue of a love bite I had given her myself.
Shortly after I returned with pizza on the afternoon of
November 4, Monica Napoleoni announced that Amanda, Filomena, and Laura needed to accompany her back to the murder house. They were gone for two or three hours. Later, I learned that Amanda had broken down, shaking and weeping, after she was asked to go through the knife drawer in the kitchen. Napoleoni asked her if anything was missing. Nothing was.
It didn’t seem to us that the investigation was going anywhere. What we didn’t realize was that they had already decided we were somehow involved and were watching us like hawks for any word or sign or gesture that would corroborate their suspicions. The waiting room where we sat was bugged, and our phones were now tapped too.
That night, still at the Questura, Amanda started asking me the meaning of various Italian swearwords. I gave her the English equivalents of vaffanculo (fuck off) and li mortacci tua (I spit on your dead ancestors), and we started laughing. It was just a stupid conversation to pass the time. But, to the eavesdropping Perugia police, it added to a mounting body of evidence that something was seriously wrong with us.
Pressure to solve the case was growing by the day. In a city that made a significant part of its living off foreign students, a brutal murder such as Meredith’s was hardly good for business. “Perugians,” the city’s mayor, Renato Rocchi, said, “expect the culprit to be identified quickly and punished in exemplary fashion.” The police chief, Arturo De Felice, was getting the message loud and clear. “Every investigative tool at our disposal,” he promised, “every resource and area of expertise, has been deployed to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.”
The truth, though, was that the authorities were still clueless
about the most important pieces of evidence—in particular, the identity of whoever made the bloody shoe prints and footprints, and the source of the DNA samples found around the house that did not belong to anyone who had come forward so far. If Rudy Guede had not skipped town, he might have been tested, identified, and apprehended by now. Instead, the police could only turn to what they had, the DNA and fingerprint traces in the house that they could identify. Laura had an incontrovertible alibi because she had been out of town on the night of the murder. The same went for the boys downstairs. Filomena had not only been with her boyfriend, but with Luca and Paola too. That left Amanda and—since I was always with her when she came to the Questura—me.
What did they have on us? Nothing of substance. But they did find our behavior odd, and we had no real alibi for the night of November 1 except each other, and we did not have lawyers to protect us, and we seemed to have a propensity for saying things without thinking them through. In other words, we were the lowest-hanging fruit, and the police simply reached out and grabbed us.
How could they do that in the absence of hard evidence? Edgardo Giobbi of the Servizio Centrale Operativo, the country’s serious-crime squad, essentially gave the game away in a British television documentary that aired six months after Meredith’s murder. Giobbi came up to Perugia from Rome to oversee the interrogations, so he knew the sequence of events as well as anybody. He had had it in for Amanda ever since he’d seen her bend down to put on protective footwear at the murder house on November 3 and thought he saw her do a suggestive hip-swivel known in Italy as la mossa, “the move.”
“The investigation was of an exclusively psychological nature,” Giobbi said, “because what enabled us to identify the culprits was,
most of all, our observation of their psychological and behavioral reactions while they were being questioned. We didn’t rely on any other kind of investigation, but this is what allowed us to finger the culprits in such a short time.”
Well, this was at least frank. And staggering too. They arrested us because they didn’t like us. Period. Not only did they have no physical evidence, they saw no need for any.
Of course, something was required to justify slamming us behind bars. Even in Italy, people don’t get arrested for swiveling their hips or kissing outside a house where a murder has just taken place. As November 4 turned into November 5, the police were still scratching around. The bugged room at the Questura wasn’t giving them much. (We know this because, if we had given them anything, they would have used it.) The taps on our phones were proving equally frustrating. Some of the investigators, I imagine, thought they would overhear a confession, or some indication of fear or panic. But of course we gave them nothing like that because we had nothing to confess.
What the police did learn from the wiretaps was that Amanda’s mother, Edda, was flying in from Seattle and would arrive on Tuesday, November 6. They also heard Amanda talking to her relatives in Germany, who were advising her to take refuge in the American embassy. In short, they could count on her to be vulnerable and alone for just one more day. After that, she might be out of reach, or out of the country. Somewhere along the line, someone decided that if we were to be arrested, it had to happen in the next twenty-four hours.
One real clue, one element of reasonable suspicion, was all they needed to pounce.
And I, inadvertently, gave it to them.
* * *
As November 5 began, we allowed ourselves to wonder if things weren’t slowly getting back to normal—the proverbial calm before the storm. There was no call from the Questura. Amanda went to class and wandered over to Le Chic to talk to Patrick. I stayed at home and worked on my thesis.
Then my father called and asked about my pocketknife. Carrying a small knife had been a habit of mine since I was a teenager—not for self-defense, mind you, just as an ornamental thing. I’d use one occasionally to peel apples or carve my name on tree trunks, but mostly I carried them around for the sake of it. Having a knife on me had become automatic, like carrying my wallet or my keys. The one in my pocket that day had been a present from my father.
“You should really leave it at home,” Papà advised. “You don’t want to get into trouble over it.”
I hadn’t given the knife a second thought. Now that he mentioned it, I still couldn’t see the harm. The blade was barely three inches long and hadn’t been opened in weeks. Besides, what kind of idiot killer would bring the murder weapon to the police station?
“Don’t worry,” I told my father. “I’ve had my knife on me every day and they haven’t even noticed it.”
Whoever was listening at the Questura pricked up their ears; I certainly had their attention now.
I got the call at about ten o’clock that night. I was at my friend Riccardo’s house for dinner, along with Riccardo’s sister and Amanda. The police said they wanted to talk to me. Not Amanda, just me.
“I’m having dinner and I can’t come right now,” I said.
That annoyed whoever was on the other end of the line. I wasn’t
taking the request seriously enough. “You need to come in right away,” he said.
I told him I would finish eating first. I didn’t care how urgent it was; I couldn’t be at their beck and call twenty-four hours a day.
* * *
My father called at eleven to wish me good night. By then I’d arrived at the Questura, with Amanda joining me for the ride. After all the times I’d supported her during her interrogations, she felt the least she could do was be there for me.
My father was alarmed. “Are you sure everything is all right? Why are you there yet again?”
“I can’t talk now, Papà, but don’t worry. Everything’s fine.”
My words in Italian—stai tranquillo—were the last my father would hear from me as a free man.
* * *
The police’s tone was aggressive from the start. They wanted to know why Amanda was with me. I said she was my girlfriend and had nowhere else to go. They told her to wait while they took me into an interrogation room.
The questioning was led by two men, a tall, thin policeman I later knew as Marco Chiacchiera, the head of the Squadra Mobile’s organized-crime team, and a blond investigator from Edgardo Giobbi’s squad in Rome named Daniele Moscatelli. Monica Napoleoni, the Perugia police’s top homicide investigator, came and went as the interrogation progressed, as did other officers whose names I learned only much later from the legal files.
“You need to tell us what happened that night,” they began.
“Which night?” I asked wearily. I was getting tired of the endless questioning. I don’t think they appreciated my attitude.
“The night of November first.”
It had been a long week and now it was late. I couldn’t focus on which night they were talking about, or what I might have been doing. Hadn’t I already told them everything I knew?
“We need you to go over it all again and compare what you have to say with your previous statements. There may be something we’ve missed.”
“I don’t remember too well.”
“It doesn’t matter. Tell us what you can.”
I’m recounting this now at a distance of almost four and a half years and I certainly don’t claim to remember every word in the order that was spoken. The exchange, as I’m reproducing it here, is based on my memory. I can vividly recall the overall shape and tone and mood of the interrogation, because it scared me half to death and had a catastrophic impact. Some of it is confirmed by the documents the police themselves produced that night and by witness testimony in our trials; some of it has been contested and may well be contested again.
I’d like to be able to give you the full transcript, word by excruciating word. But the police, who were recording absolutely everything else concerning Amanda and me in this period—phone calls, e-mails, private conversations in the Questura—somehow omitted to turn on a single recording device that night. Or so they said. When challenged on this point, Prosecutor Mignini suggested that the Questura was suffering a budget crunch and preferred not to record our interrogations because the transcription costs would have been too steep.
My lawyers, and Amanda’s lawyers, subsequently argued that the
entire episode was unconstitutional because we had clearly crossed over from “people informed of the facts” to criminal suspects and, under Italian law, needed to be formally notified and provided access to legal counsel. We were vindicated on this point in the Corte di Cassazione, Italy’s high court, as I will explain in more detail later. The fact that the night’s events were not recorded only heightened the stench of illegality.
I now believe that the only reason they asked me to recount the events of the night of the murder yet again was to catch me out in whatever inconsistencies they could find. They were, quite literally, out to get me, and I didn’t appreciate this until it was too late. I told them, again, about the afternoon at Via della Pergola, about smoking a joint—more than I should have volunteered, perhaps—and heading over to my place. I mentioned that Amanda and I gone out shopping, something I had apparently omitted in my previous statements. I couldn’t see the importance of this detail, but my interrogators gave me the strangest of looks.
I told them that one day had blended into another in my mind. Perhaps we’d gone shopping the day before. What did I know?
“You need to remember what you did,” one of them admonished.
They asked if Amanda had gone out that night, and on the spur of the moment, I couldn’t say. Was November 1 a Tuesday or Thursday? I asked. Because I knew she worked at Le Chic on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
I noticed a calendar in the room and asked if I could consult it.
“Don’t touch the calendar!” one of them said sharply. The suddenness of this startled me.
Was November 1 the day Amanda spent the evening out and I stayed home? (I was thinking of Halloween.) Or was it the night
after that? Somehow I had the two muddled in my head and I couldn’t sort them out. As the interrogation continued, I offered both scenarios.
“Watch out,” they said, “you are getting yourself in trouble. You’re telling us different things. You need to understand the seriousness of the situation.”
I thought awhile before answering. “If it was a Thursday, she probably went to work.”
“You don’t know what she did, do you? Come on, tell us everything.”
Napoleoni was in the room for this part of the conversation. Without warning, she turned on me with venom in her voice. “What did you do?” she demanded. “You need to tell us. You don’t know what that cow, that whore, got up to!”
I couldn’t believe what was coming out of her mouth. I was only dimly beginning to realize what she and the others were implying. Amanda, the murderer? It seemed too crazy to believe.
Amanda, meanwhile, was waiting for me. And waiting. She had brought some homework into the Questura but was having a hard time concentrating. She was stiff and achy from fatigue and thought she might feel better if she stretched a bit.
She was by an elevator, away from the main waiting area, but she was seen, of course. Ivan Raffo, a young policeman who had come up from Rome, remarked how flexible she was. And Amanda, allowing herself to be charmed in the worst of all circumstances, decided to show him what she could do.
It was a disastrous idea. When I first heard about what happened next, I understood that Amanda, being Amanda, was mostly interested in being open and friendly to the officer. But I also
realized she had not been thinking smartly, to say the least. Later, in court, Chief Inspector Rita Ficarra described her shock at walking by and seeing Amanda doing cartwheels and splits. In a police station. In the context of a murder investigation. At least two other senior officers saw her too.
Shortly after, Ficarra and her colleague Lorena Zugarini told Amanda they needed to have a frank conversation. And so began her own long night of the soul.
* * *
As my interrogators ratcheted up the pressure, they asked me to empty my pockets. I knew immediately this was not a good development. I pulled out a handkerchief, my wallet, my cell phone, and at last, with all eyes on me, the pocketknife.
One of them picked it up with a piece of cloth and took it swiftly out of the room. I tried to explain that it was something I just carried around with me, but that wouldn’t wash. Even I knew things were no longer all right.
“Don’t I have the right to a lawyer?” I asked.
They said no.
“Can’t I at least call my father?”
“You can’t call anyone.” They ordered me to put my cell phone on the desk.
People came in and out of the room in a great flurry of activity. At one point, I found myself alone with just one of the policemen. He leaned into me and hissed, “If you try to get up and leave, I’ll beat you into a pulp and kill you. I’ll leave you in a pool of blood.”
The evening was described very differently by the police officers in court. They denied that I ever asked for a lawyer, or that I was put
under duress of any kind. Daniele Moscatelli, the cop from Rome, said, “Whatever he wanted, water or whatever, was made fully available to him.”
But, I can assure you, I was scared out of my wits, and completely bewildered. I had been brought up to think the police were honest defenders of public safety. My sister was a member of the carabinieri, no less! Now it seemed to me they were behaving more like gangsters.
Then came a sound that chilled my bones: Amanda’s voice, yowling for help in the next room. She was screaming in Italian, “Aiuto! Aiuto!”
I asked what was going on, and Moscatelli told me there was nothing to worry about. But that was absurd. I could hear police officers yelling, and Amanda sobbing and crying out another three or four times.
What was this? When would it ever end?
* * *
Something was exciting the police more than my pocketknife, and that was the pattern they had detected on the bottom of my shoes. By sheer bad luck, I was wearing Nikes that night, and the pattern of concentric circles on the soles instantly reminded my interrogators of the bloody shoe prints at the scene of the crime, which were made by Nikes too.
I had no idea of any of this. All I knew was, the rest of the interrogation team piled back into the room and told me to take off my shoes.
“Why?” I asked.
“We need them,” came the answer.
I did as I was told. “Socks too?”
“No, you can keep your socks on.”
The rounds of questioning began all over again: “Tell us what happened! Did Amanda go out on the night of the murder? Why are you holding out on us? You’ve lost your head per una vacca—for a cow!”
They wanted me to sign a statement they had prepared. The first part was a big mash up of the events of October 31 and November 1, most of which, I have to admit, was the result of my own confusion. The account began with the lunch at Via della Pergola, Meredith going out, and the two of us leaving in the later afternoon. But then it described me going home alone and working at the computer while Amanda headed to the center of town.
The statement had my father calling around eleven o’clock, which is what he almost always did, and Amanda returning to my house at around one in the morning.
By the time I read what the police had prepared, it was deep into the night, I was exhausted and scared, and I could no longer think straight. Absurd as it sounds, the statement struck me as accurate enough up to this point. I simply missed the fact that I was—from the investigators’ point of view—cutting Amanda loose for the entire evening and depriving her of the only alibi she had.
I objected to just one paragraph. It was a logical continuation of what the police already had me saying, but I missed the connection; I just knew this part was not right. It read, “In my last statement I told you a lot of crap because she [Amanda] talked me into her version of events, and I didn’t think about the inconsistencies.”
I told my interrogators this part needed to be changed, but they wouldn’t back down. Instead, they unexpectedly became much friendlier and said I shouldn’t worry about this paragraph. It was just something they needed and it wouldn’t affect my position one
way or the other. Essentially, they were asking me to trust them. Part of me still wanted to. I wanted to believe this was a world in which the police did their jobs responsibly. And part of me just couldn’t wait for the hellish night to be over.
At three thirty, after five hours of relentless interrogation, I signed.
* * *
At this point, Amanda herself had already cracked. As she later told it, her interrogators insisted they had concrete proof she was at the house on Via della Pergola the night Meredith was killed. When she said she had no recollection of this, they threatened her with thirty years in prison and hit her repeatedly on the head. (The police denied threatening her in any way.)
They asked her over and over about the text message she had sent Patrick, her boss at Le Chic, and said it showed she had arranged to meet him even after he told her she didn’t need to come into work that night. But this was clearly a distorted interpretation. Yes, she had written ci vediamo più tardi—see you later—but in both Italian and English that can simply mean “see you around.” The fact that Amanda had added the words buona serata—have a good evening—made it abundantly clear she expected no further contact with him that night. But the officers ignored these last two words of her text and later omitted them from the written statement they prepared for her to sign.
For at least an hour, Amanda was interrogated in Italian. The police officers said she seemed to understand the questions well enough, and the statement they produced described her Italian language skills as “adequate”—not an assessment I or the Italian
tenants at Via della Pergola would have shared, and not what the police themselves seemed to think the first night we were brought in for questioning. Then, at some point after midnight, an interpreter arrived. Amanda’s mood only worsened. She hadn’t remembered texting Patrick at all, so she was in no position to parse over the contents of her message. When it was suggested to her she had not only written to him but arranged a meeting, her composure crumbled; she burst into uncontrollable tears, and held her hands up to her ears as if to say, I don’t want to hear any more of this.
The interpreter, Anna Donnino, tried to calm Amanda and told her how she had once suffered a memory lapse after breaking her leg. Could it be, Donnino suggested, that something similar had happened to Amanda because of the trauma of Meredith’s death? In the moment, Amanda appeared to accept this. The police officers kept asking about Patrick, kept insisting Amanda had been at the house. And, by the time she signed a statement at 1:45 a.m., this is what it said:
“I answered [Patrick’s] message saying we would meet up right away, so I left and told my boyfriend I had to go to work. . . . Immediately after, I met Patrik [sic] at the basketball court on Piazza Grimana and we went to my house together. I don’t remember if Meredith was there or if she arrived later. I’m having trouble remembering but Patrik had sex with Meredith—he had a thing for her—but I don’t remember too clearly if Meredith was threatened first. I remember confusedly that he was the one who killed her.”
Once the police had this spectacular document in hand, they came back to squeeze me and insisted that I sign my own statement. Looking now at the sequence of events, I can see how they used each of us to undermine the other. Once my signature was attached
to a document stating that Amanda had gone out for several hours on the night of November 1, they went back and told her I was no longer vouching for her. That, evidently, sent her into a tailspin of fear and confusion—fear of what the police might do to her, fear of what I was saying and what it said about me, and also fear for her own sanity.
As Amanda’s questioning continued, Prosecutor Mignini himself decided to take charge. He arrived at the Questura in the dead of night, apparently after being informed that Amanda had “broken,” and pressed her for a full confession. Again, Amanda was in floods of tears. Again, she was gesticulating with her hands and bringing them to her head—a detail that seemed particularly fascinating to Mignini, perhaps because hitting oneself in the head is sometimes associated with Masonic initiation rites.
At 5:45 a.m., Amanda signed a second statement detailing what were characterized as “spontaneous” pronouncements of hers. “I am very afraid of Patrik,” the statement began—an assertion apparently undermined by the fact that she had gone to see Patrick for a social call just the day before. Again, the narrative had Amanda going with Patrick to her house; again it described Patrick and Meredith having sex.
“At some point,” it went on, “I heard Meredith screaming and I was so afraid I blocked my ears. Then I remember nothing more. My head is full of confusion. I don’t remember if Meredith screamed or if I heard any banging, but I could imagine what might have gone on.”
Unfortunately, the statement also left open the possibility that I was involved. “Not sure if Raffaele was there that night,” it said. Amanda, according to the statement, was certain of only one thing:
that she woke up with me the next morning in my bed. The rest was one big question mark.
* * *
When I first found out what Amanda had signed her name to, I was furious. Okay, she was under a lot of pressure, as I had been, but how could she just invent stuff out of nowhere? Why would she drag me into something I had no part of? It soon transpired, of course, that she felt similarly about me. “What I don’t understand,” she wrote, as soon as she began to retract her statements, “is why Raffaele, who has always been so caring and gentle with me, would lie. . . . What does he have to hide?”
It took us both a long time to understand how we had been manipulated and played against each other. It took me even longer to appreciate that the circumstances of our interrogations were designed expressly to extract statements we would otherwise never have made, and that I shouldn’t blame Amanda for going crazy and spouting dangerous nonsense.
Our interrogators resorted to time-honored pressure techniques practiced by less-than-scrupulous law enforcement and intelligence agencies around the world. They brought us in at night, presented us with threats and promises, scared us half senseless, then offered us a way out with a few quick strokes of a pen. The CIA once produced a document about such techniques and essentially itemized all the emotional stages we traveled through that night—confusion, fear, guilt, an irrational dependence on our interrogators, and a sense that the whole world had gone topsy-turvy. As my friend and supporter, Steve Moore, a twenty-five-year FBI veteran, described it from the police perspective: “If you’re trying to determine facts and
truth, you want your suspect clear, lucid, and awake. If you want to coerce your suspect into saying what you want them to say, you want them disoriented, groggy, and confused.”
Even before dawn broke on November 6, the authorities had us where they wanted us. True, neither of us had confessed to murder. But what they had—a web of contradictions, witnesses pitted against each other, and a third suspect on whom to pin the crime—was an acceptable second best.
For me, the night was not yet over. While Amanda endured her face-to-face encounter with Mignini, I was taken to another room and showered with threats and insults.
“You don’t know what you’ve done!” someone said. “Your family will be destroyed. You’ll spend the next thirty years in prison.”
Or again: “Your poor father, who knows how he will take this. What did he do to deserve a son like you? You need to tell us what happened!”
In retrospect, I’m not sure they were pressing me to confess to a crime. Their more immediate interest was in having me produce more incriminating testimony against Amanda.
“She went out. When did she go out?” I remember being asked.
“I’m not sure she went out,” I replied at one point. “I remember something totally different.”
“If you can’t remember, then it’s going to be bad for you. You are creating a lot of problems for yourself.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I never went into Meredith’s room. I never even saw the body. So I don’t know what you are trying to suggest.”
And so it went, around and around and around.
When it became apparent they would get nothing more out of me, I was arrested and handcuffed.
I asked to talk to my family again. I said I needed at least to inform my thesis director where I was. “Where you’re going, a degree’s not going to do you any good,” came the answer.
One of my interrogators opened the door noisily at one point, walked over, and slapped me. “Your father is a fine upstanding person,” he said. “He doesn’t even deserve a son like you, someone who would stand by a whore like Amanda.”
People kept coming and going. Sometimes I was left alone. Sometimes I was shouted at.
And then the morning came.
I was taken to the medical section of the Questura and told to strip. “Take off everything,” I was told, “even your underpants.”
I had already been shoeless most of the night, but this was a whole new level of humiliation. I was asked about a Japanese manga tattoo covering much of my left shoulder blade—a present I gave myself after passing a brutal programming exam in 2004—and was made to walk around in front of a female doctor.
I felt so ashamed I didn’t even look up at her. After a few minutes, she took a pair of scissors and snipped some hair from my head and another sample from my pubic hair. This was done to establish my DNA profile, they said. Of course, they could have swabbed my mouth. Or taken a hair sample with my clothes still on.
As I was escorted to another part of the Questura, I passed a holding cell and heard Amanda inside weeping like a little girl. I could not see her, but the sound carried well enough through a small opening in the door. I asked her quickly about the events of the night, but she was too hysterical to make sense.
I was not taken to an isolation cell of my own—yet. Instead, I was shown into a waiting room and left on a couch for what seemed like a long time. I was alone at last and fell gratefully asleep.
* * *
At some point during my interrogation, I told the officers the best way to find out what I was doing on the night of the murder was to go to my house and check the activity log on my laptop computer. Now the police wanted to take me up on this. I could have insisted on their obtaining a search warrant, but somehow I still had faith that they would switch out of their misguided line of inquiry as soon as I showed them proof of their mistake.
I was taken out to a patrol car, and we raced into central Perugia with sirens blaring. Accompanying me were Chiacchiera and a number of rank-and-file policemen. I was still shoeless, and still in handcuffs, when they made me get out and walk down Corso Garibaldi to my front door. I have no idea if anyone saw me; I was beyond caring about appearances.
As soon as we walked into my apartment, a policeman named Armando Finzi said loudly that the place stank of bleach. That wasn’t correct. My cleaning lady had been through the day before and cleaned the tile floor with Lysoform, not bleach. Still, he insisted on mentioning the bleach a couple more times—the clear implication being that I’d needed something powerful to clean up a compromising mess.
Then I watched them pull the place apart. In the kitchen, where I was standing, they went through the trash and sniffed through the cleaning products. When Finzi came across a drawer full of kitchen knives, he called Chiacchiera over immediately. He pulled out the first knife that came to hand, a large chopping knife with an eight-inch blade.
“Will this knife do?” Finzi asked Chiacchiera.
“Yes, yes, it’s great,” came the answer.
Much later, in court, Finzi made no secret of the fact that this was simply a random pick. He had no reason to select such a knife. He hadn’t been given any specifics on the murder weapon from the coroner’s report, or anywhere else, and had nothing to go on other than what he called his “investigative intuition.”
Before I had time to ponder what the knife seizure meant, Chiacchiera pulled me into the bedroom, where I had a backpack full of books, including some of my beloved Japanese manga comics. Most of these were unremarkable: fantasy stories, futuristic thrillers, run-of-the-mill stuff. But Chiacchiera also found a four-volume set titled Urotsukidoji, a series of highly sexualized horror stories with lots of blood, and monsters copulating violently with humans.
He flipped through a volume and demanded, “What is this revolting crap?” He didn’t wait for the answer, which was that the series was a collector’s item from the 1960s, a present from my friend Gianluigi Ceraso, which I hadn’t even taken out of its wrapping. Horror manga was not my thing.
But Chiacchiera didn’t want to know. Instead, he threw the book in my face. “You’re a real piece of shit, aren’t you? Well, we’re going to take care of you.”
Only belatedly did the police show an interest in my computer. I suggested they turn it off and close the keyboard before carting it off, but they didn’t listen. They pulled the plug out of the wall socket and carried it away still open. I’m convinced to this day that the computer could have exonerated me completely, and probably Amanda too, if it had been handled properly. But almost all of that evidence would soon be destroyed.
* * *
We traveled back to the Questura. I now had a pair of shoes on, some ASICS Onitsuka Tigers I grabbed from my closet while I had the chance. Somehow, I was optimistic things were about to get a whole lot better. As soon as word of my arrest hits the news, I thought, my father would hire a lawyer and I’d get out of here.
Instead, I had to endure more waiting. At one point I was asked for my computer password. The Questura’s computer analysis software only worked with PCs, I was told, not Macs like mine. That should have raised my suspicions, but I gave them the password as instructed. I was exhausted and incapable of thinking straight.
A little later, I had to help the police with a second pocketknife they had found at my place, a Spyderco they had managed to open but could not now close. I showed them how.
The waiting was designed, in part, to give the media time to assemble outside the Questura and capture the first images of us being hauled into police vans and driven off to Capanne prison, about ten miles southwest of town. It was the beginning of the media circus, deliberately orchestrated for maximum effect. I don’t have much memory of this “perp walk,” only that I was hustled out of the building with the hood of my gray jacket, the one I had lent to Amanda the day after the murder, thrust over my head. Amanda followed behind me, and behind her was Patrick Lumumba, who had been picked up at his house before first light that morning.
After we left, Arturo De Felice, the Perugia police chief, held a triumphalist news conference in which the world was first told that Meredith died as a result of a sex orgy gone wrong. The press corps was so startled they barely asked about the evidence. De Felice
alluded to the “sheer level of detail that came out of the investigation, hour by hour, minute by minute.” And he acknowledged, once again, the pressure he had felt to solve the case quickly—which the men and women of the Perugia police had now done.
Three culprits, three arrests: case closed.