Italian Police Look to a Cult in ’98 Killings of Teenagers

BUSTO ARSIZIO, Italy — The six-year search for Chiara Marino and Fabio Tollis, two missing teenagers who were members of a heavy metal band called the Beasts of Satan, ended in a pit in the woods northwest of Milan. The authorities say other members of the loose-knit band buried the bodies after killing the teenagers in a drug-fueled Satanic sacrifice.

The clothing-draped skeletal remains were uncovered by the police on May 28 after a former band member, Andrea Volpe, 27, was arrested and charged with shooting his girlfriend and burying her alive in January. Seeking leniency in that case, Mr. Volpe led the authorities to the five-foot-deep grave in the woods of Somma Lombardo near here, one official said. Ms. Marino, who was 19, had been stabbed in the heart, and Mr. Tollis, who was 16, had been struck in the head with a hammer. The bodies had been tossed into the grave together.

Four band members, including Mr. Volpe, have been charged with murder in the case of the two friends, who shared a rocky journey through adolescence in a drab, working-class stretch of northern Italy. But the demonic tinge of the killings has caused recurring tremors as the names and photographs of the youthful faces of the dead teenagers have reappeared in newspapers, on television and in the public consciousness.

The police and prosecutors have widened their investigation to a number of unsolved killings and suicides, and are focusing on 20 square miles in Lombardy to determine whether any of the deaths can be connected. The authorities are trying to learn whether the suspects, and any others who may have been involved, took orders from a larger network of Satan worshipers, possibly in Turin.

The discovery of the bodies has captured the Italian imagination, especially in the north, not so far away from where a series of crimes that came to be known as the Monster of Florence killings haunted people in the Tuscan woods for two decades, beginning in 1968.

This is a country in which Roman Catholic priests are still asked to carry out exorcisms.

A sociologist, Maria Macioti, a professor at La Sapienza University in Rome, has said increasing numbers of young people seem drawn to devil worship. A magistrate has warned of the lure of antichrist cults.

In the Somma Lombardo case, grizzled police detectives shuddered at the cold-blooded violence. “I’ve done investigations for 35 years,” Antonio Pizzi, the chief investigating magistrate, said recently. “I’ve never seen, in my career, such brutal and ferocious assassins as these.”

To get to the grave, one must travel the congested highway out of Milan and turn off into Busto Arsizio, a town marked by a gurgling fountain in a pebbled park. Pass a nursery school and a soccer field decorated with a shrine to the Madonna, then take Via Madonna d. Ghianda to the church of the same name, turn left and follow a low rock wall to an opening in the woods. A gravelly path leads under a canopy of chestnut trees so thick only thin shafts of sunlight can pierce it. The grave, between a stump and a tree, is cordoned off by red-and-white crime scene tape and covered with wooden planks.

Standing by three azalea plants left by relatives of the two teenagers, two uniformed police officers removed their hats and pointed at the grave. “They were both in here,” one of the officers said.

A law enforcement official said the teenagers were lured to the site after spending Jan. 17, 1998, partying with other members of the band at Midnight, a heavy metal rock club on the outskirts of Milan. The police believe that the four band members who have been arrested — Mr. Volpe, Nicola Sapone, 27; Mario Maccione, 23, and Pietro Guerrieri, 29 — took part in the killing. More arrests may follow.

Mr. Pizzi confirmed local reports that investigators who searched Ms. Marino’s room after she disappeared found it decorated with black candles and skulls. By some accounts, she was killed because she was thought by cult members to personify the Virgin Mary, and Mr. Tollis because he tried to protect her.

Officials say the two may have been killed because they were considered not to be strongly enough committed to the cult and therefore posed a threat to it. Mr. Volpe’s girlfriend may have been killed in January because she knew of the earlier killings and planned to go to the police.

The local police chief, Lt. Col. Eduardo Russo, said about a dozen officers were combing through evidence, doing forensic examinations and following up on leads to see if there was a pattern to local killings. “I’ve worked in Palermo, Naples, I’ve seen dozens of deaths, but never so much attention on one case,” he said. “It’s surely the Satanic ritual element, this primitive element, that caught people’s attention.”

In the precinct where the killings occurred, the police are fielding calls. Some callers report that they have seen the personification of evil. One man said he saw candles burning in the woods — six years ago.

In Italy, Ms. Macioti said, the devil is deeply ingrained in popular faith. She said that Satanic sects had always existed but that more and more young people now seemed to be experimenting with elements of Satanism through drugs and music. But they are mostly unsophisticated, uneducated and misguided, she said.

“In the past, there were intellectual Satanists,” Ms. Macioti said. “Today, you’d have difficulty finding people who can write two sentences.”

Crude graffiti scrawled on the walls outside Midnight, the nightclub, suggest that she may be right.

Francesca Cramis, who is Mr. Sapone’s lawyer, said the band members could barely play musical instruments and were more involved with drugs and with listening to music than in practicing Satanism. “They listened to death metal and Satanic music that pushes people toward Satan, toward killing people,” she said. “These are guys that have severe problems and they convinced themselves that they were in contact with Satan and they had the power to kill others. It was born as a game, but it ended in a tragedy.”

Ms. Cramis is using an insanity defense for Mr. Sapone, who she said was too high on LSD to remember the January night in question. She said any assertion that an outside circle of Satanists gave orders to kill the two teenagers was a “pathetic defense,” probably created by Mr. Volpe.

“There’s no leads to connect any of these events to a higher Satanic sect,” she added.

People in this quiet hamlet have taken to denouncing evil. A man who waited on a pink and white bicycle for his 5-year-old daughter to emerge from the town’s nursery school — a plumber who would give his name only as Silvio — said those who killed the teenagers in the woods should never leave jail. “They were like beasts,” he said. “But we’re moving on here, tranquilly.”

His daughter came bounding out of the school’s front doors, smiling, her blond curls bouncing in the sunlight. Silvio scooped her up, placed her in a small seat by his bicycle’s handlebars, turned, waved and pedaled off.

In the distance some church bells rang.

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