Police in Varese, west of Milan, last week added one more name to the list of young people they believe were murdered by a group of heavy metal enthusiasts who took the ultra-violent lyrics of their musical heroes too literally.
Andrea Ballarin, 22, from the small town of Busto Arsizio, whose death in 1999 was recorded as suicide after he was found hanged in his old school, became the fourth person police believe fell victim to the brutal antics of a group of local losers, routinely described in the Italian media as devil worshippers.
And there may be more horrors in store. Since the confession last month of a young heavy metal musician called Mario Maccione, which led to the discovery of the remains of two bodies in a wood north-west of Busto Arsizio, investigators have been combing the records of deaths in the area for others which may be linked to the group. On Thursday a further corpse was exhumed, this time in Milan, on the orders of the investigators.
Besides the four deaths now linked to the “satanists”, at least five more are under scrutiny. Yet the authorities are still struggling to understand the nature of what they have discovered. Are they up against a cabal of fully fledged devil worshippers, committing human sacrifices, celebrating black masses and burying their victims by the light of the full moon? Or was this a gang of rebellious, small-town adolescents, dabbling in soft drugs and loud, nasty music, who, disastrously, took the “satanic” lyrics too literally and got sucked into committing violent crimes?
A photograph of a number of the gang published this week, including Nicola Sapone, the plumber who is said to be the group’s leader, and two of the victims, inclines one to the latter view. All nine people in the photo are dressed in black; several wear the satanic regalia of which much has been made, including upside-down crosses and five-pointed stars. But they look like hormone-tormented young posers anywhere in the world, a headache for parents and teachers but unlikely, one would reckon from their bumptious grins, to begin slaughtering each other.
Yet within months of this picture being taken, two of the group were dead: Chiara Marino, the petite girl peeking over the shoulder of Mario Maccione, the one who took his story to the police; and her boyfriend Fabio Tollis, the smirking youth sporting a Slayer “Hell Awakes” T-shirt. Marino and Tollis were last seen alive in January 1998, and their fate remained a mystery until Maccione began talking. He told police that Sapone and others had driven with the two to the woods then stabbed them to death and buried them.
Last month Maccione led police to the spot and the corpses were found and exhumed. The third confirmed murder linked to the group is that of Mariangela Pezzotta, girlfriend of Andria Volpe, another of the leaders, who was stabbed to death earlier this year.
But then there are all the other deaths that police think may be connected: Ballarin, found hanged at his old school; and two young cemetery workers, one of whom doused himself in petrol and set himself on fire, the other of whom hanged himself. And this week yet another possibly connected case surfaced – a youth in Busto Arsizio, who was found hanged in woods behind his home. In his room was a solid collection of “death rock” albums including Hell Awaits. “Kill and kill again,” read the lyrics, “hungry for your blood, searching for innocent victims, satisfy my needs …”
Can such callow nonsense really have impelled these young people to kill over and over again? And if not, what could be the explanation?
July 18, 2004
Peter Popham in Rome