Between 1968 and 1985, in Florence Italy, eight couples were killed in violent acts that included multiple gunshots, stabbings and female genital mutilation. The perpetrator of these vicious crimes, dubbed ‘The Monster of Florence,’ has never been caught. Despite the violence of the crimes, the killer left no physical evidence at the crime scenes to connect himself to them. However, he did leave the makings of a psychological profile, the details of which are presented here using the five stages of criminal profiling offered by Pinizzotto and Finkel (1990): a study of the criminal act and the types of people who have committed similar offences; an analysis of the crime scene(s); an examination of the background and activities of the victim(s); a formulation of the probable motivating factors of the suspect; and, a description of the perpetrator based upon the person’s probable psychological make-up. Throughout this profile, The Monster of Florence will be referred to as either the ‘monster’ or the ‘perpetrator.’
The Criminal Act: Who commits Serial Murders?
Most serial offenders are classified as organized or disorganized (Muller, 2000). While disorganized offenders are more opportunistic in their approach, organized offenders are intelligent and careful planners (Muller, 2000). The Monster of Florence was clearly an organized serial killer, as his crime scenes were carefully selected for their privacy and great effort was made to leave no evidence behind, with the exception of bullets. This suggests the perpetrator had a higher than average IQ (Palermo, 2002).
Most serial killers have had a dysfunctional past and are likely to have been negatively affected during adolescence. In particular, many serial killers have insecure attachments to their parents/caretakers and have ‘unusual relationships with their mothers’ (LaBrode, 2007). In this case, the perpetrators clear hate of women could be indicative of a strained relationship with his mother.
Serial killers also tend to have low self-esteem, which appears to be the case with the Monster of Florence, who surprises his victims and shoots them point blank. This suggests he may not feel able to handle victims who are conscious of his presence. Lack of self-esteem and confidence is also reflected in the fact that he is not able to handle stressful situations, such as escape attempts. In the Mainardi case, after the male victim tried to escape, the perpetrator even decided to forego his ritualistic mutilations. Serial offenders often subscribe to a very specific ‘modus operandi’ or MO, which consists of a series of behaviours completed by the offender to successfully perpetrate the crime without being caught (Hazelwood & Warren, 2004). In this case, the perpetrator took great efforts to ensure no evidence would lead back to him. Indeed, no fingerprints were ever found.
Serial offenders often escalate their MO over successive crimes, with the evolution and complexity of the MO often being dependent on an offender’s intelligence level, experience and motivation (Hazelwood & Warren, 2004). In this case, the murders became increasingly gruesome, including excessive stab wounds, posing of the body postmortem, genital mutilation, and removal of body parts.
There are a number of factors within various crime scenes that aid in linking one case to other cases suspected to be serial in nature. These factors include the state of the crime scene, the MO, ritualistic behaviours, and the criminal’s signature (Hazelwood & Warren, 2004).
The Crime Scene (Appendix 1): The location a criminal chooses and the state of the crime scene can have great significance when creating an offenders psychological profile (Muller, 2000). For example, organized offenders choose locations before the execution of the crime so that they can carry out their signature processes without interruption (Keppel, 2000). In the Monster case, the perpetrator chose isolated, rural locations in which to carry out his crimes. All locations except the Mainardi/Migliorini crime scene were away from busy roads that afforded privacy. Even when the female victims were moved, the new locations were close to the original crime scene – partially hidden, but not hard to find.
As indicated in the name, all of the crime scenes were in and around Florence, indicating that the perpetrator lived or worked in the area, was extremely familiar with the area and was able to closely monitor these locations (Snook et al., 2005). Also, other than the bullets left at every crime scene being matched to the same missing gun, the perpetrator left no other evidence. This could point to the perpetrator’s organized personality as well as possible prior knowledge of police procedures.
The Modus Operandi (MO): The MO in this case evolved as time progressed. Eight couples were murdered over the course of seventeen years. The crimes were almost always committed on Saturdays, in the evening hours, and often on cloudy nights. This might have been the perpetrator’s effort to decrease the chances of being observed or recognized. The weapons of choice were a .22 caliber gun and single edge blade. The gun was used to initially kill/disable the victims and the blade was used mostly on the female victims. The first double murder (Locci/LoBianco) only involved gunshots, but progressive murders became increasingly gruesome, including excessive stab wounds (Pettini/Gentilcore), posing of the body postmortem (Nuccio/Foggi), genital mutilation (Pettini/Gentilcore; Nuccio/Foggi; Cambi/Baldi), and removal of body parts (Vicchi di Mugello; Kraveichuili/Mauriot).
An MO should not be held too rigidly by investigators as it can change slightly as the context of the crime changes and the offender adapts to changing circumstances (Hazelwood & Warren, 2004). For example, external factors such as the unavailability of victims or a busy crime location can change the MO. This was evidenced in the Cambi/Baldi murder in which female genitalia were removed, but the action was so crude that the abdominal wall was exposed. This could be attributed to a relatively busy crime scene, as there were at least two couples that possibly witnessed the offender fleeing.
Rituals and Signature: Rituals are distinct from MOs in that they are symbolic and reflect the motives and fantasy behind crimes (Hazelwood & Warren, 2004). In this case, the perpetrator initiated and continued genital mutilation on female victims, starting with the Pettini/Gentilcore murders, unless external factors prevented him from doing so. For example, the Meyer/Sens murders were a case of mistaken identity and, in the absence of a female victim, there was no genital mutilation. The posing of the female victims’ postmortem is also a significant ritualistic element of these crimes, with most female victims (except in the case of Locci/LoBianco and Mainardi/Migliorini), being posed spread-eagle and away from the male victim. The passage of time can also change the rituals of the crime as the offender refines his skills and gains a more elaborate view of his motivations for the crime (Hazelwood & Warren, 2004). For example, it wasn’t until the last two crimes that the perpetrator started cutting out the female victim’s breast.
The signature of an offender comprises a unique combination of behaviours and rituals that make their crimes unique and attributable to them specifically (Hazelwood & Warren, 2004). In this case, the perpetrator surprised couples in isolated locations, usually those engaging in romantic encounters. The male was quickly disposed of with gunshots and while the female was also shot, they were then usually moved from the crime scene, unless the crime scene itself afforded privacy (like the tent in the Kraveichvili/Mauriot murder). The female was always separated from the male victim.
The profile of the victims is integral to building a psychological profile of a serial killer since such criminals often select victims who have characteristics that are somehow important to them (LaBrode, 2007). Victim information such as age, social circumstances and gender, can contribute to the psychological profile of the perpetrator (Palermo, 2002). In the Monster case, all the victims were couples taking part in romantic liaisons. Almost all the couples were out alone in isolated, rural areas. All couples, with the exception of one, were heterosexual. All had reportedly spent their last night at a discotheque. While the perpetrator’s victims were as young as eighteen, age seemed to be of no importance when choosing his victims. All male victims were shot to death, resulting in a quick death. Risk factors that made these victims vulnerable to the perpetrator were that they were romantically involved, alone, in an isolated location, and they were paying little attention to their surroundings.
Since serial killings are primarily motivated by psychological factors, it can be difficult to accurately identify individual motivating factors until the perpetrator is captured. It is possible, however, to speculate on the motivation based on the crime scene information. In this case, the choice of victim (i.e. couples) is clearly a conscious choice. While the perpetrator killed both individuals, the male was killed quickly while the woman was mutilated and stabbed. This could indicate a sexual component to the killings, in which case, the death of both the male and female is imminent, but the victim of choice appears to be the female (Arndt et al., 2005). The mutilations and overkill also indicate that the perpetrator might be sexually incapable or might have experience of being rejected by women, hence his apparent anger towards this gender.
The victims of crimes are often a vehicle used by criminals to achieve their ’emotional goals’ (Woodworth & Potter, 1999). In this case, the couples may be symbolic of a need the perpetrator feels unable to fulfill (i.e. to form relationships). As ‘vehicles’ for emotional goals, victims were subjected to intense violence and brutality, which might have been a means of the perpetrator destroying what he could not achieve – a relationship.
The perpetrator’s allocation of greater time spent on the female victim indicates his level of anger or even rage, directed at women. The removal of genitalia further illustrates this rage. Conversely, the mutilation and removal of the genitalia could indicate that the perpetrator had not only symbolically attacked the women’s femininity but could also be trying to destroy signs of any abuse (Arndt et al, 2005). Interestingly, the remains of the removed body parts were never found, so it may be that the perpetrator took them as trophies.
After the Kraveichvili/Mauriot murders, spent bullets similar to those found at the crime scene were found near a hospital. This location proximity might, therefore, indicate that the perpetrator could be a medical professional. This is especially relevant in light of the fact that it appears both gloves and surgical skill would have been required, especially with the absence of fingerprint evidence, and the removal of the body parts
“Deductive profiling” is a type of psychological profiling based on the evidence collected from the crime scene, including the type of victim and the type of crime committed (Strano, 2004). In addition to the crime scene evidence, profilers also consider the homicide style, the motivation behind the crime, the risk status of the victim(s), the time taken to commit the crime, and how risky the perpetration of the crime was (Muller, 2000). Once this evidence is examined, an offender profile or ‘working hypothesis’ can be formed to help narrow down the field of individuals who could have committed the crimes (Strano, 2004).
In this case, the profile indicates that the perpetrator is male and lives or works in Florence. The organized execution of the crimes and lack of evidence indicates that the perpetrator was highly intelligent. The perpetrator might also be a loner, since scouting and observing remote locations requires time and freedom from others. The fact that the perpetrator surprises his victims and shoots them at point blank range indicates a lack of self-esteem; he may not feel able to handle victims who are sufficiently aware of his presence. Lack of self-esteem and confidence is also reflected in the fact that he is not able to handle stressful situations, such as a victim escape. Indeed, the number of bullets used by the killer to kill his victims was more than necessary, thereby eliminating the chance of an escape. Also, in the Mainardi case, after the male victim tried to escape, he was repeatedly shot. In this case the killer even decided to let go of his ritualistic mutilation in the crime, possibly indicating that the near escape had been too much for him.
Most serial crimes comprising a sexual element, as in this case, are about power over the victim (Keppel, 2000). Since the motives of serial killings tend to be specific to the killer, it is likely that the perpetrator has a history of negative experiences with females, possibly in terms of unsuccessful sexual relations.
Although psychological profiling is still in its infancy, primarily because the science behind it lacks research, in combination with personal instinct it can be used to provide further insight into the mind of the criminal. In the case of the Monster of Florence, despite little physical evidence being left at the crime scenes, the clear similarities across crimes provides enough information to develop a psychological profile that might help investigators identify the perpetrator.