Showing posts with label Montesi scandal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Montesi scandal. Show all posts

3 February 2022

Wilma Montesi - murder victim

‘Body on the beach’ mystery that sparked a national scandal

Wilma Montesi was only 21 when she died
Wilma Montesi was only
21 when she died
Wilma Montesi, the woman whose unexplained death in 1953 precipitated a scandal that reached the highest levels of the Italian government, was born on this day in 1932 in Rome.

Raised in the Trieste-Salario neighbourhood, little more than a couple of kilometres from central Rome, she was a 21-year-old woman who dreamed of becoming an actress but whose ambitions were known to no one outside her own family and friends until she disappeared from her home in Via Tagliamento on the afternoon of April 9, 1953.

Two days afterwards, her semi-naked body was found on the beach at Torvaianica, some 40km (25 miles) south of the capital. The mystery surrounding her death sparked four years of police investigations and conspiracy theories and the resignation of a senior member of prime minister Mario Scelba’s government.

On the afternoon of her disappearance, Montesi had declined an invitation to go to the cinema with her mother and sister, saying she would go for a walk instead. After she failed to return in time for supper, her family noticed that her ID papers and some jewellery, a gift from her policeman boyfriend that she always wore, were still in her room.

The details of what happened between her saying goodbye to her mother and sister and her body being found, face down and partially submerged, were never fully established. Although it was eventually proved that she was killed, no one was convicted.

The initial investigation suggested Montesi had taken a train from Rome to the popular seaside resort of Ostia but no witnesses reported seeing her in Torvaianica, 20km (12 miles) further down the coast. 

The musician Piero Piccioni was charged with manslaughter but acquitted
The musician Piero Piccioni was charged
with manslaughter but acquitted
The body was clothed only in a blouse and underwear, yet a police investigation concluded that Wilma’s death had been the result of drowning and, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, was recorded as accidental. 

The theory of investigating officers was that she had stepped into the sea to relieve some soreness to her heels caused by a new pair of shoes but had fallen and passed out, probably through fainting. They suggested that her body had been moved by the currents and washed ashore.

What they could not explain was why she might have thought it necessary to remove not only her shoes and stockings but her skirt and suspender belt if her purpose was to bathe her feet. None of the missing clothing had been found.

The case was declared closed, yet the media, naturally intrigued by a mystery, would not let it drop. It turned into the beginnings of a scandal when a magazine ran a story that a young man who had handed in the missing garments at a police station was Piero Piccioni, a jazz musician and composer whose father was the Christian Democrat politician, Attilio Piccioni, the deputy prime minister and foreign minister under Scelba.

Faced with being sued by Piccioni, the author of the story eventually recanted his claim, agreeing to make a donation to charity in return for Piccioni dropping his libel action.

But six months after Wilma’s death, the story resurfaced when a reporter who had been investigating drug-trafficking along the coast near Rome claimed he had found evidence linking the young woman to an estate at Capocotta, a short distance from Torvaianica, that was owned by a wealthy Sicilian marquess, Ugo Montagna, a well-known figure in Rome society and a close friend of Piero Piccioni.

Wilma Montesi's body as it was found, face down on the beach at Torvaianica
Wilma Montesi's body as it was found, face
down on the beach at Torvaianica
The reporter alleged that the Capocotta estate regularly hosted parties attended by people of power and influence that often turned into drug-fuelled orgies. Wilma Montesi, he said, after initially being recruited as a drug runner, died of an opium overdose at one of these parties, after which her body was left on the beach at Torvaianica so that it appeared she had drowned.

The journalist making this new allegation was arrested and charged with ‘spreading false and tendentious news to disturb public order’ and it was at his subsequent trial that what had been merely a series of salacious stories blew into something bigger.

One of the witnesses, an actress called Anna Maria Caglio who was a former mistress of Montagna, claimed in court that Montagna was a drug dealer and that a number of women had been murdered, casting Piccioni as the killer. She also alleged that Saverio Polito, the Rome chief of police who had closed the Montesi case, was part of a cover-up.

Piero Piccioni, Saverio Polito and Ugo Montagna pictured during their trial in Venice in 1957
Piero Piccioni, Saverio Polito and Ugo Montagna
pictured during their trial in Venice in 1957
Montagna and Piccioni were arrested and Polito resigned. Piccioni’s father, mindful of the distraction his son’s arrest would cause, stepped down as a minister.

Wilma Montesi’s body was exhumed and a pathologist found that she had drowned but also concluded that she had struggled against an assailant who held her head under the water.  Piccioni was charged with manslaughter and Montagna with being complicit. Polito, Caglio and others were charged with obstruction of justice.

However, despite investigators compiling a vast volume of evidence over three years, a trial in Venice in 1957 was not able to convict anyone apart from Caglio, who was given a suspended sentence. Piccioni, Montagna and Polito were acquitted, and the ‘body on the beach’ mystery remained unsolved.

Montesi is buried at the Verano Monumental Cemetery in Rome. It is believed by some that Federico Fellini's classic film La dolce vita was in part inspired by the Montesi story. 

Gino Coppedè's Villino delle Fate, a building  with fairytale qualities in the Coppedè district
Gino Coppedè's Villino delle Fate, a building 
with fairytale qualities in the Coppedè district
Travel tip:

The Via Tagliamento, where Wilma Montesi was born, falls within the elegant Trieste-Salario district of Rome, book-ended by Piazza Buenos Aires, close to the Borghese gardens, and Via Chiana. The area, which developed in the 1920s, was originally known as the Quartiere Savoia. A highlight of the area is the Coppedè district, a few steps from Piazza Buenos Aires along the Via Dora. This complex of buildings described as a "pastiche" of architectural styles ​​was built between 1915 and 1927 by the architect Gino Coppedè. Fanning out from around Piazza Mincio, with its enchanting Fontana delle Rane (Fountain of the Frogs), it includes buildings such as the Palazzina del Ragno and the Villino delle Fate that resemble those imagined in fairytales. 

Hotels in Rome by

Torvaianica, on the coast of Lazio south of Rome, has a broad expanse of beach
Torvaianica, on the coast of Lazio south of
Rome, has a broad expanse of beach
Travel tip:

Torvaianica, a coastal town of 12,700 residents occupying an 8km (5 miles) stretch of coastline, had a place in history long before the Montesi scandal.  According to Vergil's Aeneid, the Trojan hero Aeneas landed there, a story that was confirmed after the excavation of the ancient Roman town of Lavinium. Torvaianica takes its name from a coastal watch tower, Torre del Vajanico, built in 1580 to repel Barbary pirates. The tower, damaged during World War II, was demolished during the 1960s. The town itself had been founded in the 1940s, after the draining of the nearby Pontine Marshes. Originally a fishing village, it is now a tourist resort. 

Stay in Torvaianica with

Also on this day:

1702: The birth of architect Giovanni Battista Vaccarini

1757: The birth of eye surgeon Giuseppe Forlenza

1857: The birth of sculptor Giuseppe Moretti

1869: The birth of opera impresario Giulio Gatti-Casazza

(Picture credits: Piero Piccioni by CharlieFoxtrot66; Villino del Fate by The Doc; Torvaianica beach by RaeBo; all via Wikimedia Commons)


6 December 2021

Piero Piccioni – film composer and lawyer

Politician’s son gave up legal practice to write movie scores

Piccioni gave up a career as a lawyer to compose film music
Piccioni gave up a career as a
lawyer to compose film music
Pianist, conductor and prolific composer Piero Piccioni was born on this day in 1921 in Turin in the northern region of Piedmont.

A self-taught musician, Piccioni became  a composer of film soundtracks, writing more than 300 scores, themes and songs for top directors such as Francesco Rosi, Luchino Visconti, Bernardo Bertolucci, Roberto Rossellini and Vittoria De Sica.

Piccioni had come into contact with the film industry during the 1950s while practising as a lawyer in Rome and working to secure movie rights for Italian distributors such as Titanus and  De Laurentiis.

His interest in music had started as a result of being taken to concerts by his father, Attilio Piccioni, who was a prominent Christian Democrat politician who served several times as deputy prime minister. 

Although Piccioni never studied music formally, he became a talented musician by teaching himself. He had listened to jazz during his childhood  and was a fan of Art Tatum and Charlie Parker. He was also influenced by 20th century classical composers and American cinematography and he started writing songs of his own.

Piccioni played the piano on radio for the first time in 1938 with his ‘013’ Big Band but did not go on air again until after the liberation of Italy in 1944. He had the distinction of being the only Italian pianist ever to play for Charlie Parker after he was called upon to substitute for the pianist Al Haig on a television programme filmed in New York in 1949.

Piccioni's musical ability was entirely self-taught
Piccioni's musical ability was
entirely self-taught
While Piccioni was still a practising lawyer, he was contacted by Michelangelo Antonioni and asked to write a score for a documentary film directed by Luigi Polidoro, one of his apprentices.

His first feature film was Il mondo le condanna in 1952, after which he gave up law to write music full time. He wrote the music for most of the films that comic actor Alberto Sordi either took part in or directed. Many of the themes he composed for Sordi went on to become popular hits.

Piccioni won many prestigious prizes for his music, including the David di Donatello Award for the 1975 film Swept Away and the Nastro d’Argento award for the 1962 film Salvatore Giuliano. He also won the Anna Magnani award in 1975, the Vittorio De Sica Award in 1979 and the Prix International Lumiere in 1991.

In 1953, Piccioni had been implicated in the Montesi scandal, which followed the discovery of a dead Italian woman on a beach near Rome. He was given an alibi for the time of death by the actress Alida Valli who said he was with her at Carlo Ponti’s villa in southern Italy. He was acquitted of any involvement in the death at a trial three years later and a journalist who had written about Piccioni recanted his allegations after legal action was taken against him.

Piccioni died in Rome in 2004 at the age of 82, leaving a widow, the former musical star Gloria Paul, and their two children, Jason and Valentina.

Turin is a city of understated elegance with a vibrant café culture
Turin is a city of understated elegance
with a vibrant café culture
Travel tip:

Turin, the capital city of the region of Piedmont, where Piero Piccioni was born, has some fine architecture that illustrates its rich history as the home of the Savoy Kings of Italy. Piazza Castello, with the royal palace, royal library and Palazzo Madama, which used to house the Italian senate, is at the heart of ‘royal’ Turin.  An elegant, stylish and sophisticated city, Turin has much to commend it, from its many historic cafés to 12 miles of arcaded streets and some of the finest restaurants in Piedmont. In the 19th century, the city’s cafés were popular with writers, artists, philosophers, musicians and politicians among others, who would meet to discuss the affairs of the day.

The 'ancient Rome' set is one of the  highlights of the Cinecittà studio complex
The 'ancient Rome' set is one of the 
highlights of the Cinecittà studio complex
Travel tip:

Rome, where Piero Piccioni lived for many years of his life, became the hub of the Italian film industry because of Cinecittà, a large studio complex to the south of the city, built during the Fascist era under the personal direction of Benito Mussolini and his son, Vittorio. The studios were bombed by the Allies in the Second World War but were rebuilt and used again in the 1950s for large productions, such as Ben Hur. These days a range of productions, from television drama to music videos, are filmed there and Cinecittà has its own dedicated Metro stop.

Also on this day:

1478: The birth of Baldassare Castiglione, courtier, diplomat and writer

1586: The birth of astronomer Niccolò Zucchi

1794: The birth of opera singer Luigi Lablache

1975: The birth of businessman Andrea Agnelli