The first call to the police station rang at ten o’clock on a Sunday evening, August 30, 1970. Strangely, the day had been almost autumnal, a rarity for that time of the year. The caller reported a murder in the Pinciano neighborhood, Rome, at Via Puccini, 9 a building of upper-class bourgeoisie apartments. Valerio Gianfrancesco, head of the station’s homicide division, was first to arrive at the crime scene, in the elegant home of Marquis Casati Stampa di Soncino, a two-story, terraced penthouse with a view of Villa Borghese. He later spoke of what had happened in an interview with Ezio Pasero, a journalist “As soon as the alarm came to the station , we rushed to that splendid penthouse, with no idea of what had caused the problem, obviously. Instead, I thought that it must have been an attempted robbery, or maybe even a kidnapping gone wrong. I was the first to go into the den and see the horrible scene. A woman was heaped in an armchair with an incredulous expression still on her face, the marquis was on the floor next to a rifle, and a young man was balled up behind a small overturned table”. All three were dead. Who were the three leading actors of this tragedy?
The woman was Anna Fallarino, whose married title was Marquise Casati Stampa di Soncino. The man next to the shotgun was her husband, Marquis Camillo, who friends referred to as Camillino. The third victim, the young man, was Massimo Minorenti, 25 years old university dropout who some described as a Fascist thug, and others as a simple activist in the Neo-Fascist movement. Given the scene of the crime, its motive seemed immediately apparent: a murder inspired by jealousy. She was a beautiful 41 year old woman; he was the husband of noble countenance, thin, and almost bald; and the lad in his twenties was clearly the “other man”. In reality, as became clear over time, this both was and wasn’t the motive. The story behind the crime was much more intricate, and the emotions that both united and divided these three people were much more complex.
Of all the violent crimes committed in Rome after the war, the one in Via Puccini is perhaps the most memorable because of the circumstances that surrounded it, the twisted personalities of the husband and wife, and the intrigues that emerged in the days after the murder. It truly was, for once, a situation worthy of the overused label turbid. It’s also memorable because of the thorny issues that arose in trying to settle the marquis’ large estate after the crime.
The murders of Via Puccini are interesting because of the history behind them, and because the protagonists’ lives are emblematic of Rome and its mores after the hardships of war had passed and an economic boom enabled even people lower down on the economic ladder to enjoy some financial well-being. A comfortable life suddenly seemed within the reach of anyone with sufficient ability, luck or unscrupulousness to have a grab at it – and sometimes simply having a little beauty was enough.
Anna Fallarino had bet on just that – beauty. Her eyes were lovely, as were the regular features of her face and her shapely figure. She was a little heavy from the waist down, but those were days of curvaceous women, so even that was an asset. Her family came from a lower middle class; her father was a clerical worker and his marriage wasn’t the happiest of unions. At the age of 16, when the war had just ended, she moved to Rome from a small village; here she believed she could have lots of opportunities , could make a good future for herself and find a good catch. She went to live with her uncle Mario, a police officer, at Via Milano, 43 apartment n.5, half way between the Piazza Venezia and the Piazza della Repubblica, with the Naiad Fountain at the center, decorated with four beautiful, shapely women, a bit like Anna. As chance would have it, a young man named Remo, son of a butcher, lived in the building across from Anna’s apartment. Remo had the modest ambitions allowed him by his social condition and the times. In the early 150s, when Anna walked arm-in-arm with her Remo on Sunday afternoons to admire windows of the elegant shops one the Via Condotti, Rome still had the air of another era. The atmosphere was transparent, the light on certain clear winter days had the brightness of porcelain and the monumentality of it all seemed more intense in the deserted streets, where passing automobiles were still a rarity.
The sentimental education of girls like Anna was generally imparted in weekly magazines with comic-strip soap-opera stories titles Grand Hotel or Zazà. These enchanted stories’ heroines were invariably a common girl, a secretary or salesgirl, who met her soul mate – a lawyer or, better yet, a journalist, or even an airplane pilot. The stories always offered the glimpse of a bright future, which was as much as anyone could ask. Upon hearing of the tragedy at Via Puccini, Anna’s former fiancé Remo said: “We went steady for three years. We were supposed to get married, but in the end it never happened. I can’t believe she ended like this. The newspapers talks about orgies, perversions, and the strange things she did with the marquis. I remember her as she was then, a down-to-earth girl who could take care of herself. I Can only remember her that way, and I want to say so to everybody who’s talking about her now like some fallen woman. Anna never would have turned into that if nobody had led her so astray.”
Anna, however, only had one thought in her mind: how to make the most out of her own beauty. With a bit of hard work – because she certainly had far to go – she found occasional work as a runway model, and learned how to carry herself stiffly, walking with one foot set carefully in front of the other while hardly moving her thighs, which were already generous, and needed little to make her stand out. And she finally made it to the movies. In 149 Mario Mattoli, who was directing his umpteenth film gave her a bit part. It wasn’t much, but she saw it as her debut. She could not imagine her cinematic career also ended with this movie. Anna didn’t stick with it because in the same year she met Giovanni Drommi, a 28 year old engineer and industrialist, scion of a well-heeled Roman family. His nickname was Peppino, he frequented the most fashionable salons in town and led the sort of life Anna had only dreamt of. They started to talk about marriage almost immediately and so it went. They were married in a church, complete with white dress, confetti, rice applause, tears, and all the rest. Peppino Drommi was a longtime friend of Marquis Camillo, but Anna didn’t yet know that, and ignored the weight their friendship would soon have on her own life. This first marriage lasted ten years. They had no children, but their life was more comfortable than anything anyone in the Fallarino family had ever known.
The life, background, culture and behavioral models of Camillo Casati Stampa di Soncino was entirely different. He grew up in family with an ancient lineage. But little or nothing remained to our Camillo, who was born in 1927, of his family’s radiant past. Perhaps he inherited an awareness of the name that, without any other qualities, managed to transform itself into an unjustifiable arrogance. His wife Anna said of him: “Camillo began his personal war with servants as a child; it seems he head the habit ok kicking them in the shins”. After the tragedy his impeccable butler, Felice, reported: “For example, sometimes he found it unbecoming to speak directly to the staff, and when he addressed us it was through a third person, even if we were only a step away from him”. The consequences of this rocky relationship with his domestic staff also played a part on the evening of the tragedy. Camillo had an idle affability that would alternate with sudden outbursts of absolute fury.
Camillo was friendly with Rome’s nobiltà nera, the “black” nobility faithful to the Pope, as opposed to the nobiltà Bianca, the “white” nobility faithful to the Savoy, Kings of Italy – rulers. He had several homes: the Roman apartment on Via Puccini, a vacation house on the island of Zannone, in the national park of Circeo; a luxurious apartment in the heart of Milan, Brera. And estates in other smaller towns around Milan and he also had a 17th century villa in … Arcore…in the Brianza area north of Milan, which included a collection of 15th and 16th century paintings and a library of over 10.000 volumes … yes, later on this villa was bought by and became the residence of … Mr Silvio Berlusconi.
In 1958 something happened in Cannes, it seems, that first set Peppino, Anna’s husband at that time, and Camillo in competition in Anna’s eyes. They were staying in a luxurious apartment of a hotel in the city, right on the Croisette, and there was a party. Those soirées had the air, more than they would today, of a truly grand event, giving attendees a sense of having exclusive privileges. Porfirio Rubirosa was among the guests, and although his name seems like nothing straight out of fiction, it belonged to one of the most famous, luckiest lady-killers of the 1950s. The Dominican playboy wasn’t very tall, but was good looking. Above all, he was famously well endowed where it counts, and reputed for his exceptional endurance. One of Porfirio’s favorite sayings was appropriate to the role he played: “Most of men are eager to make money; I’m eager to spend it”. Anna was elegant and lovely; Rubirosa wasn’t the only man to notice her. Unlike the others, though, he wasn’t content just to look. He approached her and began conversation with the inane and pleasant fluidity that only years of experience and great self-confident permit. As he spoke he put one of his hands familiarly on her bare back. This was a gesture of a bit too much confidence, and caused a rather heated reaction.
It’s not hard to understand Peppino Drommi’s concern when he saw Porfirio’s hand resting on his wife’s bare back. Yet the gesture seemed to bother Marquis Camillo even more. Peppino approached the “king of all playboys” and asked him to remove his hand. Porfirio smiled indulgently at hime and went on talking to Anna as if nothing had happened. Camillo, meanwhile, succumbed to one of his fits of rage and sprang to his feet. Peppino threw the first punch and Rubirosa, (who was also an amateur boxer) quickly reacted. Camillo hurled himself at his face. It was just like a brawl in the movies. Tables were overturned, glasses shattered, a lot of people screamed, beautiful women were frightened, and there was also a hint of amusement in the air.
Some say the first sparks between Anna and Camillo were ignited by this famous brawl fought in her honor in that grand hotel on the Croisette, which may well be true. In any case, a few months after this episode Camillo requested an annulment of his marriage. Peppino Drommi also recited the necessary lines to get an annulment. Anna and Camillo were married in a civil ceremony in Switzerland in April of 1959, and again in a church on June 21, 1961. What kind of marriage did Camillo and Anna have? The true nature of their relationship came to light only after the murders. If anyone knew about or participated in their curious ménages, it had been kept secret. On August 30, 1970, the day of the crime, police officer Domenico Scali was one of the first to enter the apartment, and described what he saw in an interview, as we will soon recount on this blog: click here to read the second part of the story.