POISON - Episode 1 - The land of lost children
(Reading time: 7 - 13 minutes)
Twenty years ago, in the province of Modena, sixteen children between the municipalities of Massa Finalese and Mirandola were removed forever from their families, accused of being part of a sect of pedophile satanists. But this story, just like old audio cassettes, has two sides. In which of the two is the truth hidden?
Between 1997 and 1998, in two countries of Emilia Romagna, 16 children were removed from their families and entrusted to the social services of the area.
The charge was the most serious: the parents, relatives and some neighbors had sexually abused them for months, involving them in a long series of satanic rituals within the cemeteries.
The adults were sentenced to tens of years in prison and never saw their children again. The children grew up in new families and never returned home.
When I first heard about this story, I was immediately intrigued, because I live with stories, it is my job, my passion.
But this one in particular has deeply obsessed me. Maybe it's because I'm also a father and I can't explain how certain things can happen.
So I went there, to those places, twenty years later. To understand.
Because stories, even when they seem closed, never really are. The protagonists change, transform, go on, or continue to relive the past, just like the tape of a rewind cassette.
You remember the old tapes, don't you?
Those that slipped into the stereo door and that sometimes you had to rewind with the ballpoint pen ...
The ones with side A and side B. Just like this one I have in my hand right now. If I play side A ... Live: "IT'S A MIRACLE ...."
On the B side there is the voice of one of the abused girls, registered by the police in front of a cemetery.
Live: Man 1: How do you turn on this button?
Man 2: He must press REC and PLAY….
Man 1: REC and PLAY is on, so it's already okay?
Woman: But the microphone is turned on?
Man 2: Yes yes I turned it on, behind it is written ON
Man 1: So you told me this road you know it?
Man 1: You choose the places where you want ... you want to go and see
Man 1: The places you want to tell us, let's say, indicate
Woman: Can we go to the cemetery?
Woman: Will you show us where we go? When you no longer want, that you are afraid, you have to say it, otherwise we cannot understand
Man 2: Is there any particular place that reminds you of something?
Girl: That one
Man 2: This bridge? why did you do that from there?
Child: There they killed children and ... or we danced ... we made all those ugly gestures with clothes ... then ...
Man 2: Killed children how?
Child: With that lightning bolt ... I don't know ... the one to cut heads ...
Man 1: Was this happening day or night?
Child: When it was dark. Then that little lawn ... There, if I remember correctly, they dug children, and they put children there.
Man 2: Do you remember who was there when these things happened?
Girl: My father, all the children, sometimes my mother, and ...
I am Pablo Trincia, and what you are listening to is "Veleno", an audio series with episodes that reconstructs a case of crime news disappeared from the pages of the national and local press.
He stayed there, gathering dust in the back burner of unexplained stories, until together with Alessia Rafanelli we found and rebuilt it.
There are no actors in this series. You will hear only true voices, of who lived this story, of who was there at the time.
We have been investigating for three years and strange things have happened, which we are still trying to make sense of.
We called it "Poison" because you don't notice it there ...
But then, slowly ...
Try to imagine a village of just 4 thousand inhabitants surrounded in all directions by kilometers of plains and cultivated fields.
The country has nothing different than thousands of its like.
Low houses, few streets.
There is the square with the bar and the tables outside. There are pensioners who play cards a stone's throw from the war memorial. There is the parish, the bell tower, the school ... do you see them? The fog, for most of the year, is so thick that it is almost enough to take a step inside it to disappear into thin air.
Everybody greets each other on the street.
The country knows who you are.
He knows who your grandfather was, how your father was as a child, where he met your mother. He knows that your sister is expecting the second child, but from the new partner. He knows where you were two nights ago, who you were with, what you drank, who you talked to, if you were sad or happy.
The country looks at you, always looks at you.
Know your little sins, your secrets.
It is like an eye that constantly moves, an ear constantly listening, to which nothing escapes.
But the country also has its secret.
Strange things happen in the evening (the accusation will later say). Things that nobody sees and nobody hears. When the streets empty, a hooded man walks out of the house with a woman.
There are children with them.
A few doors beyond, two other hooded men slip into a narrow street together with a smaller figure.
And then still others, and still others, adults and children, until a silent procession of fifty shadows parades through the dark square, beyond the Banca Popolare and the Post Office, the one before the big bend, the one in which everyone went to slam at least one time.
They point straight to the cemetery.
Waiting for them in front of the entrance gate, under a weeping willow, there is a man next to a white van.
Wear a tunic, also white.
The man pulls out a bunch of keys and opens.
The first to enter are the children. They are frightened, they look around for mom. Some still wear pajamas. The adults push them in. Someone is holding a shovel. The man in the white tunic indicates a group of coffins near the colonnade of the chapel, a few steps from a lawn and orders "excavated".
This story begins twenty years ago, on February 23, 1997. It is an almost spring Sunday, there are 16 degrees.
Across the world, the media give prominence to the announcement of the first cloning of a mammal, the Dolly sheep.
The evening before, the Sanremo Festival had declared the Jalisse group champions, and the world of football awaits with apprehension the result of the leaders - Marcello Lippi's Juventus - against Fiorentina.
It is evening and on the ground floor of a yellow building, in the middle of the Modena countryside, there is a child playing in the kitchen.
He is seven years old, with blond hair and round glasses. We will call him Dario.
With him are the parents and the two older brothers.
A car arrives and stops on the driveway in front of the house. A man and a woman come down ... they are Dario's new parents and they came to get him.
In fact, Dario does not live with his natural family, he only went to see them for the weekend. For some time he has been given to the couple because his father and mother live in difficult conditions.
Someone in the village says that, in addition to being very poor, they are also strange. They say and do strange things. Dario greets dad and mom and makes an appointment for him next weekend. What they still do not know is that precisely that February 23 will be the last day in which they will see him again, because for some time, unbeknownst to them, the social services and the juvenile court have activated the mechanisms of the procedure to completely suspend the re-entry of the child.
Dario in fact began to tell the teacher - and then also to the foster mother and a psychologist of the social services that follows him - of some serious episodes that occur during visits to the yellow house, where his natural family lives. Parents and his older brother abuse him. But not only.
They take him to some apartments in the town, where they sell it to other people in exchange for money and then take pictures of him with one of those machines that takes pictures immediately, as he calls them. They also force him to sadomasochistic practices.
The psychologist who follows him is flabbergasted.
"But it doesn't just happen to me," explains Dario. "There are also other children in the tour." "Thing? Who? Where is it? When?".
The police begin to investigate and carry out burst searches.
Pornographic journals are found in the yellow house of Dario's natural parents. Instead, investigators seize a Polaroid machine from a neighbor.
But Dario doesn't stop.
It is precise and punctual, and even manages to name and describe somatic traits. The features, the colors of the eyes, of the hair. Some children, he says, speak a strange language. Then it involves another little girl from a local town. She is also listened to carefully. His stories are very similar. Her mother sells it to bad people, family friends, who have two other children, who are also victims of abuse.
A few weeks pass, and here come other stories. Parents, grandparents and uncles who abuse children and grandchildren, and then inject strange substances into them with syringes.
Six other children begin to speak.
The news reaches the local newspapers. The case explodes.
The country rediscovers itself in shock, infected by a new virus, pedophilia, so violent that it does not even have the means to process it in its system.
Live country voices
Woman: Here you live a very peaceful life. It was something outside of our normal days
Man: We of the place, small towns, we all know each other. Knowing the family, nobody thought that these things could ... happen
Pablo: What families were they?
Man: Well I knew them, and for they were people ... very normal in short. I didn't even think that everything that happened happened then
Woman: They were families that were a bit special, who lived a life that was a little special, so it was possible ...
The mouths of children are in torrents.
Each of them names someone else, and other adults involved in what slowly seems to take the form of an underground child pornography network that has still unknown branches, despite growing day by day, week after week.
Some of these people come from that gray area made of poverty, strange or ambiguous family dynamics, and cultural backwardness.
Live country voices
Woman: There was a family here in the middle ... who were capable of anything in my opinion. But above all they had a lot of imagination
Woman 2: Well sure they didn't have a quiet life, surely. There was talk of them as people who were already trafficking, that yes ... percu for two pennies willing to do anything
But in the tour there are also people known, appreciated and absolutely unsuspected.
Live country voices
Woman: Then there was talk of a priest, whom we knew well. I had it as a religion teacher when I was in school. He was a very nice priest, a worker, so we didn't believe it, at least I didn't believe it at the beginning. But she knows well that there is always doubt ...
Even the priest (according to the indictment) has a double life.
A highly esteemed person during the day, who recites mass, celebrates weddings, rolls up his sleeves and helps everyone by going from village to village, always saying goodbye from his white van.
But at night he transforms himself and becomes the leader of a pedophile gang. Children are afraid of him.
They remember him with his tunic and ankle boots with heels while he gives orders in the middle of the graves in a cemetery.
Wait up. A cemetery, he said?
"Oh yes," says Dario. "Our parents took us there at night to attend fake funerals."
Little by little, the memories of the little ones lift the veil over what their psychologists hoped they wouldn't have to find out.
The black heart of the sect.
The cult of Satan, practiced with long night sessions between tombs and burial niches of 3 cemeteries in the area.
Some children remember threats with knives and awls.
Others talk about animal sacrifices, especially cats, made by their own parents.
Detailed descriptions and maps are popping up: the children know cemeteries by heart, like their playground.
Everyone tells the same story.
Hence the shadow of the most terrible suspicion stretches across the town: that human sacrifices take place inside cemeteries.
Pedophiles turn into murderers. And it is always the same priest to guide them, like a sort of magical piper who awakens the latent beast in the parents at night, in the name of the devil and of the money because - children always tell - everything is photographed and filmed. And those images will then go very far.
But where? Perhaps in Belgium, where the murderer of children Marc Dutroux was arrested at the time, who had shocked Europe by admitting to being part of a colossal network of pedophiles?
And above all, who is this priest?
Inside his house a computer is found, the only one in the parish with an internet connection.
An expert discovers that among the latest research carried out by the priest there are three somewhat strange: first only "child", then "hard", finally "friends of children". Investigators also find boots, the same ones described by Dario in his stories. And finally, in a drawer, a book that speaks of Satanism.
The circle tightens more and more. The country is upset.
"But how? The greengrocer? The mechanic? The potter? The kindergarten teacher? What is happening?"
Live country voices Woman: If you were from Massa Finalese you were a bad person. Nobody sat next to you. This was the climate there was. It's the country of pedophiles, period.
And so in Massa Finalese, police and carabinieri start knocking on the doors of the houses and breaking up the organization, piece by piece.
The juvenile court issues removal orders to bring the children to safety, who find accommodation with foster families or in a center run by nuns.
The adult one instead drags the parents, relatives and accomplices in front of the defendants' desk.
None of them will ever see their children again.
It is the end of a nightmare.
Or the beginning of a new one?
How is it possible that so many children have all told the same story, but the country has neither seen nor heard anything?
Yet they were within walking distance of the houses. Why didn't anyone save them?
Were they all accomplices?
What if nothing ever happened?
What if the parents are not devils, but innocents who are still waiting for their children?
Remember? Side A and Side B….
Live Pablo: Are you a pedophile?
Scotta: Absolutely not, I haven't, I've never been
Pablo: Have you ever been to cemeteries to perform satanic rites on children?
Scotta: Absolutely not Woman: My husband, three days before dying, told me that he never hurt his children before the crucifix ...
Giacco: I want my daughter ... I want to see her, even one day, for half an hour ... because we haven't done anything wrong