POISON - Episode 5 - The massacre of black cats
In the attic of the home of one of the families involved, we found more than 50 videotapes with the testimonies of the children. Everything has changed: the "paper" kids - of whom we only knew the minutes - became real, and for the first time they were the ones to speak
Live video overlapping children
Galliera, Romano, Adriana and Igor, parents and brother of Dario, condemned. Federico Scotta, father of Elisa and Nick, sentenced.
Giuliano Morselli and his wife Monica Roda, Cristina's father and mother, sentenced.
Santo Giacco, Margherita's father, acquitted.
Lorena and Delfino Covezzi, parents of Veronica, Pietro, Federico and Aurora, acquitted after 16 years.
Don Giorgio Govoni, acquitted after death.
These are just some of the more than 20 defendants who took part in the 'Pedophiles of the Lower Modena' trial.
For obvious reasons we cannot tell you the story of each of them, it would take hours, also because there were 5 procedural strands, each with its own degrees of judgment, and therefore we would risk getting lost.
To simplify, however, we will say this.
The Court of Modena initially identified two different crimes: sexual abuse committed in the home, and the violence that took place in cemeteries.
At first instance they had all been sentenced. But the fates were divided when it passed to the second degree.
The judges of the Bologna Court of Appeal, in fact, decided that the accusations of satanic abuse in the cemeteries did not hold up, for total lack of evidence, while domestic abuse was true, but only in some cases and only for some defendants.
And so, there are those who have suffered harsh sentences and ended up in prison, for six months or even for 11 years, like Federico Scotta.
Others, however, were acquitted of all charges, although someone - like Lorraine - had to wait 16 long years to be told that he was innocent.
The idea that we got then, after reading all the papers, is that in this intricate process, which someone today calls a 'colossal judicial mess', the sentences and acquittals were decided on arbitrary grounds.
In fact, none of the adults have ever confessed or accused the others, and no evidence has ever been found that really proved their guilt. No photos, no videos, no witnesses.
The only pillars of the accusation were always and only the same: the words of the children, the medical examinations and the psychological reports.
However, the fate shared by parents - both convicted and acquitted - is that none of their 16 children ever returned home.
Live video girl:
I've already done my part now ...
... I suffered, but now you will suffer ...
... Dear parents, you have hurt me a lot, and I have suffered. But now you will suffer ...
... now you will suffer ....
I think I have put this phrase into play dozens of times and when I hear it, I must say that it gives me the chills. Few words, formulated by a girl of only ten years old.
When we started to deal with this story, for months those children were like ghosts for us. We knew practically everything about them. When they were born, the diseases they had had, the grades they took at school, and then the terrible things they had told in the minutes, now twenty years ago.
But we had never seen or heard them, apart from the few sentences spoken by little Margherita on the B side of the audio cassette recorded in the cemetery.
Live Margherita returning: "There they killed children ..."
Otherwise those little ones were made of paper. We could only imagine them.
Then, one day, everything changed.
I was at Giulia's house, who immediately after the eviction had hosted Dario for a few months.
Live Dario as a child who returns: "Hello friend ..."
I have already told you how much she and her family had become attached to the child, in the short period in which he had been with them.
Then when Dario had started talking about abuses and cemeteries Oddina, Giulia's mother, who knew practically everyone in Massa Finalese, had started her personal investigation on this story. He collected all the newspapers in an almost obsessive way, he made himself photocopy the documents, followed the hearings. And he was looking for new witnesses.
She too, like others in the village, was convinced that behind the trial of the 'devils of the Bassa', there was a second truth.
With that idea she died, in September 2014, and during the final phase of her illness she had asked her daughter Giulia not to throw away the immense archive she had created.
On an afternoon in September 2015, exactly one year after her death, Giulia opened the attic of her house.
It was full of dusty boxes and yellowed folders. We spent over an hour moving cartons and leafing through documents that we had already read.
But in two boxes there were no procedural documents ... there was something different.
Live Pablo: Sorry and what are these?
Live Giulia: These are all interrogation tapes that social workers and prosecutors do to the children concerned.
Live Pablo: Look how many ... I mean, did you have the children's interrogations on tape?
Live Giulia: Yes!
In front of us there were more than 50 videotapes, each with a white label, with a date and a name written in pen: Marta, Margherita, Cristina, the children of Lorraine ...
Live Pablo: And how can you excuse me?
Live Giulia: I don't know ...
Live Pablo: Mamma mia how much stuff!
80 hours of video to watch, listen and transcribe. An impressive amount of work.
It took weeks and many liters of coffee ... Some videos were so damaged that they were incomprehensible, but many others fortunately not.
They were evidentiary incidents and hearings, in practice recorded interviews that the children had had with psychologists and judges, and that had served as fundamental evidence for the trials.
It was a totally unexpected turn.
Engraved on those tapes there was a truth that questioned all the elements we had collected.
Until then, of the allegations of abuse and violence, we had especially noticed the oddities and inconsistencies in the minutes, and I don't deny that we often thought they were too absurd to be true.
Now, however, the children were there to tell those stories, with their faces and voices from the past. And suddenly everything seemed terribly real.
Live girl: These things I'm going to tell you happened four and a half years ... four years ago.
My parents started earlier that ... my dad and mom who did me one evening hurt me.
Live girl: He took me to bad places ... In a cemetery and in other people's houses ...
Live girl: They stripped us, beat us up in the middle ...
Live child: Then afterwards there was the priest ... in the sense of saying that he was mass, but dedicated to the devil.
Live child: ... then he went to get the host, he came there to the cemetery and said "Jesus does not exist" he did so ... "Jesus does not exist" ... and these things. Then she told us about the devil, who comes to pick you up at night ...
He would put us on the grave and make us do things like dance, make gestures ...
Live girl: We also had cats and we killed them. My father made us drink the blood of cats.
Live girl: ... Then some children opened it here and all the blood came out, they saw bags. Later they were made to kill us. I had to kill five ... vabbeh, plus also, but in one evening in all five. Then I had to kill many of them. But we went three times a week and after those three times a week there every night I had to kill five ...
Listening to these stories has deeply disturbed us, especially for some descriptions, which we have preferred not to make you feel.
How did these children get to know details so driven on sex, torture, and death? What was hiding behind parents who
had we seen crying in the kitchen at home, looking at the pictures of the children, or their toys?
After watching those videos, we had a thousand doubts and a thousand perplexities, but once the initial shock was overcome, the oddities and inconsistencies that prompted us to tell this story emerged, even more evident.
Fifteen children killed in Massa Finalese, every week, and only by one child. But no body was ever found.
Cat's blood given to drink, or injected. A practice that can be lethal, but no one has ever ended up in the hospital.
Torture with sticks, bars and even awls. But no teacher, and no pediatrician, has ever noticed bruises, fractures or injuries.
How is it possible? Where had such an absurd story ever been heard? We would have found out soon, far from Massa Finalese. In another time, and on another continent.
In fact, in the United States, in the early 80s, a wave of collective hysteria crossed the country, with hundreds of complaints, one identical to the other. The phenomenon of the 'Satanic Panic', the 'Satanist panic'.
Live: The FBI 1988 Uniform Crime Report indicates that more than 18thousand murder investigations during that year….
The McMartin kindergarten in California is certainly the most famous case.
The story begins in 1983, in a suburb of Los Angeles, when a mother notices the strange behaviors in her son, and is convinced that he has been abused in kindergarten.
The woman tells the police a story full of bizarre details - she claims for example that one of the masters would even be able to fly - and although in her file there is a diagnosis of schizophrenia, she is still believed.
Parents talk to each other and with their children, triggering a domino effect.
Hundreds of children, interviewed by psychologists and social workers, are diagnosed with psychological trauma from sexual violence.
And a gynecologist finds abuse in more than 80 percent of cases.
The stories soon turn into something else: we are talking about people disguised as devils, satanic rituals, animal sacrifices and children forced to drink their blood. Finally of murders.
The situation is out of control.
Some children say that the teachers even took them by plane to the California desert, to rape them and then go back in time, before the closure of the kindergarten.
One of them claims that even Chuck Norris, the famous Walker Texas Ranger of TV, was present at the rituals.
In 1990, after 7 years, the trial ended with a sentence that overturned the accusations: they will all be definitively acquitted.
But now the Satanist panic is rampant.
Perhaps the most incredible case occurs in Austin, Texas in 1991, in another kindergarten. The one run by the couple Dan and Fran Keller.
Pay attention to the dynamic, because in many ways it looks like a photocopy of the McMartin story.
Here, too, a mother notices her daughter of strange behavior and begins to question her, until she confesses the abuse suffered in kindergarten.
A young doctor on duty in the emergency room finds two very recent small lesions on the girl. Police and social workers are alerted.
In a few days other children accuse the Kellers of abuse, of bringing them to a cemetery, of unearthing coffins, and of being forced to drink animal blood, in the presence of masked people who film them.
Remind you of something?
Here too there is talk of an airplane with which the couple took the children to military bases in Mexico, to rape them, and return to kindergarten in time.
Dan and Fran Keller are sentenced to 48 years in prison.
In 2009, however, the doctor who had visited the first child, will admit that at the time of the facts he was not expert enough to identify specific signs of abuse.
The evidence that led to the Keller conviction falls.
So, in 2013, after 21 years behind bars, husband and wife, now with white hair, embraced each other outside prison.
Live Fran Keller: A lot of people will destroy everything you have…
In tears, Fran says today that in the years spent in the cell he has suffered everything.
Live Fran Keller: People throw boiling water at you ... people make shanks ...
The other inmates threw boiling water over her, and on two occasions she had been raped.
Live Fran Keller: ... it's bad ...
Obviously in stories like this police, courts and social workers have played a decisive role.
But those who most of all created the atmosphere of Satanist panic of the time were the media, which without asking too many questions, rode the wave, with entire transmissions and specials on ritual abuse.
Oprah Winfrey herself, the queen of popular American TV, has devoted hours and hours to this topic.
Live Oprah:… Our next guest was also used in worshiping the devil, participated in human sacrifice rituals, cannibalism…
And so, stories of people forced to eat human flesh and to witness group violence have invaded millions of homes across the United States.
Presumed police and FBI experts roamed the country, organizing seminars on how to recognize the presence of satanic groups in their neighborhood.
In a short time the Satanist panic crossed the ocean and contaminated Europe too.
Giuliana Mazzoni tells us about it ...
Live Mazzoni: I am full professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Hull, England.
Mazzoni has been studying these cases for years now. Especially in the UK.
Live Mazzoni: These cases are interesting because they are all preceded by conferences, which basically inform teachers and parents about the existence of collective sexual abuse of the satanic type, and invite parents and teachers and social workers to interrogate children, without actually teaching how to interrogate children. And it is very curious how some months after these seminars the complaints began to flock.
Live Pablo: I mean where did he go ... where did this seminar go and then a case was created?
Live Mazzoni: And then a case was created, yes.
In dozens and dozens of processes, and among thousands of children involved all over the world, the same elements always recur described also by the children of the Lower Modena.
Sexual abuse, blood to drink, disguises, the bloodiest murders ...
Why do the stories of children from Los Angeles, Manchester and Massa Finalese look so similar?
According to many scholars of the matter, it is because they are part of a collective imagination shared by all, which we have assimilated since childhood and which accompanies us throughout our lives.
We are bombarded with this stuff even if we don't realize it.
The stab wounds to the heart? Don't you remember the meeting between Snow White's stepmother and the hunter?
Live Snow White cartoon: ... and to bring me the proof that you really killed her you will bring her heart in here!
Masked people doing rituals? For example in Eyes Wide Shut, by Stanley Kubrik.
Live Eyes Wide Shut: ... can you please tell me the password?
Blood to drink? We all know who Count Dracula was.
These are just a few examples among thousands of film cartoons, books and TV series. Monsters have always frightened us since we existed.
However, this macabre culture generates suspicions and prejudices in us, even when we are not faced with a real threat.
The mechanism is very simple: you hear about a danger, you are convinced that it exists, and shortly afterwards you start to see it everywhere too.
Just turn on the television.
A cry of alarm arrives, every year at least 60.000 black cats would disappear, 7000 only in Lombardy, 1500 in Rome, Milan and Turin, killed during satanic rites ...
60.000 black cats, that is 7 per hour? It is a real extermination!
It can also make you smile, but behind news like this there is a dangerous phenomenon, because what the memory records is that around Italy there are thousands of Satanists to be afraid of. Few probably wonder: who made these statistics, and how?
It does not matter. Collective panic strikes and everyone is missing a black cat at the roll call.
Live David Murgia: Well found to the audience of Vade Retro. In this new episode of our weekly information on the world of Satanism and the world of the occult ...
The TV is full of programs dedicated to Satan and the occult phenomena, which offer suggestive images and music, with flocks of black crows, tombs and skulls ...
Live Vade Retro: ... where they kill animals, where they rape women and unfortunately also against children ...
But there is never objective evidence and statistical data. It seems more than hearing the horror stories that have accompanied us since we went to kindergarten.
Live Pablo: Professor Introvigne, can you tell me about Satanism also linked to pedophilia?
Live Introvigne: Yes, of course there are many urban legends, many famous cases ended in nothing, that is, in the majority they are fake cases.
The scholar Massimo Introvigne cites two large studies commissioned by the American and English governments, which have analyzed thousands of cases ...
Live Introvigne: ... and found that in a very low number of cases, there had been pedophiles who had worn demon masks, but they are very very rare cases. The biggest trials collapse without condemnation. The sentences are very few.
In a nutshell: there is no evidence of the existence of satanic sects that perform collective ritual sacrifices and abuses, but rare cases of pedophiles who use the Satanist imagination to carry out their criminal acts.
Now, don't get us wrong. Sexual abuse of children exists and is a real problem. It is a drama that takes place all over the world, often within the walls of the house.
To combat this phenomenon, there is a need for programs, funds, structures, and judicial and social professionals who know how to protect and treat victims.
We are talking about one of the most delicate and difficult subjects to deal with, not only for those who face these problems every day, but also for those who do our job.
Trust me, it's not easy.
But what experts and academics have started to ask is: what is more widespread, the phenomenon of pedophilia, or our fear of pedophilia?
Worldwide, a vast scientific literature has been produced on the subject.
Many agree that in the mid-90s, just when the events of the Lower Modena occurred, our country was crossed by a wave of 'pedophilia psychosis'.
As with all phenomena there is never a single cause. Many say, however, that the climax was reached in 1996, in conjunction with the approval of the Senate of Law 66, "Rules against sexual violence", which transformed this crime from 'crime against public morality' to 'crime against the person'.
This is an important and absolutely necessary measure, which came after years of battles and campaigns for the recognition of a crime that had been underestimated up to that moment.
The existence of the law had certainly created awareness in the population, which now had a tool to defend children, but at the same time it seems to have fueled a psychosis that has long been growing everywhere.
In fact, after the approval of that law, a rather particular trend occurred.
Watch out for the numbers. Between 1996 and 1999 there was a 90% increase in reports of violence against minors. Courts were beginning to fill up with trials of pedophiles, to which the newspapers gave prominence. We did a search in the historical archive of Repubblica: in the articles written between 1986 and 1996 the results of the word 'pedophilia' are 122, while in the following ten years they jump to 4388.
Those who lived through those years will remember that pedophilia was often talked about. I have a witness here next to me: Alessia Rafanelli, with whom I wrote Veleno, who was born in 1990.
Live Alessia: The story of Veleno I feel very mine because the country where I was born is very similar to Massa Finalese. It is small, where everyone knows everyone ...
One day then a case also broke out in us, in the sense that it turned out that a little girl had seen a stranger in the little gardens taking pictures of us children while playing. And the mother immediately ran to school with the other parents, and said "be careful, pedophiles also came to us. Don't leave the kids alone. " So there was panic. The carabinieri came to school, I remember that too.
Live Pablo: But in the end I didn't understand this pedophile… did he find himself? Live Alessia: No ... because it didn't exist!
Live Pablo: In what sense?
Live Alessia: In the sense that the little girl who first saw the pedophile photographer, at 16 years old told me that the pedophile had never existed. He told me that she had told her to mom just because she didn't want to go to school ...
Again ... does that mean the problem doesn't exist? Absolutely not.
To understand what really happens, however, one must carefully observe the environment and context in which the facts happen.
In Massa Finalese, the small victims were experiencing a much greater stress than they were. Think about it.
Get away from home.
Parents in prison, or awaiting trial.
The trail of dead that stretched year after year.
A mother, Francesca, who had launched herself from the fifth floor.
A condemned man, Alfredo, Romano Galliera's friend, died of a heart attack immediately after the sentence.
A priest, Don Giorgio, already called a martyr.
Finally Adriana, Dario's natural mother, freed from the district house in Monza when cancer had already almost killed her.
And then the street demonstrations, the articles in the newspapers, the appeals on TV ...
How conditioned were the children from the atmosphere of fear and suspicion that meandered through the rooms of their new world, that of Social Services?
It was a phone call that made me understand more than anything else.
On the other side of the apparatus was a woman who had been entrusted with one of the dismissed girls, who had made those terrible stories.
Live foster mother: Between me and me I have thought many times "they are impossible things". But when he kept me informed, I was told "there is a little brother, even the little brother has been turned away, four brothers have been turned away", then he was told "be very careful, when you go away from here from neuropsychiatrist, be careful that no car follows you. " I mean ... even the most absurd thing can be true.
And if a foster mother is led to believe that she is even spied on and followed, what was the child told?
Alessia and I tried to ask them directly. It was not easy to find them.
Just as it was not easy to come to the door of boys who are trying to forget the traumas of childhood and who struggle to rebuild their lives.
It's ugly, you feel like shit.
But it was the only way we had to understand what really happened.
We tried to track down Dario. The zero child. We are looking for it everywhere. Nothing. It seems to have disappeared into thin air.
But we found Marta. She was very nice and kind, but she didn't want to talk to us.
Margherita, on the other hand, remained facing the balcony. He didn't kick us out. But he didn't even let us up.
And then we met three of Lorraine's children. They were very polite, but they also said no.
And just when we were about to resign ourselves to the idea that we would never hear the version of one of these guys, in a bar in Massa Finalese we met Alessandro. Its history has affected us a lot, because it has opened our eyes to a new reality for us: the universe deformed, twisted, ambiguous and studded with black holes that hides in our memory.
We have never talked about him yet, but on the night of November 12, 1998, while the police entered Lorraine's house, a steering wheel had also appeared at his parents' door. And like the 4 Little Covezzi brothers, he too had been taken away. He is the only one of the 16 children who agreed to speak with us. The only one who has returned home.
Even if it's too late.
Alessandro is 30 years old today. He is a boy full of anger and bitterness.
Until the day they took him away, he always lived in Massa Finalese.
Live Alessandro: ... as amazed as all my only children, because I had what I wanted.
Live Pablo: Your parents? What was your dad and mom like?
Live Alessandro: Always present, never had a problem, except once I ran away from the restaurant to the sea, to go and see the illuminated boats, I took two kicks in the ass by my father, but he is there.
His dad wasn't exactly a saint's shin and he had more than one past on his criminal record ...
Live Alessandro: Shop, clandestine competitions, theft of video recorders ...
And some stay in prison.
The mother, from what is said in town, was the exact opposite. A good girl, quiet, very close to her family.
In 1998 Alessandro was 12 years old and had long heard of the Banda dei Diavoli ...
Live Alessandro: At home once my father talked about it with my mother and said "With the friendships I have, I expect them to come and break the balls".
This omen would materialize shortly, on that famous mid-November night.
Live Alessandro: My mom woke me up saying that we had to leave ... "There are people waiting for us, we have to leave for a moment and then we go home."
Alexander is put on a white police car, which leaves for the Mirandola prosecutor. He will never see his parents again.
Live Alessandro: I had already understood the situation and I wanted to go home. Live Pablo: And what did you understand that, sorry?
Live Alessandro: I understood it because it was the same system they had used and it had appeared in the newspaper the week before, that they sent two other children away that I didn't know.
Hence Alexander's memories become confused, his memory has holes, or rather, chasms. For example, he no longer remembers interviews with psychologists, but only less significant details.
But he is sure he never spoke of cemeteries or strange rituals.
After leaving, he had been sent to a family home near Imola. And there he remained, alone and far from his family.
Live Alessandro: When I realized that after I didn't go home anymore I closed myself up and started to cry, but I also said to him “Remember that I come home. Where I am from I come home. "
And in fact he tries twice.
Live Alessandro: The first time at the age of 14 they stopped me at the station in San Felice.
Live Pablo: Did they stop you, did the carabinieri find you?
Live Alessandro: Yes. They brought me back there directly. The second time I tried and they stopped me at the station in Bologna….
Until one day social workers show up at his center, taking him aside ...
Live Alessandro: "Look, it's a displeasure to tell you so, but your father died of disease problems ... know that he is no longer there". Even my mom's death didn't come to them but an instructor, let's say, from the community told me because they didn't have time to come.
At 18, Alessandro returned to Massa Finalese, to try to put the pieces of his life back together, but continues to wonder what happened when he was 13 years old.
We asked ourselves, dozens and dozens of times, until among the recordings that we recovered, we also found his child's voice.
Live judge: How old are you? Live Alessandro: 13 and a half.
Live judge: Do you have the exam this year ... Did you have the report for the first quarter?
Live Alessandro: Yes, it sucks ...
Alessandro wears a beige sweater, is seated at a table, in a room with yellow heaters. In front of him is a judge. The boy is very polite and respectful.
And his words are unequivocal.
Live judge: Why did you feel bad in the place where you were?
Live Alessandro: Because I had known people who ... practically enjoyed doing satanic rites, who practically enjoyed hurting younger children.
My parents brought me because those who did these rites said to him "Ah if you don't bring it we will kill you ... we will kill you".
Alessandro had made those stories. And if today he remembers the exact opposite, perhaps, it is because over the years he has canceled everything to build a sort of alternative truth to believe in order not to suffer. Or maybe not to feel guilty. We don't know what to do. We would like to show him the video, but we are afraid of hurting him. We consulted a psychologist, who told us to make him decide directly.
Live Pablo: Do you want to watch it together? Can you feel it? Live Alessandro: Yes yes yes ...
Live Pablo: Are you sure?
Live Alessandro: I want to know what I said ... can I?
Alessandro initially looks at him carefully, but does not say a word.
Then, in the video, the judge asks him what he thinks of the choice of the Court to remove him from his parents ...
Live judge:… was this decision we talked about right or wrong?
Live Alessandro: It was right, because I came away to a place where I was practically sick, and I was sent away to a place where I was well.
Live judge: Are you convinced of this?
Live Alessandro: Yes.
Alexander begins to feel uncomfortable.
Live Pablo: Are you all right?
Live Alessandro: Yes there is something wrong, however. Live Pablo: What's wrong?
Live Alessandro: For me there are pieces that have been cut. Live Pablo: From this clip?
Alessandro gets nervous and gets up from his chair. He goes to the window and lights a cigarette. We assure you that in the video there are no cuts and there is no editing. We try to explain it to him very delicately, but he begins to focus on a series of details that do not return to him.
Live Alessandro: I don't remember that room with the yellow thermo, because ... there were no yellow thermo when I interviewed the magistrate.
It almost seems that he doesn't want to face reality. It is better for him to believe that someone has mysteriously edited that video, as if there was a plot.
But the voice is his, and he said exactly those things.
Live Alessandro: They made me cut a child twice Live Judge: Did you know this child?
Live Alessandro: No.
Live Judge: And stood still? OR...
Live Alessandro: No, it was ... he was fidgeting ...
Live judge: Do you remember who gave you this knife?
Live Alessandro: A gentleman who was standing next to me gave it to me ... Live Judge: Did blood come out?
Live Alessandro: Yes
Alexander bends over the computer screen and begins to stare at the judge.
Live Pablo: What are you looking for?
Live Alessandro: Stop it! He lacks his tie ... Live Alessia: Maybe it's another, isn't it?
He just can't recognize himself in the boy who told those things 20 years ago. It is clear that we can no longer go on.
Live Alessandro: No that's it! He lacks his tie and that video has been reassembled there. There he lacks his tie and never took it off during the interview!
But there is one last part that we want to make him listen.
Live judge: But I have to ask you the question and you have to tell me the truth: have your parents ever hurt you?
Live Alessandro: No, except for a few slaps from my dad ...
Live judge: This is normal, indeed sometimes you have to do it. Do you currently love your parents?
Live Alessandro: Yes, they are always my parents even if I have been turned away.
Live judge: Do you want to see your parents? Live Alessandro: Enough ...
Live judge: Do you miss them?
The boy in the video sighs and nods.
The man in front of us, on the other hand, has his gaze fixed on the void.
Live Alessandro: You can see that I am conditioned by all the history that surrounds it ... You can see a kilometer away that I am influenced ...
All he has left are photographs of a family he no longer has, the guilt that torments him and a question that haunts him since the dawn of November 12, 1998 ...
Live Alessandro: I want to understand who ruined my life ...