July 10, 1951
|Other names||The Liguria Monster|
Killer on the trains
|Conviction(s)||April 12, 2000|
|Criminal penalty||13 terms of life imprisonment|
Span of crimes
|October 1997 – May 1998 (6 or 7 months)|
|May 6, 1998|
Donato "Walter" Bilancia, (born July 10, 1951) is an Italian serial killer who murdered seventeen people – nine women and eight men – on the Italian Riviera in the period from October 1997 to May 1998.
Bilancia's inconsistent modus operandi made him difficult to identify and capture. There were no obvious links between the majority of his murders. He chose most of his victims at random, across a vast area of Northern Italy and becoming synonym for fear among the Italian Riviera population, being nicknamed Mostro della Liguria ("The Liguria Monster") and L'assassino dei treni ("Killer on the trains").
Initially attributed with only nine homicides by the Italian police, Bilancia later confessed to having killed eight other people. With a sentence to 13 terms of life imprisonment, and no possibility of release, Bilancia has been defined by some Italian newspapers as "the most horrifying serial killer in the history of Italy".
Background and early crimes
Bilancia was born in Potenza, Basilicata, in 1951. When he was about five years old, his family moved to northern Italy, first to Piedmont and then to Genoa in the Liguria region. He was a chronic bedwetter until age 10 or 12, and his mother shamed him by placing his wet mattress on the balcony where it could be seen by the neighbors. When undressing him for bed, his aunt would shame him by pulling down his underwear in front of his cousins to show his underdeveloped penis. At age 14, he decided to start calling himself Walter. He dropped out of high school and worked at jobs such as mechanic, bartender, baker and delivery boy.
While still underage, he was arrested and released for stealing a motor scooter and for stealing a truck loaded with Christmas sweets. In 1974 he was stopped and jailed for having an illegal gun. At some point he was committed to the psychiatric division of the Genoa General Hospital, but escaped. After he was apprehended, he spent 18 months in prison for robbery. He served several prison terms in Italy and France for robbery and armed robbery. In spite of his history of psychiatric problems, up to age 47 he had no record of violence.
Bilancia was a compulsive gambler who lived alone. His first murder was the October 1997 strangulation of a friend who betrayed him by luring him into a rigged card game, in which he lost £185,000 (about $267.00). The authorities originally thought this death was a heart attack. Bilancia's next two murders were the revenge shooting of the game's operator, and of his wife. He emptied their safe afterward. Bilancia later said these first killings gave him a taste for murder. In all his killings he used or carried a .38 caliber revolver loaded with wad cutter ammunition. He made no attempt to conceal his victims' bodies. That same month, he followed a jeweler home to rob him, then shot him and his wife dead when the wife began screaming. He emptied their safe of jewelry. He next robbed and murdered a money changer. Two months later, he killed a night watchman making his rounds, simply because he did not like night watchmen. He killed an Albanian prostitute and a Russian prostitute. A second money changer was killed next, shot multiple times and his safe emptied.
In March 1998, while receiving oral sex at gunpoint from a prostitute, he shot and killed two night watchmen who interrupted, then shot the prostitute, who survived to help develop a police sketch and later testify against him. He also killed a Nigerian prostitute and a Ukrainian prostitute, and robbed and assaulted an Italian prostitute without killing her. On April 12, 1998 he boarded the train from Genoa to Venice because he "wanted to kill a woman". Spotting a young woman travelling alone, he followed her to the toilet, unlocked the door with a skeleton key, shot her in the head and stole her train ticket. Six days later, he boarded the train to San Remo and followed another young woman to the toilet. He used his key to enter, then used her jacket as a silencer and shot her behind the ear. Excited by her black underwear, he masturbated and used her clothes to clean up. The murders of two "respectable" women sparked a public outcry and the creation of a police task force.
In his last killing before his arrest, Bilancia murdered a service station attendant after filling up with petrol, then took the day's receipts, about 2 million lira (about $1000).
Arrest and sentence
Based on the description of the black Mercedes one of his prostitute victims was seen entering the night she was killed, police considered Bilancia "suspect number one" and followed him for ten days. They collected his DNA from cigarette butts and a coffee cup, matching it to DNA found at crime scenes. On May 6, 1998 he was arrested at his home in Genoa and his revolver seized. After eight days in police custody he confessed, speaking for two days and drawing 17 diagrams.
On April 12, 2000, after an 11-month trial, Bilancia was sentenced to 13 terms of life imprisonment plus an additional 20 years imprisonment for the attempted murder of the prostitute who survived. The judge ordered that he never be released.
Aftermath: in the media, personal goals and first temporal permission
Bilancia's criminal life and the events that saw him as a cruel serial killer had a major impact in the media of Italy. His story inspired a television miniseries, called Ultima pallottola ("The last bullet"), directed by Michele Soavi, broadcast for the first time in 2003 on Canale 5, with actors Giulio Scarpati, who plays as the officer during the investigations, and Carlo Cecchi, as the serial killer.
In 2004 Donato Bilancia was interviewed live on Rai 1 during the broadcast on Domenica in, in that year conducted and hosted by Paolo Bonolis. The host received bitter criticism for the interview. In 2015, Rai 3 dedicated an episode to Bilancia, in the television show Stelle Nere ("Black Stars").
In prison, Bilancia has often been recognized as a "model prisoner". In 2016, after 5 years of studies, he obtained a diploma in accounting disciplines with a score of 83/100, and he is currently studying tourism disciplines at university. In 2017 he obtained his first temporary permit to leave the prison under armed police escort, in order to visit his parents' grave at Nizza Monferrato's cemetery in Piedmont.
- Gambler's betrayal led to rampage of murder, The Birmingham Post
- "Donato Bilancia è uscito dal carcere. Primo permesso per il serial killer dopo 20 anni". Blitz Quotidiano (in Italian). 16 November 2017. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
- "Bilancia esce di prigione: primo permesso dopo 20 anni per il serial killer genovese". Il Secolo XIX (in Italian). 15 November 2017. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
- From crime scene analysis to offender's personality: profile-generating process: the Bilancia case, Telematic Journal of Clinical Criminology
- Donato Bilancia, Occhirossi (in Italian)
- Dossier Donato Bilancia, latelanera.com (in Italian)
- Train-murders suspect may have killed eight, The Birmingham Post
- No motive found as Italy's worst serial killer gets life, The Guardian
- Serial killer, nel Dna la prova dei delitti, la Repubblica (in Italian)
- We've found the Ripper, Daily Record
- What’s wrong with a National DNA Register? Archived June 22, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, Spiked
- Il doppio enigma del killer degli anonimi, Corriere della Sera (in Italian)
- "Ultima pallottola". Mediaset (in Italian). Retrieved 11 October 2018.
- "Domenica in, va in onda l'intervista al killer". Corriere della Sera (in Italian). 25 April 2004. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
- "Bonolis, una domenica con il serial killer". Corriere della Sera (in Italian). 26 April 2004. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
- "Donato Bilancia: il killer dei treni". Stelle Nere. Season 2015 (in Italian). 2015. RAI.
April 1998. In less than a week, the bodies of two women barbarously killed in the baths of two trains passing through Liguria are found. Immediately the alarm goes off and with it the psychosis. It is better that women do not travel alone by train in that region. They would risk finding themselves in front of someone terribly dangerous. That "someone" is Donato Bilancia, thief, gambler but, above all, ruthless serial killer.
- "Donato Bilancia, il serial killer condannato all'ergastolo si diploma in carcere". Blitz Quotidiano (in Italian). 12 July 2016. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
- "Il serial killer Bilancia sotto scorta al cimitero di Nizza Monferrato sulla tomba della madre". La Stampa (in Italian). 15 November 2017. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
- "La prima volta del serial killer, Bilancia fuori dal carcere (scortato) va a visitare la tomba dei genitori". Genova Quotidiana (in Italian). 15 November 2017. Retrieved 11 October 2018.