Wilma Montesi (3 February 1932 – 9 April 1953) was an Italian woman whose body was discovered near Rome. The finding of her lifeless body on a public beach near Torvajanica, on Rome's littoral, led to prolonged investigations involving sensational allegations of drug and sex orgies in Roman society.
The accusation of Ugo Montagna and Piero Piccioni (son of deputy prime minister, Attilio Piccioni and lover of actress Alida Valli) caused a scandal. Subsequently they were absolved of all charges. Her murder remains unsolved.
Discovery of the body and murder investigation
Saturday, April 11, 1953, the day before Easter, the lifeless body of Wilma Montesi was discovered on the beach of Torvaianica, near Rome. The woman, aged 21, had been missing since April 9.
Wilma Montesi was from a modest background (she was the daughter of a carpenter). She was born in 1932 in Rome, where she lived in via Tagliamento. At the time of the disappearance, she was engaged to a policeman located in Potenza she was about to marry. She was considered to be very beautiful, she longed to enter the world of cinema and show-business of the Cinecittà studios (she made an uncredited appearance in Prison, Ergastolo, 1952). Everyone described her as reserved and noble, committed on finish the troudeau for the upcoming wedding, planned for the next Christmas.
The body was found by a laborer, Fortunato Bettini, who was having breakfast at the beach. The body was lying on her back on the shore, immersed in water only on the side of the head. The young woman was partially dressed and the clothes were soaked with water: she was no longer wearing her shoes, skirt, stockings, and garter belt and her bag was missing.
The initial proofs
When the news of the discovery was disclosed, newspapers came out with extensive articles, although the investigators had banned the press access to the mortuary where the body of the victim was kept. However, by a stratagem, a reporter of Rome's Il Messaggero, Fabrizio Menghini, managed to sneak through and to see the body. The description he made was published the next day and it allowed the father of the woman, Rodolfo Montesi, to show up for the recognition of the corpse.
From the reconstruction of the last moments of the life of Montesi, it emerged that the young woman had not returned home for dinner on the evening of April 9, contrary to their habits. The mother, along with her other daughter, Wanda, had spent the afternoon at the movies watching Renoir's The Golden Coach and stated that Wilma had declined to join them because she did not like movies featuring Anna Magnani, adding that she would probably go out for a walk. After returning home, the two women noticed that Wilma was not there, strangely she had left home her personal documents and some jewelry of modest value, gifts of her boyfriend, that she habitually wore when she went out.
The caretaker of the building in which the Montesi lived claimed to have seen her out around 17.30 and not to have seen her later.
Some witnesses claimed to have seen Montesi on the train from Rome to Ostia: Ostia is around 20 km from Torvaianica, too many to be traveled on foot, especially by a person who was not familiar with the area. The owner of a kiosk of postcards located near the beach of Ostia claimed to have conversed with a young woman apparently resembling Montesi, who had bought an illustrated postcard and intended to send it to her boyfriend in Potenza.
The exclusion of suicide option and the closure of the case
The body was brought to the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Rome, where an autopsy was conducted: the doctors claimed that the probable cause of death would be a "... syncope due to a foot bath," claiming that, most likely, Montesi took the chance of the trip to the beach to eat ice cream (remains were found in her stomach) and made a foot bath in the sea to relieve a nagging irritation at the heels of which she suffered for some time. To do so, Montesi would put off her shoes and socks and, most likely, also skirt and suspenders, and then she dived in the water where she fainted and finally drowned. The coroner reconnected her sudden illness to the fact that the woman was menstruating.
The distance between Ostia (the presumed last sighting of Montesi) and the point of the discovery was justified by claiming that the body had been moved by complex combination of sea streams. Autopsy revealed that the young woman was a virgin and she had not experienced violence (as evidenced by the fact that the make up was still on her face and painting on their fingernails intact); later, however, another doctor, Professor Pellegrini, said that the presence of sand in her intimate parts could be explained only as a consequence of a violence attempt. No traces of drugs or alcohol were found in her body.
The press involvement
The accident hypothesis was considered reliable by the police, who closed the case. However, newspapers were skeptical.
On May 4, the Naples monarchist newspaper Roma, suggested the hypothesis of a plot to cover up the real killers, probably some powerful personalities from politics; the hypothesis was presented in the article "Why the police is silent on the death of Wilma Montesi?", signed by Riccardo Giannini, which had a large following.
This hypothesis was shared by prestigious national newspapers such as Corriere della Sera and Paese Sera, and by small gossip magazines such as Attualità, but the main actor was the Messaggero reporter Fabrizio Menghini, who had followed the case from the outset. The idea, however, was echoed by almost all local and national newspapers.
On 24 May 1953, an article by Marco Cesarini Sforza, published in the communist magazine Vie Nuove, had much resonance: one of the characters appearing in the investigation and allegedly linked to politics, so far known as "the blond", was identified as Piero Piccioni. Piccioni was a well-known jazz musician (known by the stage name Piero Morgan), the lover of Alida Valli and the son of Attilio Piccioni, Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and a major exponent of the Christian Democrats.
The name of "blond" had been attributed to the young Piccioni byPaese Sera: an article published on the May 5 told how the young man had brought to the police station the missing garments of the murdered girl. Identification with Piero Piccioni was a fact known to all journalists, but no one had ever revealed the identity to the general public. On early May, Il merlo giallo published a cartoon satire in which a garter belt, held in the beak of a pigeon ("Piccione" in Italian), was brought to the police station, a clear reference to the politician and crime. The news caused uproar because it was published shortly before the 1953 general election.
Piero Piccioni and political scandal
Piero Piccioni sued for defamation the journalist and the editor of Vie Nuove, Fidia Gambetti. Sforza was subjected to a harsh interrogation. The Italian Communist Party (PCI), owner of the newspaper and sole "political" beneficiary of the scandal, refused to recognize the work of the journalist, who was accused of "sensationalism" and threatened with dismissal.
Even under interrogation, Cesarini Sforza never directly quoted the name of the source from which officially the news came, saying only that it came from "the faithful environments of De Gasperi."
Even the journalist's father, a professor of philosophy at Sapienza University of Rome, suggested to his son to recant, as well as the lawyer Francesco Carnelutti, who had taken the side of plaintiff on behalf of Pigeons.
The lawyer of Marco Cesarini Sforza, Giuseppe Sotgiu (former president of the provincial administration of Rome and member of the PCI) made an agreement with his colleague, and on May 31 Cesarini Sforza recanted his statements. He poured 50,000 Lire to charity to "House of fraternal friendship for freed from prison," and in exchange Piccioni dropped the charge.
Although, for the moment, scandal for the Christian Democrats was excluded, the Piccioni name had been mentioned and later would return to prominence.
Meanwhile, during the summer, the case disappeared from the news pages.
- The Montesi Affair, Time Magazine, March 22, 1954.
- The Montesi scandal : the death of Wilma Montesi and the birth of the paparazzi in Fellini's Rome by Karen Pinkus (University of Chicago Press, 2003) ISBN 0-226-66848-7
- Death and the dolce vita : the dark side of Rome in the 1950s by Stephen Gundle (Canongate, 2011) ISBN 978-1-84767-654-2
- (in Italian) Nu magazine (2005), Wilma Montesi, vergine e "martire".
- (in Italian) La strana morte di Wilma Montesi (2003) ISBN 88-7118-157-3