Italy is a nation of contrasts. It’s the home of arguably the world’s finest cuisine, opera, The Renaissance, Roman civilisation and some of the most incredible cars ever made. However, it also plays host to some of the most aggressive organised criminal gangs and even sided with Nazi Germany during World War II.
In terms of crime, modern-day Italy is something of an enigma too. While the country still has a very genuine issue with its various mafias, violent crime and murder is surprisingly low. In fact, Italy has one of the lowest homicide rates in Europe, behind only Luxembourg and Slovenia. This indicates that violent crimes are actually all rather uncommon in Italy.
Despite this relatively low violent crime rate, Europe’s 10th largest nation has still birthed some seriously unpleasant serial killers over the years.
Donato Bilancia - 17 victims
Known by some as ‘The Monster of the Riviera’, Donato Bilancia killed nine women and eight men between October 1997 and April 1998. An unassuming-looking man, Bilancia looked more like Dustin Hoffman than ‘The Worst Serial Killer in the History of Italy’, a scary title which was also bestowed upon him.
He was eventually identified, captured, tried and sentenced to 13 life sentences. Before his arrest, however, police were very worried. Bilancia intentionally mixed up both his victim profile and his modus operandi, making him extremely difficult to get a handle on. Stalking a vast area of northern Italy certainly didn’t make things easier for authorities. They did, however, get their man in May 1998. Still active, he almost certainly would have added to his kill count had he not been put in handcuffs. Bilancia died in jail in December 2020.
Maurizio Minghella - 15 victims
Maurizio Minghella was many things: an abused child, a tiler, a boxer, a schizophrenic, an amnesiac, and a 'hysterical psycho-neurotic with histrionic personality disorder'. He was also a necrophiliac and 'The Valpocevera Strangler', who raped, beat, strangled and killed at least 15 women in Turin and Genoa between 1978 and 2001.
He’s currently serving a sentence of 131 years in a high-security prison in Pavia, Lombardy.
The Monster of Florence - 14-16 victims
With the exception of the infamous Jack the Ripper and Zodiac cases, perhaps the most puzzling and shocking unknown serial killer from modern history operated in Italy.
‘Il Mostro di Firenze’ had more than just a certain elusiveness in common with the Zodiac Killer. In fact, the similarities are quite stark. The killer also shot, stabbed and killed couples with a revolver and followed a lunar calendar to do so.
The sexual assault of victims, differing murder signatures, rumours of satanism and occultism, and a convincing theory that more than one man was responsible added to the mystery. Plenty of suspects have been questioned, charged and even convicted, but the true culprit has never been found.
Roberto Succo - 7 victims
Roberto Succo, sometimes known as ‘Zucco’, was an Italian serial killer born in Venice in April 1962. He killed multiple victims throughout Europe in 1987 and 1988, including his own parents and two police officers. Italian authorities caught him in the spring of 1988 before he could wreak more havoc. After examining him, specialists determined that he was a paranoid schizophrenic and a dangerous member of society.
When the police first questioned the man with a political science degree, they asked him about his occupation to which he replied flatly, ‘I am a killer. I kill people.’
Succo was unable - authorities decided - to understand the charges or take part in his own defence due to his mental illness. He was admitted to a psychiatric institution but didn’t stay there for long. The killer suffocated himself with a plastic bag on 23rd May 1988.
Sonya Caleffi - 5 victims
While the sole female to appear on our list was convicted of five murders, it’s believed that her kill count could have been as high as 26.
Sonya Caleffi, born in Como in 1970, is considered by Italian criminologists to be an Angel of Death-style killer. That is to say that she murdered patients under her care in various hospitals and care settings.
She worked in the general medicine department of Sant'Anna Hospital in her hometown from September to November 2003, when embolisms from air injections killed eight patients who were terminally ill. She allegedly killed 18 people while employed at the Manzoni Hospital in nearby Lecco from September to November 2004.
Caleffi confessed to just six of the murders. The families of the victims were incensed when she was sentenced to serve just 20 years in 2007 for five murders and two attempted murders.
When asked for a motive, Caleffi offered the following: ‘I am very sorry for what happened and I ask forgiveness if it is possible. I didn't want those patients to end up like this. I did what I did because I liked that everyone rushed to save the patients in time.’
The Monster of Udine - 4 victims
Florence and the Riviera aren’t the only parts of Italy to have played grisly host to an anonymous monster. ‘Il Mostro di Udine’ - still unidentified to this day - terrorised the northeast of the country in the 1970s and ‘80s. The killer almost certainly claimed the lives of four women, but quite possibly killed many more – maybe even as many as 16.
The four confirmed victims had a large abdominal incision that had been carefully cut and cleaned, most likely using a scalpel or similar tool. Because the wound's incision resembled a Caesarean section, authorities were convinced that the murderer was a physician or surgeon. Still, the police have not made any arrests and have never had any solid leads in the case.