Further fallout from a disaster of a PR campaign. Frank Sforza's trial (not now short form) will start in the Florence courthouse this Friday. He has effectively conceded that he made many malicious things up, while bizarrely still claiming that he is the one being framed. He still faces a trial in Perugia and one in Seattle, both for physical violence.
Elisa Benedetti: Another Sad And Unneccesary Death Of A Young Woman Living In Perugia
Posted by catnip
About our series
This is another in our occasional series of posts on crimes involving young women in Perugia.
It shows how trouble and death so easily overwhelmed the vivacious Elisa, how drugs and drug dealers may have played a role, how the authorities handled Elisa’s disappearance, and how caring Perugia yet again rallied round.
Who was Elisa?
Elisa Benedetti was a 25 year old student and call-centre operator and lived in Città di Castello with her father Osvaldo, 51, and younger brother. Her mother had died two months previously.
On Saturday night, 29 January 2011, Elisa Benedetti, 25, out drinking with friends, disappeared into the dark wilderness north of Perugia. The car she was driving became bogged down on a muddy track.
She called the emergency number. She was lost, confused and frightened.
Eventually, the phone batteries gave out. It was icy cold and wet, mud everywhere. Around midday on the following Monday, her body was found about a kilometre from the abandoned car.
She had died from exposure to the cold.
What had happened?
The place where she was found, on the exposed shingle of the torrent Ventia, was near an artificial pond in the woods between the tiny townships of Civitella Benazzone, about 15 km from Perugia, and nearby Casa del Diavolo.
She was only about a kilometre away from the Red Zone disco, almost within walking distance during the day, but treacherous during a freezing cold, wet and muddy night. At some point, she had fallen into the water, and swallowed mud and water. The car was a kilometre away, on the other side of the stream.
A Vigili del Fuoco (fire-fighting service) helicopter from Arezzo found her, after Vigili del Fuoco personnel had found her car the day before, on the Sunday. The Civil Guard, the State Forest Corps, the provincial police and the Carabinieri dog squad were also involved in the search.
Plus, a group of half a dozen friends and relatives had also organised searches over the weekend and had already found her purple woollen cap on the track, not far from the car, but then, when communications from the helicopter on that Monday morning indicated that a body had been found, they knew there was nothing further they could do.
Her shoes were found separately, later. And her wet jumper was on a branch, hung out as if to dry. The phone she made the emergency calls on is still missing.
In addition to the hypothesis of death by exposure, because she had wandered around lost and in a confused mental state, investigators conjectured that drugs may have been a contributing factor, and so third parties might be responsible for her death by selling her the drugs in the first place.
The autopsy was conducted on Wednesday 02 February.
The official cause of death was hypothermia: an official note from the Public Prosecutor’s Office (the Via Fiorenzo di Lorenzo offices are under the directorship of procuratore Giacomo Fumu) explains that
With reference to the decease of Elisa Benedetti, and with a view to avoiding the publication of news not corresponding to actual facts, [this Office] communicates that the result of the preliminary autopsy examination reveals that the cause of death cannot be tied to the probable ingestion of stupefying substances, but more precisely, to cardio-respiratory insufficiency deriving from hypothermia.
There may have been a contributing factor, though. Her physique had already been weakened by alcohol, and probably drugs.
At her funeral on Friday, 04 February 2011, which started at 14:30 in the San Pio X (Saint Pius X) parish church, hundreds of people turned up, including many from Perugia and Florence.
The Bishop, Monseigneur Domenico Cancian, found himself in front of a deeply moved crowd in the packed church. It was an emotionally moving atmosphere. His words included these.
Her cry for help, which Man was unable to, or knew not how to, respond to, was heard by Jesus… In that terrible solitude, in that freezing cold the Lord will have warmed her with His love, and illuminated the path for her to His house.
Monsignor Cancian expressed his solidarity with “the sadness of all of Città di Castello, and especially with Elisa’s father Osvaldo and brother Andrea, already struck by the sadness of the death of the mother, a death which greatly shocked Elisa”.
Her Dad is right, the Bishop added, in wanting Justice finding out the truth in the appropriate venues. The Bishop asked for a “showing of a great respect to her and her family”. “It is deeply offending to make a spectacle of the sadness of others and especially to say things that are not true.”
He emphasised that “no-one must allow themselves to judge, but at the same time everyone must ask themselves if they had done enough to help Elisa”. “I’m speaking both to the grown-ups, as well as the younger ones”.
That’s how many of the letters started that Elisa’s 14-year-old brother read after the funeral service. “We won’t forget you, you’ll always remain in our hearts,” said one letter.
Andrea burst into tears several times during the reading, as did Elisa’s best friend, Alice. “I’m angry with myself for not having been closer to you,” she said, speaking of Elisa. “Now the sadness remains and only the hope of dreaming about you”.
During the funeral, Eros Ramazzotti’s song, ‘Sta passando novembre’ (November’s passing by), was played. (Video at bottom here)
The investigation is being coordinated by Perugian Public Prosecutor Antonella Duchini, and the reconstruction of the timeline of events seems to be something like this:
On Saturday evening at Ponte Rio, at an IP service station bar, Elisa and her friend Vanessa spent more than an hour and a half drinking beer and whisky with a young Tunisian, Ahmed. Later, another three boys turned up in a Passat.
Afterwards, according to a witness, as Elisa and Vanessa left the bar in Vanessa’s gray Fiat Punto to go to a disco (the Red Zone, according to Ahmed, although initially Vanessa had told police they were intending to go home because they were tired).
By this stage, it appears that both Vanessa and Elisa had taken what they thought was heroin. But before they even got on to the E45 to head towards Ponte Pattoli, near the township of Casa del Diavolo, not far from the disco, there was a minor accident with a car with two young men in it, a small bingle, on the Ponte Felcino junction for the E45.
Vanessa got out to check the damage and while she was swapping details with the driver of the other car, Elisa climbed back in the car and drove off, “muttering something about the necessity of going to Ponte Pattoli and meeting up with Matteo”. “Suddenly, I never expected it,” said Vanessa.
A little later, according to the same witness, Vanessa asked some boys to take her to the Red Zone disco to look for Elisa because she had drunk a bit too much. Elisa wasn’t at the disco, but a bouncer mentioned to Vanessa and the boys with her that he had seen a girl in a gray Punto pass by, which had bumped into a fencing pole before driving off. Vanessa asked for a lift to San Marco to continue the search, then Ponte Felcino, and finally Resina.
In the meantime, around 01:00, Elisa was calling the emergency number 112 (and also 118) in an evident state of agitation, asking for help because she had been raped and didn’t know where she was, and the car was skidding. The police operators were trying to work out her location while trying to calm her during the long call but eventually the phone batteries gave out and she was found two days later.
Another piece of the puzzle regarding her movements is that around 00:30, before calling the emergency numbers, she had stopped in front of the house of one Raoul and sounded her horn as if she had an appointment with somebody. Raoul went outside to check and she told him she had gotten the wrong house. He advised her to turn back, seeing as she was alone and it was late, but Elisa continued to drive off, going up into the woods.
Before that, she was in the environs of the Red Zone disco, where she knocked on the door of a house on a corner, but when the owner came out, she drove off. The disco parking attendant also saw her.
Investigators also looked at Elisa’s boyfriend, Alex (28, Brazilian, already known to the police and currently unemployed), who on the night of her disappearance was staying with his parents in Florence. He had attracted suspicion because on the Monday he had tried to use a credit card to access Elisa’s account through an agency of the Florentine Savings Bank in Viale Petrarca in the Porta Romana district. The card had been blocked and bank staff notified police. It turned out that it was their joint account and he was free to go.
The autopsy on Wednesday 02 February revealed no sign of sexual assault. She would have died on Sunday morning on the exposed part of the riverbed of the Ventia torrente. The consumption of a mixture of alcohol and drugs – probably including crushed ecstasy sold as heroin, and residual traces of which were found in the car – could have contributed to her death.
Forensic pathologists Mauro Bacci and Annamaria Verdelli — and Luca Lalli, for the family — have been trying to shed light on the cause of death. There were no external signs, as far as is understood, pointing to a violent cause of death. Verdelli carried out the autopsy in the presence of Lalli. No puncture marks were found, apparently. Toxicology tests will determine if drugs are to be implicated in the cause of death.
The most likely cause, at this stage, seems to be death by exposure due to the low temperatures experienced overnight in the region.
The police, besides going on the hunt for drug-dealers, have also been examining the records for four phones to check who called Elisa on Saturday night between 23:45 and 00:35. Two phones have still not been found. There are at least 3 or 4 suspected calls, and a 45-minute “hole” in the reconstruction timeline.
After the car accident at 23:45, when she suddenly drove off, Elisa – in the investigator’s hypothesis – contacted another drug-dealer who gave her instructions on where to go in the environs of Ponte Pattoli. There are several cottages there (image below) known to the police as drug centres where extra-community individuals can be found.
But probably Elisa, already under the influence of drugs and alcohol, took a wrong turn and that’s why she sounds her horn at Raoul’s house: “I told her to go back because further on there were no other houses, but she went anyway. Now, I’m remorseful that I didn’t insist. I didn’t sleep the whole night.”
A possible theory is that Elisa was trying to find out what the substance was that she had taken.
Vanessa Coltrioli remains the key witness. She’s “practically a sister”. It was Vanessa who told the police that they had bought drugs in the Perugia city centre before going to drink whisky at Ponte Rio.
On Thursday (3rd Feb), Elisa’s uncle Stefano had repeated his point about “late arrival of emergency help” and had gone straight to the Prosecutor’s Office, where he was interviewed at length by the magistrate with the objective of reconstructing how the unofficial searches were carried out during the period between Saturday night and Monday morning.
The Brazilian-born boyfriend was also interviewed for a long time, as a “person informed of the facts”, just like the uncle was, in order to establish Elisa’s world and visits: relations with Elisa, their friends, contacts with drug-dealers, and so on.
It’s likely one of the phone calls she made while lost was to him, so it is not surprising that the investigators would want to know if they had managed to speak to each other, and what was said.
Vanessa gave the police the drug-dealer’s name and phone number. The drug-dealer might not have sold them heroin at all, but a mixture based on MDMA which, when mixed with alcohol, can be fatal
“It was white, different from usual, and it had no effect, except for a loss of memory,” she said.
Their usual drug-dealer Matteo was not available, so they went to an alternate one, Marco. “It was him who answered the phone first” “We both had a pull [tiro], the rest stayed in the car”.
That was where the police found a small amount of powder, in the front interior in fact, and submitted it for analysis. Preliminary tests showed it was not heroin. Perhaps an MDMA-based mixture, the so-called rape drug, capable of alternating moments of lucidity with inexplicable gaps in the memory.
Hints coming out about the autopsy do not speak of death by overdose, even though drug consumption may have contributed, especially in disorienting Elisa when she was lost in the dark in the woods: she fell multiple times, including into water.
She was completely soaked, freezing and extremely frightened. There were no wounds, excluding the cuts and scratches from broken branches, especially on her hands and wrists, so intravenous injection could be excluded
She called the 112 operator at 00:35, and then again at 02:07 for 27 minutes, saying she could only remember “the Ponte Rio IP bar”. Then a void. No word on the road accident but a spasmodic call for help. “I’m afraid, I’m afraid. Come and get me.”
“They drugged me and forced me to drink, I’m afraid, and the car has stopped”. “"I’ve fallen over, I can’t make it, there’s mud and rain. It’s dark, I’m afraid, come and get me.”
She was confused and slipping in and out of lucidity during that last terrible phone call, before being swallowed up by the woods and leaving the police officer trying to calm her with her last words: “I’ve been pricked by thorns, they’re small like roses”
The phone battery was finished, and she was left alone with her monsters.
She fell over, got up, crossed the torrent and then slipped, exhausted, on the shingle on the other side. Into a coma. She died not long after, possibly around dawn on Sunday, but the Public Prosecutor’s consultants, Professor Mauro Bacci and Doctor Annamaria Verdelli will determine a more exact time.
On Friday afternoon 05 February, three people were arrested for drug-dealing and taken to the Via Ruggia police station in Perugia: two Tunisians and one Italian.
Based on witness statements and other findings, two of the arrested men, Ahmed Aouini, a Tunisian citizen, 26 years, and Simone Lillacci, 38 years, operating in the piazzas of Perugia, allegedly supplied drugs to Elisa and Vanessa on Saturday night, 29 January 2011.
Toxicological tests still to be scheduled will determine if drugs might have contributed to the death. Also seized was 300 grams of heroin and 50,000 euro. The third arrested man is Habuab Awbab, Tunisian, 28 years old. The drugs and money were found in his house.
The three were arrested about 13:00 in the region between Ponte Rio and Ponte Pattoli, in the outskirts of Perugia: the same region that Elisa and Vanessa spent a great deal of time in on Saturday night. The Perugia Public Prosecutor’s Office has opened a second file on the matter under “death as a consequence of another crime”.
The family reaction
Lawyers Barbara Campanelli and Marta Minciotti are representing the family. Doctor Luca Lalli has been retained as the Benedetti family consultant. Police have been keeping journalists and TV crews away from the family
Elisa’s father, Osvaldo, 51, worried for her, had tried contacting Vanessa that Saturday night, and then the police. He wants to know why Elisa wasn’t found straight away, seeing as the body was not far from the car. And her call to the police was an hour long.
What happens next?
We will post again on Elisa’s case as the indictments and further investigations are made. See below the video for references and photo sources.
1 - Perugia, la morte di Elisa Benedetti: arrestati tre presunti spacciatori (Perugia – the death of Elisa Benedetti: three alleged drug-dealers arrested) [ Unione Sarda ] 05 February 2011
Link = [http://www.unionesarda.it/Articoli/Articolo/212555].
2 - Il giallo di Elisa, Perugia: un appuntamento con Matteo dopo l’incidente, forse droga? Oggi l’autopsia (The mystery of Elisa – Perugia: a meeting with Matteo after the accident, maybe drugs? Autopsy today) [ Corriere Informazione ] 02 February 2011
Link = [http://www.corriereinformazione.it/201102026725/istituzioni/italia/il-giallo-di-elisa-perugia-un-appuntamento-con-matteo-dopo-lincidente-forse-droga-oggi-lautopsia.html].
3 - Perugia, fermati i pusher di Elisa: due tunisini e un italiano (Perugia – Elisa’s drug-dealers arrested: two Tunisians and one Italian) [ Quotidiano ] 05 February 2011
Link = [http://qn.quotidiano.net/cronaca/2011/02/05/454588-perugia_fermati_pusher_elisa_tunisini_italiano.shtml].
4 - “Ciao Eli” – Folla commossa ai funerali di Elisa (“Bye Eli” – moved crowd at Elisa’s funeral) [ Nazione ] 04 February 2011
Link = [http://www.lanazione.it/umbria/cronaca/2011/02/04/454019-funerali_elisa_gremita.shtml].
5 - Funerali della ragazza morta a Perugia Gremita la chiesa (Funeral for girl who died in Perugia – church packed) [ Nazione ] 04 February 2011
Link = [http://www.lanazione.it/cronaca/2011/02/04/454036-funerali_della_ragazza.shtml].
6 - Erika Pontini – “Elisa uccisa dal freddo” Ma è caccia agli spacciatori (“Elisa died from the cold” – But hunt on for drug-dealers) [ Quotidiano ] 03 February 2011
Link = [http://qn.quotidiano.net/cronaca/2011/02/03/453241-elisa_stata_uccisa_freddo.shtml].
7 - Erika Ponitini – Elisa al 112: “Mi hanno drogata e costretta a bere” (Elisa to the emergency number: “They drugged me and forced me to drink”) [ Nazione ] 04 February 2011
Link = [http://www.lanazione.it/umbria/cronaca/2011/02/04/453863-elisa_hanno_drogata_costretta_bere.shtml].
8 - La tragedia di Elisa – Oggi i funerali (The tragedy of Elisa – Funeral today) [ Nazione ] 03 February 2011
Link = [http://www.lanazione.it/umbria/cronaca/2011/02/03/453518-tragedia_elisa.shtml].
9 - Erika Pontini – “Elisa: uccisa dal freddo” – Ma è caccia agli spacciatori (“Elisa died from the cold” – But hunt on for drug-dealers) [ Nazione ] 03 Ffebruary 2011
Link = [http://www.lanazione.it/umbria/cronaca/2011/02/03/453260-elisa_uccisa_freddo.shtml].
10 - Risultati autopsia: Elisa sarebbe morta di freddo (Autopsy results: Elisa would have died from the cold) [ Nazione ] 02 February 2011
Link = [http://www.lanazione.it/umbria/cronaca/2011/02/02/453040-risultati_autopsia_elisa_sarebbe_morta_freddo.shtml].
11 - Nessun segno di violenza sul corpo di Elisa Benedetti (No sign of violence on Elisa Benedetti’s body) [ Nazione ] 02 February 2011
Link = [http://www.lanazione.it/umbria/cronaca/2011/02/02/452863-corso_autopsia.shtml].
12 - Erika Pontini e Giovanni Spano – “Elisa non è arrivata da sola nel bosco della morte” (“Elisa was not alone in death woods”) [ Nazione ] 02 February 2011
Link = [http://www.lanazione.it/umbria/cronaca/2011/02/02/452693-elisa_arrivata_sola_bosco_della_morte.shtml].
13 - Caso Elisa Benedetti – Tra oggi e domani l’autopsia (Elisa Benedetti case – autopsy today and tomorrow) [ Nazione ] 01 February 2011
Link = [http://www.lanazione.it/umbria/cronaca/2011/02/01/452195-caso_elisa_benedetti.shtml].
14 - Erika Pontini – Trovata cadavere in un bosco la ragazza scomparsa (Body of missing girl found in woods) [ Nazione ] 01 February 2011
Link = [http://www.lanazione.it/umbria/cronaca/2011/02/01/452086-trovata_cadavere_bosco_ragazza_scomparsa.shtml].
15 - Trovato il cadavere di Elisa – Nessun segno di violenza (Elisa’s body found – no sign of violence) [ Nazione ] 31 January 2011
Link = [http://www.lanazione.it/umbria/cronaca/2011/01/31/451594-trovato_cadavere.shtml].
16 - Ragazza scomparsa – Riprese le ricerche (Missing girl – search resumes) [ Nazione ] 31 January 2011
Link = [http://www.lanazione.it/umbria/cronaca/2011/01/31/451465-ragazza_scomparsa.shtml].
17 - Ragazza scomparsa – “Sono stata violentata” (Missing girl: “Ive been raped”) [ Nazione ] 30 January 2011
Link = [http://www.lanazione.it/umbria/cronaca/2011/01/30/451225-ragazza_scomparsa.shtml].
18 - Interrogato il ragazzo di Elisa – Voleva usare il suo bancomat (Elisa’s boyfriend interviewed – He wanted to use her ATM card) [ Nazione ] 01 February 2011
Link = [http://www.lanazione.it/umbria/cronaca/2011/02/01/452389-amico_cerca_prelevare.shtml].
19 - Perugia: trovata morta Elisa Benedetti (Elisa Benedetti found dead) [ Cronaca ] 31 January 2011
Link = [http://www.cronacalive.it/perugia-trovata-morta-elisa-benedetti.html].
20 - Elisa Benedetti, arrestati 2 uomini, sarebbero gli spacciatori (Elisa Benedetti case: two men arrested, her drug-dealers) [ Cronaca ] 05 February 2011
Link = [http://www.cronacalive.it/elisa-benedetti-arrestati-2-uomini-sarebbero-gli-spacciatori.html].
21 - Ragazza morta a Perugia: Uccisa dal freddo (Dead Perugia girl: died of cold) [ CheDonna ] 03 February 2011
Link = [http://www.chedonna.it/tag/elisa-perugia/].
22 - I funerali di Elisa Benedetti: ‘‘Grido d’aiuto inascoltato’’ (Elisa Benedetti funeral: “Unheard cry for help”) [ SalvaGente ] 04 February 2011
Link = [http://www.ilsalvagente.it/Sezione.jsp?titolo=Perugia,%20domani%20l%27autopsia%20di%20Elisa%20Benedetti&idSezione=9556].
23 - Perugia: Elisa e’ morta di freddo (Elisa died from the cold) [ Gexplorer ] Feb 2011
Link = [http://www.gexplorer.net/notizie/2011/02/cronaca-perugia-elisa-e-morta-di-freddo/].
24 - Perugia, arrestati due tunisini e un italiano. Sarebbero i pusher di Elisa (Two Tunisians and one Italian arrested – Elisa’s drug-dealers) [ Messeggero ] 05 February 2011
Link = [http://www.ilmessaggero.it/articolo.php?id=137550&sez=HOME_INITALIA].
Hi Catnip. Terrific research all from Italian language sources. Very sad story indeed. Like Meredith, all the images on Google Images make Elisa look so smiling. So hard to read about her being frightened and her worsening nightmare in the cold and dark.
Many drugs are “enhanced” now. Most marijuana in Europe and the US has been tweaked into skunk cannabis which can induce extreme paranoia and rage and the number of psychotic incidents is rising. It is wildly inaccurate to claim as the conspiracy theorists do that no way can a few pot joints lead to murder.
Sure they can. The skunk cannabis incident number is on the rise, and crystal meth and cocaine can also drive people haywire. Try googling each of them with the word psychotic. One example. The guy there killed his parents - not the first one to do that.
Excellent research and writing, Catnip. Thanks for this.
What a tragedy. This young woman’s last few hours and moments must have been terrifying and lonely. Another reminder of the allure of drugs and the horrible consequences. As I was reading this I admit I was asking myself “what did Knox and Sollecito take that night?”
What a beautiful girl. Condolences to her friends and family.
A reminder of how dangerous mixing cars and drugs/alcohol can be. Especially on a cold, rainy or icy night.
This also shows how careful and thorough Italian investigations are. They also seem to honor the principle of “death as a consequence of another crime.”
American actor Carroll O’Connor (Archie Bunker), after the drug-related suicide of his son Hugh, helped to get passed in California and other states legislation that would hold drug dealers responsible for medical/rehabilitation costs of their clients:
I hope any responsible parties in this case are found and prosecuted.
How terribly sad. Journey well, Elisa.
I was looking at the area on Italian Mapquest. Perugia has autostradas headed north south east and west and the area where Elisa was lost is to the east of the autostrada that heads north.
I used that autostrada the last time I departed Perugia to head north to Venice. The landscape up there becomes very mountainous very fast and just to the east of where Elisa was found there are no roads, just mountains. At this time of year there’d be snow and skiing. Five minutes further north is Città di Castello where Elisa and her family lived.
Rather surprising that there would be any cellphone service at all in those valleys and unlikely that her phone could be triangulated from three towers. Cellphones and GPS devices are saving thousands of lives now but sadly, not this one time. Maybe all cars should have two-way GPS devices in them, as many do in the US for anti-theft.
Red Zone is in Ponte San Giovanni, the town 5 minutes to the east of Perugia where Rudy Guede grew up. There are some images here.
This story reminds me a bit of this one in Nebraska where these two teens were high on crystal meth and got caught in a blizzard
This story is tragic and my condolences go to the family.
I am glad you are highlighting the truths about the dangers of skunk cannabis.
I have been banging on about this for as long as I can remember and always get a reaction from the ‘pro’ lobby who say I am wrong.
The thing is that these people are regular smokers of the stuff themselves and are quick to defend their habit with any number of reasons - the main one being the old favourite: “it doesn’t make people aggressive like alcohol does”.
I disagree as todays cannabis smokers are not the ‘blissed out’ and laid back hippies of the 60’s and 70’s.
Skunk weed is known to cause physchological episodes in people as it is far more potent than the stuff around in the 60’s and 70’s.
Only last week in the papers there was a case in which a skunkweed smoker suddenly stabbed someone multiple times with a screwdriver completely out the blue and I personally know people who I now avoid as they are just how I would describe as ‘weird’ due to their cannabis abuse, they are totally different to the people I once knew.
In my opinion it is something that has to be looked at more seriously and certainly could be a factor in the tragic death of Meredith Kercher.
Hi Black Dog,
There have been some high-profile murder cases in Britain where the killers were under the influence of cannabis and alcohol. It’s a myth that people don’t commit horrific crimes if they are under the influence of cannabis.
What exactly is “skunk cannibus”?
Hi Barry. Simply genetically enhanced marijuana plants, where the THC and/or any of the many other halucinogenic chemical compounds it contains are more potent. The enhancing is now more and the spread is now more - in Italy maybe 80% now is enhanced.
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