‘Hannibal’: The History Of Il Mostro, Fact Vs. Fiction

Chief Investigator Pazzi believes Hannibal Lecter is Il Mostro, but what is the real story behind the case? (Note this article contains spoilers for the book Hannibal.)

In “Primavera,” we learn that Chief Investigator Rinaldo Pazzi (Fortunato Cerlino) believes that Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsesn) is Il Mostro — the Monster of Florence. What many Fannibals may not realize is that Il Mostro is an actual case in Italy, one that has yet to be solved. Some believe that Thomas Harris had hinted at the possibility in the book Hannibal that Dr. Lecter was Il Mostro.

For those unfamiliar with the case, allow me to share some information about Il Mostro.* The number of victims attributed to Il Mostro varies; the number is either 14 or 16 depending on whether one couple found murdered in 1968 is counted as Il Mostro victims. The crimes were not as poetic as their portrayal in the show, even though one investigator did feel that one of the crime scenes was somewhat similar to the Primavera painting by Botticelli. The Il Mostro victims were couples, often found along areas known for being “lovers’ lanes.” In most cases, the victims were shot, the male left in the car, while the female was found outside the car, undressed, with evidence of mutilation. The murders usually took place during the summer months, on a weekend, during a new moon.

In June of 1981, the initial couple to be attributed to Il Mostro was found in the Tuscan countryside; the male victim still in the car, the female had been dragged a short distance, and was laying among flowers, naked. Both victims had been shot and the female’s vagina had been excised. A gold necklace she was wearing had managed to slip between her lips.

While this was the first case initially considered to be the work of Il Mostro, it wasn’t long before some began to speculate whether an earlier case, from 1974, might be the work of the same killer. In that case. another couple had been murdered while making love in a parked car. There were many similarities between the two cases. The police looked into the cold case and it turned out that the same gun had been used in both crimes.

After the murders in June, 1981, five more couples were murdered, in October 1981, June 1982, September 1983, July 1984, and September 1985.

Young Hannibal drawing the Primavera in the Uffizi Gallery.

As mentioned, the case has remained unsolved. Over the past 30+ years since the 1981 murders, a number of people have been arrested, some convicted, and all were released, acquitted, or had their convictions overturned. In 1992, during the investigation into one of the suspects, Pietro Pacciani (who was convicted but whose conviction was later overturned on appeal), the investigator in charge at the time discovered a copy of Botticelli’s Primavera in Pacciani’s possession. The investigator felt that the picture resembled that of the June 1981 murder scene and used it as part of the evidence against the man, and it was presented during the trial. Furthermore, Pacciani had served time in prison for killing a man who had slept with Pacciani’s fiancée in 1951. It was during Pacciani’s 1994 trial that author Thomas Harris visited Italy, and sat in on the trial, listening to the case and taking notes for his book, Hannibal.

In the novel, the couples murdered by Il Mostro were shot, then posed with flowers, with the women’s left breast exposed. “Anatomical trophies” had also been taken; however, what body parts were not specified. In the book (and in the show), the murdered couple that is compared to the Primavera painting, had been posed in the bed of a truck with flowers. The fictional Investigator Rinaldo Pazzi led the investigation against another fictional character named Tocca who is modeled after Pacciani. It was the conviction (in the book) of Tocca that won Pazzi fame in Florence but also his downfall as Tocca was eventually deemed innocent of the crimes of Il Mostro. 

“I met him 20 years ago, Il Mostro, the Monster of Florence. It was his custom to arrange his victims like a beautiful painting. Il Mostro created images that stayed in my mind.” – Pazzi, “Primavera,” Hannibal

In “Primavera” last week, Pazzi tells Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) that he met Il Mostro 20 years prior, showing him a picture of a young Hannibal Lecter. Pazzi states that there was no evidence against the young Lecter, and instead another man was convicted of the crimes, based on little more than having a poor character. It seems this is referencing Tocca from the book (or Pacciani in the real case).

While in the book it’s not overtly stated that Pazzi thought Hannibal might be Il Mostro, some believe that it is hinted. When I read the book, I took note that at one point Pazzi is looking out over Florence from the Belvedere and he recalls seeing a photograph of a drawing done from that very viewpoint. The photograph was one of Dr. Lecter with the drawing in the background; a drawing Hannibal had done from memory after having already been incarcerated. It is at this point that Pazzi realizes that Hannibal is masquerading as Dr. Fell. However, it may also be a hint that Hannibal was Il Mostro as well, considering that, for Hannibal to have drawn the view from memory after already being imprisoned, he had to have been in Florence at some point in the past. Also, the fact that, in the novel, “anatomical trophies” were taken without specifying which body parts could possibly be seen as an insinuation that those parts were consumed.

While there certainly are some similarities to the actual crimes of Il Mostro and what is presented in the book and television show, the differences are vast. For anyone interested in learning more about the case of Il Mostro, I would recommend the book, The Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi.

*All information related to the case of Il Mostro was taken from the book The Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi.