The Key to Cogne
Federica De Maria | 30-06-2008 | ENG
(Translated by Anamaría Crowe Serrano)

How can a simple truth be hidden when a crime hits the media. Valentina Magrin, co-author with Fabiana Muceli and under the guidance of Paolo Cucchiarelli, takes us in search of the murder weapon in her book La chiave di Cogne (tr. The Key to Cogne). It is the morning of 30 January 2002 in the locality of Montroz, in Cogne, Val d’Aosta, and young Samuele Lorenzi has just been murdered. Questions are still being asked today about how and why.

Valentina Magrin, when and how did you come up with the idea for this book? And how was the “working group” created?
The idea behind the book took hold in January 2007. In the preceding months, Fabiana and I had done a Masters in Journalism at the University of Urbino and the crime in Cogne was the subject of our final thesis. As we got good grades for our work, and plenty of support from the journalist Paolo Cucchiarelli who supervised all aspects of our research, we decided to go back over the entire experience and analyse it in greater detail. We gathered all our material – procedural letters, medical reports, books, interviews given by Annamaria Franzoni [mother of the victim, Samuele Lorenzi] – and we put together a kind of themed archive: we subdivided the temporal frame, which goes from the previous evening to the moments following Samuele Lorenzi’s homicide, into various folders each of which contained all the references to a particular event (for ex. one folder contained information about Annamaria’s illness, another one about Davide waking up, Samuele waking up, Annamaria leaving the house, the emergency services, etc.). We studied these folders carefully over a few months, noting all the conflicting evidence in each one. In this way we began an in-depth and actual draft of the text, where we reconstructed events, highlighting anything that didn’t quite “fit” the picture. During this stage of the job we noticed the unusual role of the bunch of keys belonging to Ms. Franzoni, which was, among other things, the item which she, according to herself, was holding the very moment Samuele woke up. We began to hypothesise then, that the elusive murder weapon might somehow be connected with these keys. Once we got the results of the autopsy done on the child’s body we became convinced we’d hit the nail on the head.

In the book you say that a case gets more publicity through a “trial by TV” type programme. But what are the traits of a successful trial by TV programme? Why do some cases (Cogne, Perugia, Garlasco, Erba) become media sensations while others, though they might be more serious, go unnoticed? Many infanticides never go down in history as noteworthy, they don’t touch people in such a morbid and extreme way. In particular, how much media influence was there in this “real-life soap” which had millions of Italians glued to the screen and above all, why?
The Cogne case, from the very first days after the tragedy, received huge media interest. There wasn’t a single newspaper that didn’t run it as a cover story, there wasn’t a single TV channel that didn’t give it prime time. Probably, if someone had been quickly identified as the perpetrator, the media circus would have dried up in a matter of weeks as happens in the unfortunately far too many cases of infanticide we’ve got used to hearing about. But the sustained level of interest in this case was due also, and especially, to the fact that Annamaria Franzoni and her family, just as the spotlight on them was starting to fade and focus on other events, decided to reaffirm that they had nothing to do with the facts of the case by appearing on TV with their story. At that point, human curiosity got the better of everyone: public opinion had at its disposal, on the other side of the screen, a woman suspected of murder... to look her in the eye, hear her speak, try to grasp her emotions... it was hard, in this age of Big Brother, to remain indifferent to such a gripping kind of reality!

Let’s talk about Annamaria Franzoni’s illness on that 30th of January. It was 5:39 a.m. …
Annamaria hadn’t been well the previous evening either. That morning, at dawn, she woke up with the same symptoms: pins and needles in her arms and legs, nausea, dizziness... but she was especially concerned that she wouldn’t pull through. That’s why she asked her husband to call 118 immediately, even though he was trying to make light of the situation. Afterwards, the couple said that Annamaria’s illness was caused by congestion or the onset of a cold, but this hypothesis isn’t supported by the facts. Firstly, Stefania Neri, the emergency services officer who answered the call, has always maintained that Annamaria was suffering from some condition of a psychic nature, even though the patient herself denies this; moreover, as we see in the first chapter of the book, Annamaria very often had similar illnesses to the one she had on the morning of 30 January, and when there was a medical check-up (such as when she was in jail) it was always put forward that her condition might be linked to anxiety.

Annamaria Franzoni spoke of pins and needles to other people: congestion from a cold has to be discounted. Could they be symptoms of a psychotic illness? There’s been talk of “transitional paresthesia of the hands and feet” and also of neurotrophic medication prescribed by the doctor.
It could indeed be hysteria, but that would be up to a specialist doctor to decide. What is obvious is that Annamaria Franzoni suffers from some kind of psychic condition which at the very least has the characteristics of what can generally be defined as “an anxiety attack”.

What became of Stefania Neri, the medical officer in charge in Cogne, who arrived at the little house in Montroz accompanied by her fiancé medic?
From what I know she’s not in Cogne any more. She might have gone back to Calabria, where she came from originally. She gave her version of accounts, anyway, both in court and in the psychiatric report.

There’s talk of the husband “keeping things under control”. What does this mean and, more generally, what do we know of Stefano Lorenzi?
Stefano Lorenzi is a moral and physical support to Annamaria Franzoni. When she’s not well, he – being a wonderful and attentive husband – attends to her and comforts her. And most of the time, she calms down in his arms. Stefano has the ability to keep his wife’s panic attacks “in check”. He’s a strong, solid man who makes you feel safe. We have evidence of it in Franzoni’s illness from 29 and 30 January 2002, but also in subsequent bouts in the police barracks and from wire taps placed in her car in February 2002. The morning Samuele died, Annamaria was being pushed to the edge by her psychic condition and by the fact that Stefano had gone out to work, so she didn’t have her greatest form of support. This made her all the more vulnerable and maybe caused her to commit a really terrible crime.
I wonder if Stefano didn’t feel (or wasn’t made to feel) hugely responsible for his “absence”, and if this could be linked to the stance he took after his son was murdered. “It’s not your fault”, he kept saying this to his wife, at least that’s what we heard during the second round of evidence from one of the emergency service medics who was on the scene. And he seems to repeat this phrase over the years, every time they’re sitting on the Bruno Vespa show, every time the law or public opinion points a finger in his wife’s direction... almost as if he was carrying the weight of having left her on her own.

There’s some doubt surrounding what the other son, Davide, might have seen, about his whereabouts throughout the key moments of that morning…
Annamaria, in the beginning, claimed that Davide was outside playing on his bike on that unfortunate morning, waiting for her to take him to school. It was only after some time, when she realised that her only alibi was in fact her older son, that Franzoni changed her version of events, saying that Davide had been in the house all along with her and that he had even said good morning to Samuele. This is perhaps the most serious contradiction that Annamaria Franzoni made, the one that makes it really obvious she was trying to change the focus so as to ensure her innocence. I firmly believe in the original version of events: Davide was in the garden that morning, he never heard or saw a thing.

Another somewhat unexplained presence in all this is Ada Satragni, who arrived on the scene with her father-in-law, but she arrived after the neighbour, Daniela Ferrod. Dr. Satragni’s initial statement mentions “strong aneurism”…
The fact that Dr. Satragni arrived after the neighbour isn’t odd: she lived further away whereas Ms. Ferrod lived just across the street.
It’s hard to form a judgement about Ada Satragni. On the one hand I don’t want to call her professionalism into question, but the description of the crime scene and the evidence from the air ambulance team who arrived shortly after her leave no room for doubt: Samuele died a violent death. The only thing I can speculate is that given that Dr. Satragni knew the Lorenzi family (not to any great extent, though there are differing opinions on this) she may have been “subconsciously” unable to make a cold and rational assessment on the spot.

The background is interesting too. Could you give us some idea of Mr. and Mrs. Lorenzi in Cogne and the kind of life they lived?
Annamaria and Stefano Lorenzi moved to Cogne, to the locality of Montroz, in 1995. Both knew that area already as it’s where they had fallen in love one summer 10 years earlier while Stefano was on holiday with his family and Annamaria was doing seasonal work as a waitress. After they were married they decided to leave Emilia Romagna and to build their love nest up in those mountains. The house was ready in 1997 (they had been renting an apartment from the local parish priest). Davide was 3 years old. Samuele arrived one year later. The family managed to settle quite well into that often closed mountain community. The “outsiders” – as they were called – were considered to be good, hardworking people. Stefano combined his work as an electrician with the odd job in politics. Annamaria was a full time mom. It seems that in the beginning there was a bit of friction with the neighbours, the Guichardaz family, which was later resolved quite amicably. Basically everything seemed to be sailing along nicely...

In Daniela Ferrod’s presence, in front of Samuele’s body which is still just about breathing though covered in blood, Annamaria was in a state of shock, motionless, inert, seized by panic. Did she not touch her son?
Annamaria was looking at her dying son and remained motionless, defenceless, with her hands by her sides. Is she a very cold woman? Is she scared? It’s hard to say, hard to judge what she felt. Faced with something as awful as the sight of your own son in the final moments of his life, whatever or whoever was responsible, it’s impossible to say what the “right” response should be. There are other moments when it’s possible to read between the lines of Annamaria’s behaviour what the real events of that morning were.

Was the criminologist Francesco Bruno the first to mention a “family tragedy”?
In the media frenzy of the days following the tragedy of Samuele Lorenzi’s death, in the desperate search for news, experts who were more or less qualified expressed their opinion on the event. There was speculation that it might have been the work of a serial killer, or a satanic ritual, or an attack by a wild animal... But when you look at it, already on the day of the crime, 30 January 2002, the criminologist Francesco Bruno spoke to the Ansa newspaper about a probable “family tragedy”.

Where’s the “concrete evidence”? Is there any? The court case was and still is based on circumstantial evidence. In the “media massacre”, as you say in the book, many who would accuse the mother cling to a question she asked the operator and the journalist off air in the Studio Aperto news programme. She asked “Did I cry too much?”
In the Cogne case there is a lack of so-called “concrete evidence”. There’s no confession, there are no clues that could lead to the perpetrator, that’s true (if you leave out those left by Annamaria who, of course, can justify them by the fact that she’s the owner of the house where the tragedy took place), there’s no murder weapon and, ultimately, there’s no plausible motive that might make sense of the death of a little boy who was just 3 years old. The entire case, be it media or any other type, feeds particularly off these “black holes” in the evidence. With all these variables in play, multiple possibilities for re-jigging the facts are thrown open, much to the delight of everyone keen to throw in their tuppence-worth. It’s easy to understand, in that sort of scenario, why Annamaria Franzoni might have felt she needed to ask a question like that off air on the news set of Studio Aperto: “Did I cry too much?” It’s a phrase that once again puts her across as being somewhat dispassionate, removed from the situation. But the words in themselves aren’t that significant. They could even have been said out of embarrassment by someone unused at the time to being in front of TV cameras. The mistake people often make, I think, is to focus too much on the most suggestive, striking details, which in themselves don’t prove anything. If they did, we wouldn’t be here still talking about this incident. If there’s going to be any chance of ever hitting on the truth of this case, after more than six years, it has to be by following up something that has so far been overlooked, blurred by the massive amount of superficial evidence.

Why this book? Contradictions, wire taps, false leads, speculation, comments, interviews, but you thought more in depth about the murder weapon, which according to Professor Viglino “can’t be established with certainty”. But that bunch of keys in the keyhole in the front door stands out: let’s go back over why a bunch of keys could have been the murder weapon and let’s talk about the article by Rita Pedditzi which actually illustrates this hypothesis…
First of all I’d like to make it clear that when we began our work, it wasn’t our intention at all to put forward a new hypothesis on the murder weapon. We just wanted to reconstruct the evidence, highlighting the many contradictions contained in Annamaria Franzoni’s version, some of which had either not yet been looked at or had been brushed aside. Attention on the bunch of keys emerged when, having analysed all of Franzoni’s statements, we found a strange and repeated reference to the keys: was the door open or closed, were the keys in the keyhole or not, the attention given to the keys while the emergency services were there, Annamaria’s keenness to give the keys for safekeeping to the neighbour, Daniela Ferrod. We wondered about this strange behaviour that always seemed to revolve around that bunch of keys. In the beginning our questions went unanswered. Then, as we did detailed reconstructions of the morning of the murder, we realised that Annamaria said on a number of occasions (and this time she didn’t contradict herself) that she heard Samuele wake up roaring crying just as she was turning the keys in the lock. Given that in all probability it was the child’s crying that got on his mother’s already unstable nerves, it’s likely that that’s when the murder occurred. So Annamaria had the bunch of keys in her hand, or at least at arm’s length. Moreover, she had every reason to go down to the sleeping quarters (where Samuele was) holding the keys in her hand, as she could go out of the house through the garage or the French-doors in the bedroom and then would have had the keys with her when she needed to get back in again. Besides, there’s no reason why she would have gone down to Samuele holding a ladle (the murder weapon that the accused suggested might have been used). It was this logical deduction that led us for the first time to speculate that the weapon with which the child had been beaten was the bunch of keys. We thought it would be worthwhile to look further into our hypothesis, and we managed to gain access to the autopsy performed on Samuele’s body. Most of the wounds could easily be linked to that kind of “offensive weapon”. Others that were less consistent with this hypothesis could still be made to fit it. The same level of consistency was found in the blood evidence at the scene of the crime. At that point we felt we should make our hypothesis known to the public, without implying that we had solved the case, but in a position of strength given that our investigation was scientific and drew logical conclusions. One last thing that leads back, once again, to the bunch of keys, was the news in 2005 from Annamaria Franzoni’s defence team that a duplicate set of keys had been found in a hollow in a wall near the little house in Montroz. This episode has been told by the journalist Rita Pedditzi (and its veracity has been confirmed), in an article she wrote for News magazine. Who put those keys there? When? Why? Is it possible that no one, not even the law-enforcement agents who scoured the area, would have found them earlier? In our opinion, it could be a decoy, set up by someone who knew that the keys could be considered the murder weapon, and figured that a duplicate set near the crime scene but far enough away from the only person who had to date been accused of the crime, might throw the cat among the pigeons.

(June 30, 2008)

Valentina Magrin and Fabiana Muceli
La chiave di Cogne (tr. The Key to Cogne)
(supervised by Paolo Cucchiarelli)
Cavallo di Ferro, 2008
pp. 206; euro 14,00