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The Monsters Next Door

From: American Imago
Volume 69, Number 4, Winter 2012
pp. 435-448 | 10.1353/aim.2012.0027

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"What a long tortuous path she had to tread before the desperate experience of murder tore her away [déchire] from her other self . . ."

—Jacques Lacan, Motifs du crime paranoïaque: Le crime des soeurs Papin (1933)

December 11, 2006: Rosa Bazzi a.k.a. Rosi (domestic worker) and her husband Olindo Romano (garbage man) decide it is time for action. For some time now, they have been planning to murder their upstairs neighbor—thirty-year-old Raffaella Castagna. Raffaella's husband, the handsome Azouz Marzouk, is away in Tunisia, the country from which he emigrated, for a few days. They want to take advantage of his absence. At approximately 8 p.m., they put on kitchen gloves and open their neighbor's door with a key that had been given to them by the former tenant. Unexpectedly, Raffaella's mother is home too: Olindo kills both mother and daughter. Youssef, Raffaella's two-year-old son, cries desperately and Rosi, following her husband, lifts him by the hair and stabs him in the neck. The child bleeds to death in half an hour of agony. Rosi had it in for that child too: "that kid's always shouting," she kept repeating after she was uncovered as a murderer. The couple then set fire to various household objects and furnishings. At this point, another neighboring couple, 50-year-old Cherubini and her 60-year-old husband Frigerio, notice the smoke and head for Raffaella's front door . . . Olindo kills Mrs. Cherubini and cuts Mr. Frigerio's throat. The latter survives: after several days in a coma, he recovers and denounces his aggressor. Investigators, however, had already uncovered Olindo.

After the massacre, the two murderers take off their blood-soiled clothes, and drive ten miles to the McDonald's in Como, where they have burgers and are careful to keep the receipt—their alibi. They then return home satisfied. "We'll get some peace and quiet at last," they assert in relief whilst relaxing. "The lightning had struck, the wood had burned and the sun had gone out for good" (Paul Éluard, 1933, p. 28). All this takes place in a graceful farmhouse converted into a small apartment block in the center of Erba, which is a prosperous, anonymous, industrious, and Catholic town in Lombardy, close to the lake of Como.

Two days after the murder, the Romanos were due to appear in court, as charges had been pressed against them. For some time, the Romanos had been accusing their upstairs neighbors of "making too much noise." Occasionally, Raffaella and Azouz would quarrel. Raffaella's father had had a layer of fitted carpet installed between his daughter's house and the hypersensitive downstairs neighbors—to no avail. One day, Olindo had brutally grabbed hold of Raffaella. As a result, she had sued him, asking for 5,000 Euros as compensation. A horrific payout! Rosi was to tell investigators: "We were furious, it was us who had been damaged, and we were being put on the dock." In addition, Rosi would also complain: "Mrs. Castagna would mock us. She always said she'd squeeze money out of us, and then throw it away, 'cause she didn't know what to do with it." Indeed, Raffaella's father, Carlo Castagna, is a well-known entrepreneur who owns a trendy furniture chain store. He is a philanthropist, too: the Castagna family is one of the most prestigious in Erba. The domestic worker and the garbage-man felt persecuted by the rich family girl with a degree in psychology. The best thing was to kill them all. They also wanted to kill Carlo Castagna, "the biggest bastard of them all."


The massacre deeply struck public opinion. Crowds of holidaymakers visited the scene of the crime. The killing of little Youssef was seen as particularly horrifying. And yet, Rosi and Olindo (43 and 45 years old respectively) certainly don't have the physique du rôle of beasts: two round faces, rather dull, typical of the lower class they're part of. "Quiet people, the Romanos, silent," other neighbors utter in disbelief. Olindo in particular looks like a good man. Far removed from, let's...

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