I discovered this true crime digest a few years ago and have since seen four issues in total, two from 1954, and two from 1955. No publisher is listed in Vol. 1 #2 Dec. 1954—the indicia states it was published in New York. Editors were Bradford Chambers and C.S. Green.
Despite its lurid covers, uncovering nubile women and desperate thugs, the articles inside this digest are well-written and well-researched true crime reports. This edition opens with one of its two cover stories: “The Black Swan Scandals” by Frank Chapman.
The catalyst for the scandals that followed, was the discovery of a young girl’s body on a beach, ten miles south of Ostia, Italy, on April 11, 1953. Twenty-one-year-old Wilma Montesi had been reported missing by her parents. The initial investigation was swift and quickly concluded the girl’s death by drowning was accidental. Rumors swirled—and nearly settled by the summer of 1953.
Then Silvano Muto, editor of the picture magazine Attualita, broke a shattering new account that claimed the girl had been murdered. “He charged that Wilma Montesi had been a ‘call girl,’ a favorite in high society circles, and that she had not drowned accidentally but had passed out after taking an overdose of drugs while attending an orgy at the waterfront hunting lodge formerly belonging to the royal family.”
Her unconscious body was dumped on the beach where she drown as the tide rose. Muto’s account also accused the local police of closing the case quickly “because of pressure from above.”
The accusations not only stirred public opinion, they landed Muto before the high tribunal of Rome on January 28, 1954, where he was forced to reveal his sources. A woman, Adriana Bisaccia, said she had seen Montesi the evening before her death with three men and another woman at a hunting lodge in Ostia.
A second woman, Anna Maria Caglio, told Muto of Montesi’s cocaine overdose during an orgy. The men there quickly dressed the girl and took her to the deserted beach. It’s not clear if Caglio named the men present, but she did identify the lodge owner, a nobelman, Marquis Ugo Montagna, and later confessed to being his mistress. She also mentioned two of his friends, Piero Piccioni, son of the Italian Foreign Minister and Dr. Tomasso Pavone, Chief of the National Police.
Muto’s testimony convinced the tribunal to suspend his trial while the case of Montesi’s death was reopened. When Muto’s first source, Adriana Bisaccia was brought in for questioning, she flatly denied knowing anything about the case or even talking to Muto.
The Marquis Montagna appeared in court to refute the allegations against him. The police could not locate the star witness, Anna Maria Caglio, who had been dubbed “The Black Swan” by the press. When the fiancé of Adriana Bisaccia declared he would contest her denial of speaking to Muto, he was picked up by police as a drug addict and deposited in an asylum before he could testify.
The press dug in and kept public pressure on the authorities. The fiancé was examined and declared fit. He testified Bisaccia was plagued with nightmares of drowning. He knew she had spoken with Muto and she had several phone conversations with a man whom she addressed as “Ugo,” the Marquis Montagna’s first name.
At this point, the military’s Caribineri police force stepped in to investigate the case. They soon discovered signed testimony Caglio, the Black Swan, had given to the National Police that matched the story Muto had reported, but had been “put to sleep.” They also reported that “…Montagna had been an informer for the Nazi and Facist secret police, a procurer of women, an influence peddler, a blackmarketeer, and a narcotics traffic suspect!”
But apparently Montagna’s influence ran deep. The court, acting on the direction of the District Attorney, ordered the inquiry on Wilma Montesi’s death closed—which meant the resumption of editor Muto’s trial.
But in effect, Muto’s trial kept Montesi’s case alive. By then, the Caribineri had successfully located Anna Maria Caglio, the Black Swan, at a convent on the outskirts of Rome. She testified on Muto’s behalf and more. As Montagna’s mistress she “…implicated him in various real estate swindles, gambling sprees, narcotics transactions, and wild sex orgies. She mentioned several mysterious murders and implied that he was in some way involved.” She had gone with Montagna and Piero Piccioni to the office of Chief of National Police Pavone, where the Chief agreed “to hush up the whole Montesi affair.”
Her testimony sent shockwaves across Italy. The National Police were jeered, the Caribinieri applauded, and the Black Swan, who risked her life to expose the corruption, was celebrated. Although he admitted no wrong-doing, Chief Pavone submitted his resignation.
With Caglio’s accusations, Muto’s trial was again suspended and the Montesi investigation reopened, which is where Crime Lab Mystery Magazine’s report ends. This may have been a bit of a cliffhanger in 1954, but we now know the case was never conclusively settled. There was another theory involving Montesi’s uncle not mentioned in Chapman’s article, but it too was inconclusive. Muto and Bisaccia were tried for slander, but did not serve time. Caglio was also tried for same, but not convicted.
Several books have been written about the murder: All Rome Trembled: The Strange Affair (Murder) Of Wilma Montesi by Melton S. Davis (Putnam, 1957), The Montesi Scandal by Wayland Hilton Young (Doubleday, 1958) and The Montesi Scandal by Karen Pinkus (University of Chicago Press, 2003).