Verona was an unlikely sort of city to play host to two of the most grisly serial killers in modern history. A role made that much less likely when one considered the background of this pair of sinister young men whose trial was set to shock Europe when it opened on December 01, 1986.
Wolfgang ABEL twenty seven at the time of his trial was the son of a former managing director of a leading West German insurance company who had settled in Verona's suburb of Monte Ricco 'Mountain of the Rich'. Twenty six year-old Mario FURLAN lived with his parents in a new suburban development close to Verona's main hospital where his father was a well- known plastic surgeon and head of the burns unit. The boys had been close friends since school, and at university both were credited as being highly intelligent, if a little weird.
According to the indictment at their trial, FURLAN and ABEL launched their part time career in murder by burning alive a gypsy drug addict in his car in August 1977. The victim survived his ordeal just long enough to say that he thought that in this instance there was a third man involved in the attack.
The second killing was in Padua where a casino employee was knifed to death, and this was followed by the vicious beating and hacking to death of a homosexual waiter in Venice when his body was found it bore thirty-four separate stab wounds.
A prostitute was axed to death, two priests had their skulls crushed with a hammer in Vicenza, and a sleeping hitch-hiker was burned alive in Verona city centre.
The savagery of this sequence of almost ritualised slaughter was beginning to escalate and the next victim, a homosexual priest of Trenton was 'executed' by having a nail hammered into his forehead followed by a chisel with a wooden cross attached to it.
In Milan, five people were burned to death when FURLAN and ABEL set fire to a cinema which was showing pornographic films; and in Munich one young woman died and forty other people were seriously injured when, it was alleged, they burned down a discotheque.
On 3 March 1984, Wolfgang ABEL and Mario FURLAN dressed in Pierrot costumes, were caught in the act of dousing carpets and furniture with petrol at a discotheque near Mantua. This time the dance floor was crowded with more than four hundred young people.
At each of the murder scenes leaflets were left, written in Italian explaining the reasons for the killing. The sheets were headed by the name 'Ludwig' over a German Nazi eagle and swastika, and bore such supplementary slogans as 'We are the last of the Nazis, and 'Death comes to those who betray the true god'. The victims, it was made clear, were all carefully chosen to represent what the killers considered 'sub humans' deserving elimination homosexuals, prostitutes, drug addicts and so on.
Although FURLAN and ABEL deny that they had any part in the crimes committed by 'Ludwig', police claim that they found evidence in Wolfgang ABEL's flat that he was responsible for writing at least some of the letters. It is also significant that since the two suspects have been in custody 'Ludwig' has committed no more crimes though a number of copycat leaflets have come to police attention,
After a lengthy trial during December 1986 and January 1987, both Mario FURLAN and Wolfgang ABEL were found guilty on ten out of twenty-seven charges of murder, and in February 1987 sentenced to thirty years imprisonment. Acceptance by the court that the pair were at least partially insane saved them from a life sentence.
However, when the appeal procedure began, FURLAN and ABEL had already notched up three years in gaol most of it pre-trial and in an act of what could be seen either as enlightenment or as the benefits of privilege, both men were released to live in "open custody", ABEL in the tiny village of Mestrinon near Padua. Mario FURLAN in nearby Casale Scodosia. In effect they are free to live as they choose with the provision that they report regularly to the local police station. Both give periodic interviews to anybody who cares to listen, the main subject of which is that they are completely innocent and merely the scapegoats of a police force unable to bring the real 'Ludwig' to justice.