The Lost Girls of Rome, p.42Donato Carrisi
The second encounter was with N.N., who lived at the turn of the twentieth century.
The first (and so far only) transformist serial killer, and one of the most interesting cases in the history of criminology.
N.N. represents not the initials of his name but an abbreviation of the Latin expression Nomen Nescio, the term habitually used for unidentified individuals (the equivalent of John Doe in the United States).
In 1916, the body of a man of about thirty-five was found on a beach in Ostend, Belgium. The cause of death was drowning. His clothes and the papers he had on him indicated that he was a clerk from Liverpool who had vanished into thin air two years earlier. When the authorities showed the body to his relatives, who had come specially from England, they did not recognise him, insisting that this was a case of mistaken identity.
Photographs produced by these relatives, however, confirmed that there was a remarkable physical resemblance between N.N. and the English clerk. But that was not the only similarity. The two also shared a liking for puddings and for prostitutes with red hair. Both took medication for a liver ailment and, most important of all, both had a slight limp in the right leg (in the case of the drowned man, the pathologist inferred this from the wear and tear on the sole of his shoe and from the hard skin on the side of his right foot, a sign that the weight of his body had been concentrated there).
In addition to the evidence of these similarities, when the police inspected N.N’s last known address they came across various documents and objects belonging to individuals from a number of European countries. Subsequent investigation revealed that they had all disappeared suddenly and without a trace. Not only that, but these disappearances could be put in chronological order according to the age of the victims, which rose constantly.
Hence the deduction that N.N. had chosen them with the purpose of taking their place.
No bodies were ever recovered, but it was assumed that N.N. had killed these men before appropriating their identities.
Due to the lack of supporting scientific evidence – a result of the backwardness of investigative techniques at the time – the case was forgotten, only to come back to public attention in the 1930s, when Courbon and Fail published their first psychiatric studies on Fregoli syndrome – named after the famous Italian quick-change artist – and articles began appearing on the neurological disorder known as Capgras syndrome. In both these syndromes, the phenomena observed were the reverse of the case of N.N.: those affected by them were convinced they saw a transformation in others. But their description opened the floodgates to a series of scientific investigations that led to the identification of other syndromes, such as the chameleon syndrome, which is very close in nature to the Belgian case (and which inspired Woody Allen’s brilliant film Zelig).
The case of N.N. is the starting point for a new branch of criminology, forensic neuroscience, which studies crime from a genetic or physiological viewpoint. These techniques have allowed us to understand some crimes in a different way. One example is the reduction in sentence granted to a murderer with problems in the frontal lobes and a genetic map that indicated a predisposition to violence. Another is the demonstration that a man who stabbed his fiancée to death had been affected by a vitamin B12 deficiency as a result of the vegan diet he had been following for twenty-five years.
N.N.’s talents have remained unique. The only similar case known so far is that of ‘the girl in the mirror’, which I have recounted in this novel. The young Mexican woman really existed, even though, unlike N.N., she never killed anybody. For obvious reasons, I have changed her name, calling her Angelina.
N.N. is buried in a small cemetery by the sea. On his gravestone, the epitaph reads: Body of an unidentified drowned man. Ostend – 1916.
Stefano Mauri, my editor. For the passion he puts into his work and the friendship he bestows on me.
Along with him, I thank everyone at Longanesi, as well as my foreign publishers. For the time and energy they invest in making sure that my stories reach their destination.
Luigi, Daniela and Ginevra Bernabò. For their advice, care and affection. It’s great to be part of your team.
Fabrizio Cocco – the man who knows the secrets of (my) stories – for his calm dedication and for being so noir.
Giuseppe Strazzeri, for the fire and vision he brings to this publishing adventure.
Valentina Fortichiari, for her drive and affection (I don’t know what I would do without them).
Elena Pavanetto, for her smiling ideas.
Cristina Foschini, for her luminous presence.
The booksellers, for the task they take on every time they entrust a book to a reader. For the magical work they do in the world.
This story also owes a lot to the involuntary – and often unconscious – contributions of a great many people. I mention them in no particular order.
Stefano and Tommaso, because they’re here now. Clara and Gaia, for the joy they give me. Vito Lo Re, for his incredible music and for finding Barbara. Ottavio Martucci, for his healthy cynicism. Giovanni ‘Nanni’ Serio, because he is Schalber! Valentina, who makes me feel part of the family. Francesco ‘Ciccio’ Ponzone, a great man. Flavio, a wicked man with a tender heart. Marta, who never spares herself. Antonio Padovano, for his lessons on the enjoyment of life. Aunt Franca, because she’s always there. Maria ‘Ià’ for a wonderful afternoon at the Quirinale. Michele and Barbara, Angela and Pino, Tiziana, Rolando, Donato and Daniela, Azzurra. Elisabetta, because there is a lot of her in this story.
Chiara, who fills me with pride. My parents, to them I owe the best of myself.
Leonardo Palmisano, one of my heroes. I’ll never talk of you in the past tense and I’ll never forget you.
Achille Manzotti, who in 1999 gave me my first start in this strange profession by asking me to write the story of a priest named Don Marco. The choice of the name Marcus for the main character is a tribute to this great producer’s genius, madness and, above all, instinct about screenwriters.
Donato Carrisi, The Lost Girls of Rome
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