THE PUBLIC'S INTENSE INTEREST in scandalous trials did not begin with O.J. Simpson or
Michael Jackson. The Murri affair, which erupted in Italy in 1902, was considered the crime
of the century for many years. As late as the 1970s, a movie starring Catherine Deneuve was
based on the salacious case.
In Indecent Secrets: The Infamous Murri Murder Affair, Christina Vella provides a
riveting account of the scandal. In 1902 in Bologna, Count Francesco Bonmartini was found
grotesquely murdered. Bonmartini was the son-in-law of Italy's most prominent physician and
scientist. Suspicion fell first on prostitutes Bonmartini had consorted with, then on his
wife's brother, Tullio Murri, and then on the wife herself, Linda Murri.
Tullio eventually confessed to the killing, but he had also drawn others into the crime,
people who came from the highest and lowest extremes of society. He had involved his lover,
a girl whose ten brothers had died from malnutrition. The shadowy involvement of his famous
father was always in question; Professor Augusto Murri, though an apparent model of rectitude,
was madly obsessed with his daughter and may even have planted the idea for the killing in
Tullio's disturbed mind. All together, eight people were indicted for the murder, and several
unindicted conspirators were involved as well.
At the center of the story was Linda Murri—the so-called “Enchantress”—who was
either innocent of all the murder plans swirling around her, or who instigated the entire
Four men were madly, slavishly, in love with Linda—her husband, her lover, her brother,
and her father. According to credible sources, her husband was the only one with whom she was
not having sexual relations.
Small wonder that the crime occupied almost every newspaper in Europe for three years, as
the whole continent lined up on the side of the victim Bonmartini—the side of Catholic, landed
aristocrats—or Murri side, the side of scientists, socialists and atheists. Many people believed
the theory that Tullio had not in fact committed the murder, but had confessed in order to protect
the real killer, Linda.
As the long trial proceeded, secret diaries came to light. Important witnesses began dying
under mysterious circumstances. Had they, like Bonmartini, been killed by the powerful Murris?
Was Linda truly a malignant spirit, or only the victim of uncontrollable frenzy in the press?
The culmination of the trial and its aftermath was a story more bizarre than any novelist could
As in her previous books, historian Vella uses a dramatic, true event as a framework for
telling a larger story: what it was like to live in Italy at the turn of the 20th century, the
time when Italians were emigrating en masse to America. She offers many details about such things
as housing, meals, medical treatments, morals, the legal system, prisons, travel conditions,
newspapers, and peasant life in Italy, and vividly describes cities where the Murris lived—Bologna,
Turin, and Venice. The result is an exploration of fascinating characters and a window into Italy's
complex society at the dawn of the modern era.