May 9, 1978: How, by chance, I found the body of Aldo Moro
10 Maggio 2021
Dear friends and enemies of Stilum Curiae, your writer was not always concerned with the Vatican, priests, and religion. For more than ten years, up until December 1981, I followed other matters: Parliament, local governments, diplomacy, education and universities, in the era of the great battles of the “precari” [professors without tenure]…and also news. And chance, or Providence, wanted me to be the only journalist to personally witness the discovery of the body of Aldo Mori. It was a world scoop, you will say. Oh yes. However, if you look at the front page of La Stampa from that day, you will see that the article is actually on the front page, but there is nothing to indicate it. This is because the editor-in-chief at that time, poor man, did not like me, and he told Arrigo Levi, the news editor at that time, that he did not want to “burden the page”…! He deprived his own newspaper of an element of attraction different from all the others. It is difficult to imagine a less professional journalistic behavior, but so it was…even then the media did not serve to inform. At the time I was working both for Stampa Sera (the daily newspaper that came out in the afternoon) and also for La Stampa, and everything happened just as I was going home for lunch before returning to the editorial office. Anyway, here below you can read what really happened that morning of May 9, 1978. Enjoy your reading.
[Translator’s Note: On March 16, 1978, Aldo Moro, former prime minister of Italy and president of the Christian Democracy party [DC], was kidnapped in Rome by terrorists of the Red Brigades [BR]. For 54 days, the BR asked the Italian government to exchange prisoners for Moro. When the Italian government refused, the BR subjected Moro to a political trial by the so-called “people’s court.” During this time, Pope Paul VI, a close friend of Moro, personally intervened and offered himself in exchange for Moro.]
ROME — The corpse of the president of the Christian Democracy party [DC] was lying flat on its back in a red Renault R4 in the center of Rome, in the Via Caetani, just a few dozen meters from the headquarters of the DC and the Italian Communist Party [PCI]. The face of Aldo Moro was emaciated and suffering, and a long beard of several days’ growth accentuated the pallor. His killers had hidden him under a burnt brown blanket, which was raised and lowered countless times in a sad ritual in order to allow government officials, politicians, and high levels of law enforcement to identify the president of the DC, who was lying with his head resting on his left shoulder, his eyes half-closed, and his hands folded in his lap. He was wearing the same clothes as the day he was kidnapped: a blue double-breasted suit, a striped shirt, a blue tie.
When, with extreme caution, two firefighters placed the body on a stretcher, sliding it out of the Renault, a middle-aged plain-clothed policeman burst into tears. The recovery of the body was “guided.” Apparently, an anonymous phone call came in at 1pm to Digos [the General Investigations and Special Operations Division], the former political office, warning a staff member that in the Via Caetani there was a Renault 4 that was “mined.”
Your writer by chance was walking past the Via Caetani at 1:15 and saw two cars arrive: one was a “volante” police squad car carrying an artillery graduate, the other a yellow “Alfetta” carrying plainclothes agents. They all got out, and while the agents moved away the few bypassers, the bomb expert took a first look at the Renault, which was parked next to the fence covering the side of the church of Santa Caterina dei Funari, which is undergoing restoration.
Then, with a sharp blow of a hammer, the graduate smashed the right front window and opened the door. An officer got into the car and pulled out a dark-colored toiletry case. The bomb expert placed it on the ground and opened it. Inside there were, as was later learned, the chain, watch, and wedding ring of the president of the DC. At this point, the officer lifted up the blanket resting on the backrest of the rear seat, took a quick look, and let it fall back down. Then he got out of the car, visibly moved, shouting to the rest of the police squad, “Don’t let anyone pass by, call other cars, hurry up, hurry up!”
And he rushed inside Palazzo Mattei, which houses the State disco and other university “dependences,” to find a phone. I tried to get close to the car, but I was blocked: “There is danger it will explode,” was the justification. In the meantime, a guard was whispering to a colleague, “It’s Moro, but don’t tell anyone,” and he began to work hard to block pedestrians and cars, while another undercover car screeched up to the Renault and the officials of Digos looked inside and returned feverishly to the car and began speaking into the radio. I again tried to get close to the Renault, but showing my professional journalist credentials only served to make the officer order a guard to accompany me and take me several dozen meters further away. I ran to phone the office and sound the alarm, on the basis of the few elements I had put together, and I returned immediately to find the street blocked from one end to the other.
So then I went into Palazzo Mattei and went upstairs to the library of modern history, and from there I was able to follow the events of the following frenetic two hours from a window, along with other university students who were inside the Palazzo, whose front entrance the police had immediately closed. Via Caetani, which is normally quiet, was transformed in the space of a few minutes into a chaotic swirl of squad cars, “panthers” of the military police, and cars from the Ministry of Finance. A team of riot police was brought in to block off both entrances to the street – from the Botteghe Oscure as well as from the Via dei Funari – forcibly driving away the journalists, photographers, and curious onlookers who formed a shouting crowd at both ends of the road, while the news of the discovery of the body ran from mouth to mouth. A climate of extreme tension had also infected the police commanders, as higher levels of the military police and government officials began to arrive. At the center of it all, in an oasis of apparent quiet, was the red Renault R4 with the body of the president of the DC. At 2:07pm [Minister of the Interior Francesco] Cossiga arrived, led by the police chief Parlato and the assistant chief Santillo. The Minister of the Interior approached the car, and as an agent uncovered Moro’s face, Cossiga made the Sign of the Cross, which was imitated by some of those present. This scene – an official arriving and being shown the face of the victim of the ferocity of the Red Brigade – was repeated several times, as various others arrived: the undersecretary to the presidency [Franco] Evangelisti, the commissioner of the city of Rome, high magistrates who were following the investigation, and various parliamentarians and politicians: the Honorable Cervone, the Honorable Pajetta, and officials of the DC.
Around 2:20pm, police photographers began taking pictures of the car, and finally the forensic investigators began brushing dust on the hood and windows of the car to take fingerprints (but by this point, how many sets of hands had already touched the car?). At 2:26, the cordons of agents and carabinieri opened up to allow a small priest with a violet stole to approach the car. Against a background of excited commands and protests from those who wanted to see, the priest spent a few seconds in silent prayer standing facing the trunk of the Renault, which was still closed, and then with a slow gesture blessed the body hidden inside.
Meanwhile, the forensic men proceeded with their work around the car. At 2:30, the Minister of Justice arrived, [Francesco Paolo] Bonifacio, and immediately afterwards they prepared for the most dramatic moment: the transfer of the body. A red ambulance of the fire brigade made its way from the crowded Via delle Botteghe Oscure. Next to the R4 an open space of about 20 meters on each side was created by the force of the police “cordons,” while three bomb experts, Marshal Circhetta, Sgt.-Major Casertano, and Sgt.-Major Raso prepared to open the car, taking every precaution because of the fear that it contained a bomb. From the library window I watched the bomb squad attack the hood with shears, tearing off the metal sheets in order to “disconnect” the battery. The trunk was attacked with the same system. The shears cut off rectangles of the body of the car in order to open a gap that would allow for the discovery of any possible bombs, and so reached the compartment where the body of the DC president was lying. This slow, cautious work went on for dozens of minutes, and in the meantime all of us in the library – the university students as well as your writer – were forced to leave our observation post: by order of the Ministry the library had to close. I went down into the street on the Via Caetani, slipping into the entourage of the Ministry of the Interior, just in time to see the opening of the hood. The order was given to move away, repeated by several voices, but the cordons, which contained both carabinieri as well as agents, were subjected to severe pressure from their own colleagues: there was no lack of verbal confrontation, in sharp tones, the fruit of the growing tension. The stretcher bearers struggled to bring the stretcher to the back of the Renault, then finally the door was opened with a shake, and a murmur of dismay and pity accompanied the slow movements of the firefighters who gently slid the rigid body onto the stretcher. The president of the DC seemed to be asleep, but an air of suffering was on his face, covered by a long beard of many days’ length. It seemed like he was sleeping: only the yellowish color of his skin and his half-opened eyes betrayed the atrocious reality. On the floor of the trunk two shells were found, probably caliber 9, and two others were under the front seats. Blood-soaked handkerchiefs were found between his shirt and jacket. There were some drops of blood and hair from the victim on the spare tire, and more blood and body fluid on the floor. In the cuffs of his trousers there were traces of sand; a grey coat and very rusty snow chains were on the back seat. At 3pm the fire brigade ambulance managed to make its way through the crowd, preceded by four police and carabinieri cars, heading for the Institute of Forensic Medicine. A little bit later a tow truck came to take the red Renault to the police station. A group of young people arrived, and in the place where the car had been they put a large flag with the crusader shield of the DC.
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Questo blog è il seguito naturale di San Pietro e Dintorni, presente su “La Stampa” fino a quando non fu troppo molesto. Per chi fosse interessato al lavoro già svolto, ecco il link a San Pietro e Dintorni.
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