Based on a true story, Girolimoni The Monster of Rome is another one of Damiano Damiani’s films which has sadly faded into relative obscurity. So, with (a lot of) help from an Italian Wikipedia page I present this basic run through of the events (mostly because there isn’t any information in English about the case on the web)
(Mario Carotenuto making a brief but memorable appearance as the coachman who poisons himself after being falsely accused of the monster’s crimes)
The facts of the case
The first victim, four-year-old Emma Giacomini, was kidnapped while playing in a public park on the 31st of March 1924. She was found later that same evening in the Monte Mario area of Rome, bruised and beaten, but still alive.
Newspaper headlines cried out for the arrest of the maniac responsible triggering fascist-dictator-on-the-ascent Benito Mussolini to become personally involved. Fearing his government would be seen as weak, ineffective, and unable to protect the public he set up a special task force to catch the monster, headed by chief-of-police Arturo Bocchini.
His brief was simple; catch the monster as soon as possible.
The investigation, on the other hand, was anything but simple. Although numerous eye-witnesses came forward describing a tall man, around 50, well dressed, and with a mustache the police would hit one dead-end after another. The monster left few clues; scraps of pages torn from an English language brochure for religious articles and the handkerchiefs he used to strangle his poor young victims.
The funeral of the monster’s second victim, three-year-old Bianca Carlieri, was attended by huge crowds and once again propelled the story to the front pages of newspapers. Public opinion was turning; if the monster had started out as a Roman problem it had now become a national nightmare for Mussolini. In desperation the police had only one option left, find someone who matched the eye-witnesses description and fabricate all the evidence.
Gino Girolimoni, a well-liked lawyer who specialized in work-place accident cases, was arrested and duly brought in and charged with the crimes. He would spend 11 months behind bars before being cleared of all charges against him on March 28, 1928, despite the police’s previous claims that they had carried out a “thorough investigation” and had “irrefutable proof” that he was the man responsible.
For Girolimoni, however, it was all too late. On Mussolini’s orders news of his release was relegated to barely a column inch in a select few newspapers and he would forever be known as the ‘The Monster of Rome’. The name “Girolimoni” would become synonymous with the term ‘child molester’ and remains in use in Roman dialect to this day. Gino Girolimoni died in abject poverty in 1961. His funeral was attended by a police captain who had been locked up in an asylum for three years by his superiors after insisting Gino Girolimoni was completely extraneous from the facts of the case.
Although the real monster still remains in the shadows there is a theory as to who may have been behind the killings. Investigator Giuseppe Dosi re-opened the case shortly after Girolimoni’s release and his investigation lead him to an Englishman who was living in Rome at the time; Ralph Lyonel Brydges, an Anglican priest who moved to Rome in 1922 with his wife Florence Caroline Jarvis. They lived in an apartment on Via Po and left in 1927.
On April 24, 1927, Brydges was arrested in Turin, caught in the act of molesting a minor. Dosi felt there were enough similarities to make him a suspect and so, while Brydges was away at sea, the police carried out a thorough search of his home. Among the things they found were a set of handkerchiefs identical to those found at the crime scenes, a notebook with the address of one of the locations of the murders, and newspaper clippings from international newspapers detailing the deaths of the young victims.
Despite all the evidence, including a towel with the initals ‘R.L.’ found near one of the victims, Brydges was never charged for diplomatic reasons, more specifically in the belief that should such a trial go ahead it could upset political relations between Italy and England.
Damiani co-authored a book on the subject; Girolimoni, the “Monster” and Fascism (1972)