The Last Supper
The mafia, the masons and
the killing of Roberto Calvi
List of abbreviations
2 Source ‘Podgora’
3 God’s Banker
4 The Ministry of Fear
5 The Bologna Bombing
6 Don Michele
7 The Secret Network
8 Meeting Licio
9 Vatican Entanglements
10 The Gorilla
11 Enter Carboni, Armed with a Cheese
12 The British Connections
13 On the Road
15 Water Under the Bridge
16 Slow Progress
17 Trials and Tribulations
18 The Politics
Roberto Calvi appointed director general of the Banco Ambrosiano. Archbishop Paul Marcinkus appointed president of the IOR.
23 Mar. Cisalpine Overseas Bank founded in Nassau. Marcinkus takes a seat on the board.
Calvi buys the Banca Cattolica del Veneto from the IOR for 27 billion lire.
8 Oct. Michele Sindona’s Franklin National bank is declared bankrupt.
11 Oct. Calvi named Cavaliere del Lavoro (Knight of Labour).
23 Aug. Calvi initiated as a freemason in Geneva.
19 Nov. Calvi becomes chairman of the Banco Ambrosiano.
3 Nov. Luigi Cavallo puts up posters in Milan attacking Calvi.
17 Apr. Bank of Italy inspectors begin a seven-month examination of the Banco Ambrosiano’s books.
17 Nov. Chief inspector Giulio Padalino produces a 500-page report. Verdict: ‘Not entirely favourable.’
Jan. Shah of Iran goes into exile.
Mar. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini establishes Islamic Republic of Iran.
July Giorgio Ambrosoli, liquidator of Sindona’s Banca Privata Finanziaria, is shot dead in Milan. Anastasio Somoza overthrown by Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Saddam Hussein becomes president of Iraq.
2 Aug. Sindona disappears from New York, the beginning of his fake kidnap.
Nov. US embassy staff taken hostage in Iran.
27 Dec. Soviet troops invade Afghanistan. CIA organizes clandestine support for Afghan resistance, initially providing arms of Eastern
Bloc origin to conceal its hand.
4 July Milan magistrates investigating irregularities in the running of the Banco Ambrosiano withdraw Calvi’s passport.
26 Sept. Calvi’s passport returned to him.
Nov. Ronald Reagan elected president of the United States.
Jan. Reagan presidency inaugurated, American hostages released by Iran.
17 Mar. Finance police raid Gelli’s office and home. P2 lists discovered. Calvi has membership no. 1624.
27 Mar. Poland witnesses largest organized protest against a communist government since the second world war.
30 Mar. President Reagan shot by John Hinckley Jr.
29 Apr. The Ambrosiano group announces purchase of a 40 per cent stake in the Rizzoli publishing company for 115 billion lire.
13 May A Turkish gunman wounds Pope John Paul II.
20 May Calvi arrested for illegal export of currency.
2 July Calvi tells magistrates of his illegal funding of the Italian Socialist party.
3 July The IOR’s chief accountant visits the Banca del Gottardo in Lugano and learns of the debts of Calvi’s offshore companies attributed to the Vatican.
8 July Calvi attempts suicide in prison.
20 July Calvi sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for currency violations.
22 July Calvi released on bail.
Sept. Saddam Hussein invades Iran, beginning a bloody eight-year war.
17 Nov. President Reagan signs National Security Directive 17, authorizing the provision of covert support to anti-Sandinista rebels.
12 Dec. Martial law imposed in Poland. Up to 30 people killed and thousands arrested.
2 Apr. Argentina invades the Falkland Islands.
27 Apr. Roberto Rosone, Banco Ambrosiano’s deputy chairman, injured in pistol attack.
5 May Ambrosiano shares floated on Milan stock exchange.
6 June Israel invades Lebanon after assassination attempt on the Israeli ambassador to London.
7 June President Reagan and Pope John Paul hold 50-minute meeting in the Vatican, alone and without interpreters.
11 June Calvi flees Italy.
14 June Argentine garrisons on the Falklands surrender.
18 June Calvi found dead under Blackfriars Bridge in London.
23 June Silvano Vittor gives himself up to Italian police at Tarvisio border crossing with Austria.
23 July A first London inquest reaches a verdict of suicide.
30 July Flavio Carboni arrested in Switzerland.
29 Mar. Three high court judges vote unanimously to quash the suicide verdict and order a fresh inquest.
June A two-week inquest concludes with a unanimous open verdict. The jury foreman says later that he and his colleagues would have opted for murder if they had known more of the background to the case.
Dec. A Milan civil court rules that Calvi was murdered and his life insurer must therefore pay his family the 4 billion lire owed on his policy.
16 Apr. A Milan court hands out stiff sentences, at the end of a two-year trial, for the fraudulent bankruptcy of the Banco Ambrosiano.
Dec. Calvi’s remains exhumed from cemetery in Drezzo for a further autopsy.
Oct. New forensic report concludes Calvi was murdered.
July Rome prosecutors re-open the case, accusing four suspects.
Sept. City of London police re-open their investigation.
6 Oct. Five people go on trial in Rome for the murder of Roberto Calvi.
The murder of a banker is always likely to be motivated by money. In the case of Roberto Calvi it may have been the $1.3 billion that was missing from the accounts of his Banco Ambrosiano, Italy’s largest private bank, causing the bank’s collapse and, at the time, the biggest bankruptcy in European financial history. Calvi’s money was of a rather particular kind: the kind that translates directly into power, the power to influence people and shape the events of history, the kind of power that often places an individual above the law. The loss of that money and the desperate measures Calvi was driven to in his attempt to retrieve it almost certainly precipitated his death.
Calvi’s money was highly politicized because of the time and the place in which he did business: the financial capital of a country that straddled one of the fault lines of the cold war conflict. Italy was home to the largest Communist party in western Europe and its capitalists felt as though they were under siege. Fear of punitive taxation or the expropriation of private property should the Communists win a general election spurred a massive capital flight among the rich. To bolster the ailing economy the government had made it illegal for people to send currency abroad but banks like the Banco Ambrosiano were nevertheless willing to assist, funnelling wealth via the Vatican bank towards the security of Switzerland or offshore finance centres in the Caribbean. It was inevitable that rich individuals who saw their livelihoods threatened would want to use their money to combat the Red menace, and that bankers such as Calvi would be drawn into their struggle.
Those who ordered the murder of Calvi were undoubtedly men of power too. In many ways, they came close to achieving the perfect crime. Though it was hastily classified as suicide by the British authorities, Italians almost universally saw Calvi’s death as murder, and a murder laden with symbolic significances. Suspended by the neck from scaffolding under London’s Blackfriars Bridge and with his pockets stuffed with builders’ bricks, there were a series of elements in the scenography of his death to fire the imagination of amateur sleuths. Could the name of the bridge be a cryptic reference to freemasonry, of which Calvi was a member, or to the black-caped friars of the Dominican order, a way of evoking the Vatican, with which he had been doing business? The bricks in his pockets, too, recalled freemasonry, as did the tide that had washed over his feet, reminding fellow masons of the oath of loyalty and silence that Calvi had so conspicuously breached. In those years the bridge was painted in the pale blue and white of the Argentine flag – a reference perhaps to the recently fought Falklands war and to Argentina’s arms purchases, financed in part by the Banco Ambrosiano? For Calvi’s associates in the worlds of finance, politics and freemasonry the warning was all too eloquent. For the phlegmatic investigators of the City of London Police it was an evident case of self-suspension.
What made the Calvi case exceptional was the banker’s close links to the Vatican, which had earned for him the journalistic sobriquet of ‘God’s banker’. The violent manner of his death and the details of the Banco Ambrosiano’s financial collapse would embroil the Vatican in years of controversy. The institution dedicated to the dissemination of the moral message of Jesus Christ would find itself accused of complicity in fraud, arms dealing and the laundering of drug money on behalf of the mafia. The Roman Catholic church, threatened and persecuted around the globe by atheistic communism, would find itself sucked into some of the most unscrupulous and unpalatable activities of the cold war, ally and bedfellow of criminals and spies. The tangled relationship between Calvi and Archbishop Paul Casimir Marcinkus, the Lithuanian-American head of the Vatican bank, would baffle investigators and tarnish the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. A relationship of friendship and complicity between the two bankers would sour at the end, pitting the ambitious, introverted, workaholic Italian money-man against the ambitious, extroverted, sports-loving American in a trial of strength which would hasten the desperate Italian’s slide towards death. Calvi’s attempts to blackmail the Vatican are one of the most extraordinary aspects of this remarkable tale, momentarily lifting the brocaded drapes of secrecy that normally concealed the secret inner mechanisms of the west’s cold war operations.
In 1983 the United States Central Intelligence Agency commissioned a guide to guerrilla warfare that was intended to channel the aggression of the anti-communist Nicaraguan Contras in their battle against the Sandinistas. The 90-page war primer, ‘Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare’, was published in Spanish and gave tips on ‘neutralizing’ Nicaraguan officials and ‘implicit and explicit terror’. An early edition of what became known in the press as the CIA’s assassination manual contained the words: ‘If possible, professional criminals will be hired to carry out selective jobs.’ Those words could equally well have been applied to the moral morass of cold war Italy. Professional criminals from a variety of regional crime syndicates would play an important role in the personal drama of Roberto Calvi.
Some 23 years after Calvi’s death, in October 2005, five people finally went on trial in Rome for his murder. The defendants were Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Calò, Flavio Carboni, Ernesto Diotallevi, Silvano Vittor and Manuela Kleinszig. Prosecutors who brought the case to trial say the banker was killed by members of Cosa Nostra because he had lost or embezzled funds entrusted to him for laundering by the mob. But the banker’s capacity and willingness to blackmail politicians, freemasons and the Vatican itself also played a role in his death, they alleged. And it is the wider conspiracy involving the higher echelons of power that sheds most light on the enduring mystery of his death.
Piecing together the fragments of the mosaic has not been easy. Two decades on, many of the tesserae are missing and those that can be found have broken edges, abraded by failing memories and wilful deceptions, but the overall picture can now be clearly delineated. The death of a secretive, reclusive and somewhat unpopular banker may seem a small thing of itself, but the Calvi murder opens up a vast panorama on to the true nature of recent Italian history and how the cold war was fought over this beautiful but divided land. The lessons that spring from it remain relevant to this day, as western democracies grapple with an implacable new enemy, many of the seeds of whose hatred were buried in that recent past.
The death of Pope John Paul II in April 2005 caused an astonishing public outpouring of grief and affection. The media hailed him as ‘John Paul the Great’ and the massive crowds that paid tribute to him in St Peter’s Square chanted ‘Santo subito’ – ‘Make him a saint now’. But John Paul’s pontificate was confronted almost from the beginning by the repercussions of the Banco Ambrosiano scandal and his handling of it did little to enhance his reputation, or that of the church. Twenty years on, as Catholics celebrated the two-thousandth anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ, John Paul found himself presiding over one of the most discredited of human institutions. Repeated financial scandals in Italy, coupled with the global scandal of sexual abuse by priests, had reduced the standing of the Catholic Church to a nadir for modern times. Such scandals were particularly difficult to deal with for the church. As an institution committed to living and preaching a message of moral excellence, the ethical failings of its members were particularly damaging. Scandal was of itself potentially ruinous, so lies, deception and obfuscation were justified as the lesser of the possible evils. Cover-up rather than confession and penitence would be the response, allowing ills to fester and making the final scandal, when it could no longer be contained, all the more devastating. Catholic dioceses faced bankruptcy because the church had failed to tackle the moral betrayals of paedophile priests and the Vatican bank itself risked financial ruin for its failure to rein in the piratical business practices of men like Roberto Calvi, who acted on its behalf and cloaked their actions in its apparent respectability.
The discredit that clung to the church in the last quarter of the twentieth century may go some way to explain the success of a book like The Da Vinci Code. Ambiguously presented as fact-based fiction, Dan Brown’s tale was eagerly devoured by millions of readers ready to assume the worst about the Roman Catholic church. Lies, deception and murder appeared only too natural in the context of a church clinging to its prerogatives of spiritual and temporal power. The shock troops of Opus Dei, ready to shed their own and others’ blood in the service of their cause, may come across as a grotesque caricature, but not such as to put off Mr Brown’s enthusiastic readers.
In many ways the Calvi case emerges today as a real life ‘Da Vinci Code’: a fiendishly complex plot, a struggle for power, skulduggery in the Vatican and ruthless individuals who do not baulk at murder. The real Opus Dei, with its secrecy, conservative values and attachment to material wealth, plays a key role in the story. As in Mr Brown’s fictional construct, clues of difficult interpretation have been widely scattered and have taken investigators years to piece together and to interpret. Our guides to the Calvi caper are not an American professor of religious symbology but a cast of extraordinary crooks and charlatans beside whom Mr Brown’s fictional characters pale into banality. They have an extraordinary tale to tell.
Roberto Calvi had good reason to look worried as he left the downmarket apartment in Chelsea Cloisters on the evening of Thursday, 17 June 1982. The man known for his cold stare and lack of social graces was looking particularly ill-at-ease as he travelled down in the lift in the company of two Italian-speaking men. For the first time in his adult life he had shaved off his moustache, though witnesses diverge as to when he had done this and whether he had removed it completely.
His destination on that evening was the fashionable San Lorenzo restaurant in Knightsbridge, a short distance by road from the barracks-like residence where he had spent an unhappy three days, but an entire world away in social terms. It was just the kind of place he had been trying to avoid, frequented by well-heeled and well-connected Italians, some of whom might recognize him. But a new witness, tracked down by Italian investigators some 20 years after the event, places him in that luxury restaurant on that fateful night.
We don’t know for sure who his dinner companions were. The new witness, a waiter who was serving tables in the restaurant at the time, says Calvi was in a group of four or five people. He identified photographs of two of the banker’s travelling companions as people whom he had seen in the restaurant at about that time. And he identified Umberto Ortolani, a Catholic financier and member of the P2 masonic lodge, with whom Calvi had an intense business relationship, as a regular customer at San Lorenzo’s.
Another witness, who provided information to investigators from the finance police just months after Calvi’s death, had the Banco Ambrosiano chairman at dinner that evening at an unknown location in the company of a playboy drug-dealer. The man with whom Calvi ate his last supper, according to this account, was someone whose connections ranged from European aristocrats and antiques-collecting aesthetes to fascist terrorists and underworld thugs. The cocaine trafficker’s role in the Calvi affair, ignored by the first generation of investigators in Britain and Italy, became increasingly significant as investigations progressed.
If Calvi’s visit to London made any sense, it was as an opportunity to meet important new contacts or long-standing associates who could help him resolve his pressing financial problems. Blackmail was on the conversation menu as a desperate Calvi played his last cards in a dangerous game. Former accomplices might be induced to come to his aid if he threatened to reveal the illegal or immoral activities they had participated in together. Calvi was convinced of it, and it was a key part of his survival strategy.
We don’t know how the discussions went. No one has spoken of raised voices or a memorable dispute at Calvi’s table. But we can imagine the scene: one of his dinner companions leans over and speaks to him in hushed tones of the dangers he faces – a subject to which he was always receptive. The police, or mafia assassins, are on his trail, the diner says, and he must leave the country at once. A boat is waiting for him on the river Thames. It will take him downstream to the Port of London, where a larger ship awaits that will carry him abroad, to South America, where he has connections and extensive business interests. Calvi must leave immediately, in the clothes that he stands up in, his apparently solicitous companion says. Someone else will return to Chelsea Cloisters to collect his luggage. How could he anticipate an unscheduled stop hard against the scaffolding under Blackfriars Bridge and the sudden noose slipped over his head?
Calvi was no saint and it is unlikely he would have given himself up willingly to be slaughtered, yet there is no evidence that he ever offered resistance, called for help, or fought back against his assassins. The last days of his life appear to have been part of a long, slow process of betrayal that came to a head in a final, dramatic meeting with his assassins over dinner at an upmarket Italian restaurant. At that moment he may have begun to suspect that his potential saviours were actually his executioners, but it was too late to change course.
If Jesus Christ was not present at the table, the interests of the church he founded certainly were. Not for nothing was Calvi known as ‘God’s banker’. He had represented the financial interests of the Roman Catholic church around the globe, acting as un uomo di fiducia (a man of trust) in some of its most secret and sensitive activities. One of the primary objects of Calvi’s blackmail in those last days was the Vatican, the very institution he had served with such devotion over decades. As a motive for murder, there was much more than ‘thirty pieces of silver’ at stake. And if Judas was not sitting at the San Lorenzo table with him, he was probably somewhere in the vicinity. For this is a tale of betrayal of trust: by Calvi, who was threatening to breach his duty of confidentiality as a banker and his oath of silence as a freemason, and by certain of his travelling companions, who were – allegedly – preparing to deliver him for execution.
Anthony Huntley’s encounter with the news was early and distressing. At 7.30 a.m. on an overcast Friday morning, he was on the walkway under the north arch of Blackfriars Bridge, one of three wide road bridges that span the Thames between the City of London and the borough of Southwark. As he walked along, the Daily Express postal clerk was tall enough to glance over the parapet and see the body of a man hanging by the neck from scaffolding above the mud-coloured river. The day was 18 June 1982 and the waves caused by his macabre discovery would reverberate through the world’s media for decades to come.
‘I looked over the parapet wall, down towards the river and saw a bald head with white tufts of hair over the ears,’ Huntley said in a statement made to the City of London Police five days later. ‘This didn’t really register at first but on taking a second and longer look, I saw there was a complete body hanging by the neck from a length of orange string that was tied to the top horizontal scaffolding tube on the east side of the construction of scaffolding poles.’ Huntley told police the man was dressed in a two-piece light grey suit and was without a tie. ‘I couldn’t see what footwear he had on because his feet were dangling in the water which was up to his ankle bones.’
Huntley was so stunned by what he had seen that after walking past he stopped on a balcony that projects over the Thames and looked back to confirm that it was real. He arrived at the Daily Express office looking pale and shaken and it was one of his colleagues, Stephen Pullen, who made the first 999 call to alert the police. The two men then returned to Blackfriars Bridge to speak to the police and to make sure that the shocking sight of the hanged man had not been an illusion after all.
One of the first police officers on the scene was PC John Palmer of the City of London Police, an independent police force responsible for investigating crimes that take place in the City, London’s financial district. While expert in tackling financial crime, the City Police is unaccustomed to investigating crimes of violence, but the autonomous force declined to seek the assistance of their more experienced colleagues in the Metropolitan Police, whose writ runs throughout the rest of Greater London.
‘The man ... had a length of yellow coloured cord tied in a slip knot around his neck and this cord was tied to the scaffolding about three feet above his head,’ Palmer recalled in a statement made the following day. ‘About a further three feet of the same cord was trailing downwards from the knot.’ The tide was on the ebb and the man’s feet were just touching the water by the time the body was removed by Thames River Police, a division of the Metropolitan Police, and taken on a police launch the short distance upstream to Waterloo Pier. ‘A search was made of the man’s clothing and during the search, apart from personal belongings, several pieces of masonry were found,’ PC Palmer’s account continued. ‘[A] half brick was found in his trousers under the fly, [a] half brick was found in his right-hand jacket pocket, two stones were in his right-hand trouser pocket and one stone was found in his left-hand trouser pocket.’ Further searches revealed that the man was carrying about £7,370 of cash, mainly in foreign currencies; a first indication that he was an individual of some wealth.
The body was subsequently taken to Milton Court mortuary where it was stripped. Palmer reported: ‘With the assistance of a mortuary attendant, I took the man’s fingerprints and noted that the man had been wearing a grey two-piece suit (made by Maffioli), a white vest and undershorts, black socks and black casual shoes.’ Though PC Palmer does not mention it in his statement, the dead man was actually wearing two pairs of underpants, a second anomaly after the bricks in his pockets and against his crotch. The officer also noticed ‘scuff marks’ on the man’s shins, marks that were later determined to have occurred after his death – perhaps caused as the inert body was dragged over rough ground by his assassins, or simply from rough handling by police.
Police photographs of the man’s trousers show a small tear at the level of the right hip and a dark stain on the seat. The dark substance is also present, though less clearly visible, at the level of the calves. The stains, which went through the man’s shirt tail and underpants, appear to have been picked up by sitting on a dirty bench and were later determined to be caused by an oily substance compatible with the varnish used on boats.
At 2 p.m. Professor Keith Simpson, an eminent pathologist from the University of London, conducted a brief post-mortem examination. His report gives ‘asphyxia due to hanging’ as the cause of death and suggests it was the result of ‘deliberate self-suspension’. He added: ‘There is NO suggestion from autopsy of drowning and no injury to suggest manhandling or any kind of foul play.’
The clean-shaven man suspended above the river by the length of orange rope had been identified by police as a 62-year-old Italian, Gian Roberto Calvini. That was the name on the false passport he was carrying and that was the name that appeared on his post-mortem report: when Prof. Simpson examined the corpse he had no idea that he was dealing with one of Europe’s leading bankers, on the run from a major financial catastrophe in his homeland. Seeing the torn and dirty clothes he was wearing -- another anomaly for a man of fastidious cleanliness -- some police officers had taken the view that they were dealing with the suicide of a vagrant, and their initial assumption may also have coloured the professor’s view.
Overweight, balding and dressed in a top-quality grey business suit, Mr Calvini’s presence was immediately puzzling. Had he chosen this temporary structure erected for the repair of the banks and storm drains of the river as the setting for a bizarre, acrobatic suicide? Or had unidentified enemies strung him up, staging an awkward and risky execution ritual to broadcast a menacing message to the denizens of his secretive world? The only thing certain was that his death could not have been an accident.
An insight into Simpson’s – and the police’s – initial reaction to the death is contained in a four-page handwritten note he made later, which describes the telephone call he received from the police while at breakfast. ‘ “Hullo, sir. I know you’re coming through the City this morning, sir. We’ve got a man found hanging under Blackfriars Bridge. Doesn’t look like crime, sir, but would you care to look at it on your way through?” Nothing very unusual. The City police had been to the scene, cut the man down, called the Police Surgeon to certify the fact of death and have the body removed... just routine, you would say.’ This note was to be presented two decades later in Rome as part of the prosecution evidence for the trial of Calvi’s alleged murderers.
Simpson conducted his post-mortem at 2 p.m. and the body he dealt with was still that of the obscure Mr Calvini. Roberto Calvi was not correctly identified by the London police until around 7 p.m. on that Friday, when, according to a City of London Police report, the head of Rome’s Special Branch telephoned to say ‘he believed the body to be that of Roberto Calvi, an important banker, who had been missing from Rome since approximately 11th June 1982.’ At that point the City Police were also informed that Calvi ‘was involved in a large bank fraud concerning Banco Ambrosiano, a private bank of which he was president.’ News of the identification appears to have leaked quickly in Italy. The Rome newspaper Il Tempo was tipped off by an anonymous phone call at around the same time that evening. A woman with a Milanese accent told the paper that the body of Roberto Calvi had been found in London, according to a report by the Carabinieri paramilitary police.
The City Police might have been quicker in establishing Calvi’s true identity: his real name was on a label sewn into the lining of his jacket near the breast pocket.1
In his handwritten account Simpson elaborated on the international shake-up and court cases that followed over the next few weeks, and acknowledged: ‘It was no ordinary hanging for sure. Yet I could find absolutely no trace of violence or manhandling -- and analysis revealed no drugs that might have been slipped into a drink to make Calvi unconscious, easy to overcome, slip into a noose and hoist onto the scaffolding on which he was hanging.’ The only mark Simpson found on the body was that left by the noose around the neck. The sort of mark, he wrote, ‘I had seen on hundreds of self-hanging suicides over whose deaths no further argument had arisen.’ Tiny blood spots had burst out on his scalp and the whites of the eyes owing to constriction of the neck veins -- petechiae, or ‘Tardieu spots’ after the French police surgeon who first described them in deaths from asphyxiation. ‘No, there could be no doubt he had hanged alive and died quietly -- if that is the word -- in that noose.’
More details of the exact circumstances of Calvi’s death can be gleaned from the witness statements of other officers who attended the scene and from a City of London Police report drawn up by Detective Inspector John White, one of the officers who oversaw the original investigation, on 20 July 1982 -- one month after the event. Whether the police and other authorities correctly gathered and interpreted that evidence remains controversial to this day.
Police Constable Donald Bartliff was patrolling with the Thames River Police when he was called to Blackfriars Bridge at 7.48 a.m. His testimony, delivered ten days after the event, provides one of the fullest accounts of the crime scene on the morning of Calvi’s death. ‘On arrival at the scene at 8 a.m. under the north arch of Blackfriars Bridge, I saw the lifeless body of a man who I now know to be Roberto Calvi hanging from the scaffolding by a rope which was tied round his neck. The rope which was orange in colour is of a type commonly used on the river. The scaffolding was built on the foreshore alongside the river wall and the body was hanging on the down-river end close to the wall facing upstream. The feet were just resting on the fifth horizontal scaffold pole from the top. The left arm was draped over the third horizontal scaffold pole close to the wall. The full weight of the body was taken by the rope, which had been tied about three feet above the head by two half hitches to a securing eyelet, level with the second horizontal scaffold pole from the top.’
Like PC Palmer, Bartliff noticed ‘a half brick in the front of the trousers under the flies which were buttoned up.’ This piece of brick rammed in front of Calvi’s genitals is one of the most telling items of evidence to point away from suicide. However distressed he may have been, it is unlikely that Calvi would have shown such disrespect for his own body, and later reconstructions showed it would have been very difficult for him to walk, let alone clamber athletically over the scaffolding, without the brick dislodging and rolling down one of his trouser-legs. Experiments also showed that any such movement was likely to leave chafe marks on Calvi’s inside thigh. Such physical disrespect would be entirely consistent with murder, however; a mark of scorn in the mafia’s coded language of physical gestures.
PC Bartliff’s evidence is clearly geared towards suicide, though. ‘There is a metal ladder secured to the river wall immediately upstream of the scaffold which would have provided easy access to the structure,’ he said. Calvi’s delivery to the scaffolding by boat, an essential element of the most plausible murder theory, would not have been so easy. ‘I have served on Thames Division at Waterloo Pier since 1964 and in my opinion it would need a boat’s crew with considerable experience and knowledge of the river Thames to place a boat in position alongside this scaffolding so that the body could have been secured in this way,’ he said. Later experiments would show that the procedure could indeed be carried out, much depending on the strength and direction of the tide at the time.
PC Bartliff’s evidence reveals he participated in one of the first operational errors in the police’s handling of the case, for all his long professional experience: ‘A police salvage line was placed loosely around the chest and under the armpits so that PC Johnston could support the body while I untied the rope from the scaffold.’ The knot was not preserved, as it could have been if the body had been cut down, thus destroying a vital clue to the technical competence of the person who attached Calvi to his place of death. Calvi was not an expert sailor and would not have been capable of creating a complex knot. It would not be the last mistake.
Further details of the crime scene were provided in John White’s report of 20 July. ‘The rope which was of a nylon substance, orange in colour and commonly found on the Thames, was secured to the north east corner of the scaffold by two half hitches and round the neck of the body by a loop which had been formed by doubling the rope and making one half hitch.’ The five bricks and stones weighing down Calvi’s pockets amounted to a total of 11lb 15oz (5.4kg). They were compatible with builder’s rubble found on waste ground 300 yards east of the bridge and adjacent to the river, the report said.
Photographs of Calvi’s body were not taken until it had been removed to Waterloo Pier and searched for clues to identity. ‘Calvi’s jacket was unbuttoned to be searched and incorrectly buttoned again by police before the photographs were taken,’ White wrote. The wrongly buttoned jacket, fastened by police officers rather than by Calvi’s killers, would give a spurious boost to the murder theory when the photo of the corpse lying on Waterloo Pier was acquired by L’Espresso magazine in Italy and published on its front cover.
Police were responsible for a catalogue of further errors, according to James Cameron, a professor of forensic medicine at the University of London who was retained as an expert witness by the Calvi family, who were understandably keen to prove Roberto had not committed suicide, for insurance as well as moral purposes. Prof. Cameron outlined his misgivings about the police investigation when interviewed in 1992 by representatives of Kroll Associates, an American firm of detectives also hired by the Calvi family. ‘We questioned Professor Cameron about the manner in which the autopsy was conducted and he is of the strong opinion the police presented to Professor Simpson only the facts which supported a case of suicide,’ the Kroll detective wrote in a report on the meeting. ‘Professor Cameron said that when he was retained by Kingsley Napley [the Calvi family’s solicitors] it was known by them the City of London Police officers and Thames Division officers of the Metropolitan Police had from the outset dealt with the matter as a suicide. The usual procedures at the scene of a suspicious death were not adhered to and certain irregularities had occurred.’
The Kroll report said that Dr Arthur Gordon Davies, the coroner at the second London inquest in June 1983, had told all the Counsel involved that ‘he did not think his Court was the correct place to question or accuse Police of negligence in relation to the handling of the body.’ Reporting on a second meeting with Prof. Cameron, the Kroll agent said: ‘Professor Cameron stated the case was “cocked up” from the start with Police Officers from Thames Division dealing with the body in a most unprofessional manner. Professor Cameron said the Thames Police Officers, from the outset, dealt with the hanging of the body as one of suicide. The scene of the crime, and indeed the body, was not preserved as it should have been.’
The Kroll report said its investigators understood that no police photographs were taken of the crime scene. This was most unusual, it observed, even in obvious suicide cases. ‘There appears little doubt in this case the investigation was badly handled in the first 12 hours which is the most crucial period in any murder or sudden death inquiry,’ the firm said. Modern viewers of the television series Silent Witness or CSI would undoubtedly be shocked at the clumsy way Calvi’s death was initially investigated. But it appears that the handling of the case may have fallen short even of the more primitive standards pertaining a quarter of a century ago. Lt. Col. Francesco Delfino, an officer of the Italian military intelligence service (SISMI), who was sent to London from his base in Brussels to follow developments in the Calvi case, gained the impression that his British colleagues were treating it ‘like the suicide of a tramp’.2
Calvi’s real importance was underlined by the extremely swift reaction of Italian authorities to the news of his death. A Rome magistrate, Domenico Sica, flew immediately to London in the company of four senior police officers to assist in the identification of the body. The group arrived at Heathrow by private plane less than 24 hours after the body’s discovery, at 3.30 a.m. on Saturday 19 June, and went straight to Snow Hill Police Station in the City. They were provided with all documents and statements taken in the investigation up to that point and their questions were answered where possible. A month later, DI White was sceptical of Sica’s murder hypothesis. ‘Dr Sica is convinced Calvi has been murdered, but cannot give any tangible reasons to support his belief,’ he wrote in his report of 20 July. ‘He just speculates over the many unanswered questions that arise out of this particular case, bearing in mind the position Calvi held in Italy and the political intrigue which is being disclosed in the Italian press.’
White, in contrast, opts unequivocally for suicide. His report lays out clearly the elements that lead him to this conclusion: the rope used was common on the river and could have been left on the scaffolding by the tide; the knots, in his view, were those of a layman. There were no signs of force, drugs or poison in the body; the neck was not broken. Access to the scaffold was by a fixed ladder and was not difficult.
‘When looking at suicide, matters fall more readily into place,’ he wrote. Calvi had attempted suicide a year earlier, was on the run from police, and in a fragile state of mind. White reiterated his view that the Italian authorities had failed to produce any credible evidence to support their murder theory, adding: ‘There is little doubt that much of the information they have relating to Calvi has not been disclosed to us.’ International judicial cooperation on the case had evidently got off to a bad start.
White does concede that the bricks in Calvi’s pockets are ‘unaccountable’ but adds: ‘one must not speculate as to their presence’. ‘To conclude, although the general Italian opinion is that Calvi was murdered ... there is certainly no evidence at the present time to support this, although we are quite naturally looking at all aspects of the case.’
Tensions and misunderstandings between the British and Italian authorities would obstruct the investigation for years. A report filed by one of the Italian police officers who visited London on 21 June gives a flavour of the prevailing atmosphere of mistrust. ‘I should say immediately that the presence of the undersigned was not very welcome to the British police which limited itself to a formal collaboration, providing very little information from time to time and often only at the explicit request of the writer,’ complained Maresciallo [Sergeant] Francesco Rosato.
A rush to judgement by the City Police, who are not accustomed to investigating murders anyway, a rushed post-mortem by Prof. Simpson, and a rushed original inquest all contributed to get the British investigation off to a bad start. The original inquest, presided over by the City of London coroner, Dr David Paul, was crammed into a single day on Friday 23 July 1982, five weeks after Calvi’s death. One of the reasons it was later quashed was the breakneck speed at which Dr Paul conducted the proceedings, pausing only 20 minutes for lunch and winding things up at 10 p.m.
‘Of course it would have been much better if he had chosen one of the other bridges above Chelsea; apart from any other considerations, this inquest would have been heard in somebody else’s court and you and I would not have been here at 10 past 8 at night,’ Dr Paul joked to the jurors towards the end of the day – somewhat prejudging their verdict in the process. ‘But he did choose Blackfriars.’
The coroner was also criticized for suggesting that an open verdict, in the event that the jury could not agree on murder or suicide, ‘may seem like a super open door to scuttle through if you are in any difficulty about returning another verdict.’ Such steering of the jury was irregular, an appeal court judge would later rule. In the end the jury did not take the ‘easy’ way out, returning a majority verdict of suicide after deliberating for just under an hour.
Dr Paul concluded: ‘I therefore record that the jury find that Roberto Calvi, a male of 62 years, of Via Frua 9, Milan, Italy, was certified dead at Waterloo Pier, London on Friday 18th June 1982, the cause of death being asphyxia due to hanging, and that he killed himself.’ These were momentous words and the last three would go a long way to postponing the solution of the Calvi riddle, still not fully puzzled out after more than 20 years. Just as most Italians were convinced that Calvi had been killed, many of them were also sure that the court’s verdict of suicide was the result of a deliberate cover-up on the part of the British authorities.
1 Procura della Repubblica. Udienza Preliminare. Memoria del Pubblico Ministero Omicidio di Roberto Calvi. (Public Prosecutor’s office. Preliminary hearing. Public Prosecutor’s memorandum on the murder of Roberto Calvi.) Rome, 28 December 2004, p. 2.
2 Ibid., p. 78.