CAN DEAD MEN TELL TALES?
By Wendy Hughes
It is said that dead men can tell no tales, but after reading this story you may change your mind, and it may be the only case where an alleged spiritual possession led to a formal legal conviction of murder.
The story began on 13 February 1936 when the body of a local resident Giuseppe ‘Pepe Veraldi was found under the Morandi bridge in the city of Catanzaro in southern Italy. He had apparently jumped from the bridge, gashed his head on the rocky riverbed and drowned in shallow water. Due to the injuries and lack of evidence, the police decided it must be a suicide and drew the investigation to a close. Pepe’s family protested claiming there was no reason for him to killed himself, but the police refused to re-open the case. Obviously the death became the talk of the town for several months, but eventually it faded from local gossip, and it wasn’t until three years later that the death came to the attention of the public again.
Maria Talarico’s story
On a cold January day in 1939, 17-year-old Maria Talarico was walking across the bridge with her grandmother. They were chatting happily when, suddenly Maria stopped in mid-sentence before collapsing in a heap beside the old lady. Despite many attempts her distraught grandmother could not revive her. Several people gathered and arranged for Maria to be carried her home. Once in the warmth of her own home, Maria began to recover and began to speak, but her shocked family did not hear the soft feminine voice of Maria, but that of a husky male.
Maria turned her eyes towards her mother. ‘You are not my mother,’ she protested, ‘my mother lives in a wooden hut and her name is Catarina Veraldi. My name is Pepe, who are you? I want to speak to my mother.’ Maria asked for a piece of paper and wrote down a few words which her mother said were not in her daughter’s handwriting. The family remembered that a young man called Giuseppe ‘Pepe’ Veraldi, had drowned himself 3 years previously, and his body had been recovered on the very spot, near the bridge where Maria had collapsed. One of the neighbours rushed off to to fetch Mrs Veraldi. Meanwhile Maria got up and strutted across the room and demanded a glass of wine, a cigarette and some playing cards. Taking the pack of cards, she began to play, calling the men present by different names, Rosario, Toto, Elio, and Damiano. Further investigation confirmed that these were the names of Pepe’s friends at the time of his death.
Matters took another bizarre twist when Pepe’s mother arrived at the Talarico household. She confirmed that the words written by Maria were in her son’s handwriting. Still talking in Pepe’s voice, Maria turned to the visitor, ‘Mama, how nice to see you again. My friends murdered me with a piece of iron then tossed me off the bridge, but I couldn’t see which one hit me. They tried to make it look like suicide, but it was murder Mama. They murdered me.’
In tears the frightened Maria fled from the house and hurried through the town. When she arrived at the bridge she threw herself off it, screaming and shouting, ’Leave me alone. Why are you beating me?’ All went quite, and Maria lay on the ground in precisely the same position as Pepe was found. After a few moments the dead man’s mother approached Maria and demanded Pepe to leave the girl’s body immediately. ‘You have told your story, now let her rest.’ Slowly Maria stirred, opened her eyes and looked around. Gently she eased herself to her feet, shook her skirt to remove the dust and asked what had happened. No one knew what to make of the incident. Maria could not remember, but her family were convinced that she did not make it up. The police, who had reported Pepe’s death had suggested at the time that Pepe may have been murdered, but as there was no evidence to substantiate their theories, it was dismissed. The friends Maria had named would not, or could not provide any evidence. By now Toto had emigrated to South America, Elio was dead, and the others could not be traced, so there the matter had to rest.
The years passed and in 1951 Pepe’s ageing mother received an unexpected letter in the post from Argentina.. It was from Toto, now known as Luigi ‘Toto’ Marchete. In the letter he explained that Pepe had been flirting with his wife, and he had asked Pepe to stop, but he continued. Toto asked a few of his friends to teach Pepe a lesson, but the incident got out of hand and he was beaten with an iron bar. He did not mean to kill him, so he and his friends tried to make it look like suicide. When the affair quietened down, he fled to South America in the hope of forgetting it had happened, but it had not worked. Every day, the incident had haunted him, so to try and ease his conscience, he had made arrangements for Pepe’s mother to receive the fortune he has amassed in Argentina.
Pepe’s mother reported the letter to the police and the investigation into Giuseppe Veraldi’s death was re-opened. As Toto was living in Argentina he could not be brought back to Italy to face a murder charge. Of the three others involved, one was dead, and the other two were tired in the Italian courts and convicted of Pepe’s murder. This could be the only case where an alleged spiritual possession led to a conviction. So, it seems that perhaps dead men can tell tales after all.