On April 11, 1953, a laborer having breakfast on Italy’s Torvaianica Beach found the body of a young woman lying lifeless on the shore. The body was identified as that of Wilma Montesi, a 20-year-old Roman woman who was last seen on April 9. Wilma’s clothes were soaked.
She was also missing her shoes, garter belt, and stockings. Theories ranged from Wilma accidentally drowning to taking her own life.
The evening Wilma disappeared, her mother and sister Wanda had gone to see a movie. Wilma was invited to come along, but said she would probably go for a walk instead. Despite leaving behind a precious piece of jewelry that she always wore, Wilma never returned home that night. Witnesses claimed to see her riding a train from Rome to Ostia, while a man who sold postcards reported talking to a woman who looked like Wilma near a beach in Ostia. Wilma was engaged to be married soon, and the salesman said the woman bought a postcard for her boyfriend.
As the authorities pieced things together, it seemed that Wilma’s death was an accident. Wilma sometimes suffered from a pain in her heels, which she would try to ease by dipping her feet in water. While in the water, Wilma must have fallen unconscious and then drowned. Her body was carried by the currents to the beach in Torvaiancia, where she was eventually found by the laborer. The contents of her stomach showed nothing unusual in her body, and there were no signs indicating she had been the victim of violence either.
The police were satisfied with the accident theory, but the press insisted there was something more to the story. An article in the paper Roma, published in the May 4th edition, theorized that Wilma was murdered and the true cause of her death was being covered up. The next day, another newspaper article claimed that a man had turned Wilma’s missing clothes into the police. This unidentified man was eventually revealed to the public as Piero Piccioni, a jazz musician and son of Attilio Piccioni, the foreign minister and a big shot in the country’s Christian Democrats party.
Needless to say, Piero Piccioni was outraged by the accusation. He sued Marco Sforza, the journalist who leaked to the public that Piccioni was the unidentified man. Sforza agreed to take back the accusation, and the whole scandal eventually died down and was forgotten over the summer.
This was not, however, the end of the story. On October 6, 1953, a reporter named Silvano Muto revived interest in the case when he published an article that alleged Wilma Montesi had lived a secret double life. According to an actress named Andriana Concetta Bisaccia, Wilma took part in a wild drug-filled orgy with members of the Roman elite. When Wilma overdosed on some drugs, the party-goers dumped her body onto the beach in Torvaianica. The authorities came up with the accident theory to protect the orgy participants, one of whom was said to be Piero Piccioni.
Like Marco Sforza before him, Muto was sued and eventually retracted his accusations. His source, the actress who attended the orgy with Wilma, denied everything in the article. Another actress, however, soon came forward and confirmed what Bisaccia said. Maria Augusta Moneta Caglio Bessier d’Istria reported that Wilma was an old mistress of Ugo Montagna, the man suing Sforza and the owner of the place where the orgy was alleged to have taken place. Maria wrote up a memorandum that confirmed the findings in Muto’s article, and this document was then given to an Italian official who suspended the trial against Muto.
On March 26, 1954, the investigation of Wilma’s death was re-opened. The Christian Democrats claimed the scandal was nothing but a conspiracy orchestrated by their political enemies, but the ensuing controversy eventually led to Attilio Piccioni’s resignation from his post. Piero Piccioni and Ugo Montagna were then arrested, and a Roman superintendent of the police was also taken into custody for his involvement in the cover-up. Piccioni went to trial for manslaughter and drug use, while Montagna was accused of helping him get rid of Wilma’s body.
While the press might have been calling for Piero Piccioni’s blood, the Montesis thought the man was innocent. They maintained that their daughter was a good middle-class girl, the last person in the world to be involved with drugs and casual sex. There was a side to Wilma, however, that her family didn’t want known to the public. She liked to smoke cigarettes and stay out late, behavior considered shocking for a young woman of the time. She also frequently fought with her mother, sometimes violently. As the case went on, the theory of Wilma dying from a drug overdose at an aristocratic orgy was not as far-fetched as it first seemed.
On May 28, 1957, Piero Piccioni and Ugo Montagna were deemed innocent of their charges and acquitted. Montagna denied having ever known Wilma Montesi, while Alida Valli, a popular movie star, provided Piccioni with an alibi during the time of Wilma’s death. As far as the authorities were concerned, the accidental drowning theory was still correct. Yet what about the testimony of Bisaccia and Bessier d’Istria? Was there truly a cover-up that extended all the way to a leader of the Christian Democrats? Was Wilma Montesi really as clean as her family claimed she was? Perhaps the circumstances surrounding the young woman’s death will never properly be explained.