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The Murder of Meredith Kercher
By Gary C. King
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2010 Gary C. King
All rights reserved.
The medieval hillside city of Perugia, capital of the Umbrian region of Italy, situated near the Tiber River between Rome and Florence, is a notable artistic centre whose neighbouring town, Citta della Pieve, was home to painter Pietro Vannucci (also known as Perugino), who taught the great Renaissance artist Raphael. With a modern population of more than 160,000, Perugia was originally a mere settlement which historians have dated back to 310 BC. Known for having a transitional and prevalently Mediterranean climate, winters are not particularly cold and summers are pleasant and often breezy. Despite its historic past, today Perugia is renowned for its chocolate, being home to the Perugina chocolate company which makes Baci, or chocolate kisses, that are popular throughout Italy and elsewhere. The city also hosts a chocolate festival that begins in October and runs into November, enjoyed by the local residents and tourists alike.
Unfortunately, Perugia is now more widely known for the gruesome and sensational, sex-related murder of Meredith Kercher, a beautiful young foreign exchange student who succumbed to a slow and agonizing death. Meredith had moved to Perugia from her home in England to finish her studies at the Universita per Stranieri – the University of Foreigners – which attracts some 8,000 students a year from all over the world to study the Italian language and culture. The sordid details of this tragic case, as well as the questionable aspects of who had committed the crime and why, kept much of the UK and Europe riveted, especially as speculation heightened in the run-up to the Italian court's verdict in late 2009. And as one of the prime suspects was an American honor student, interest in the case crossed the Atlantic and kept many in the United States equally engrossed. It also brought into focus the apparently often wild student life in Perugia, going far beyond the intended cultural and educational enrichment of their parents' expectations, with students drifting into frequent open sexual relationships, combined with drinking and drug-taking. There were clearly dark aspects beneath the surface of this otherwise idyllic university town.
Just 21 years old at the time of her death, Meredith Susanna Cara Kercher, also known as 'Mez' to her family and friends, was born in February 1986 in the London borough of Southwark, to an Indian mother and English father. She had a natural beauty, which some attributed to the blood mix of her parents, with flowing brown hair, brown eyes and a radiant smile sufficient to melt any young man's heart, and a personality just as pleasing as her looks. Meredith was in her third year of studies at the University of Leeds, working towards a degree in European studies when she entered the European Region Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students (ERASMUS) student exchange programme and travelled to Italy in August 2007 to complete the course of study for her degree but primarily to study the Italian language.
It was an exciting time in her life, as it is for most her age, made all the more thrilling by being away from her home in the South London suburb of Coulsdon, living and studying in a foreign country. She made friends right away, and enjoyed the pizza and kebab restaurants that are scattered about the hillside town of Perugia. Although known as quiet and studious, she also enjoyed the nightlife that was accentuated by loud bars and dancing, but stayed away from the city's growing drug scene. She had quickly found a place to stay, in a charming little hillside villa overlooking lush foliage in the valley below, which she shared with three student housemates. However, instead of it all being the time of her life, no one could have envisaged – particularly Meredith and her family – that the move to Italy would end in a tragedy of the greatest magnitude, and that she would return home to her grieving family inside a coffin.
The investigation into the murder of Meredith Kercher officially began on Friday morning, November 2, 2007, shortly after elderly Perugia resident Elisabetta Lana, who lived near the villa that Meredith had moved into a few months earlier, pottered about in her garden, as she did nearly every morning. The air smelt fresh and cool during the morning hours, and Elisabetta paused to take in the view of the valley below with its autumn foliage colours of gold and red, and the old medieval wall visible in the distance – a reminder of its history that many Perugia residents took for granted. Suddenly Elisabetta's attention was caught by the sound of a phone or some other electronic device. She followed the sound to the end of her garden where she discovered two mobile phones. One of the phones was still ringing and Elisabetta answered it, only to receive a threatening message. Thinking it strange that two phones would have been lost or discarded by someone in her garden, on her property, and the fact that the message received on one of the phones had been of a threatening nature, Elisabetta called the local police to report what she had found. For all she knew, she told the police, the phones could be connected to a terrorist plot and perhaps had been somehow configured to detonate a bomb.
When the police arrived, they took custody of the phones and quickly put to rest any fears that they were connected to a terrorist plot. Within a relatively short time, they traced one of the phones to a resident of the small villa located at 7 Via della Pergolla, in the Viale Sant'Antonio area, only a short distance from Perugia's city centre, where Meredith and her flatmates lived. The Postal and Communication Police eventually determined that both phones belonged to Meredith Kercher. Perplexed and curious as to why the phones would have ended up in Elisabetta Lana's garden, they decided that they would pay a visit to the hill-top villa where Meredith lived.
When police officers arrived, everything at first seemed quiet and normal, at least from the outside. When they knocked on the door they were greeted by a young man and a young woman. The officers announced that they were there to return the two phones, and to make inquiries as to how they had ended up in Mrs Lana's garden. The woman identified herself as Amanda Marie Knox, Meredith's 20-year-old American flatmate, who was also studying at the University of Foreigners. Amanda was an attractive blue -eyed blonde language student with a penchant for wearing denim and wool hats, described as being 'somewhat of a tomboy who enjoyed hiking'. She had chosen to study in Perugia rather than Florence, for instance, the latter being a more popular destination for students, because Perugia was much less touristy. The other person identified himself as Raffaele Sollecito, Amanda's 24-year -old boyfriend and an Italian-born resident.
Sollecito, the son of a doctor, was in Perugia completing the final coursework for a computer science degree. The two had met only a few weeks earlier at a classical music concert, and Amanda reportedly had been attracted to him because he reminded her of Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who plays Harry Potter. Both Amanda and Sollecito expressed concern that the house may have been broken into, possibly some time during the previous evening when everyone had been out. The other residents of the apartment, Filomena Romanelli and Laura Mezzetti, were in the same age group as Meredith and Amanda.
Amanda and Raffaele explained that they had spent the evening at Sollecito's place, and had attempted to reach Meredith three times by calling one of her phones, but there had been no response. They explained that they had returned to the villa primarily because Meredith had not answered her phone. They had found the front door ajar and, strangely, the door to Meredith's room was locked – from the inside. They said that when they arrived at the cottage that morning, they discovered a broken window from the outside, as well as blood in the bathroom. Amanda said that she had initially thought that perhaps one of the other female roommates was having her menstrual period, and had failed to clean up the small amount of blood in the bathroom. She said that someone had also left a bowel movement in the toilet bowl, and had not flushed it.
The broken window was in Filomena's bedroom. Amanda said that they had already reported the possible break-in to the police after Amanda had telephoned her mother in Seattle to express her concern that 'somebody might have been in my house,' and it had been her mother that had suggested they call the police after Amanda had explained the unusual circumstances. It was not until after police officers conducted a cursory examination of the residence, consisting primarily of a walk-through of the house, during which the police confirmed the presence of blood in the bathroom and discovered for themselves that Meredith's bedroom door was locked, that they decided to break it down. Nothing could have prepared any of the officers for what they saw on the other side of the door.
From across the small room, one of the officers almost immediately saw what appeared to be a naked human foot extending from beneath a duvet, a down-filled quilt or comforter of the sort typically made with a removable cover and which is sometimes used as a mattress. Amanda, who understood Italian fairly well, and was standing outside the room, thought that she understood the word 'foot' spoken in Italian by one of the officers as, horrified, they yelled excitedly to one another. Amanda would later recall that it had been at that moment that she first realized that the police had discovered a body.
Upon entering the room, the telltale acrid, almost metallic or iron-like, smell of congealed blood was apparent, just beginning to turn slightly sweet-smelling as it began the early stages of decomposition. They noted that there was no movement from the body beneath the duvet, and each officer was suddenly filled with feelings of dread at what they knew must be done next –removal of the duvet to check for signs of life, although they instinctively knew that was unlikely.
When they tentatively pulled back the duvet, trying not to disturb any evidence that might be present, they were distressed to see the body of a young woman, semi-nude. Aghast, the police officers also saw a large amount of blood that had pooled around the upper part of the body and had soaked into the duvet, and they could see what appeared to be a number of slashing and stabbing wounds to the throat. Initially, it looked like there may have been three stab injuries to her neck, but since it was clear that she was quite dead and that no lifesaving efforts would be needed, they would leave the specifics for the detectives, coroner and forensics teams to determine. There were a number of bloodstained papers near the body, and a computer was nearby. There was little doubt in anyone's mind that the body was that of Meredith Kercher.
Although the police initially on the scene had observed bloodstains on the broken window and suspected that it had been broken outwardly, from the inside, they shut down and sealed off the premises and the surrounding area, stringing red and white police tape around the perimeter of what they believed constituted the crime scene. It was possible, they speculated, that the killer or killers may have escaped through the broken window since the door had been locked from the inside. It seemed more likely, however, that the killer or killers would have simply found it easier to leave by the front door, since no one else had apparently been at home at the time of the murder, causing some to wonder whether the window had been broken during a struggle between the victim and the killer or, perhaps, that it had been staged to appear that the window had been the killer's point of exit.
Later that day the UK Foreign Office made a simple announcement to the media: 'We can confirm that a British national was found dead in her apartment. Our consular staff is in Perugia to liaise with the Italian authorities and to provide the necessary consular assistance. The circumstances of the death are under investigation by the Italian police.'
The message had been short and to the point, although had not identified the victim's name. However, Meredith's mother, Arline, had heard one of the reports and immediately became concerned because it had involved the murder of a female British student in Perugia. She called her husband, John, a freelance journalist, who also became concerned but tried to calm his wife by telling her that there are thousands of British students in Perugia. Besides, the report, he had noted, had not mentioned any names.
In the meantime the area around the villa was inundated with police and crime-scene investigators. There was clearly more to the story of what had occurred than was initially observed, and the investigators were determined to unravel the mystery. The locals, watching the police work from a distance, no longer viewed the residence as merely a small, quiet villa, and soon began calling it casa degli orrori – the house of horrors.CHAPTER 2
As the investigation into the murder of Meredith Kercher was getting underway in Perugia, back in the UK, John Kercher and his ex-wife, Arline, were growing increasingly anxious to make contact with their daughter. He recalled later that he had last spoken to Meredith at about a quarter past two on the afternoon of Thursday, November 1, while conducting business at a bank in Croydon. She had called him on his mobile phone while he was at the counter, just to ask how he was doing. Since they usually spoke during the evening hours, he had thought it a bit unusual for her to call at mid-afternoon. He, nonetheless, had been very happy to hear from her, and they had chatted for about two minutes. She had told him that she did not have classes that day because it was a public holiday. He told her that he loved her, and that he would call her back later. However, she had said that she would be going out that evening, so he knew it would not be until the next day that they would be able to speak again. Although he had no way of knowing it at the time, that telephone call would be the last time he spoke to Meredith.
About 5 p.m. the following day, Friday, November 2, Arline called him about the female British student who had been murdered in Perugia. Partly because of Arline's telephone call and partly because he simply wanted to speak to his daughter again, John Kercher called Meredith on her mobile phone. To his dismay he heard an automated message that her phone was turned off. Over the next hour he tried calling Meredith a dozen times or more, keeping in mind that the time in Italy was an hour later than it was in the United Kingdom. Finally, he could hear Meredith's phone ringing in his earpiece, meaning that it had been turned back on, and he had become hopeful that she was okay and that there was nothing to worry about. However, there was still no answer. He tried calling her relentlessly over the next half hour, always with the same result: no answer.
Increasingly anxious to obtain information about the murder in Perugia to, hopefully, put his and Arline's minds at ease, Kercher telephoned the foreign desk at the Daily Mirror, a newspaper that he had worked for as a freelancer for a number of years, and spoke to one of his contacts there. He was told that they only had sketchy information at best at that point, but he was urged to call back in an hour or so, when they may have additional details. Although it was one of the most agonizing hours of his life, Kercher did as was suggested.
When Kercher called the newspaper back an hour later, his hopes rose again – but only for the moment. He was told that the Italian police had found the murdered girl's mobile telephone, and that they had been in touch with people in London. From that information, which was still, admittedly, sketchy, he had figured that the police in Italy must have contacted the murdered girl's family as well as British authorities. However, half an hour later a woman from the Daily Mirror called back and told him that they now had a name, and Kercher's hopes were quickly dashed. Although the woman seemed reluctant to provide the information to him at first for obvious reasons, she finally told him that 'The name going around Italy is Meredith.'
Excerpted from The Murder of Meredith Kercher by Gary C. King. Copyright © 2010 Gary C. King. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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