Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Britain's Bizarre 'Hair-in-Hand' Murder Case

Human Remains

Police investigate the attic where the body was found
Police investigate the attic where the body was found

On the third week of March 2010, police in Potenza, Italy reported finding a mummified body in the attic of that city's Church of the Most Holy Trinity. Maintenance workers repairing a leaky roof found the human remains in a nearly inaccessible part of the attic, concealed behind a section of wall that had been bricked-up years earlier. It was a horrific discovery, eerily reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe's fictional The Cask of Amontillado, in which the protagonist sealed his one-time friend in an alcove behind a brick wall. According to Potenza's chief of police, Romolo Panico, the desiccated body was in an advanced state of decomposition and would require DNA tests to identify the remains.

When word of the macabre discovery became public, however, speculation almost immediately returned to the Elisa Claps case. Elisa's family reminded reporters that Elisa had gone to that particular church on the day she disappeared to meet with Danilo Restivo, then 21, for a date they had previously arranged. It was the last time anyone saw her alive.

Elisa Claps
Elisa Claps

Investigators also discovered that Restivo had gone to a local hospital for treatment of an injured hand a short time after his scheduled meeting with Elisa. He reportedly told medical personnel at that time, and later the police when they made their inquiries about her disappearance, that he had injured himself during a fall at a construction site. Restivo also told police that he had only spoken to Elisa briefly that day, and denied knowing what had become of her. Restivo had been convicted of perjury when a panel of judges ruled that his explanation of his whereabouts on the day Elisa disappeared were not satisfactory. Sentenced to two and a half years in prison, of which he served little actual jail time, Restivo relocated to England shortly after his release.

The remains recovered at the Church of the Most Holy Trinity were tentatively identified as those of Elisa Claps, based on the fact that the clothing, sandals, jewelry and sunglasses were identified by her family as belonging to her. Formal identification that the mummified body was Elisa's was confirmed a short time later through DNA tests. Police said that Elisa was likely already dead when her body was placed in the church loft.

There had also been reports of women having locks of hair cut from their heads around the time Elisa was reported missing, but those reports had gone largely unnoticed until years later when they were uncovered during the recent investigation.


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