True crime stories have always been popular within the traditional media and are now even more prevalent on subscription services and podcasts. Behind interest in the most compelling of these stories may lie some of the characteristics which fuelled the success of tragedians from Sophocles, through Shakespeare to Henrik Ibsen. One such story is the murder of Alfio Molteni, an interior designer who lived in Carugo, a town to the south east of Cantù in the Province of Como. His fate, and that of those responsible for it, is a local example of a crime possessing some quasi-Shakespearean elements for our own times. It maintained media interest right from the victim’s murder on 14th October 2015 until the final confirmation in February 2021 by the highest court in the land of the life sentences passed down on those deemed most responsible.
Alfio Molteni was an interior design architect with a studio in Mariano Comense. Professionally he was very successful with commissions that included the design of the interiors of villas owned by Russian oligarchs on Lake Como, and international clients in the Arab Emirates. One of his projects was the luxury Park Hyatt Hotel in Dubai Creek. He had an excellent private and professional reputation and was known for his personable and pleasant manner. However he had not had the same fortune in his emotional life having gone through an ugly divorce from his second wife back in 2013 in which they argued over access rights to their two young daughters.
After the divorce, Molteni went to live in his parents’ home in Carugo. It was there on Wednesday October 14th 2015 where two people lying in ambush shot him on his return home. The neighbours called the police and an ambulance took Molteni to Cantù Hospital. The assassins had made their escape in his elder son’s stolen Volkswagen Polo which was later found abandoned and burnt out on the Milano-Meda road. One of the shots fired by the assassins had severed an artery in Molteni’s leg. He died in hospital that same evening.
His death came as the culmination of a series of recent incidents intended to intimidate. These had started back in May when his Range Rover had been set on fire. In June a Molotov cocktail had been thrown through his parents’ basement window and in July a masked gunman had fired eight shots in broad daylight at one of the home’s shuttered windows.
Investigators immediately discounted the involvement of organised crime but did consider the likelihood of some business-related motive such as revenge for the non payment of a debt. However there was no evidence that Molteni had any such ‘enemies’ with the possible exception of his ex-wife who had been seeking in court to get an amendment to the divorce settlement to gain better terms of contact with her two daughters.
Molteni’s funeral later that month in Carugo was attended by around one thousand people. The wreaths from business contacts included one from the family of the ex-President of Kosovo, Behgjet Pacolli, owner of the Swiss Mabetex construction group and husband of Anna Oxa, a once famous Italian singer and television presenter. Another was signed enigmatically from ‘The friends of Moscow’ as well as from ‘Armando Rho and employees’. This latter company was a local successful furniture factory owned by the father of Molteni’s ex-wife, Daniela Rho. The personal and business relationship between Molteni and the Rho family had deteriorated markedly since his divorce from Daniela two years previously.
As a tragic victim, Molteni did not have the regal status of Duncan, the Scottish king who fell victim to Macbeth’s ‘overarching ambition’ in Shakespeare’s tragedy. But the Rhos and Moltenis could aspire to belonging to a privileged class in contemporary Italy with a status gained from success in business and the outward appearances of respectability. The media certainly presented him as a seemingly innocent, thoroughly decent and widely respected individual echoing the tragedian trope of Duncan’s death marking an upset to the natural and moral order and provoking the ensuing chaos.
Five months later, the Carabinieri made their first arrests, the 44 year old Michele Crisopulli and 27 year old Stefano Posca – both originally from Calabria but resident locally. In July 2016 a further three people were arrested including the man charged with firing the actual shot at Molteni – Vincenzo Scovazzo. The investigators were also getting closer to understanding who had commissioned the murder and what was their motive when they arrested Luigi Rugolo, a security guard, accused of organising the series of intimidation that preceded the fatal shooting.
Both Scovazzo and Rugolo were adamant that they had never intended to kill Molteni. They had been hired just to intimidate him. They claimed the shots fired at Molteni had not been intended to kill him. This became a common line of defence throughout the ensuing trials and all subsequent appeals. Their claim was they were not to blame if one of the shots to the leg accidentally severed an artery. This argument was consistently rejected in the courts.
But who had commissioned Rugolo to put together this gang of miscreants and set in motion a programme of intimidation resulting in tragedy and for what motive?
Nearly a year after Molteni’s death, on 5th October 2016, the carabinieri arrested his ex-wife, the 46 year old Daniela Rho and her accountant, 49 year old Alberto Brivio. The cast of ‘rude mechanicals’, put together by Luigi Rugolo to carry out their brutal commission, could now be left aside to allow the investigators finally to uncover why the gang had been hired in the first place.
The Embittered Wife and her Lover
When the carabinieri examined the mobile phone records of Rugolo, they saw that over the 24 hours prior to Molteni’s death there was a peak in the number of calls to and from him and Alberto Brivio – the accountant for both Daniela Rho and her father Armando Rho and their businesses. They then went on to note a similar peak in calls over the same period between Brivio and Daniela Rho.
Subsequent investigation revealed that Brivio and Rho were lovers and that they had both perceived a plan to restrict Molteni’s access to his young daughters. The programme of intimidation was intended to present Molteni as a character of dubious morality with links to the criminal world. Daniela Rho presented the acts of violence against Molteni to the courts as evidence of his unsuitability to retain custody of their daughters due to his obviously dangerous and immoral lifestyle. Her campaign was having some success particularly when her evidence to court was reinforced by the testimony of an ex-Carabiniere private detective called Giovanni Terenghi who claimed his investigations revealed Molteni’s close involvement in a drugs ring.
It was Alberto Brivio who had the necessary contacts in the criminal world to recruit the corrupt ex-Carabiniere Giovanni Terenghi and Luigi Rugolo, the security guard who put together the band of intimidators and hired the eventual assassin, Vincenzo Scovazzo who fired the fatal shot that severed Molteni’s artery.
The full scale of the programme of intimidation came out during the court hearings including such instances as the failed attempt to plant drugs in Molteni’s car. Daniela Rho’s mother, Antonietta Caimi, in her testimony dismissed these various acts as nothing more than practical jokes. Her testimony went on to illustrate how complete the breakdown in relations had been between Molteni and the whole of the Rho family. The Armando Rho furniture business specialises in expensive over-decorated and flamboyant pieces designed for those more interested in wanting to display their wealth than their taste. The Armando Rho business and Molteni shared some of the same clients possibly including the ‘Friends from Moscow’. Yet, after the divorce, the Rhos claimed that Molteni directed some of their former customers to other competitors. The Rho family assumed a united front in seeking to discredit Molteni and support Alberto Brivio. The family’s behaviour was fuelled by an exaggerated and totally unjustified sense of entitlement that in time was undermined by the immorality of the family business’s involvement in false accounting organised by their trusted accountant, Alberto Brivio.
Court judgements might be the closest one can get in modern days to the tragedian’s sense of catharsis. While a hefty sentence may not in itself cleanse the public of the forced contact and contamination with unnatural forces, it is supposed to offer a degree of closure. So, accepting that the concept of closure can only be a weak shadow of Aristotelian catharsis, we can at least take comfort in the fact that the convictions in the Molteni case passed down by the Assize Court in Como, were then confirmed by the Court of Appeal in Milan and finally by the equivalent of the Supreme Court, Il Corte di Cassazione, in Rome. The defence that Molteni’s death was just the result of a practical joke gone wrong was unsurprisingly rejected by each court.
In total ten people were found accused of the various acts of intimidation leading up to the murder of Molteni. Vincenzo Scovazzo received a life sentence and the organiser, Luigi Rugolo, received 19 years. The brother of Michele Crisopulli, convicted to 18 years and 8 months, had committed suicide back in October 2016 on being found guilty of firing 8 shots at the shuttered window of the Molteni residence. The corrupt ex-Carabiniere Giovanni Terenghi received 5 years for giving false evidence denigrating the character of Molteni.
Alberto Brivio was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role as the overall mastermind of the plot while his lover, Daniela Rho, received a twenty year sentence. She had been under house arrest since July 2017 but on the 9th February 2021 when the Corte di Cassazione confirmed her sentence, she had to pack her bags to start her lengthy stay in Como’s Bassone prison.
The wheels of Italian justice move slowly. It took almost six years for the convictions against the main protagonists to be finally confirmed. During that time, Brivio’s affair with Daniela Rho ended with him seeking to put all the blame on her. Two young children lost their father and access to their mother. The investigation into Brivio’s affairs had also revealed the involvement of Armando Rho in false accounting as well as an even larger system of money recycling between Italy, Germany and Austria. In some respects the crime is of its era illustrating the desire to maintain social standing and respectability yet with a readiness to avoid paying taxes, corrupt justice and break the law in defence of family and business interests – a set of behaviours that proved all too common during the Berlusconi era.
For more true crime on Como Companion try:
Murder on the Dance Floor- Italy’s Crime of the 20th Century on Lake Como