TURIN, PIEDMONT – ITALY.
Lucia Mongelli’s family confined her for nearly 25 years. Her father subdued the female members of the Mongelli family through a “psychological reign of terror,” and orchestrated the captivity by basing his beliefs on an archaic law, to feed his incestuous desires. Michele Mongelli would become known as the “Ogre of Falchera.”
Lead up to Crime
Michele Mongelli, 64, lived in a small apartment in the downtrodden suburb of Falchera, on the outskirts of Turin, Italy. He lived with his family in a housing development area; an area stocked with plain housing blocks, surrounded by parklands lined with Cyprus trees and freeways. Michele and his wife Caterina had ten children, of which Lucia (also known in the press as “Laura”) was the eldest daughter. Michele had been able to afford the apartment after receiving compensation for a car accident.
Michele worked with his eldest son, Giuseppe, 40, as a street vendor, driving around in a beat-up utility vehicle, collecting scrap metal from the streets of Turin to sell at markets. Over the years Michele and Giuseppe had had numerous dealings with police and social workers. Both had been arrested for theft. Social workers often checked on Carmine, the youngest Mongelli son, who was deaf.
Their rough exteriors were nothing compared to the brutality they were hiding within. Michele controlled his family to suit his incestuous nature, passing his abusive traits on to Giuseppe.
Michele had been enacting a medieval right known as droit de seigneur — a law of dubious nature — which allows the “right of the lord” of an estate to claim the virginity of any of his serfs’ unwed daughters. Michele interpreted this to mean he was entitled to have sex with his daughters, telling them this was the usual custom.
“I am going to teach you a game before I touch you, which you will use when you are older,” Michele Mongelli told Lucia, as the abuse started when she was aged nine.
Lucia Mongelli’s family removed her from school around 1988, when she was just 13, leaving her with a limited education. She was often confined to a darkened room with no electricity, received no further education, and had extremely limited contact with the outside world.
In 1994, Lucia escaped and contacted police, lodging a report. Michele pressured Lucia to blame her uncle, who denied the accusations. Her father managed to convince authorities that Lucia was mentally disturbed. All investigations ceased. The family received help from a psychologist, who failed to detect the abuse. It would be another sixteen years before the true issue came to light.
“From when I was aged nine my father forced me to suffer sexual acts, touching my private parts, kissing me on the mouth, and from age sixteen onwards forcing me to have full sexual intercourse with him,” said Lucia.
Michele trained his son how to rape. Lucia was first raped at 16 by her brother Giuseppe, then by her father. Lucia was locked up, and the two family members repeatedly raped her over the following two weeks. She was later taken to hospital where she was forced to undergo an abortion. Michele ordered Lucia to tell doctors that she been “raped by a Moroccan.”
One of Lucia’s sisters would give birth: a child born of her own father.
News of the incest and captivity spread throughout their local community, causing the parish priest to ask Michele Mongelli questions. The priest was told to mind his own business. He did.
Over the years, Lucia was kept as a sex slave. She was allowed out of her room when accompanying her family on trips, where Giuseppe was placed in charge of watching her.
The abuse extended further into the family, with Giuseppe following in his father’s footsteps and raping his own daughters. His four daughters, aged between six and 20, were also forced to watch him in sexual acts. It is also believed Michele Mongelli abused other members of his extended family.
Police would eventually receive a tip that would lead to Lucia’s release.
A small toy horse peered from the shuttered window, looking out to the grassy parkland below, a tragic symbol of what was occurring inside. On the balcony, children’s clothes hung from a line, and bed sheets from the railing.
A large collection of crucifixes, and photographs of St. Padre Pio — known as the priest with the stigmata, canonised in 2006 — hung on the white walls of the apartment. Of all the family photographs, only one image contained Lucia. She looked out from the frame, carrying a forlorn expression and dead eyes, her face bordered by a short haircut.
Police bugged the home phones and cars of Michele and Giuseppe Mongelli, after an unknown informant alerted them to the incest. The phone taps were installed incorrectly; accidently picking up audio from inside the apartment while the phone was not in use. Police recorded Giuseppe making inappropriate sexual advances to his eight-year-old daughter.
The tape captured the young girl saying, “Dad, get your hands off me. You are a bastard, stop it.”
Giuseppe Mongelli was arrested on the February 23, 2009.
Lucia initially told police Giuseppe had raped her, but the investigation soon turned to her father, who they believed was the mastermind behind the plan.
Michele’s voice was also recorded on tape saying, “Come on, you are mine. Get up.” The sounds of sex followed.
Before police could take Michele into custody, he drove Lucia to an abandoned cottage near a local cemetery, where he forced her to perform oral sex on him one final time.
Police arrested Michele on March 28, 2009, freeing Lucia from her father’s abusive clutches after 25 years. She was now 34 years old.
The lawyer defending Michele Mongelli since his arrest stated his client was impotent because of diabetes, therefore he was unable to rape. His family also reiterated this, claiming he could not commit such crimes because of injuries sustained in a car accident.
Michele and Giuseppe were accused of rape, sexual assault, and obscene acts in public. Prosecutors said the two men ruled the family with a “psychological reign of terror.”
“My husband goes around to metal markets,” Caterina Mongelli told police. “He was also a cat burglar, breaking into houses at night to support our family, but he has never done any of these disgusting things.”
Upon his arrest, police took Michele to hospital due to illness and his diabetes. Pietro Forno, Italy’s top investigator into child sexual offences, led the state’s prosecution. “I’ve dealt with many incest cases but this is the worst I have ever seen,” he said.
The court found Lucia had been used for her father’s satisfaction. She had been constantly detained and monitored, to prevent her from having contact with people who may recognise the abuse.
On May 23, 2010, Michele was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, and Giuseppe was sentenced to nine years.
The family united against Lucia and brought civil proceedings against her. The family described Lucia as a “black sheep.”
“That woman has a natural tendency to lie. She reported having been sexually abused, but in reality it was not so. She also says she was locked up in the house for twenty-five years, but enjoyed the freedom and could come and go from our home at any time.”
In court psychiatrist Giorgio D’Allio testified, “[Lucia was] the victim of psychological slavery.”
The family appeared across several Italian news outlets, after the media was invited to the Mongelli home, where they declared the innocence of their family members. Lucia’s siblings defended their father and still respected him as an authoritative figure.
Michele’s other son, Carmine, appeared in a newspaper after the arrests. He sported a fresh tattoo of his father’s face, surrounded by crudely drawn stars and a wreath bearing the name “Michele.” He stated, “I have always kept my father in my heart and here on my arm.”
Caterina Mongelli denied the allegations presented against her husband. “None of this is true. It’s all lies. My husband is in jail for something he didn’t do. He only kept her inside because he was worried about her. Any father would do the same.”
Lucia, and Giuseppe’s four daughters, were placed under psychological care in a shelter. Lucia received treatment for a personality disorder brought on by the stress of her ordeal.
On November 18, 2010, Michele made an application to have his sentence commuted to home-detention. Mongelli argued that his health was “incompatible with the prison regime.” The judge approved the application and he was released from prison. An appeal to the Supreme Court in June 2012 saw a warrant issued to have Michele returned to prison.