Santa Maria Capua Vetere, CASERTA - ITALY.
In a small Italian town, the Monaco family hid their stigma and shame away in a forgotten room of the house. For nearly two decades their secret was confined. The case rocked Italy, but was largely ignored and forgotten in the worldwide media frenzy surrounding the Fritzl case, which came to public attention just two months earlier.
Lead up to Crime
The picture postcard setting of Santa Maria Capua Vetere — a small medieval town in Southern Italy, known for its Roman ruins and its tourism — was home to a dark tale, in contrast to its picturesque surroundings. The sunny and slow paced town, about 40 kilometres north of Naples, was not the place many would expect to find a family who held captive one of their own.
In 1990, 29-year-old Maria Monaco did something that millions of women around the world do — she had a child out of wedlock. However, unlike families of other women, Maria’s family did not provide her with a support structure; instead they became angry and consumed with shame. They forced Maria into her bedroom and locked her in there, a place they intended to hold her for the rest of her life.
The people directly responsible for holding her captive were those closest to her: Maria’s mother, Anna Rosa Golino, 80, who ruled the family with an iron fist, but to the outside world looked like any kindly, rural Italian woman; her sister, Michelina Monaco, 54, who worked as a kindergarten teacher; and her brother, Prisco Monaco, 44, who worked as a farmer like his father, who died in 1985, five years before Maria was imprisoned.
The Monaco’s held a good reputation with the locals, maintaining a positive outward appearance.
“Good people, one of the best families of St. Andrew,” one local told a newspaper. The locals also knew of Maria, although that had not seen her in nearly twenty years.
From the outside, the entrance to the Monaco’s two-story house doesn’t stand out from its surroundings. It is along Via Cormons, a small winding alley, laid with asphalt and lined with ancient stone walls, leading to the town square. Heavy green iron gates protect the collection of houses within. The suburb, littered with centuries old buildings, backs onto farmland.
When Maria was in the early stages of her pregnancy, she received care from a health worker. But when the worker suddenly died a few months into the pregnancy, all health care for Maria ceased.
On the balcony of the Monaco’s house, white sheets air in the summer sun. From behind the doors facing a courtyard, the rank smell of urine seeps out. A passageway strewn with wet and dirty linen lines the way to Maria’s room.
Maria’s son was born in December 1990, from an undisclosed affair, after she had already spent much of her pregnancy locked away. He survived by being taken in by the family, where he lived with his grandmother, and was aware that his own mother was held in the family home. He was restricted from seeing his mother, being told she was too ill for visitors.
Maria Monaco was locked in her bedroom on the second floor; the room would not be cleaned for years. The filth and sheer inhumanity of Maria’s prison shocked even the hard bitten police officers who rescued her from her decades long hell. Soiled mattresses and sheets, and the rancid stench of years of squalor hit them like a wave when they entered the room. The Spartan room contained grime encrusted furniture and a toilet caked with faeces. Mountains of cigarette butts surrounded the woman.
The room housed two battered beds, one with clean linen, the other soiled with blood and a large amount of faeces. Presumably, this allowed Maria to rotate between beds when they became filthy when covered in bodily fluids. Maria ate from dog bowls, drank from plastic water bottles, and used a chair for a table. The toilet had not worked for years, leaving Maria’s excretion to cake around the room.
As much as the family had kept Maria’s captivity a secret, some locals knew of her situation. The local church priest attended the house in 2002 to check on her care, but was turned away. A doctor had also been prescribing Maria medication. The family doctor was aware Maria was receiving medication, even though he never saw Maria or entered the house. The medication was collected by Michelina Monaco.
A report to police came from a neighbour who could no longer stand the stench coming from the Monaco house, believing someone was locked inside. Police made their way to the house on the edge of town to investigate.
When Italian police raided Anna Rosa Golino’s home they were horrified by what they found. Maria was dazed and disoriented, brought on in all likelihood by years of torture and segregation from human contact. She cowered in a corner.
When Captain Carmine Rosciano entered, he stated, Maria “greeted us with a sound like a howl, a shriek inhuman.”
Around lunchtime on June 13, 2008, Maria Monaco, now 47, was removed from her home-style prison, after being held captive for 18 years. On a makeshift stretcher she was led through the courtyard to an awaiting ambulance. Her face was swollen and puffy, covered with tangles of thick hair. A blue-green shirt covered her twisted and frail body.
By David Phoebe.