English student Meredith Kercher, who was murdered in Perugia, Italy on November 2, has been called a "natural charmer, a beautiful girl who made friends easily." Yet she's been overshadowed by Amanda Knox, her 20-year-old American housemate, now in custody, who's suspected in her death.
The source of the kind words above is Patrice Lumumba, the owner of the bar in which Knox worked. Of the latter, he said, "I didn't realise it at the time, but now I see that she was jealous. She wanted to be the queen bee. . . . She hated anyone stealing her limelight -- and that included Meredith."
Knox has got it to herself now. In fact, "Foxy Knoxy," as she's been known to refer to herself, has helped earn the case honorary Missing White Woman Syndrome status, even though the body has been found (by, ta da, Knox).
Of late the cable news shows that feast on these cases are sucking the bones of the mother of all MWW cases, the Natalee Holloway murder. But they've managed to allot time to Ms. Kercher's murder.
For those unfamiliar with what happened in Perugia, the city with a historic past, but now most famous for its chocolate, we'll bring you up to speed. Also arrested were Knox's 24-year-old boyfriend of a few weeks, Raffaele Sollecito. The son of a doctor, he not only expressed a desire to engage in "extreme" sex, but was a collector of knives.
Meanwhile, Knox fingered the Congolese Lumumba as the murderer. Apparently she was scrambling for the most likely candidate (read: black) to take the heat off her. Due to lack of evidence, he was released and she's since apologized.
Rudy Hermann Guede, 20, also of African descent, is another story. Judge Claudia Matteini, who issued the arrest warrant for him, said: "There are, without doubt, grave indications of the guilt of Guede, especially in the light of precise and irrefutable analysis carried out by the forensic police."
In the US, everyone - from the law to lawyers to suspects to the family of the victim -- observes the zipped lips rule. The mischievous Drew Peterson (another murder suspect on high cable news rotation) excepted.
But, if this case is any indication, in Italy everyone blabs. The news flow is constant, unlike the US where the media and public beg for crumbs from the authorities, lawyers and families.
The good news about the case is that though it's an offshoot of the MWW genre, you don't have to feel guilty about following it because. . . of the bad news. Which comes in two installments.
First - Ms. Kercher's slow death. According to Newsweek, "Forensic evidence shows that Kercher's neck was lightly scratched twice with a knife before a third and fatal swipe slit her throat."
A coroner hired by Knox's lawyers testified Ms. Kercher died instantly from strangulation. But the "coroner's office believes that she was conscious during the two painful hours it took her to die, but that her injuries made it impossible for her to call for help."
The judge and media called the crime "extreme sex" gone wrong. To them that seems to have meant group sex and/or S&M in which one of the participants resisted.
Apparently, though, the term incorporates "edge play," which, according to the Belfast Telegraph, includes fun stuff like this: "Knives are heated, frozen and handles can be as erotic as the blades. . . . According to most sources, rules are that knife play is 75% 'touching, scraping and rubbing' and 25% actual cutting."
Only 25% cutting? No big deal. Just don't render me a nullo, if you don't mind.
As if Ms. Kercher's death weren't excruciating enough, she was presumably raped first. Newsweek titled its article about the case "Death in Perugia," in an apparent allusion to "Death in Venice," the Thomas Mann novella turned into a film by Luchino Visconti.
If, like most who follow crime, you like to swallow your violence in small doses instead of whole hog like the Iraq War, you're out of luck with Ms. Kercher's murder. In its horror, it's the equivalent of Death in Baghdad.
The second reason there's no need to feel guilty about following the case is that is has larger societal implications than just "crime is a symptom of our modern angst and anomie, blah, blah, blah."
Newsweek wrote that "the allegations against Lumumba, a legal immigrant, have tapped into a larger Italian debate over multiculturalism. Police statistics saying that nearly two-thirds of violent crimes in Italy are carried out by immigrants have triggered a wave of resentment against the new residents. . ."
Not to mention that his name rubbed his African-ness in the face of Italy. Patrice Lumumba's namesake is the martyred father of his country, to whom he was actually related.
When the latter-day Lumumba, whose record was spotless, was released, Guede, though he has yet to be extradited from Germany, more than filled his shoes. With his wild appearance, Guede only adds to Italy's fear of being overrun by outsiders, like Rome was by barbarians.
Guede has admitted - and since issued the obligatory recantation - to having sex with Ms. Kercher the night of the murder. But he claims that someone resembling Sollecito killed her and that Knox wasn't present.
If that's true why, at one point, did Knox admit she was in the house at the time of the murder and why the lack of emotion upon hearing of the death of her housemate, however hated? Worse, not only was her DNA found on the murder weapon, but a drop of her blood was identified on the faucet in Ms. Kercher's bathroom.
Furthermore, according to a report in the Times of London, "She has read and re-read a Bible given to her by the prison chaplain, underlining many passages, and has asked the priest to 'explain the Catholic concept of forgiveness' to her."
It might be turning in Lumumba for which she seeks forgiveness. But, of course, one can't help jumping to the conclusion she seeks to do penance for a mortal sin.
Knox maintained a MySpace profile, which has since been removed from the Web. But some quick-thinking soul saved a sample of her posts.
Aside from a notorious short story she wrote about rape, Knox chronicled -- with genuine insight -- her everyday life. Despite her reputation for promiscuity, whatever allusions she makes to partying and sex don't seem out of line for an American girl.
After their arrests, as usually happens, Sollecito distanced herself from Knox. He condemned her for being shallow, but added that "to even begin to imagine that she is an assassin is impossible."
Lumumba, on the other hand, found revenge in print. In an interview with Britain's juicy Daily Mail, he portrayed his former bar maid as an insecure woman who not only flirted with his customers, but led them on like a sex worker.
Mad as hell after the harm she caused him and his family, Lumumba said: "I don't even think she is evil. . . to be evil you have to have a soul. Amanda's empty, dead, inside."
Strong stuff, but consider this: The Perugia police claim mobile phone records reveal that Guede and Knox talked to each other several times both before the murder and afterwards.
It remains unclear how Knox, the product of an upper middle-class, if broken, household, and Sollecito, who, in effect, admitted to being spoiled in an interview from jail, linked up with a drug-addled loser like Guede. (If that sounds harsh, check out his YouTube video.)
As someone who had been recently, as the English say, "sleeping in the rough" he may have been rough trade to Knox and Sollecito.
Knox with her casual attitude towards love -- not to mention her malice toward Ms. Kercher; Sollcecito with his curiosity about experimental sex -- and his knife collection; Guede with his drug problem. The sum greater than its parts, they may have been too synergistic for their own good.
In a recent development, it appears Ms. Kercher may have accused Knox of stealing money from her. Perhaps the conversation then got around to Guede helping himself to a few post-coital lira. The victim may have threatened to call the authorities and he may have freaked. If Knox witnessed or knew about the murder, why keep it to herself?
On her MySpace profile Knox shared her feelings about how Italians adjourn for a meal and rest in the middle of the afternoon: "i think americans work to much and dont live. Having that time in the middle of the day reminds you that life really isnt all about going to work and making money. its about who you are [emphasis added] and what you choose to do and who you choose to spend your time with."
Who are you, Amanda?