Episode 29 | Killing Gucci - The Hired Murder of a Fashion Emperor
We’re going to go back in time to the mid 1990s to Milan, Italy. The heart of the world’s fashion industry. Home to some of Italy’s biggest brands and trend setters of high fashion threads and goods. Gucci is a name that just oozes pomp and plays center stage in todays’s podcast.
It was one of the most shocking scandals in Italy of the 1990s: a glamorous socialite, well-known for the tabloid headlines about her super-rich exploits, Patrizia Reggiani, had been accused and later found guilty of ordering the assassination of her ex-husband, Maurizio Gucci, of the famous fashion dynasty.
It was a beautiful spring morning of March 27, 1995 in Milan, Italy. The air was crisp the sun was warm and the Milanese were starting their day. The cafes were churning out doppios and lungos, caffeinating the business people and fashionistas. Building attendant Giuseppe Onorato was carrying out his daily tasks Via Palestro 20, the graceful building where Fashion powerhouse Gucci had there private offices. As Onorato was sweeping away leaves inside the arched doorway of the foyer he looked up to greet Maurizio Gucci then head of the Gucci empire.. Gucci had a bundle of magazines under his arm and said buon·giór·no! . Then Onorato saw a hand. It was a beautiful hand like one you’d see on a Michelangelo sculpture. It was so clean and perfect. The tanned skin highlighting the gentle angles of the muscles, the veins on top were bulging, and it was pointing a gun.
When Patrizia Reggiani married Maurizio Gucci, they became one of Italy’s first celebrity power couples. But then he left her – and she had him murdered.
The Gucci trial, as it became known, was the ultimate real-life soap opera that entranced Italy and the world. The case brought together some of Italy’s favorite obsessions: sex, money, designer footwear and astrology. Patrizia Reggiani's personal psychic admitted that she hired the killers, but insisted that she did so at her client's instruction. Among the evidence prosecutors presented in court was Reggiani's diary. In it she wrote, ''There is no crime that money cannot buy.''
But to understand Why Patty wanted Maury dead we first need a little Gucci family history.
There have been a great number of famous Tuscan people throughout history, known for their contribution to Italian fashion and style. One of biggest players was Guccio Gucci. The 2 Gs in the Gucci brand logo. Gucci was born in 1881, in Florence, Italy and was the son of an Italian leather goods maker. Disinterested in carrying on with the family business he saw the world. Well at least Europe - namely Paris and London. While working in London as a lift attendant at the prestigious Savoy Hotel, he began to observe the style and elegance of many wealthy hotel guests. In particular, he took note of the beautiful luggage that he saw. Oddly enough, on his return to Florence he did indeed follow in his father’s footsteps, and went on to revolutionize the leather goods industry with a collection of high-quality items, including shoes.
As the “Made in Italy” trend took hold, Gucci leveraged their popular loafer to enter into key global markets like London, Miami, Paris and Beverly Hills where decadence is an understatement.
By the mid-1970s the Gucci brand was a household name and for the wealthy of the world a must have component to their wardrobe. But there was trouble brewing in the 2nd generation of the Gucci family that was running the show. Infighting amongst brothers Aldo and Rodolfo ended up splitting the company 50/50 with Aldo largely running the show, and profitably under his reign. However cracks began to form in the Gucci levy when the 3rd generation began noodling into the biz. Aldo’s son Paolo was jet set on moving the gucci brand into a new direction to keep pace with the changing of the times. Disco and the 1980s meant the Gucci brand needed new blood. So he thought. Aldo and Rodolfo weren't having any of it and fired him. Paolo butt hurt and vengeful got his revenge by tipping off authorities that this own father Aldo, the Gucci chairman, had been conspiring to evade millions in U.S. income taxes. Aldo Gucci, then 81 years old, was sentenced to serve a year and a day in federal prison.
When Aldo’s brother Rodolfo died in 1983, his 50% stake went to his son Maurizio, who then teamed up with cousin Paolo to take control of the company. This arrangement, however, didn’t last long. Soon, in a knuckledusting battle for control the cousins turned on one another with Maurizio fleeing to Switzerland at one point over tax troubles. Once again, turncoat Paulo was responsible for tipping off the authorities.
Maurizio held on for dear life and retained control over the Gucci empire after Paolo tried unsuccessfully to create an offshoot brand. Maurizio’s supportive wife Patrizia Reggiani had his back - until later when she’d have a gunman shoot him in the back.
The two met in the early 70’s. She was born in a small town outside Milan to a waitress and a much older man who made his fortune in trucking. They were very rich. Her father spoiled her with mink coats and fast cars – and she found her way on to the elite social circuit. She and Maurizio met at a party and he fell hard for her. She was exciting and different. The Guccis came from Florence - Reggiani a Milanese . She wasn’t smitten with him at first but the young Gucci chased her hard with all the riches at his disposal.
They married in 1972 when they were both in their early 20s. However the union caused a rift with Gucci’s father Rodolfo, who initially disapproved of Reggiani’s background and her at times overbearing personality. But she grew on him and he especially softened after she gave birth to his granddaughter Alessandra. Reggiani was Italy’s Elizabeth Taylor. Glitzy glamorous, beautiful and snooty. Proud of her wealth and flaunted it. Once quipping famously “I’d rather cry in a Rolls Royce than laugh on a bicycle.” But Unlike 8 times married Taylor Reggiani had her one love Maurizio Gucci. And unlike Reggiani, Taylor didn’t hire an assassin to take out ANY of her 8 husbands. Although I suspect she had sinister thoughts about it. Especially with Richard Burton, she married him twice! Even in the generally flashy ’70s, the Guccis’ lavishness made headlines. They enjoyed their numerous properties around the world the elder Gucci bought them, including a luxury penthouse in New York’s Olympic Tower. Early adopters of celebrity coupledom, the pair rode around Manhattan in a chauffeur-driven car with the personalised plate “Mauizia”. She threw lavish colour-themed parties in the early 80s – “one was all orange and yellow, including the food” They hung out with Jackie Onassis and the Kennedy brood. A beautiful couple with a beautiful life.
Their charmed world also included a ski chalet in Saint Moritz, a holiday home in Acapulco and a farm in Connecticut.– and any uber-rich celebrity couple worth their salt had to have a boat. Of course they did. The Creole, a 64m wooden yacht that delivered them to private islands, which Maurizio bought to mark the birth of their second daughter, Allegra.
Then MAUIZIA the couple and Gucci the company began to unravel after the death of Rodolfo in 1983, when Maurizio inherited his father’s 50% stake in Gucci. According to Reggiani “Maurizio got crazy and stopped listening to me.” Until then she was his chief adviser about all Gucci matters. The Gucci brand had been losing prestige from over-licensing its famed double-G logo and from mass production of canvas bags. Maurizio had a plan to restore it to high-end glory by reverting to the exquisite craftsmanship the company was built upon. But the company was losing millions under his control. Reggiani had been right, that Maurizio was mismanaging business and not creating enough revenue to execute his grand ideas. His personal fortune was dwindling.
Apparently weary of Reggiani’s constant “meddling”, one evening Maurizio packed an overnight bag and left, moving in with who would become the new Mrs. Maurizio Gucci. The couple’s marriage obviously imploding along the way.
Reggiani was angry with Maurizio about many things but above all losing the family business. In her eyes it was a failure and she was filled with rage. While the public loved the tabloids and headlines, the Gucci company was less enthralled. They needed a revival of the brand’s image and they got it under new boss Domenico De Sole and an edgy young designer named Tom Ford. Eventually Maurizio was forced to sell Gucci wholly to Bahrain- based investment bank Investcorp for $120m in 1993.
Maurizio Gucci and interior designer Paola Franchi had crossed paths briefly in their youth on the Euro-rich-kid party circuit. They reconnected by chance when they were both reeling from unhappy marriages and fell in love immediately. The forever romantic Maurizio used to tell her that they were two halves of the same apple.
The couple shared a palatial apartment on the city centre boulevard, Corso Venezia, along with Franchi’s 11-year-old son Charly, and had planned to marry. Tall and blonde, Franchi was often portrayed by the media as a glamorous gold digger. Despite Franchi’s previous husband, whom she left for Maurizio, being even wealthier than Gucci.
Separated but not officially divorced, Reggiani was enraged over Gucci and Franchi’s romance. She began stalking them. With spies in Maurizio’s circle of friends, she knew all about their plans to marry, his business dealings, everything. She called many times abusing him and threatening to kill him.
If Gucci didn’t take Reggiani’s calls, she sent him diatribes on cassette tape, later played in court, saying he was “a monster” for neglecting her and their daughters, and warning that “the inferno for you is yet to come”.
Franchi begged him to hire a bodyguard, but he refused. He didn’t believe Patrizia would go through with her threat because of their girls. This would prove to be his greatest and gravest mistake to date.
At 8:30 am on March 27th, 1995 Maurizio Gucci had just arrived to his glitzy office in Milan’s fashion district. The building doorman sweeping up out front witnessed what occurred next. A man gracefully strolled up the steps to Gucci and with hand extended pumped 3 silencer-hushed bullets into his back. When Gucci fell he fired a fourth into his head. Giuseppe Onorato thought it was a joke. Then the shooter saw him. He lifted the gun again and fired two more times.
Onorato can’t remember how he made it to the foyer’s steps after he’d been shot twice in the arm. He sat there in a pool of blood cradling Maurizio Gucci’s head, until he died in his arms- soon after the carabinieri arrived. The gunman vanished into Milan’s Monday morning rush hour in a green Renault Clio, leaving just a few seconds after the killing.
When Patrizia Reggiani received the news about the execution- style murder of her ex-husband she took out her diary and made a one-word entry, Paradeisos. Greek for Paradise.
The aftermath wasn’t easy for the doorman. As the only direct witness, Onorato was terrified that the killer would return. Due to financial conditions he returned to work at Via Palestro 20 after he recovered, having a panic attack every time an unfamiliar face approached the building.
The gunning down of 46-year-old Maurizio Gucci in the red-carpeted foyer of his office, captivated Italy in the late 1990s. It was sensational tabloid fodder. To have this take place in elegant Milan was unheard of. Mob-riddled Naples sure, but killings of the city’s glamorous elite was virtually non-existent. The day after the murder Franchi received an eviction order from Reggiani to move out of the grand apartment she’d been sharing with Gucci. Franchi noticed the notarised timestamp showed the papers had been drawn up at 11am the previous day – less than three hours after Maurizio died.
Reggiani, was an immediate suspect. After all she had openly threatened to kill Gucci after their split. But, without evidence, the crime went unsolved and the case cold for nearly two years. That is until a loose-lipped boast at a bar one evening on the outskirts of Milan.
When Franchi moved out of the Corso Venezia apartment, Reggiani moved in with her daughters. She lived there in luxury for the next two years, until one of her accomplices boasted about the murder to the wrong person. The man informed the police, who launched a sting operation to trick Reggiani and her four paid accomplices into discussing the crime on wiretapped phones. The four suspects included her trusted friend and sorceress Pina Auriemma, a friend of Auriemma’s who set up the hitman, the hitman himself and the getaway driver. The sting worked.
After Reggiani was arrested, the media dubbed her Vedova Nera – the Black Widow – and touted all the stereotypical theories about her likely motives. She was jealous of Maurizio’s girlfriend, she wanted his money, she was bitter about his neglect, she was just plain crazy. If there is a grain of truth in any of these, there was also something deeper, too. “Everything about Reggiani was stemmed from being a Gucci. “It was her whole identity, even as an ex-wife. She was furious with Maurizio for selling out.
The trial was a showy affair and a tabloids wet dream. Despite Gucci the company not wanting a sordid scandal, Gucci stores displayed silver handcuffs emblazoned with the double G in their store windows in Florence and Milan.
Reggiani, due to her substantial bank account, was deemed a flight risk and remained in custody for the duration of the trial and appeal. But to no one’s surprise she convinced the judge to allow her hairdresser and manicurist to make esthetic-based visits before each hearing, which she attended kitted out in fur coats and stiletto heels, often with a Gucci scarf tied around her neck.
Testimony was nothing short of bizarre. Among the witnesses in the six-month trial were Maurizio Gucci’s own “white witch,” whom he had hired to rid his St. Moritz mansion of his ex-wife’s “evil spirits.”
Reggiani denied involvement and blamed her former best friend and fortune teller Pina Auriemma for “misinterpreting” her disdain for Gucci as instruction to arrange the hit and then threatening to frame her if she didn’t pay . The hefty cash payment of around $300,000 was just a coincidence, she said. During the trial Reggiani denied the payment was for the murder, but conceded confusingly that the price would have been right to see him dead. With those stiletto heels in mouth she told the judge,
“He wasn’t worth a lira more.”
All five involved in the murder plot were found guilty.
Reggiani’s motive for the murder, according to the court’s reasoning, was that Gucci had intended to marry his 35-year-old interior designer-girlfriend. The impending marriage would mean that Reggiani’s alimony would be halved to just $860,000 a year, which she said amounted to “a bowl of lentils.” And that Reggiani couldn’t bear the thought of another woman taking her place as Mrs Maurizio Gucci – and with it, the power, status and money that she “had earned” as Mrs. Gucci. She also feared that her daughters could lose some or all of their inheritance if the couple had children.
During the trial it emerged that Reggiani had put pressure on her hired accomplices to carry out the murder quickly, before Franchi and Gucci’s wedding. Scores of witnesses testified that Reggiani talked incessantly about wanting Gucci dead. Reggiani’s own cringed-filled testimony was nothing short of self-incriminating. She told the court, I was asking everyone. I would have even asked the butcher, “But I really didn’t mean it.” However on the day Gucci was murdered, her single word entry in her diary: paradeisos, came into question. Her reasoning? She apparently liked the word and had jotted it down because she wanted to use it to name a villa she planned to buy. It was just a coincidence she insisted.
As a result of the trial all 5 involved in the slaying were found guilty and got lengthy prison terms. Reggiani’s sorceress, Pina Auriemma, was sentenced to 25 years in prison, which was reduced to 19 years on appeal. She was freed in 2010. Benedetto Ceraulo, the Sicilian hitman and debt-ridden pizzeria owner was given a life sentence. The match-maker, Ivano Savioni, was sentenced to 26 years in prison and the getaway driver, who was also a gambling addict and small-time mobster, Orazio Cicala, was given 29 years because of his substantial prior record. Patrizia Reggiani was sentenced to 26 years on appeal. At the time of sentencing, the residing judge said, “Maurizio is dead because of Reggiani’’s hatred, Auriemma’s desire to remain a parasite, Savioni’s lust for money, Cicala’s gambling addiction and Ceraulo’s dream to take his daughter out shopping.”
In 2016 after spending 18 of a 26 year sentence in Milan’s San Vittore prison, Patrizia Reggiani was released. As a condition of her parole, she was required to find a job, a despicable thought! Reggiani turned down her first offer of release in 2011, according to the Italian press, because the very idea of working horrified her. Telling her lawyer, “I’ve never worked a day in my life and I don’t intend to start now.
One of her first acts of freedom was to go shopping on Via Monte Napoleone – Milan’s Champs Elyses – decked out in gaudy jewels and movie-star sunglasses, with a large colorful pet macaw perched on her shoulder. The paparazzi couldn’t believe their luck. Italy’s Liz Taylor, was back!
Even after her release from prison, Reggiani couldn’t let go of Gucci. In an interview she made it clear she was available again and that she hoped to return to work for the company. “They need me,” she said. “I still feel like a Gucci – in fact, the most Gucci of them all.” A far-fetched hail mary. She took a job as a design consultant for a sparkling Milanese costume jewelry firm called Bozart. The husband and wife owners of the company became Reggiani’s de facto minders, tasked with ensuring the 72-year-old sticks to her parole and quietly rebuilds her life as a regular citizen.
Not long after she was released from prison and began her day job, a camera crew from a trashy Italian TV show turned up unannounced at Bozart. Despite always maintaining her innocence, the TV crew caught her in a reckless mood.
When asked why she hired a hitman and didn't shoot Gucci herself she fired back “My eyesight isn’t so good, I didn’t want to miss!”
As for Giuseppe Onorato the only direct witness of the assassination of Maurizio Gucci on that fateful spring day in 1995, he has it rough. After he recovered from his gun shot wounds, he returned to work for years as the building attendant at Via Palestro 20 - he had no choice as he had no wealth.
After Reggiani’s conviction, the courts ordered her to pay Onorato compensation of the equivalent of roughly £142,000. And apparently to date he has yet to receive any of it. Reggiani declared herself nullatenente – the Italian word for bankrupt, meaning “a person who has nothing”.
Reggiani’s daughters Alessandra and Allegra, who were 18 and 14 when she was arrested are now in their late 30s and have always stuck by their mother (at least publicly), They are both married and now live in Switzerland. Unimaginably rich thanks to their father’s estate, they haven’t visited Reggiani much since her release.
It’s almost the stuff of Greek tragedy. Reggiani says her daughters don’t understand her and have cut off her financial support. Although she has given up the idea of trying to find a job at Gucci, she hasn’t quite let go of the past. Telling a reporter that “If she could see Maurizio again she would tell him that she loves him, because he is the person who has mattered most to her in her life.” but she thinks his reply would be that the feeling wasn’t mutual.”