Elisa Claps disappeared on September 12, 1993. That Sunday, she told her parents that she was going to church. It was the last day they saw her alive. After 17 years, the teenager’s body was found by workers who were renovating the temple building. The girl’s killer committed one more murder before he was brought to court. This issue, which has outraged the inhabitants of the Italian city of Potenza for years, has a new chapter: masses have been resumed in the church. A crowd of protesters appeared in front of the building.
Elisa was a teenager who didn’t stand out from the crowd. A girl of average height, with brown hair and brown eyes. She wore glasses because she suffered from myopia. In September 1993, she had just passed her re-sit exams and was about to start high school at the end of the month. She grew up in a Catholic family, her mother was a clerk, her father had a tobacco kiosk. She had two brothers.
September 12 fell on a Sunday. She left the house in the morning, telling her parents that she was going to mass, and told her brother that she would be back around 1 p.m., before dinner. From later interviews with her relatives, it is known that she did not stay until the end of the mass, she wanted to spend time with her friend and then meet an older friend.
My friend cut off strands of women’s hair
Elisa didn’t come home until three o’clock and all the days after that. Hundreds of notices with her photo appeared on Potenza’s buildings, and a police investigation was launched. The officers concluded that the last person who saw her alive was a 20-year-old man, Danilo R. However, he claimed that he did not know what happened to her later that day. “The friend she saw told the police that he only said hello to her,” a “Repubblika” journalist reported on September 17, 1993.
Shortly later, investigators received information from the emergency service: on the day Elisa disappeared, R. reported to the ward with a serious wound. His clothes were covered in blood. “It’s 1:50 p.m. Danilo has a cut on his right hand. ‘I slipped on a step at a construction site,’ he explains.” – a journalist from “La Stampa” later reported.
When the police wanted to detain him for clarification on this matter, he said that he had to go to take exams in another city and broke off contact. From conversations with Elisa’s friends, the officers learned that Danilo had strange habits. He called teenage girls several times a day and persuaded them to meet while playing classical music in the background, he didn’t understand when they refused to let him go on dates, he was too insistent in male-female contacts. As prosecutors found out years later, R. also had a habit of cutting off locks of hair from strange women on buses and trains. The 20-year-old remained a suspect, but there was no evidence that he had done anything to Elisa. A few months after the girl’s disappearance, he moved to England.
Resistance from the parish priest
What additionally tormented the teenager’s family was the suspicious behavior of the parish priest of the Holy Trinity Church, where Elisa met Danilo. My brother still does not understand why the priest did not allow him to search the temple grounds at that time. He claimed he didn’t have keys to all the doors.
“Elisa’s mother, in turn, remembers that when asked if he knew her daughter and a certain Danilo, the priest replied: ‘I don’t know the boy and I didn’t know your daughter’. He used the past tense,” writes a journalist from fanpage.it.
He escaped to England, where he killed a neighbor
The macabre discovery occurred in March 2010, when the temple was undergoing renovation. Three men working in the attic found the mummified body of a teenager. There were obvious signs of careless cutting in her hair, as if someone had stripped it of random strands. Next to the body were earrings, glasses and torn underwear – all of these items belonged to Elisa in 1993.
This is what the church looked like in 2010
DNA traces on her T-shirt led investigators to Danilo R., who was sentenced to life in prison not only for the murder of a teenager from Potenza, but also for the murder he committed in Great Britain. On November 12, 2002, he killed his neighbor, a seamstress, 15 years his senior. Her body was found by her children, lying in the bathtub. Clenched in her fist was a severed strand of her hair.
R. never pleaded guilty. He is serving his sentence in a prison in Great Britain.
“We have no choice but to accept this”
The Holy Trinity Church was opened on August 24 this year.
The deceased teenager’s relatives then informed that Pope Francis had written them a letter in which he informed them about the opening of the temple and indicated it as a place for silent prayer. “We are grateful that he expresses his closeness to us, but at the same time we are surprised by his information about the opening of the temple. We have no choice but to accept it. Whether it is worth listening to the Word of God in this church is left to the faithful to judge for themselves. (. ..) we are not the ones who decide about the fate of this temple, although someone else decided about Elisa’s fate,” they wrote in a statement then.
Elisa’s mother, Filomena Claps, commented on the opening of the church for the faithful in an interview with fanpage.it: “All those who want to enter there have my blessing, but I ask them to look not only upwards, towards the roof, where my body daughter was hidden for years, but let them also bow their heads down. Because there are still traces of the blood of an innocent sixteen-year-old girl on the floor of this temple,” she appealed.
“No one ever apologized to my mother”
However, since the beginning of November, Potenza has been in a frenzy. Since last week, Holy Mass has been held in the church every morning. On November 5, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the building. “Murderers!”, “Shame!” – the gathered people shouted. Elisa’s brother also appeared at the church and publicly expressed his disappointment.
“My family was willing to take a neutral stance on the reopening of the temple, provided the Church took responsibility for delaying the discovery of the body. One message would be enough.” – Gildo Claps said.
The parish priest who prevented him from searching the church in 1993 is no longer alive. “No one has ever apologized to my mother either, and we would like the Church to have the courage to ask us for forgiveness,” continued Gildo Claps.
“I believe that organizing holy masses here is arrogance on the part of the archbishop. It also hurts all of us because it is taking place at a time when Rai TV is reminding us of Elisa’s story,” one of the protesting men told journalists. (This fall, a documentary mini-series about the death of Elisa Claps appeared on public television)
On Monday, the Archdiocese of Potenza issued a statement regarding the protests. “We feel deep regret and sadness at the disruption of Holy Mass. Freedom of thought and speech cannot mean insulting, invective and limiting the freedom of other people,” the clergy said in a statement.
fanpage.it, Corriere della Sera, ANSA
Main photo source: Polizia Di Stato (Potenza), Google Maps