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Authors: Philip Willan

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‘There was more than one murderer and blood all over the place,’ said Detective Chief Superintendent David Harness, who oversaw the murder investigation. The flat had been searched in what police assumed was a hunt by the assassins for drugs and money, blood-stained hands leaving prints on cupboards and the fridge door. There was no knowledge of a possible Calvi connection at that time, so no idea that the killers might have been looking for something else. Among the documents in a briefcase in the sitting room was a summons to a masonic meeting, written in Italian.

There was certainly ample evidence of drug-dealing; besides the precision scales there was a hollowed-out
panettone
and 500 packets of baby laxative, used for cutting cocaine. ‘By the time I left the flat my lips had gone numb, there was so much cocaine in the air,’ Harness recalled.

His investigation would lead him to Italy, the United States and Denmark, and throw up leads to several Latin American countries as well. ‘It was one of those investigations that took over your life,’ Harness told me 20 years later. ‘It was never solved, and certain things about it made me think it would never go to sleep.’ An initial attempt to make a tentative connection to the Calvi case, partly motivated by the masonic – though not P2 – connection, was rebuffed by the City of
London Police. ‘I suggested we compare indexes. The idea was rejected because the Calvi case was a “suicide”.’
2

The Vaccari investigation did turn up some other intriguing connections, though. A key found in the victim’s flat led to three safety deposit boxes at the London Silver Vaults in Chancery Lane. The boxes were jointly held in the names of Giuseppe Bellinghieri and Gianfrancesco Moccia and were found to contain three British passports, eight false Italian identity cards and two Italian driving licences, as well as £250,000 in cash. Most curiously, they also contained two Polaroid photographs of a Swiss ball watch dated circa 1860 and other photos showing a variety of antique snuffboxes dating from the nineteenth century. The watch had been stolen from a Christie’s showroom in Rome on 30 November 1980 and subsequently had come into the possession of Vaccari. Part of a haul of art and jewellery worth more than £500,000, it would create a still mysterious link between the playboy drug-dealer and the disappearance of Jeannette May, a London socialite who had been married to the banker Evelyn de Rothschild and was now married to Stephen May, a director of the John Lewis retail group. The Mays had bought a house in the rugged Marche region of east central Italy and it was there that Jeannette May and a female friend had disappeared on the day before the Christie’s robbery. The badly decomposed bodies of the two women would only be found 14 months later in a wood near the town of Camerino; victims of murder or of a kidnap that went wrong? Or did they simply die of exposure after losing their way in the mountains and getting caught in a winter storm? An Italian judicial investigation returned an open verdict.

Bill Hopkins, a London antiques dealer who claims to have known both May and Vaccari, says the two met when May was intending to sell a gold and enamel snuffbox. ‘Jeannette May came into my shop,’ he told me. ‘I wasn’t interested, so I put her in touch with Sergio.’ Hopkins, who was Vaccari’s
landlord for three years while the Italian lived in a flat above his antiques shop in Notting Hill, says he believes Vaccari agreed to buy the box from May in Italy and then set her up to be murdered. Hopkins believed the snuffbox came from an important Rothschild family collection, commissioned from some of the world’s greatest jewellers, and he suspected it had been stolen.
3

Hopkins’ suspicion of Jeanette May’s snuffbox is supported by the contents of a British police report. Mrs May was ‘believed to have been involved in some of the shadier aspects of the antiques trade’, the report stated, and she had been in contact with a London restaurateur suspected of involvement in the drugs trade. The restaurateur was Giuseppe Pucci Albanese, owner of a restaurant on the King’s Road and at the heart of a web of social contacts linked to the Calvi affair. Albanese had come to London in the early 1970s and was a business partner of Pierluigi Torri, the financier identified by Paoli as an associate of Vaccari’s. According to the police report, Albanese had also had business dealings with the Italian entrepreneur Carlo Cabassi, whose brother Giuseppe would lend Roberto Calvi his Sardinian villa in the summer of 1981.

Albanese was one of the first people to be questioned by police following Vaccari’s death. Vaccari’s address book and diaries show regular contacts with him and the address and telephone number of his restaurants, as well as the home and office contact details of Pierluigi Torri. And Vaccari was certainly familiar with the San Lorenzo restaurant, the name and telephone number of which were listed in his address book.

A further puzzling link between Jeannette May and the Christie’s robbery emerges from two telegrams sent from a false address in Rome. The first, sent to Christie’s itself three days after the robbery, read: ‘If you want your goods, go to 130 Via Tito Livio, flat 3 – Rodrigo.’ The second arrived at the Ai Pini hotel in Sarnano, where Jeannette and her friend
had stayed, nine days after the two women’s disappearance. Addressed to ‘Jeanine’ May, it read: ‘I’m waiting for you Thursday at 130 Tito Livio, flat 3 – Roland.’ Police found no firm connection between the Tito Livio address and either Vaccari, Jeannette May or the Christie’s robbery. Curiously though, another of those finally charged with Calvi’s murder had an address in Via Tito Livio. Giuseppe ‘Pippo’ Calò, the mafia treasurer accused of ordering the murder and who posed as an antiques dealer himself, was arrested in 1985 outside the flat he was living in with his wife at Via Tito Livio number 76. The distance separating number 130 from number 76 still remains to be bridged, however.

Six months after he had first mentioned ‘Volpi’, source ‘Podgora’ added some fascinating new insights into the Calvi case and identified Vaccari by his correct name, setting him at the heart of the drama of Calvi’s last hours. A finance police report dated 5 July 1983 reads: ‘In London on the evening of Calvi’s death Vittor allegedly saw the people who collected him from his residence. These were sent by Gelli and Carboni who were in London. Calvi was allegedly invited to a dinner, one of the participants at which was Sergio Vaccari (the Volpi of our previous report), who subsequently died, who was allegedly the last person to see Calvi alive.’ The report said that Gelli left for the US the next day, while Carboni travelled to Edinburgh with the sister of Vittor’s Austrian lover (which would have meant Carboni’s mistress Manuela Kleinszig). Carboni did indeed fly to Edinburgh, although with a different woman. The contents of this report were communicated to a Trieste prosecutor, Oliviero Drigani, and to finance police headquarters. Drigani considered the information so sensitive that he instructed the finance police not to share it with any other police force or security service.

It did not result in a bold step forward for the investigation, however. On the contrary, Paoli’s detailed knowledge of the
events surrounding Calvi’s flight from Italy raised suspicion among investigators that he had actually participated in the illegal operation. On 19 August 1983 Drigani ordered Paoli’s arrest for alleged complicity with Vittor in Calvi’s expatriation to Yugoslavia. Part of the reason for his arrest was that Paoli had been identified by Emilio Pellicani, Flavio Carboni’s personal assistant, as the
biondino
(small blond man) who had flown to Trieste with an alleged member of the Rome underworld to deliver Calvi’s false passport to him. This ‘crime boss’ was Ernesto Diotallevi, one of the five suspects who would find themselves on trial for Calvi’s murder 23 years later.

Paoli was apparently in the United States at the time and it has now emerged that the
biondino
may in reality have been the slightly built and fair-haired Vaccari. Attempting later to recall the name for the magistrates, Pellicani said it sounded like ‘Mecalli’ or ‘Mecarri’. An entry in Carboni’s office diary for 9 June 1982 strengthens this hypothesis. A secretary noted that Diotallevi had called and left a message for Pellicani: ‘He asked if a blond youth (Sergio) had arrived.’ Later the same day Diotallevi called again: ‘Sergio has arrived.’ It would be enormously significant if Vaccari had not only been in contact with Calvi during his last days in London but had also participated in the preparations for his journey abroad, accompanying an underworld boss to deliver his forged passport. It would set him at the very heart of the alleged murder plot.

There are other reasons as well for taking a keen interest in Vaccari. One concerns his arrest for drug smuggling in the United States and what appears to be his anomalous treatment by the US authorities on that occasion. Vaccari was arrested by customs officials at Los Angeles airport on 10 June 1978 after arriving on a Varig flight from Lima. He was initially found to be carrying a small quantity of cocaine in his wallet, shrugging off the incident by telling the customs officers: ‘I brought it for the girls. They always ask me for it.’ Less easy to explain was the 2.4 kilos of cocaine found concealed in the
false bottom of his suitcase. He was arrested in the company of a Latin American woman called Patricia Noriega.

Vaccari was found guilty of importation of a controlled substance and sentenced by the US District Court of Los Angeles to two years’ probation and a $500 fine and ordered to be deported within three months. The sentence appears exceptionally light in view of the amount of cocaine found in his possession. Heavily edited documents provided to me by the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) show Vaccari described himself as a self-employed salesman in the industrial security sector and gave a California address: 1403 Benedict Canyon, Beverly Hills. The locations of his criminal activity are listed as Los Angeles, Tijuana in Mexico, the Venezuelan capital Caracas and Lima, Peru. His drug smuggling activities evidently continued and a warrant for his arrest was issued in October 1980 by judicial authorities in San Diego. A further warrant was issued by the Southern District of California a year later, alleging that Vaccari had been travelling between the US and South America arranging for the delivery of multikilogram quantities of cocaine in the Los Angeles area. On that occasion he was said to be living in Caracas, where he ‘reportedly owns a Security Agency’. A personal history report dated 19 January 1983 gives Vaccari’s address as West London, England, and his occupation as ‘movie industry’. It lists two aliases: John Max Lloyd and Sergio Ajelli.

Ten pages of the heavily blacked-out DEA material on Vaccari were only released to me after consultation with ‘another government agency’, which had furnished some of the information. Among the reasons cited for the deletions was section (b) (1) of the American Freedom of Information Act: ‘Information which is currently and properly classified pursuant to Executive Order in the interest of the national defense or foreign policy.’ The DEA’s consultation and deletions raise the question as to whether Vaccari may have been recruited as a CIA informant in exchange for his lenient treatment by the Los Angeles court
in 1978. Known to frequent senior
mafiosi
and right-wing extremists in London and Italy, he could have been a valuable intelligence asset.

One of the constant themes in Paoli’s reports for the finance police is the fate of the sensitive documents contained in Calvi’s briefcase. The papers were being held in a safety deposit box in an Austrian bank, he told his handlers, at one point even accompanying them on a trip to Austria to try and identify the bank. But the interest of Paoli and his associates in the documents predates Calvi’s final journey. In an undated note written by Paoli himself, the finance police source said one of his Trieste associates had been angling for a job at the Banco Ambrosiano with the idea of getting his hands on documents ‘of great importance in a war of influence between rival power centres’. The documents could be enormously valuable if sold to interested parties, Paoli observed. They concerned ‘important international operations and, from what he understood, also regarded the Vatican’.

His reports also concern practical aspects of Calvi’s stay in London. Calvi had wanted to go to his customary London hotel, a move considered imprudent by Vittor and out of the question for Carboni. Calvi was extremely unhappy with the flat at Chelsea Cloisters, so Vittor was given the task of seeing that he didn’t go out ‘for his own good’ until such time as Carboni confirmed there was no further danger. Even Calvi’s telephone communications with the outside world were rationed, Paoli wrote. The flat allegedly had a problem with the phone line.

Paoli continued: ‘After a few days, Calvi, who until then had been fairly sure of himself and of the situation, began to be afraid of something. What’s more, the only thing he wanted to do was telephone, but that was exactly what had become impossible. And Vittor did not leave him on his own
for a second.’ Calvi had appealed to Vittor to ignore Carboni’s instructions and offered him a lot of money in exchange for his help. Vittor refused: it was better to wait until Carboni had found safer accommodation. According to Paoli’s account: ‘On the last day a phone call arrives and then a vehicle: Calvi must go to dinner with friends.’ Paoli pithily summed up Vittor’s role in London in a deposition to Rome prosecutors in July 2003. His task, the Adriatic smuggler had told him, had been ‘to do little and understand little’.

The tenor of Paoli’s revelations about Calvi was no more welcome to the Italian authorities than his prediction of Gelli’s prison breakout. In another deposition later that month he explained: ‘At a certain point my friendship with Vittor came to an end without any specific reason and I realized that the finance police were no longer interested in acquiring further information about the Calvi affair. I gained that impression from speaking to [his controller, Captain] Rino Stanig, who gave me to understand that someone in Rome did not want him to cultivate this confidential relationship with me any longer.’

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