Unknown Male No. 1
A new true-crime documentary miniseries has all Italy talking. “Unknown Male Number 1” (“Ignoto 1”) tells the story of the most high profile and unbelievable murder investigation in recent Italian history, resulting from the tragic and brutal slaying of 13-year old Yara Gambiarasio near her home in northern Italy in 2010. Recounted through the intimate testimony of the tenacious and emotionally-invested lead prosecutor, Letizia Ruggeri, the series gives audiences unfettered access to one of the most complicated forensic investigations ever undertaken, anywhere. And, following the 2014 arrest of a local builder, Massimo Bossetti, for Yara’s murder, the series follows his defence through a year-long trial, embedding with his lawyers and asking whether the central DNA evidence really stands up to scrutiny. With a sensitive and cinematic approach to its subject matter, “Unknown Male Number 1” is both a thrilling account of a remarkable criminal investigation and a tender portrait of life, death and justice in present day Italy.
Episode 1: “The Search”
In a sleepy northern Italian town on November 26, 2010, Yara Gambirasio disappears without a trace. Her family panics and her town convulses. Local D.A. Letizia Ruggeri investigates but has no leads to work. It’s a terrible winter of fruitless searching. All Italy clamours for an explanation. In February, Yara’s body is found. The facts of her brutal killing are established. At her funeral, there is an outpouring of grief. Yara’s friends and neighbours paint a touching, grief-stricken portrait of a girl who, in death, has become all Italy’s daughter.
Meanwhile, in a major break through, investigators discover a bloodstain on Yara’s underpants. Finally, Letizia can begin searching for Yara’s killer, a person she knows only as Unknown Male Number 1 (UMN1). In America, cutting-edge geneticists examine UNM1’s DNA. Back in Italy, Letizia decides to create a genetic database and Police collect thousands of DNA samples. They manage to find a cousin of UMN1, whose mother is the murdered girl’s housekeeper. Letizia believes she’s close to solving the case. But the culprit eludes her.
Episode 2: “Family Secrets”
Letizia Ruggeri, herself mother to a young girl and deeply committed to bringing justice in this headline-grabbing case, now recommits to the long-shot DNA-driven investigation. She follows the DNA path to Gorno, a remote mountain village, reconstructing the suspicious Guerinoni family tree back to 1800. Eventually, she extracts the DNA of a deceased bus-driver, Giuseppe Guerinoni, from the back of a postage stamp. Geneticists confirm he UNM1’s father, but none of his children is the killer. Investigators suspect that he fathered a child out of wedlock, but Guerioni’s family defend their dead fathers’ virtue. Letizia now must choose between human emotion and science. The only way to unmask Yara’s killer, she now believes, is to find his mother first.
Investigators descend on nearby mountain villages; questioning locals and scouring municipal records. No one wants to talk about extra-marital affairs and illegitimate children. Police also examine UMN1’s maternal DNA but are stymied by contradictory results. Painstakingly, they collect DNA from 532 women, all possible lovers of Giuseppe Guerinoni. When these don’t match UMN1, the samples are indefinitely shelved. The investigation is running out of ideas and resources. In a final throw of the dice, Letizia sends hairs found on Yara’s body to a DNA lab in Pavia. While carrying out the analysis, a junior geneticist notices errors in previous DNA sequencing. She re-runs tests on the 532 female samples. One of these women, Ester Arzuffi, is UMN1’s mother. It’s the break-through that changes everything.
Episode 3: “Allele 26”
Police collect DNA of one of Ester Arzuffi’s four children, a 45-year old man named Massimo Bossetti. It’s a perfect match with UMN1 and Bossetti is arrested. An angry mob forms outside the prison. All Italy is transfixed; Yara’s killer has been found. Inside the prison, a different story is unfolding. Massimo Bossetti and his family are incredulous. He’s a carpenter, an innocuous father of three; no record, no history of violence. In the following weeks, investigators, defence lawyers and family members paint competing portraits of Bossetti. His wife interrogates him in secretly filmed prison conversations. Letizia Ruggeri examines crime scene evidence, identifying his car at the scene of Yara’s disappearance and retrieving paedo-pornographic searches from his computer.
Within the defence team, lawyers struggle to combat the state’s overwhelming resources; it seems as if all of Italy’s police and forensic forces are intent on proving Bossetti’s guilt. But as the defence investigates the details of the prosecution’s case, holes emerge, particularly over the completeness and handling of the original DNA samples retrieved from Yara’s corpse. As a sensational trial looms, and media interest in Bossetti, his past, his family, his secrets, reaches fever pitch.
Episode 4: “The Trial”
A year long court-case ensues. The prosecution presents a scientific case, while Bossetti’s defence is based on character. Throughout the fraught proceedings, Bossetti maintains his innocence, fuelling national debate over his culpability. New evidence and suspicions emerge, including documents published on Wikileaks suggesting complicity between Italian police and computer hackers who may have tampered with vital evidence. What started out as an ironclad case for the prosecution begins to bend towards the defence. After 4 years of hunting for Yara’s killer, Letizia bristles at the thought that Bossetti may be actually exonerated.
In the weeks leading up to the verdict, the case reaches new levels of speculation and scrutiny. In the midst of the media cauldron, the journeys of a dozen characters come full circle; investigators, scientists, lawyers, lovers and distraught family members – collateral victims in this sprawling story – learn which way the dye is cast, and who, if anyone, is held responsible for Yara’s tragic death.
“The fast-paced narrative brings it closer to fiction”
– Il Giornale (Italy)
“Many people have tried to tell the story, but nobody achieved what Hugo Berkeley has”
– Corriere della Sera (Italy)
“Not to be missed / Pick of the Day”
– Evening Standard, Independent and Guardian (UK)