Beyond “L’Inchiesta Spezzata di Pier Paolo Pasolini”: the Life of investigative journalist Simona Zecchi

A clumsy girl blossoms into the journalist that unveils one of Italy’s darkest chapters

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By Giada Gavazzi / Contributor


Authors have stories to tell hidden behind their books. This is one of those stories.

In light of the 45th  anniversary of Pasolini’s death last Nov. 2, L’Inchiesta Spezzata di Pier Paolo Pasolini was published the same month by Ponte alle Grazie. The book unveils the probable reason why the Italian artist was brutally killed, a theory supported by a wide range of documents and testimonies. A meticulous and detailed work on every aspect of the inquiry in this book has gained its author the name of truth-seeker. 

Simona began this quest by planning to write only one article about Pasolini—nothing more; no one would still be eager to know the truth of a tragic case that is considered forever lost. However, when all the evidence, interviews, and articles Simona had collected and examined for her short piece did not fully reconstruct or clearly explained the whole story, how could that be satisfying enough to put an end to the case? 

The cover of her second book, published in 2020.
Courtesy of Simona Zecchi

“Pier Paolo Pasolini conveys many so-called ‘unsolved mysteries’ of Italy in many circumstances such as cultural social and political ones,” said Simona. 

When reviewing Simona’s last book, Ansa journalist Marzia Apice felt the courage in Simona’s pages. She has not been afraid of reading inconvenient and tragic stories with new eyes, and free of any conditions or limitations. 

“She really gets in the game and is not afraid of giving out names, discovering new leads and revealing what has been purposefully covered,” said Apice. 

Simona said she thought about how the new generations deserve to know the truth, and this is why she gets involved so deeply in her stories. 

Simona Zecchi is 47 years old, she is the author of the book, and she is also my godmother. She is an investigative journalist, of course, and she has her head in the clouds.

But how can an investigative journalist have her head in the clouds? This is her story. 

Simona was born in 1973. She is an Italian journalist born in Latina who lived her childhood and youth in its provinces (Aprilia) where she started studying languages in high school. In 2006 she got her bachelor’s degree at the first university of Rome, La Sapienza, in Anglo-American and Spanish Languages and Literatures, the city where she then chose as her place-to-be. 

Since her young age, she has always been fascinated by finding out stories, new stories, as well as writing in general. Her mother, Silvana Raffaelli, always saw this interest in her. Since her childhood, she was filled with curiosities and dynamism. 

To be a journalist, you must be brave and stubborn enough to get what you want. If she did not follow this instinct, her books would not exist. 

Simona is a prolific writer and an engaged journalist; a meticulous author that searched and searches for every minute detail in order to reveal us the truth about her cases.

In 2012 she curated an investigative inquiry on Pasolini for “I Quaderni de L’Ora,” from which her interest in Pier Paolo Pasolini blossomed. Three years later, in the 40th anniversary of his death, she published her first book: Pasolini, Massacro di un Poeta (2015) with Ponte alle Grazie. 

In the book, she shows the most detailed investigation on Pasolini’s murder that has ever been released since the event in 1975 where she coined the term, “tribal massacre.” 

Between 2014 and 2017, she dealt with Aldo Moro’s case and some of her work was acquired by the new Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry on the Case established in 2014.

While being a broadcast journalist for Euronews in Lyon, she also worked for the publication of her second book, La Criminalità Servente nel Caso Moro (2017) published by La Nave di Teseo, where she analyzed the happenings concerning Aldo Moro’s murder, in particular the role of criminal organizations during the kidnapping of the most valuable politicians of those times. 

Courtesy of Simona Zecchi 

For two years then, Simona lived and worked between Rome and Lyon where she covered international politics, American elections, Brexit, as well as international judicial cases by collaborating with the Anglo-American newsroom. 

In 2019, she published the essay L’Ultimo Linguaggio del Poeta Massacrato for the editor Sellerio in the volume, “Il giornalismo di Pier Paolo Pasolini.” In the same year, she won the Javier Valdez International Prize for investigative journalism. 

She currently works as a freelance journalist and author in Rome where she finally closes all of her inquiries regarding the motives of the murder in her most recent book.

Simona always had a passion for languages and foreign cultures. She was 8 years old when she first traveled to the UK without her parents. She went with her older friend, Sandra Baldassini, who was 13 years old at the time. They were both eager to learn English, so their parents thought that it was best for them to learn it where they actually speak the language.

At the thought of it, they both deem unthinkable such a thing nowadays. Who would send their young daughters to England completely alone, now let alone the pandemic issue per se? But the times were different, and it was the best solution if they really wanted to learn the language. Simona and Sandra did what they thought was best for them. 

The cover of her first book, published in 2015.Courtesy of Simona Zecchi

Simona’s mother Silvana distinctively remembers how her daughter has always wanted to travel and learn traditions and costumes of faraway worlds since her youth. Working in the United States was one of her goals, so after five years of high school where she learned English, Spanish and French, she had the opportunity to travel and work as an intern in New York City, where she had the opportunity to enter the world of journalism.

She soon started to attend various courses, and in particular investigative journalism. She worked first by covering everything, publishing articles on multiple newspapers and beats. 

“From that moment on, my passion really took off,” said Simona. “So I started my career as a journalist by being a correspondent from New York for the online and printed magazine I- Italy.org.” 

She always both studied and worked at the same time—even those jobs which were not strictly related to communication and journalism as such. Her American experience triggered her passion and her willingness to be a reporter. 

I distinctively remember my family always telling me: “Simona is on the other side of the globe doing what she loves, Giada. She made it.”

And she really did. She found her way in life. 

“One day, if you want, you will be there with her, Giada.” And I really dreamt it in my childhood. 

When I was little, I always saw her as the classic aunt we all have in our families, the one that travels the world and has always thousands of stories to tell.  

“After New York, I decided to come back to Italy,” explained Simona. “Snd I started to get interested in investigative journalism.” 

Her experience in the US inspired her to bring her historical interest to Italy, and she exercised it by following up and covering judiciary news related to the Italian “cold cases” that in one way or another were also influenced by the US, especially during the years 1945-1980. 

According to Simona, being an investigative journalist is equaled to “digging in the depths of the missing truths, going beyond the mere records,” and that is why she chose to commit herself completely into this kind of journalism. She will unravel every mystery regarding anybody. 

But who she is now is the result of a childhood filled with vivacity and curiosity. 

Her friend Sandra remembers Simona with “her head way, way up in the clouds” ever since she knew her. She used to dance constantly; she was a force of nature. Since her childhood, she has been a goofy, clumsy girl that used to lose, break, or fall over things. In the family, those stories involved her forgetting or breaking important things that led her into inconvenient situations. 

In fact, she is now a proper adjective in the family. “You broke the vase? Oh, you’re such a Simona.” 

Once I went to Rome to visit her and catch up. She met me at the train station with an umbrella on her hand for the cloudy weather. That umbrella never made it home. But her clumsiness made her concentrate on that same curiosity that probably led her to the career she has now. Everything else was secondary. 

Her mother confirms that her vivacity has never stopped her from doing things. She has never been fearful of throwing herself headfirst into inconvenient situations, and this trait has made her meticulous research possible. 

Everyone in her family agrees that it is nice to see such a funny girl blossoming into a real journalist. The things she has always paid attention to led her to where she is now—certainly not all those broken vases and lost wallets. Once, she had traveled to Germany for the Oktoberfest where she lost her wallet, and with it, every document she needed to return home. 

Simona Zecchi’s TG interview on Tv2000. Courtesy of Simona Zecchi

Her distinctive vivacity is translated into her non-linear writing style, and it shows how much she is determined and insightful for what she loves, a style through which she engages the reader’s attention. 

In an interview for the research center on Pasolini, PPP, Simona explained how her books came into being and how she operated in order to produce them. 

“I made a clean sweep. There is no thesis from which one starts and then makes a book, at least I don’t work like that,” explains Simona. “And if there are more consistent elements that are worth turning into a book, then you will get there gradually. It is a work in progress, even in the moment of full writing: you can be surprised that sometimes it’s not how you thought about it.” 

Journalist Marzia Apice comments: “Her writing is complex, yes, because there are too many documents to cite and discuss, so there cannot be a clear structure; there is no particular order in which she follows her inquiries, but her contribution is always remembered.” 

Simona has dedicated her entire career to the search of the truth and her work quickly gained success. In 2016 she won the 10th edition of the Marco Nozza Prize for her investigative journalism and critical information. 

But the moment in which Simona met the tragic story of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s death in her path has marked the history of contemporary Italian culture. It is a black chapter in the history of Italy, so it immediately became a duty for her to go deeper and finally put at peace the soul of this Italian personality. 

What can an investigative journalist do with a 40-year-old mystery if not unveil the truth? 

She was writing articles about Pasolini’s tragic case and started gathering leads without really thinking about a book. 

Simona Zecchi

“I just wanted to see clearly what happened that night,” said Simona. “What I gathered never really convinced me, even all the inquiries that were published until that moment.” 

“Monumental” is the term used by Saltinaria.it to describe her book, full of testimonies and documents that were never published before, which helped in the reconstruction of one of the unresolved mysteries in the history of Italy. 

Pasolini has become Simona’s field of expertise where she demonstrates the potential of her capacities as a journalist. That is because after 45 years, Pasolini’s death is still one of the most mysterious events of the last century of Italian history. 

Simona said her admiration for Pasolini expanded and led her to become increasingly “interested in the man, as well as the artist.” 

Her mother, recalling her daughter’s immediate interest for Pasolini, remembers that she was so interested in how such an event could ever happen. 

“She did not just analyze the man, but she also had to consider the turbulent period that Italy was facing at the time,” said her mother.  

She has been collecting materials and witnesses since 2010, notwithstanding what the official institutions have been always repeating and stating about the murder.  Simona collected all the investigations that were made, all the testimonies on the terrorist attacks that writers had gathered, and all the investigations on the alleged culprits of the massacre with whom she communicated through letters, e-mails and direct encounters. 

“Simona completely immerged herself in these inquiries, the search of truth guided her, making her focus more and sacrifice time and herself,” affirms her mother. 

Her colleagues consider Simona’s work as unique and game changing. 

Patrizio J. Macci, a journalist covering news for Affaritaliani.it said her work is so much more than a simple recapitulation of facts and exclusive news, or a granted accumulation of what is already present in other volumes, which is, he said, what usually an investigative journalist does today in Italy.

Simona found her own method of investigation, starting from the detailed control of sources and from the fact-checking of the documents. This method led her to discoveries that went from “simple” news directly into history. According to Macci, Simona’s work is an artisanal and meticulous work of reconstruction of the plots of events that places her at the top of the country’s investigative journalism.

And that is how she sacrificed her life to the research of documents, testimonies, and articles.

Who was Pasolini? 

There is no other way to understand Pasolini’s death but to investigate what he represented for Italian culture. 

Pier Paolo Pasolini (Bologne March 5, 1922 – Rome, November 2, 1975) poet, essayist, novelist, translator, screenwriter, film director, lecturer and critic, went down in history as one of the main personalities key public figures of contemporary Italian culture —and so the more controversial.

He was actively engaged in the political life of the 60s and 70s, and through his work, he expresses his controversial opinions regarding the main characters of Italian society. He interpreted abortion and divorce as a social adjustment imposed by the consumerist power; he wrote on the crisis of the Catholic Church and on the degeneration of political power and republican institutions; he gave his opinion on the 1968 youth protest movement for which he was misinterpreted and at times his statements manipulated. 

Pasolini with Aldo Moro

Ever since the 50s, Pasolini was known for his unorthodox Marxism; he was also defiantly open about being gay.

As it is known, he was repeatedly accused of moral outrage for both his lifestyle and his works. After the publication of his novel Ragazzi di Vita (1955), he faced a process for obscenity as well as other 32 charges for blasphemy and obscenity for his films and works of art. There is no doubt that he was an outspoken and relevant figure in the world of culture, politics, journalistm, art and entertainment. He contributed to the creation of contemporary culture and Italian society making many “enemies” along the way. 

When he was found dead, the whole country had lost a piece of its puzzle. 

The body was found around 6 a.m. on Nov. 2, 1975 on a beach in Ostia by a woman that didn’t know him. A woman he did not know. His body was not a body anymore, His face was not a face anymore. He was not him anymore. He was massacred. His body completely deformed. The signs on his body immediately suggested a barbarous murder and abandonment without mercy. Even when the body was not fully recognizable, actor Ninetto D’Avoli, one of his friends, did recognize him.

Photo of Pasolini’s car after the event. Courtesy of Simona Zecchi

The same night, a mysterious teenager was arrested, a young boy who was immediately thought to be related to the murder: Pino Pelosi, a 17-year-old from Guidonia (Rome), who claimed he was sexually assaulted by Pasolini. Pelosi said that he was picked by Pasolini near Stazione Termini, Rome, for a sexual encounter in exchange of money. But when Pasolini allegedly started assaulting him, 

Pelosi started hitting him with a stick and then ran over him with his car, which resulted in the thoracic and facial lacerations. 

“Working deeply on the unsolved history of his murder mattered as much as reading his works and watching his films,” said Simona.

She realized this when she bumped herself into his story while working in Rome, right when his oeuvres were not that much considered in this country. 

But the passion for Pasolini’s story is not just her own trait. Apparently, it is hereditary. 

Her mom Silvana also showed a particular interest in Pasolini’s case since her daughter started working on it. 

“That there was so much more than his homosexuality,” said Silvana. “The political and the ecclesiastical worlds, the local underworld, they decided his destiny.”  

Simona’s research across 10 years gave her enough material to think about writing a book. A book where she could include everything she found out but also analyzed and depicted. 

In her book, Simona unfolds in detail her research on the reconstruction of the events revolving Pasolini’s death. 

Pasolini interviewing Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti on homosexuality.
Courtesy of Simona Zecchi

But the version given by all the reports is too straightforward. How strange that the “mysterious” culprit immediately confessed his acts and was apprehended on the spot.

As it turns out, it was not a long time after Pelosi’s confession that the police found out that he could not have said the truth, or at least the entire truth. The problem with this confession was that Pelosi did not have any sign of blood on his clothes. What he claimed to have done did not entirely fit with the information the police had about the case. 

Nevertheless, he was convicted with murder on the first degree in conspiracy with unidentified individuals in 1976 right to the last degree of 1979. 

Just two weeks after the murder, on Nov. 16, famous Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci and friend of Pasolini published an investigative article on the event on L’Europeo, in which she did not exclude the possibility of a premeditated murder, organized by multiple individuals—at least two —and Pelosi. Fallaci writes:

“It was a sunny Sunday and with a nice deck. Why look for complications? Treating the suspicion that Pelosi had wanted to sign the crime by leaving the ring would have posed a number of difficult questions. For example: why did the boy want to accuse himself, take all responsibility? Could there be a reason? There is no need to be Newton to conclude: yes.” 

But only after 35 years, in 2010, after a specific request from one of Pasolini’s family, DNA tests were conducted mainly on the victim’s and culprit’s clothes. Finally, the presence of multiple individuals, in addition to Pelosi, were confirmed. 

Fallaci’s version was finally confirmed too. Pelosi did not tell the truth, and that can be considered a progress in the case, but it also brought the police back to the starting point. Why were there more suspects involved in the crime? How did they arrive to the point of the murder? Was it premeditated? 

Simona has gathered research that led into multiple possible reasons why the crime occurred: from a robbery gone wrong to an accident in a sexual encounter. Among all those reasons she had gathered, she vehemently excludes a sexual one, and lets other causes emerge especially to be scrutinized and taken into account in the political context of the time. 

In fact, the Italian 70s are famous to be a particular chapter in our history: “Gli anni di piombo,” (The Years of Lead). These were years in which political dialectic was extremized to such an extent that it caused multiple terrorist attacks, armed protests and public massacres. So, this political matrix is not excluded at all. 

Like many other personalities of the time (ex: Aldo Moro), Pasolini had many political enemies who did not support his liberal lifestyle and were often the “victims” of the provocatory messages that Pasolini was known for in his interviews or in his works. 

Very importantly, Simona reveals and evidences in her investigation that Pasolini had compromising information related to the major Italian party of that time, Democrazia Cristiana. It was information that he had the intention to share with the public through his work: a specific dossier he apparently received two weeks before his death.

Pasolini playing with children on the street.
Courtesy of Simona Zecchi

Hence, the main contemporary theory suggests that the murder was political, a death that would have erased his position as an uncomfortable personality and his possession of information all at once. 

Simona’s work disproved all the theories linking Pasolini’s death to his sexuality by going more in depth to what may be a crime perpetrated by neofascists. 

The evidence she collected suggests that Pasolini knew the truth regarding the still unresolved Piazza Fontana bombing of 1969, a terroristic attack in Milan and Rome where 17 people died and more than 100 people were injured. 

“Forty-five years have passed since the crime, but we have evidence that can resist even the passing of time,” said Stefano Maccioni to La Repubblica, a lawyer of one of the members of the Pasolini family. “Today we know that Pier Paolo Pasolini was not killed only or perhaps not even by Pino Pelosi, that is, by the one whom justice had indicated as the only one responsible for the murder. It is therefore necessary to clear the field of the many doubts that still weigh on this complex and tragic story.” 

Pasolini had just one true obsession in his life: the truth. And it is ironic how the truth of his death has not been revealed yet. 

In his book Il Caos (1965), writing about a specific case of a young boy who was killed in 1969, Pasolini highlighted: 

“The average man represented and officiated by newspapers still requires, as in the depths of millennia, the “scapegoat”: that is, he feels the need for lynching. The victims to be lynched continue to come regularly searched among the different ones… Then the investigation of the murder led to the identification of two neo-fascists and a monarchist who had initially mounted everything.” 

The violent life of Italy which Pasolini investigated with an intellectual vivacity perhaps without equal in our country, has now been confirmed as a terrible cause of his tribal massacre. 

“Often this very fact has led to maliciously hint at the assumption that he had sought this epilogue,” said Simona. 

A tragic end for him, that is certain. And even though the case of his murder is still not fully resolved, Pasolini can rest in peace now that the truth is coming out to the surface, piece by piece. Even if so much time has passed since the event, he is still remembered as the man who broke the taboos of morality and homosexuality, the man who died for his out-of-the-box ideas and for the truth he was seeking. 

And even though 45 years have passed, someone brave enough to reveal what no one dared to say has finally appeared. She is precise and attentive to detail —and she is such a Simona. 


Interviews translated from Italian to English by the writer. 

Giada Gavazzi is a Communications major at JCU. She wrote this piece for a JCU journalism class in the Fall of 2020. Contact her at ggavazzi@johncabot.edu