Blood on the Altar – Review


Tobias Jones  england.png

Faber & Faber (2012), 336 pages

Phibsboro Library

Blood on the Altar, In Search of a Serial Killer tracks the hunt for justice for the murdered teenager Elisa Claps.  The murder of Elisa Claps in the overlooked Italian town of Potenza is not a whodunnit.  Within hours of Elisa’s disappearance the prime suspect is Danilo Restivo.  However following Claps’ murder in 1993  it took another murder, in England in 2002. before Restivo was finally brought to justice.

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about Blood on the Altar is Jones’ unravelling of the murky web of political connections and social prejudice that allowed Restivo to avoid justice in Italy.  Elisa went to meet Restivo at a local church on a Sunday morning and was never seen again.  When one of Elisa’s family went to the church later that day the priest, Domenica Sabia, had left and he couldn’t gain access to the whole church.  Jones paints Sabia as an entirely disreputable character.  He is arrogant and there are rumours that he had secret gay liaisons with young priests in the upper floor of the church.  Restivo’s father, Maurizio, was head of the local branch of the National Library, a position of social prestige in a small town.  Sabia was friends with the Restivo family and had attended Danilo Restivo’s eighteenth birthday party.  Sabia refused to give permission for the Claps family to thoroughly search the church where Claps was last seen.  Sabia’s nocturnal activities made him a potential target of blackmail.  It emerged that Restivo, when he was 15, blindfolded and tied two other children (age 12 and 14) and cut one of them with a knife.  Restivo wasn’t charged and it was rumoured that Restivo’s father paid off the children’s parents.  Elements in the police who were investigating Elisa’s disappearance were also compromised as Maurizio Restivo had connections with the husband of one of the investigators.  It seemed as if Restivo would get away with the murder of Elisa Claps.


Danilo Restivo Credit: BBC

Unfortunately Restivo’s capture followed the murder of Heather Barnett in Bournemouth in 2002.  Restivo was living across the road from Heather.  Although the British police realised that Restivo was their prime suspect it still took until 2011 for him to be convicted of murder.  Restivo was not the harmless simpleton that was portrayed by his family and himself in police interviews.  In his murder of Heather Barnett Restivo proved himself to be forensically aware (police found a pair of runners in a basin of bleach after the killing) and he had gone to some lengths to construct a believable alibi.  A key part of the case was the discovery of Elisa’s body in the roof space of the church where she was seen with Restivo.  Her body was found to have been left in a similar position as Heather Barnett’s body, and there were signs of Restivo’s hair fetish in the leaving of locks of hair in his victims’ hands.

Jones describes the trial of Restivo in detail.  He shows that Restivo when, for the first time, facing difficult questions about his behaviour, can not adequately account for his movement or actions.  Restivo was found guilty of murdering Heather Barnett and Elisa Claps and is currently serving a minimum 40 year prison sentence.



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