There has been a lot of water under the bridges in over half a century. Fifty-one years, to be exact. But for many Ticino residents, especially those who have already passed the half-century threshold for a while, the date of 19 September 1971 is not easily forgotten. Especially for the inhabitants of the Locarno area, but not only, who found themselves like a bolt from the blue in a pitch-colored reality, those of the crime story, with a decidedly atypical clamor, for those times but also for today’s reality in our latitudes.
On the surface, that seemed like a Saturday like many others, a late summer day kissed by the sun, even too much: 32 degrees in the shade (evidently, even then, temperatures were definitely above average). And it is in all probability precisely those high temperatures that lead, by chance, to the discovery, in a jute sack abandoned in the escarpment next to a bend in the road that leads to Monte Brè (just a few meters beyond the roadway), the corpse of a person, semi-decomposed. To direct the police to the place of the discovery are tourists, suspicious of the persistent stench in that area. The patrol sent to the scene does not take long to identify the origin of that stench, which is very ominously reminiscent of decaying flesh. To confirm this, a pair of shoes sprout from the sack next to the road, of value too. The alarm goes off: specialists arrive in no time at all, complete with a doctor who, in fact, brings to light the body of a man, in an advanced state of decomposition, dressed in gray, complete with shirt and tie , with his head hooded in another bag, this one made of plastic, closed with a woman’s stocking. However, there is no trace of a wallet or documents, and no watch on the wrist. Those that seem the outlines of a detective story, worthy of an episode by Lieutenant Colombo – which in those years were broadcast across the Atlantic – materialize before the eyes of the astonished agents.
‘Corpse on the Mountains; natural death or murder? ‘, is the title of the Duty in the edition of the following day, Monday 20 September, an article in the chronicles from Locarno. The article then continues: “The command of the cantonal police of Locarno communicates:” Yesterday morning, on the road that leads from Locarno Monti to Brè, the body of a male person was found in an advanced state of decomposition. Investigations are underway by the police to establish the identity of the corpse and the circumstances of the death. “Initially, in the same article, the hypothesis is advanced that the body was that of a carpet thief, whose murder would be ascribed to a settling of scores.
The investigations, however, say something else. There is in fact a detail, however macroscopic, that escapes the murderer (or the murderer, given that at that stage all the tracks are open to what, and this appears immediately evident is to all intents and purposes a crime) and which leads to the rapid identification of the body, once taken to the Locarno morgue: its name embroidered inside the underpants. And it is that of Egon Zylla, a wealthy German (born in Mecklenburg in 1912) who moved to Ascona a few years ago. In addition to providing an identity to the victim, the doctor in charge of the autopsy sets the date of his death 4 weeks beforehand. In reconstructing the profile of the victim, the picture of a person emerges who, having found himself Suddenly widowed, she becomes ensnared by the nightlife on the shores of Lake Maggiore, and it is therefore (also) there that the investigations aimed at finding the motive, and above all, responsible for her death.
On Tuesday, always the Duty, he reports “details that would make one shiver even in a film. The body, in an advanced state of putrefaction, was found inside a sack: a nylon rope around the victim’s neck. The killers probably have committed the crime elsewhere, and on the road that leads to Brè they carried out a last horrible act by throwing the macabre envelope in an escarpment “. On the same day, the investigators called the press to take stock of the situation and provide some more details about the crime, including the identity of the victim. Still from the chronicles of that time, Wednesday 21 September 1971 on the Duty we read: “In a press conference held yesterday, the PP, and the public safety commissioner explained in detail the facts ascertained so far. The victim is Mr. Egon Zylla, 59 years old, Germanic , currently residing in Ascona, where he had a villa. The police still do not have enough elements to move in one direction rather than another “..
The case, of course, arouses a lot of hype, and not only in the ‘Ascona bene’. The mere thought that a crime of this magnitude has been committed in our region shakes all public opinion. And the investigations are tight: the pressure on the investigators, called to clarify what immediately appears an intricate mystery, is considerable. But the investigative machine immediately gets to work, unraveling the whole skein step by step and comes to close the circle in a relatively short time.CopyAMP code
The investigation is entrusted to the then public prosecutor Luciano Giudici, who in a matter of weeks reconstructs the picture, identifying the motive, principals and material perpetrators of the crime and concealment of the body. A detailed work, meticulous and rich (also) in twists and, last but not least, intuitions, then landed on the benches of the Palazzo della Sopracenerina, where the trial was held (chaired by judge Gastone Luvini) given the vast echo aroused by the case , even abroad given the notoriety of the victim, and from there in the convictions for those responsible.
In a recent publication (“The Zylla trial”, Armando Dadò editions, 2021), Giudici himself retraces the work carried out by the investigators in those weeks and his indictment, which later resulted in the indictment of the accused.