Perugia: The Italian Town Haunted by Amanda Knox

The medieval city of Perugia is known for its chocolate, its well-respected universities, and for hosting one of the world’s premier Jazz festivals. But in the United States and Great Britain, this city of ancient, winding streets filled with fortress-like stone dwellings is inextricably linked to Amanda Knox, the American college student who was convicted and then acquitted of murdering Meredith Kercher.

The trials attracted a tsunami of reporters from around the world to this ancient Umbrian hill town and exposed a decadent sex, drugs and party subculture that has existed amongst the student population here for a long time. Various news reports indicated that the Knox-Kercher case has scared away British and American tourists and students but according to some in Perugia, the overall effect on tourism here may not be as grim as one might think.

Tourism officials here didn’t want to make an official comment on the effect of the Knox case on tourism in Perugia, but hotel managers and a local who rents apartments to tourists here told me that the publicity surrounding the case has brought more Italian tourists to Perugia, not less.

“Italians have a curiosity to come here and see where the murder took place,” said the apartment manager, who asked that I refrain from publishing his name. “They’re also visiting the island of Giglio to see where the Costa Concordia crashed. People have a fascination with these things.”The apartment manager and others here have told me that locals are nearly unanimous in their belief that Knox and her Italian boyfriend, Raffeale Sollicito, who no longer lives here, are guilty. The fact that Knox has received a book deal that could be worth close to $4 million has only hardened attitudes towards her here. (Kercher’s father is also set to release his own book) Sollicito reportedly finished a computer science degree in prison and, according to ABC News, recently had job interviews in the U.S.

Criticism of the Italian judicial proceedings, which were widely viewed in the U.S. as a travesty of justice, damaged national pride in Italy and created ill will towards Knox’s defenders in the U.S. I followed the trials and was relieved when Knox was acquitted on appeal because I don’t think there was anywhere near enough evidence to convict her of murder. I came to Perguia to see the city’s historical treasures but couldn’t resist taking a walk out to the house where Meredith Kercher was murdered. (see top photo)

As I arrived with my family in tow, a young Bangladeshi couple that now lives in the home were on their way out. They were accompanied by some relatives who were visiting from Great Britain who translated for us. The young man, whose name was Mohammed, just moved into the home four months ago, after emigrating from Bangladesh. The landlord never mentioned that a gruesome murder took place in the home but he wondered why tourists come by to photograph the place.

Initially, Mohammed asked me to take his photo and include it in this story, but I bumped into him later that evening- he sells novelty balloons on Corso Vanucci in the center of town- and he asked me to delete the photos of him from my camera.

The house is located behind an imposing fence on a busy street, very close to the University where Knox was a student. It’s considered a run-down area in Perugia but there is a very nice view of the surrounding countryside behind the home. I found no evidence of any memorial for Kercher, which is a shame.

After looking around the place for a few minutes, I felt like an intruder, even though Mohammed and his relatives were very friendly and seemed to want to ask us about the Knox case, which they had only a vague awareness of. The infamous house has new tenants and life goes on, but Perugia will never be the same.

For her part, Knox has stated that she still loves Perugia and would like to return to Italy, though it’s not likely she’ll do that anytime soon, given the fact that Italian prosecutors have appealed her acquittal. Her parents face defamation charges for comments they made about alleged mistreatment of their daughter by Perugia police officers and Knox is reportedly planning to testify via videoconference. For Perugia, there is no end in sight to the Knox case notoriety.

What ever happened to the missing 22-year-old American teacher in Germany?

Reading that Laura Dekker has been found safe and sound in St. Maartin made me think of Devon Hollahan, the American teacher living in Prague who disappeared after a Portugal and the Man concert in Frankfurt, Germany. When his friend’s back was turned, Hollahan went missing.

I wrote about Hollahan in a post about the worst nightmares of parents whose children travel overseas. I’ve been busy these last few weeks, so I forgot about him until I read about Dekker.

Hollahan’s story is not so splashy as Laura Dekker’s. It might be because his family seems like most of us. They appear to be normal, regular people whose lives tend to flow through the days like anyone else’s unless something bad happens on a slow news day. On a slow news day, normal people’s stories can make the international news. Hollahan’s bad news story was a fleeting blip on the media radar. A day or two after he was reported missing, he didn’t show up again in a big news way.

Amanda Knox’s story has had more press time than Hollahan’s. She is the other person of note in my parent’s worst nightmare post. But, when a person is found guilty of murdering her roommate which results in a 27 year jail sentence in Italy, it’s no surprise that we’d hear more about Knox–at least until Tiger Woods’s story eclipsed everyone’s bad news.

What about Hollahan, though? That’s who I want to know about–the guy who could be any one of us. After a search, I found this bit of news in The Huffington Post. Hollahan has not been found, but possibly the shoe found floating in The Main River in Frankfurt belongs to him.

It is thought that Hollahan was drunk and fell into the river. As a sad, devastating part of this tale, it’s possible that he was seen alive at 4 a.m. lying on a sidewalk. Unfortunately, whoever was on the sidewalk, got up and ran away when someone said that an ambulance was coming.

Hollahan’s body has not been found. His parents are still in their nightmare, and I wonder if Hollahan’s body is found, will there be a news story about it? My thoughts go out to his family.

Parents’ worse nightmare: Their child is in trouble overseas

For the past couple of days, two stories have been appearing in various forms in the media–one splashier than the other, but both are what parents nightmares are made of. These are the situations they hope they don’t get a phone call about. One is about Amanda Knox, the college student who is in an Italian jail waiting to see if she will spend years there if she’s found guilty for murdering her roommate in a crime that reads like an outlandish tale– perfect for a murder mystery novel. Evidence is not conclusive.

The other story is about Devon Hollahan, an English teacher who vanished from the streets in Frankfurt, Germany at two in the morning when his friend was asking for directions after they attended a Portugal and the Man concert. Hollahan was about twenty feet away from his friend whose back was turned just long enough for Hollahan to disappear unnoticed.

In both cases, the parents of Knox and Hollahan, two people in their early twenties, are part of heartbreaking scenarios and a testimony to the worst that can happen when children grow up past childhood and travel miles past their parents’ admonitions to be careful.

Such news is hard enough when it happens within ones own country. When it happens in a foreign country, parents find themselves in positions dealing with horrific situations in places that may have different procedures than their own country. The legal system in Italy works differently than the one in the U.S., for example.

Knox’s parents and Hollahan’s dad jumped on airplanes in order to offer help. Being on the same side of the Atlantic is a start. It’s a way to be involved, to take action–to have a role in an outcome even if the action does not turn up a positive result.

Hollahan’s dad is not hopeful that his son will be found alive but the dad’s presence in Frankfurt is surely helping the investigation. Hopefully, he will not have to wait long to find out some answers. I can’t imagine what it would be like to take a trip back across the Atlantic without knowing.

In Knox’s case, the verdict will be coming soon. Her family is hopeful they’ll be bringing her home with them. Again, the alternative seems too dreadful.

Both parents’ stories are a reminder that when we travel, it’s important to keep in mind the loved ones we have left at home. Although there are no guarantees when we get up in the morning that our day will go swimmingly well without a mishap, when taking on a particular adventure or experience keep in mind that it’s better to keep ones wits about you and not let your guard down without being aware of your circumstances.

Consider the thought, if this situation goes wrong, what would my parents do? On the other hand, life in one’s own country is risky as well. Life is risky business. In Knox’s case, though, who would have ever dreamed up such a story?