Forensic tests on the skeletal remains of a teenager discovered in the eaves of a 15th-century Italian church may hold clues to the identity of a killer with a hair fetish who murdered a British woman.
For several years, police in Dorset, southwestern England, have linked the 2002 killing of Heather Barnett, 48, to the disappearance and suspected murder of 16-year-old Elisa Claps in Italy.
Claps disappeared 17 years ago in Potenza, where her body was found this week in the roof of the church of the Santissima Trinita. She was last seen at the same church having made an appointment to meet an Italian man, Danilo Restivo.
Restivo, now 37, became the only suspect in the Claps inquiry, and moved to Britain after serving a jail term for lying to investigators about an injury he sustained on the day of the teenager’s disappearance.
UK detectives have visited Italy several times in their hunt for Barnett’s killer. The mother of two was found in the bathroom of her apartment in the seaside resort of Bournemouth, Dorset, in November 2002.
She had been hit over the head with a heavy object and stabbed several times. Her breasts had been cut from her body and in her hands were strands of hair cut from an unidentified woman.
The cases were linked when it was discovered that Restivo had moved into a home across the road from Barnett after serving his perjury sentence.
British police said on Friday they were liaising with the Italian authorities after the discovery in Potenza.
At Bari University’s institute of forensic medicine, where the autopsy on Claps’s body is to be carried out, a source said there were “no evident signs” of violence on the body but there could still be vital clues in matter below the fingernails.
Restivo has been arrested twice by Dorset police and questioned on suspicion of Barnett’s murder, but was released without charge.
He has always denied involvement in Barnett’s death or Claps’s disappearance. He still lives opposite the murder scene in Bournemouth with his wife.
In an interview with the Italian news agency Ansa, Restivo said this week: “I do not believe my legal position has been impaired in the slightest. On the contrary, I hope that the urgent checks being carried out now will show that I had nothing whatever to do with Elisa Claps’ death.”
Restivo has complained in the past of being harassed by the missing girl’s family.
He said last year he received an envelope containing bullets — a traditional mafia warning. Claps’s family members have denied any involvement.
British detectives are also pursuing a separate link to the Potenza case.
While investigating Barnett’s killing they found a spate of complaints from women in the area who said strands of their hair had been cut as they traveled by bus in the town. Similar reports were received in Potenza before Claps disappeared in 1993.