Italy: Ransom Demand for Dead Banker

When thieves stole the body of Italy's most famous banker from his family tomb last week, the field of suspects ranged from satanic cults to revenge seekers to members of a mystical gnostic conspiracy.

There was even a theory that thieves had stolen the body of Enrico Cuccia in search of secret documents hidden in the coffin.

But it now appears the most obvious motive was the correct one: extortion.

Media reports say people close to Cuccia have received a ransom note for the body, demanding a sum equivalent to $3.5 million.

The note included the number of a foreign bank account, and a photo of Cuccia's coffin inside the mausoleum, which is normally closed.

The note and picture followed a week in which investigators were forced to sort through a stream of less credible claims of responsibility.

One came from a group calling itself "Social Unemployed."

Another claimant said he was a man who said he had lost a lot of money on the Milan stock market.

The anonymous letter writer said he would only give back the body, without seeking a ransom, if the market went back up. He wrote: "You think I'm crazy, but I'm only desperate."

The only motive police have ruled out completely so far is vandalism.

Police say it was a "professional job" — it would have taken at least three people to smash open the marble tomb and remove the coffin.

Who Was Cuccia?

Cuccia was the founder of Mediobanca, at one time Italy's only merchant bank, and a pivotal player in the industrial development of Italy after World War II.

Cuccia was also known to be a consummate dealmaker, and Italian newspapers have pointed out that a man of his influence was sure to have made enemies.

He died in June at age 92, and was buried in a mausoleum on the grounds of the family villa in Meina, a village of 2,000 people on the shores of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy.

Cuccia's son, Beniamino, said the theft was discovered by a caretaker who had gone to lay flowers

"Why did they have to raid my father's tomb," he was quoted as saying in the Repubblica newspaper. "There are some much wealthier dead people. I'm afraid we're talking about crazy people here."

Not Exactly Uncommon

What happened to Cuccia, however, isn't unusual.

The Mafia is known to have ransomed bodies in the past, and admirers have even dug up bodies of their heroes.

The most famous instance of grave abductions occurred in 1946, when Fascist sympathizers stole the body of Italy's World War II dictator Benito Mussolini, after he was killed in 1945.

The body was secretly kept in a convent until it was given to Mussolini's family in 1957.

In 1987, thieves stole the body of food industrialist Serafino Ferruzzi, demanding a ransom of some $7 million. The family reportedly refused to pay, and the body was never returned.

Early on, police suspected extortion in the Cuccia case, even though they didn't have a ransom note.

On Monday, Carabinieri Capt. Cesare Lenti, one of the investigators in the Cuccia case, told reporters, "stealing the dead has never paid off."